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Serenades at Noon

Serenades at Noon

Wednesday August 16 at 12:00 pm
Central United Methodist | Free admission

Program Notes

Domenico Scarlatti’s biography is impossible to fill in with as much detail as the tomes dedicated to many of his 18th-century contemporaries. We stitch together an incomplete tapestry of his life through his name’s occasional appearance in letters and other documents, all written by others, including his musician father, Alessandro. Thus, the narrative regarding Domenico’s musical education is spotty, at best, as are the historical accounts of his years spent in Venice with his father. The composer’s activities become somewhat easier to track once he moves to Lisbon and the employ of the Portuguese princess María Bárbara, and later Madrid, after the princess becomes Queen of Spain. Yet, in all these years, historians have only been able to identify a single letter as being written in his own hand.
Scarlatti’s prodigious output of keyboard sonatas – totaling over 500 – does, however, provide a sort of alternate documentation for the composer. These sonatas, all while appearing quite simple, each invariably following a straightforward binary form, reveal a boundless creativity that is virtuosic in and of itself. The composer’s inventiveness seems to have flourished, rather than suffered, from the apparent confines of this single genre, evidenced in the variety of rhythmic figurations, timbral colors, and energies he evokes from the instrument in piece after piece. Although the sonatas are believed to have been originally intended for harpsichord, many pianists have performed these works, demonstrating the extent to which Scarlatti’s elegant writing still translates intelligibly – not to mention beautifully – to another keyboard instrument. Although the three sonatas performed today can only hint at the expansive imagination of the 18th-century composer, they provide a well-balanced introduction to his specific brand of ingenuity.

Staunton Music Festival benefitted for many years from the grace, artistry, and friendship of Vladimir Mendelssohn. Himself a composer, arranger, and violist, Vlady appeared in Staunton from the very first days of the festival. We are honored that the Ascoli Piceno Festival has organized the Vladimir Mendelssohn International Composition Competition to support the creation of new chamber music in Vlady’s memory. Along with a dozen European festivals, Staunton will present the first-prize winning entry each summer season. As winner of the inaugural competition, Rosita Piritore offers her Quartetto d’archi (String Quartet).
Rosita Piritore was introduced to music at the age of nine, beginning piano study at eleven. She later received highest honors for her degrees at the Conservatorio V. Bellini in Caltanissetta and the Boito Conservatory in Parma. Her works have been performed and presented in Europe, America and China in festivals/venues such as Music by Women Festival (Columbus, OH), Art.9 (Hong Kong), I concerti del Boito (Parma), Voices Raising Voices (New York), Kuhmo Chamber Music (Finland), and many others. As an artist she has collaborated with the European Opera Academy, operating in Holland, Lithuania and Portugal. Since 2020 she has held the position of pianist and arranger within the Orchestra Toscanini Next in Parma. She recently produced a CD of piano improvisations entitled Dal movimento published in 2021. In addition to her prize in the Mendelssohn Competition, Rosita had earned awards at the Diapason Piano Competition (2009), the Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa Competition (2013), Maurice Ravel International Composition Competition (2016), Composition Competition Città di Barcelona P.G. (2017), Il Casale International Competition in Riardo (2019), among others.

Ms. Piritore sends the following thoughts about her Quartet:

Quartetto d'archi can be described as an investigation into the self-similarity, characteristic of fractal figures. This fascinating kind of symmetry is a property that often goes unnoticed by our eyes, but which surrounds us in nature and living beings. Self-similarity is demonstrated when the entirety of an object is exactly or approximately similar to one of its parts, thus capable of repeating itself in its form on different scales. The music also echoes a combination of sounds from musical languages that have accompanied the composer's musical and personal growth.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 depressed Claude Debussy much as it had many of his artistic contemporaries; on top of global calamity, the composer was also dealing with the aggressive colon cancer that would eventually take his life. During this time, he wrote to his publisher Jacques Durand of entire months that went by in which he was not able to write a single note or touch a piano. Despite this bleak period of inactivity, the composer managed to rally his spirits and imagination in a slurry of compositions begun during the summer of 1915. In addition to En blanc et noir for two pianos and a set of 12 études for solo piano, he began work on a collection of chamber works. In a cosmopolitan musical environment that seemed to value German music above all else, this set of six chamber sonatas was intended to pay homage to the clarity and elegance of his French Baroque ancestors, namely Couperin and Rameau. The economical sophistication he brings to the pieces thus serves not just as an indication of personal taste, but a sort of patriotic statement for his homeland and its artistic legacies. Unfortunately, Debussy would not live long enough to complete the full set of six sonatas he had envisioned.
After completing the first sonata for cello and piano in August of 1915, he went on to write a second work about a month later, but this time for flute, viola, and harp. Its trio sonata form clearly marks the work as a tribute to the Baroque era, while the fluid harmonic language and rhythmic gestures are idiomatic to the French composer. At times, the writing is dense, but never so dissonant or claustrophobic as what he reacted against in the German Expressionist music of the time.
The composer once wrote about the piece in a letter, describing it as “terribly melancholy” and mused, perhaps jokingly, “I don’t know if one should laugh or cry over it.” While there is an undeniable melancholic strain throughout the work—perhaps most pronounced in the third movement—there are ample passages demonstrative of a strain of hope or lightness that the piece manages to avoid melancholy as the overwhelming impression (at least, that’s the opinion of this writer). At any rate, the piece stands out as a testament to human fortitude, demonstrating the composer’s will to create beauty once again in a world darkened by violence and disease.

© Emily Masincup (with Rosita Piritore), 2023

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