(March 18, 1882 - August 1, 1973)
Gian Francesco Malipiero was born in Venice into a family of musicians. With his father Luigi, a pianist and conductor, he travelled between Triest, Berlin and Vienna, where he studied at the city’s conservatory in 1898 and 1899. After returning to Venice, he enrolled in the Music High School, where he began to study under Marco Enrico Bossi, later continuing by himself after Bossi had moved to Bologna in 1902. On his own initiative he focused on ancient Italian music, transcribing the works of Monteverdi, Merulo, Frescobaldi and other composers that he was able to track down in the Biblioteca Marciana.
In 1904, after two years of study on his own, he took a diploma in composition with Bossi in Bologna. In 1908 he undertook an advanced course with Max Bruch at the Hochschule in Berlin and later travelled to Paris, where he entered into contact with Alfredo Casella and Gabriele D’Annunzio. There he had the opportunity to become familiar with some of the works of Ravel, Debussy, De Falla, Berg and Schoenberg. Then, in 1913, at the suggestion of Casella, he attended the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: the experience was so powerful that he had the impression – as he himself said – of waking “from a long and damaging lethargy”.
After these experiences Malipiero decided to destroy all the compositions that he had written up to that point with the exception of just a few works.
From 1917 to 1920 he lived with his family in Rome before moving in 1921 to Parma, where he taught at the city’s conservatory. In 1922 he took up residence at Asolo in Veneto, which became his ideal location for composing. After conquering this peace of mind, Malipiero was able to dedicate himself to transcribing all the works of Claudio Monteverdi, making an invaluable contribution to the recovery and promotion of the music of the great Cremona composer.
From 1932 he taught composition at the Music High School in Venice, where he served as director from 1939 to 1952. After retiring, he continued to offer private lessons and, as well as dedicating himself to composition, he collaborated with the Istituto Antonio Vivaldi in the publication of the complete instrumental works of the Venetian composer.
Malipiero was an extremely prolific composer and his work includes symphonies, chamber music, operas (including Tre commedie goldoniane
(1920/22), Torneo notturno
(1931), La favola del figlio cambiato
(1934), Don Giovanni
(1963) and Il capitan Spavento
(1963) and concertos for solo instrument. He also wrote a number of theoretical works including Il teatro
(1945), Antonio Vivaldi, il prete rosso
(1958) and Così parlò Claudio Monteverdi
Malipiero’s music is characterised by an absolute formal and stylistic liberty, founded on the expression of a canto freed from predetermined structures and rules. His studies of ancient music strongly influenced his early work, lending a Gregorian inflection to certain of its melodic solutions, even though at the same time it is not difficult to appreciate in his first symphonic works a great familiarity with late German Romanticism. Over time Malipiero’s work shifted towards Impressionist and Expressionist styles both in terms of its treatment of harmony and its contrapuntal complexity, characteristics brought together in the Symbolist slant of Torneo notturno, written in 1931.
The essence of his art can be summed up in his refusal to work on themes in a Romantic manner - his work being founded on the elaboration of the same material but by way of continuous invention - and, so far as opera is concerned, in a reciprocal support between word and music such as to create a synthesis far removed from Naturalistic canons. Nonetheless, in this context of formal and stylistic experimentation there remains a melodic cantabilità. Malipiero’s most important works in this regard include Le stagioni italiche
for soprano and piano (1923), the quartets in the collections Rispetti e Strambotti
(1920), Stornelli e Ballate
(1923) and Cantari alla madrigalesca
(1931), the “symphonic illustrations” in Per una favola cavalleresca
(1914-15), Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia
for orchestra, choir and baritone, from G. Leopardi (1909-1910), 2 Sonetti del Berni
for voice and orchestra (1922), the Concerti per orchestra
(1931), Sinfonia in un tempo
(1950), Sinfonia dello Zodiaco
(1951), Sinfonia per Antigenida
(1962) and Stradivario, Fantasia di istrumenti che ballano
for orchestra (1948) as well as his 11 symphonies composed between 1933 and 1969 and his 6 concertos for orchestra and solo instrument, 4 for piano (1934, ’48, ’50, ’64), one for violin (1963) and one for flute (1967-68).
Malipiero’s collaboration with Luigi Pirandello resulted in the opera La favola del figlio cambiato
. Performed first in Germany and later at the Opera di Roma in 1934, its lack of success with audiences induced the composer to revert to a language that was less experimental, more focused on thematic development and more easily recognisable.
Malipiero’s writing also passed through an atonal phase - including works bordering on the totally chromatic - without however ever adopting the twelve-tone technique.
He died in Treviso on August 1973.
Photo: "Venezia, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Archives Gian Francesco Malipiero"