Luciano Chailly: 100 years since his birth

Luciano Chailly: 100 years since his birth

January 19, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Luciano Chailly, who was born in Ferrara in 1920, and died in Milano in 2002. The date ushers in a series of concerts and musicological events, many of which are being coordinated by three institutions based in Trento: the University of Trento’s Department of Humanities and Philosophy, the Philharmonic Society of Trento, and the Provincial Archives of Trento, which today houses  Chailly’s personal archives containing important documents, some of which are unpublished and have yet to be studied. The project for highlighting and conducting critical studies of sources – musical, literary, epistolary, documentational – contained in the composer’s private files, aims at a revised interpretation of the role Chailly played in the cultural panorama and in music composition during the second half of the 20th century. Events extend well beyond the centennial celebration of Chailly’s birth, and are to be capped off by an exhibition that spotlights his collaboration with author Dino Buzzati (1906-1972), which will be held at the Biblioteca Braidense in Milano in 2022, marking the 50th anniversary of Buzzati’s death, and the 20th anniversary of Chailly’s death.

Chailly was a key figure on the Italian music scene following World War II, although he was not part of the various avant-garde movements that turned Milano into a major cultural hub and a focal point for contemporary music. Both as a composer and as artistic director for leading institutions (La Scala in Milano, Teatro Regio in Torino, Angelicum, the Verona Arena, and Teatro Margherita in Genova), Chailly left his mark. His cultural depth was much appreciated and lauded; his relationships with movers and shakers on the Italian and European cultural scenes of his time proved highly fruitful.

Luciano Chailly con Claudio Abbado Claudio Abbado e Luciano Chailly, Don Carlo 1968 (photo Erio Piccagliani _Teatro alla Scala)

Some of Chailly’s best-known compositions resulted from his collaboration with Dino Buzzati. The two began working together in 1954, and their partnership initially led to four operas – Ferrovia sopraelevata, Procedura penale, Il mantello, Era proibito – and the 1960 ballet Fantasmi al Grand-Hotel; in 1996 Chailly wrote the opera L’aumento, based on Buzzati’s short story by the same name. The exotic and dreamy atmosphere of Buzzati’s writing melded perfectly with Chailly’s musical imaginativeness, where fairy-tale worlds are riddled with elements of alienation, themes that would permeate Chailly’s operas in the years to come.   

Luciano Chailly con Ettore Gracis, Dino Buzzati e Mario Missiroli Bergamo (1955) in occasion of the WP of Ferrovia Sopraelevata. Luciano Chailly with Ettore Gracis (conductor), Dino Buzzati (librettist) and Mario Missiroli (director)

Besides the compositions he wrote with Buzzati, other operas by Chailly were inspired by the works of authors including Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pirandello, Ionesco and others. 

Chailly also spent a great deal of focus on instrumental compositions. There is, for instance, his cycle of twelve three-themed sonatas, Sonate tritematiche; his twelve Improvvisazioni; along with his vast body of orchestral music. Actually, Chailly would neglect no musical genre, following in the footsteps of his predecessors from the first half of the 20th century. He wrote important works for voice, including the 1964 mass, Missa Papæ Pauli.

In many ways, Chailly was a visionary composer, if we consider the developments in musical composition up to the early years of the 21st century. While his musical language made no bones about keeping its distance from experimentalism and avant-garde esthetics, he was definitely influenced by the composers of his day, especially when it comes to works like his dodecaphonic series, his “second way” among the three that he himself had identified up until the 1980s.

Luciano Chailly, Specchi magici 1949 Specchi magici, 1949

Despite the harsh criticism he heaped on them in his writings, Chailly’s relationships with avant-garde composers proved fruitful. Indeed, as artistic director he organized and promoted a number of performances of works by avant-garde composers, and kept up a lively correspondence with many of them, including people like Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio and Sylvano Bussotti.

Images: from the 'Annuari' of M° Luciano Chailly (Archivio Provinciale di Trento)