1. The Toccata
2. Armoon and Two Moons
3. Études Boréales
4. Études Australes
5. The Cadenze
6. The piano in chamber and orchestral works
Looking through Ivan Fedele’s curriculum we learn that in his youthful years he worked for some time as a successful concert pianist. This explains his clear awareness of what is “pianistic” and what is not, in other words his sensitivity towards the physiological and ergonomic requirements of writing effectively for the instrument. But on the other hand it was precisely on account of his experience as a performer that Ivan Fedele evidently felt the need – especially, as we will see, in the Études Boréales – to stand back and reconsider the instrument from a composer’s point of view, as far away as possible, to avoid the risk of being unconsciously influenced by his former experience.
1. The Toccata
The fact that Fedele knows that piano well, very well, becomes immediately obvious on examining his first work for the instrument: the Toccata, dating from 1983 (revised and published in 1988). The proliferation of rapid figurations is clearly related to the physical conformation of the keyboard, thus reviving a tactile relationship between the composer-performer and the instrument that has its origins in the model toccatas of the 17th century. They had already been revisited during the last century by composers like Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy, Khachaturian and Petrassi, whose piano toccatas are written in a propulsive and percussive style, so typical of the 20th century. Fedele not only revives the freedom of invention and the vitality of baroque keyboard writing, but also shows a keen awareness of the work of his more recent predecessors. The use of the sostenuto pedal, which keeps the dampers of the lowest octave raised, makes it possible to capture a limited number of resonances from the tailpiece and produce a peculiar halo effect. It also allows the pianist to create a compact but multiform discourse, since the apparently monodic figuration branches out into various lines, whose forms are guided by the notes brought into relief by the natural rotating movement required of the pianist’s hands. This example of “physiological counterpoint” found in Fedele’s piano writing was later developed and taken to higher levels of complexity in the Études Australes and the Cadenze. It is nevertheless interesting to note how, already in his first piece for piano, Fedele has been able to define his own approach to the language of the keyboard, which cleverly exploits the physical side of playing so that it becomes perfectly matched to the expression of the musical idea. The Toccata is thus a fully coherent and accomplished piece, using (knowingly) a language that is based on pre-existing models, and yet is already unique in its idiomatic finesse and formal clarity: two characteristics that have remained evident throughout the rest of Fedele’s work, even when the selected material and the diverse musical organization has led to very different results.
2. Armoon and Two Moons
Very characteristic of Fedele’s style is the need to create a particular relationship between the sound and the space that surrounds it. The result is a pluridimensional music par excellence, where the material is developed not only linearly, or across time, but also, and especially, in space, by projecting the sound onto multiple perspective planes. On the face of it, this would hardly seem to be compatible with an instrument like the piano, characterized as it is by clear limits in the extent to which one can control the resonance and elaborate the timbres, and offering little occasion (except through unusual and artificial devices) to modify the sound once the key has been struck. And yet, right from the Toccata, Fedele has found an area of resonance that can be modulated and that is perfectly intrinsic to the pianoforte, obtained by using the sostenuto pedal. In this way the space is part of the performance, but is also virtually independent of the notes that are played “on the keys”. It should come as no surprise, then, that only a few months after the Toccata, Fedele set to work on a piece for four pianos, Armoon (1983-84), where he fully exploits the presence of several tailpieces and sound-boards in order to expand and further establish “that ambience”, in the words of the composer during a subsequent interview about his Concerto for piano and orchestra, “in which the solo instrument, with its totally independent figures, can project an environment able to react to the solicitations in different ways”1. In Armoon the area of resonance varies for all four pianos, each of them capturing diverse harmonic sounds with the sostenuto pedal. The spatial arrangement of the four instruments (ideally all turned in different directions) presents yet another means of diversifying the direction of the sounds, drawing close to the effects obtained in electro-acoustic music. This idea had already been explored, albeit in a very different context, by Luigi Dallapiccola in his Inni – Musica per tre pianoforti (1935), a work that Fedele played in a concert in Milan with Bruno Canino and Antonio Ballista while he was a student at the Conservatorio “G. Verdi”. And it is no mere chance that in 2000 Fedele came back to the score of Armoon to create a new piece, called Two Moons. Here, two of the four pianos used in Armoon are treated electro-acoustically, meaning that further elaborations of the sounds are able to provide a more precise collocation in space. With the aid of a 6-channel electronic track and the amplification of the pianos on stage, the frequencies produced by the keyboard have a differentiated diffusion, the lower sounds being placed at the back of the concert hall and the higher sounds at the front near the stage. The dialectic between sounds in the foreground and those in the background thus leads to a much more complex articulation of the music. Furthermore, the interaction between the performers has now changed radically. While in Armoon the four pianists were all an “active part” of the performance, in Two Moons the pre-recorded ADAT acts as an objective guide, independent of what is being played by the two “human” pianists, who, in turn, have to seek a satisfactory marriage between their own individual intentions and the inviolable presence of the two virtual instruments.2
3. Études Boréales
On opening the score of the Études Boréales (1990) one immediately notices a rare clarity of expression, a highly refined selection and development of themes and, consequently, an (apparent) refusal to exploit the whole range of dynamics and timbre potentially offered by the keyboard. Contrary to what the title “Études” might lead us to suppose, Fedele does not use his undoubted knowledge of the piano and its technique to launch into pieces full of grand effects and with a strong exterior impact: on the contrary, the Études Boréales show an approach to the instrumental technique that is almost “abstract”, bearing witness to how meaningful expression and careful choice of timbre can be effectively achieved even with the scantiest of thematic elements. Studies in virtuosity, certainly, but a virtuosity that is transcended by the search for a peculiar sonic light that is unique, and always rooted in the formal scheme: to the extent that all the agglomerations of timbre which enchant the ear are always the logical outcome of the unfolding of lines and rhythms that guide the musical discourse. Why the use of “Boréales” in the title? The reference to Cage’s Études for ’cello and piano bearing the same name is of course inevitable, even though the two works are more linked by their common search for particular “extrapianistic” sonorities, rather than by their compositional procedures. The work by Cage, in fact, involves a complex preparation of the piano and includes a strong element of chance in its formal development, whereas Fedele’s Études do not require any preparation of the pianos and are anything but aleatory, having been written with an extraordinary precision in every sense (structure, dynamics, timbre, articulation, agogics). In his brief introduction to the printed edition Fedele states that the adjective “Boréales” actually refers to the radiant light that he witnessed on his first trip to Finland. Light and timbre, elements unequivocally linked, provide the basic inspiration for the five Études, each of which explores a different aspect of light in relation to sound, expounded, of course, through the piano and the pianist.
The first Étude is made up of a series of chords based on a few repeated intervals: the major seventh, fourth and perfect fifth. The dynamics too are carefully restricted to two levels, which also have a structural function: ff and pp (mp appears just once). The articulation instructions are similarly precise and limited: these three elements (chords, dynamics and articulation) are combined in a network of recurrent associations, thus generating a symmetrical structure of timbre that provides the basis for the formal design of the piece. The frequent use of inversion and retrogradation is a recurrent and unifying feature of the five Études.
While Étude n. 1 focused mainly on chords and therefore on the vertical aspect, offering an immediate and straightforward perception of the sound, the second explores the horizontal or linear aspect, creating a fine counterpoint of two voices that are always clearly distinguished thanks to their two contrasting dynamics. Marked with the letters HS (Hauptstimme) and NS (Nebenstimme), these two lines form a simple, but at the same time ambiguous, entanglement, which moves across the whole extension of the keyboard. The ambiguity is caused by the frequent overlapping of the two lines, which sometimes end up swapping their positions, giving rise to fascinating effects of echo and rebound on the same note, and testing the performer’s skill and control of timbre. Equally challenging is the melodic sensitivity demanded of the player, who is expected to play various intervals, at times much wider than usual (up to a 15th), while maintaining the linear tension.
The remarkable coda, entirely based on chords of three adjacent notes (A#-B-C in the right hand, F#-G-Ab in the left), counterbalances the horizontal nature of the previous section with an obsessive reiteration of the chords, compressing the multiple ramifications of the canon against a gradual dynamic and agogic rarefaction. The composer defines the coda as “anodyne”, in open contrast – almost an “antidote” – to the extreme variety of intervals and rhythm found in the previous section.
The third Étude could be considered a study on repeated acciaccaturas. It has an ABA structure, and is in 3/4 with a frequent use of triplets, in some ways reminiscent of the classical scherzo. Section A is based exclusively on two notes: Db and C. But the real protagonist of the section is the harmonic space in which these two notes echo, carefully delimited through the selection of resonances obtained with the sostenuto pedal. The rapidly repeated acciaccaturas, where the same note is repeated up to four times, gravitate swiftly, and unpredictably like electrons, around a nucleus that is never defined but can be identified by its central C, which forms the axis of symmetry for the interval patterns that unfold around it. Section B, by contrast, is made up of an extended line of long notes, doubled at a distance of two octaves. Here the area of resonance of the preceding section now materializes into a clearly perceived and luminous chant, transforming the restlessness previously anticipated by the tempo marking (“Un poco inquieto”) into a journey towards suspended and unearthly worlds.
The recapitulation of section A consists of a sort of abbreviated repetition, moving the harmonic focus of the piece onto the perfect consonance of two Cs, four octaves apart. This Étude clearly recalls the second movement of Webern’s Variations op. 27, which is similarly based on distinct groups of notes that revolve around an axis of symmetry (in that case, A3).
The fourth Étude is certainly the most adventurous of the series, being based prevalently on the harmonic sounds obtained with the fingers working directly on the strings. In this case the sostenuto pedal is not needed, given that the whole piece is dedicated to capturing the resonances of a major third (or tenth), by isolating the fourth harmonic on the string. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is the presence of “dirty” unisons, in other words of a harmonic sound which is followed immediately by the corresponding note played traditionally on the keyboard. Since the structure of the piano obviously does not allow a perfect reproduction of the harmonics, the unisons are never perfect, and it is precisely this imperfection that Fedele exploits in this piece. It leads to an “altered” rebound, which appends a “deforming” wake to the resonance of the harmonic sound, a highly fascinating effect. This study is perfectly palindromic, so that in the second half it is the real sound that is followed by the harmonic, resulting in a different but equally interesting spatial effect. The main thematic line gravitates around the tonality of Dbmajor, which not by chance is one of Chopin’s favourite keys for his particular explorations of resonance (Nocturne op. 27 n. 2, Prelude op. 28 n. 15).
The fifth Étude combines a more traditionally virtuosic style of writing with an extreme clarity of the contrapuntal texture: it opens with a flurry of thirty-second notes played fortissimo, which derive from a complex symmetry of intervals arising from the contrary and mirroring movement of the two hands. This intense crowding of material gradually gives way to a lightening in dynamics and rhythm, where the space is slowly emptied, so that the sounds take on an increasing sense of expressive pregnancy.
4. Études Australes
In the five Études Australes (2002-2003), Ivan Fedele adopts an openly “pianistic” approach, thus overturning the metaphysical and abstract conception found in the Études Boreales, and explicitly re-embracing the glorious romantic tradition of the “study” as an example of transcendental virtuosity.
Each of the Études Australes has its own title which refers to a particular geographic location (in the first three) or a determined ornithological genus or species (the last two), always linked to the polar zones of the southern hemisphere. The titles are not, however, used for any descriptive purposes or for a programme, but rather bear witness to the unique poetic insight that lies behind these Études: an unprecedented integration of new experiments in timbre and the importance of technical-gestural aspects, backed up by a profound knowledge of the physical and acoustic principals that govern how music is made through the piano. In this sense, with the Études Australes Fedele adds an important contribution to the genre of the piano Study, following in the footsteps of notable composers like Rachmaninoff, Liapunov, Ravel, Messiaen, Bartók and Ligeti.
The first Étude Australe is called “Tierra del Fuego” and takes its inspiration from the peculiar coexistence of contrasting aspects typical of the area: gloomy as well as bright colours, movement and contemplation, elements that are in opposition and yet convergent. The initial marking “Come un viento azul…” is coupled with very rapid sextuplet figures, where the physical aspect, discernible first in the groups of six notes (three notes for each hand: to begin with, only white keys for the right hand and black keys for the left), gradually turns the performer into a separate perceptual element, independent of the rhythmic scheme of the music. The physical rhythm of the performance, resulting from the alternation of the two hands, therefore becomes an object of interest that is not immediately apparent from the score, and creates a third source of rhythm, one perceived by the spectators, especially if they are able to see the pianist’s hands. In this way the physical aspect takes on a primary role, not only from the visual point of view, but also due to the particular kind of timbre that is created. The fact that the black keys are always played by the left hand (except in the last part, where the hands are inverted), meaning that the hand is slightly more raised and forward than the right hand, produces a timbre that is particularly dark and vague, ideal for representing the “viento azul” evoked by the composer. The resulting indistinct and “dusty” flux serves to accentuate the horizontal dimension of the Étude, lending a particular eloquence to the numerous ripplings and waves of light that animate the score. The transcendental conception of the writing is highlighted by the extreme dynamic markings used, especially regarding the piano: for example, the ppppp (at times accompanied by an exclamation mark) which, when applied to a very rapid figure in the low register, surely makes a faithful rendering of the instructions very challenging. Evidently (and here the exclamation mark comes to the rescue) the pppppexpresses the composer’s desire to reach a sonority that is unreal, that transcends the concreteness of the performance and aspires towards a dimension beyond the tangible. On this point, it is worth quoting what John Cage said about his own Études Australes: "I'm interested in the use of intelligence and in the solution of impossible problems. And that’s what these Etudes are all about; a performance would show that the impossible is not impossible".
The second Étude Australe, “Platea di Weddell”(“The Wedell ice-pack”), investigates the concept of ice, both from the sensory point of view, and the poetic images it evokes. Ice is not just static and cold but also involves tension, hardness, transparency, crystalline purity and reflected light. Fedele adopts a style of writing that is stratified into many registers to evoke the prismatic essence of ice. A continuous pianissimo trill runs through the whole piece, providing an allusion to the Weddell Ice-pack, immersed in the waters of the Antarctic. The form of the piece takes its inspiration from the idea of depth and “immersion”, characterized by rising waves, increasingly larger. The trills, of varying width, cover all the various registers of the keyboard, and form a basis, almost a hypnotic continuum, above which all the other elements that make up the thematic material gradually gather. The most predominant motive (even though it would incorrect to speak of a melody) is the slow and rhythmically asymmetric rising chromatic scale, which starts in the second bar and reaches its climax exactly at the centre of the piece, only to slowly descend once more until finally dying out in the lowest zones of the piano. The singular timbres characterizing the piece are matched by the many “static” layers of the polyphonic discourse, including the slow, regular tolling of bottom E, motionless but always evident in mf, and the various two-note chords (in particular a minor second, a major seventh or a diminished fifth), shared between the low and middle registers, always played p or pp and in triplets. These “anodyne” elements, together with the basic formal design, serve to restore a sense of perceptibility, of “humanity”, thus avoiding any domination of the formal aspect over the perceptual efficiency of the piece. Here too, the choice to use a particular timbre is always linked to the precise polyphonic discourse carefully determined in each of its parts. So precise, also in its relative indications of articulation and dynamics, as to require up to five staves. The definition of the dynamics is equally precise and strictly adheres to the polyphonic stratification, to the extent of specifying simultaneously as many as four or five different dynamic levels, one for each layer, and each one with its own, independent handling of the crescendo and diminuendo (which, in the case of the chromatic line, can go on for several pages). As in the previous Étude, the expression markings often border on Utopia, confirming the transcendental nature of the writing and of the poetic intentions of the composer.
The Étude Australe n. 3, Cape Horn, is the most magmatic and eruptive. After exploring a world of crystallized sounds verging on silence, here Fedele experiments with the maximum of energy and force, in a score that demands a great show of strength from the performer, together with a high and constant speed of the muscle movements. Once more the writing is extremely precise and is based on a structure of small fragments of scales reiterated canonically by augmentation or diminution, creating a flux that is asymmetric and continuously changing. From this point of view, Fedele is adopting a procedure often used by György Ligeti in his Studies (in particular in Automne a Varsovie and in Vertige), and earlier still, in an even more radical fashion, by Conlon Nancarrow in his Studies for player piano. Unlike Ligeti, however, Fedele uses the device of the repeated canon not so much to create a structural basis for the piece, but rather as a means to obtain timbres to satisfy his search for particular colours. There are, in addition, countless other details that make the exposition of the thematic material unpredictable, without, however, detracting anything from the dramatic temperament, which remains constantly at a very high level. The physical and mental resistance of the pianist is put to a sore test, and this also confirms Fedele’s transcendental conception of virtuosity, where reasonable limits are continuously breached, meaning that the physical and mechanical principles of the production and perception of sound are constantly challenged.
The fourth Étude Australe bears the title Aptenodytes, from the genus of birds that includes the larger sized penguins, the elect inhabitants of the Antarctic waters. Birds unable to fly, whose contemplative and fatally static nature has been forged by their continuous cohabitation and integration with the polar climate and landscape. All of these aspects are reflected in a style of writing that is at once mechanical and mysterious, reminiscent of the ineffable evocativeness that Olivier Messiaen had known how to capture in his loving and poetic ornithological catalogues. The link with Messiaen is no mere chance: this Étude, as well as the next, was commissioned for the “Olivier Messiaen” Piano Competition (Paris, 2003). However, over and above the refined homage to the great French composer, Fedele’s approach to the world of birds is quite different. Far from any mystic or explicitly scientific temptations, the reference to Aptenodytes here takes on a predominantly poetic and formal aspect: the “staggering” rhythm with which the penguins beat their wings becomes a starting point from which to explore, with the usual precision of writing, certain facets of the realm of timbre produced by piano resonances and the superimpositions of different rhythmic entities. Right from the start of the Étude, in fact, we hear a clear exploitation of polyrhythms, with a juxtaposition of four chords against five, immediately afterwards speeded up into a sequence of other chords, three against four. The whole Étude is characterized by the simultaneous presence of different rhythms, wrapped in a sonic space created by the sostenuto pedal. This is certainly the most “Boreal” of the Études Australes, nevertheless maintaining the extremes of dynamics and the innate technical difficulty typical of the collection.
The reference to birds continues in Chionis Alba (the Snowy Sheathbill). The whole piece is pervaded by the idea of “flight”, taken as a continuous flux of very rapid notes that the pianist faces with the same natural, physiological attitude with which a bird faces flight: in other words, overcoming the limits of technique and experiencing the score as an immense space in which to release oneself. The writing here is hypervirtuosic, the rhythmic structure being determined by a gradual metric displacement, following a procedure already used in Tierra del Fuego, almost as if the composer wished to close the series with a sense of cyclic coherence. In thus case, however, the predominant register is the very highest, and the range of timbre takes in the most gaudy and brightest of colours, used in association with different harmonic fields, clearly matched on the basis of the chromatic needs. A second contrasting idea, based on rapid and very light repetitions, helps to exalt the return of the initial figuration, and is then alternated with it a second time, unexpectedly taking on the leading role and bringing us to a highly impressive conclusion, ending in a sudden evaporation into silence.
The Cadenze confirm Fedele’s recent tendency to reconsider the whole range of potentials offered by the piano. Here this tendency, already apparent in the Études Australes, takes on a programmatic aspect, since it is the “pianistic gesture”, in its totality and with all the associated historical implications, that represents a new central source of inspiration. Each Cadenza, in fact, focuses on a principal element that, in the words of the composer, “while purposely based on a very concise or limited lexicon, tends nevertheless to project itself into a perceptual dimension where traces and resononces of the compositional gesture linger in the memory, way beyond the time of listening”.
These “gestures” are, in reality, nothing more than typical idiomatic aspects of playing the piano, in many cases deriving directly from the “store” of objects that make up pianistic language in the form we know it today. They consist, substantially, of figurations basically dictated by the ergonomics of keyboard technique, or inspired by the physical movements of the fingers and arm, which bring about the particular form of the sound. Whatever their origin, though, what counts most is that each of these “gestures” carries with it a wealth of references that set off a wide variety of perceptual repercussions in the individual listener. All of the Cadenze, moreover, are based on material that the composer has already used for the piano (or other keyboards) in previous chamber or orchestral works. Fedele himself tells us that at times, when attending the rehearsals of his chamber works, ideas have come to him from the piano parts of the pieces in question: he understood the potential for development offered by each single fragment. However, the removal of these elements from their original context brings about a radical change in the resulting expression, emphasizing the intrinsic potential of the single piano figurations, which are no longer functional to their integration with other instruments, but rather have their own semantic “essence”.
The first three Cadenze were written in 1993. Cadenza I, like Cadenza III, derives from the piano part of the Trio Imaginary Islands (1992). It is built on two-note chords, in particular the seventh or ninth, which force the pianist’s hand to stretch open to its maximum, with the thumb and little finger striking the keys in an oblique, almost horizontal position. This type of touch, imposed by the writing, also influences the timbre of the piece, characterized by tense sounds, prevalently forte and fortissimo, but not particularly direct or vertical, and in any case unstable and restless, owing to the dissonances of the intervals in question. The various two-note chords are alternated rapidly in different registers, so as to trigger a particular type of vibration in the soundboard, exalted by the agitated and progressively stringent rhythm, leaving the final word to the chords themselves which, with ever increasing intensity, are finally thundered out fortissimo in the low register.
Intervals of the seventh and ninth reappear, but in a totally different realm of timbre, in Cadenza II, taken from the Concerto for piano and orchestra (1993). Thanks to the use of the sostenuto pedal and a greater dynamic variety in the different strands of counterpoint, the harshness of the previous Cadenza is melted down into a sonority that verges on silence, enwrapped in a warm and comforting harmonic atmosphere. The chords are frequently broken or preceded by an acciaccatura, and carry on a dialogue with a second particularly well defined and contrasting element, made up of a single sound, alone or repeated, that is incisive and frequently reiterated. The material is then repeated and overlapped, becoming progressively denser until reaching its peak in the central part, and then gradually melting away.
Cadenza III also uses two-note seventh and ninth chords, this time in the form of very rapid tremolos. These become increasingly wider and more complex until producing a fluid band of sound out of which emerge accented notes, hinting at potential melodic outlines. The writing is, in fact, similar to that of the Toccata, but here it is much more fragmented, as if the composer had, in a certain sense, wanted to move away from the original and exquisitely pianistic notion, which is now reconsidered from a different, more external point of view. The fragments, which had almost self-generated from the opening tremolos, take on their own life, meeting and overlapping in different combinations, merging as if by chance into rapid repetitions, but in reality scrupulously governed by the composer’s rigid structural design.
The second series of Cadenze (from IV to IX) is much more recent, having been completed in 2005. Cadenza IV is entirely based on a typical keyboard figuration, already found in Ali di Cantor (2003), made up of very rapid flights of notes, mostly pp, which at times converge into rapid trills. The conception of the piece is fundamentally horizontal and the extreme rapidity of the thirty-second notes tends to blur the perception of the single note and attack of the key, giving the impression of a unbroken line, flexible and ever-changing. It is remarkable how such writing, which is idiomatically pianistic, leads to a result that is totally “antipianistic”, cancelling out, for example, the percussive quality of the instrument. This effect was, by the way, one of the greatest dreams of many romantic composers, a dream that here sees a possible fulfilment.
The percussiveness is nevertheless completely retrieved, though not over-stated, in Cadenza V, taken from Mixtim (1989), which explores the perceptual possibilities of the staccato, in particular the resonances of staccato chords in a given harmonic context. Whereas the previous cadenza followed a horizontal design, here the verticality of the structure is evident, thanks to the distinct nature of the polyphony, and the frequent rests, which strengthen the perception of the percussive attack and rhythmic design. This comes from the superimposition of the different metres pertaining to each line, which also results in frequent moments of homophony: the sounding of the chords, incisive and fatal, freed from the constraints of the other parts, stand out brightly, leaving a wake not only in the acoustic space (with the resonance of the tailpiece), but also in the minds of the listener (who cannot help but think, at least subliminally, of the countless instances of staccato chords that inhabit his own musical memory).
Cadenza VI continues in the investigation of the perceptive nuances of staccato sounds, focusing on an idea based on repeated chords, which at times are also legato, arpeggiato or broken, already used by Fedele in Chiari (1981). Here too the rests play a primary role. We are not, in this case, speaking of rests in terms of “surrounding space” or a “wake of resonance”, but rather as “notes with no sound”, since they are an active part of the pressing rhythmic figurations that characterize the Cadenza. This particular rhythmic conception of the rest (that has in turn been linked to numerous composers, in particular Stravinsky and Ligeti) is confirmed in the central part of the piece, where the relationship between the presence of notes and of rests is inverted, like a photgraphic negative, resulting in a much higher proportion of rests than of notes. But the rhythmic frame remains virtually unchanged, so that the listener is expected to imagine the constant pulsation even in the absence of a clear beat, given the presence of numerous “repeated” rests (unless the performer finds an appropriate gesture to mark the accents during the rests or between two neighbouring rests).3
Repeated notes (this time with a sound!) again form the nucleus of Cadenza VII, marked “fibrillante”. Various elements: syncopated notes, two-note chords, broken chords (deriving from one of the two piano parts in Message, 2000) are repeated, each with a diverse frequency and spacing, giving rise to a sort of counterpoint of repetitions. The compositional structure is enriched by the careful use of accents, dynamics and, not least of all, the sustaining pedal (in the present context it can be considered as another “repeated” element, with its independent meter). The numerous trills too are, in reality, nothing more than the rapid repetition of two adjacent notes, and in this sense can be included in the list.
The “gesture” that forms the basis of Cadenza VIII4 is not dynamic, but static, contemplative. This, then, is the most “Boreal” of the Cadenze, where the main characterizing element, and the most fascinating, is the search for a particular colour, bright but opaque. The magical timbre that pervades the piece is the result of a fusion between the low register and the very high register, with a predilection for intervals of a fifth played up to seven octaves apart.
The prevalence of soft dynamics and long notes (and rests) serves only to enhance the captivating sound landscape that is thus produced, and that underpins the structure of the piece. It is a pointless exercise, therefore, to try to analyze the symmetries of the formal design, even though they are present. The most striking thing about this Cadenza is the nocturnal atmosphere, in an explicitly Bartokian sense: the evocation of distant sounds, indirect and yet sharply defined; the coexistence of various different sources of sound, superimposed and autonomous in meter; an indistinct perception of open, yet unfamiliar, space that shrouds the sounds in mystery.
In stark contrast and, to continue the comparison with the Études, certainly much more “Austral”, is Cadenza IX (based, like the previous Cadenza, on the accordion part of Capt-Action, 2004-05), which in fact almost seems to want to quote the Étude Australe n. 1. Here too the very fast stepwise figurations reappear, of varying length and asymmetrically superimposed so as to generate exciting metric displacements. The piece also contains references to piano “gestures” already used in the previous Cadenze: broken chords, repeated notes, trills, a highly coherent and compact compendium that gathers together various “gestures” within a single “gesture of gestures”.
6. The piano in chamber and orchestral works
The piano often appears in Fedele’s chamber works (with a particularly significant role in Correnti Alternate, 1997), and is the protagonist of two important orchestral compositions: the Concerto for piano and orchestra (1993) and De li suo soli et infiniti universi (2001) for two pianos and three orchestral groups. While his music for solo piano runs the risk of limiting the breadth of space and plurality of direction demanded by Fedele’s innate need to expand his ideas, his chamber music (and even more so the Concerti for piano and orchestra) offers him greater scope to define a relationship between different sources of sound, where at last the piano can represent a single entity – that is as a solo instrument – without being subjected to internal fragmentation in order to attain a complex series of intents. The presence of numerous, independent sources of sound, offering a much wider assortment of timbres, allows Fedele to achieve excellent results, especially in the dramatization of the thematic groups and the selection of timbre to characterize his formal designs. An analysis of the complex multidirectional procedures that underlie the structure of Fedele’s Concerti enable us to appreciate the originality of his singular style, and to reconsider his works for solo piano as microcosms in which the same principles reside, albeit with a more limited range of sound.
Equally at home, then, with short (as we have seen in the Études) and longer forms, Fedele always manages to exploit the acoustic, expressive and evocative potential of the pianoforte in a way that is natural and functional to the structural demands, thus achieving a rare marriage between logic and creativity, between physiology and charm. His language projects the piano (and all it represents) into a galaxy where old and new, tradition and experimentation, nature and history are merged.
1 Cesare Fertonani: Gli archetipi e la memoria – Una conversazione con Ivan Fedele, booklet of the Stradivarius CD 33650, 2003.
2 For more details about Two Moons and Fedele’s other electro-acoustic pieces, see the chapter by Marco Ligabue.
3 A utopian, silent beat was conceived by Robert Schumann in his Abegg Variations op. 1, in bar 197, where the G, tied to the previous note, is played again “by subtraction”, when the other notes of the chord are released. The G in question even has an accent on the second tied whole-note. See Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation, Chapter 1.
4 This Cadenza has also been published with the title Antipodes in the anthology Piano Project (Universal, UE 33662).