Look Who’s Popular

An interesting sidelight to our little dodecaphonic discussion (trying to avoid the 3 x 4 number) is the recurrence of the name Luigi Dallapiccola. One hardly ever sees this name on concert programs – Leon Botstein conducted Canti di Prigionia and Canti di Liberatione a year or so ago, and past that I think I have to go back to the ’80s to remember a live performance – and his major works can be impossible to find on recording. So I go along thinking that I’m one of the few who thinks that Dallapiccola wrote better 12-tone music (oops) than Schoenberg, Webern, or Berg, but stoke the coals a little and a lot of sparks fly up. Turns out I’m not at all alone in that opinion.

I admit I find Dallapiccola uneven (like just about everyone else, I guess). One side of his work is sensuous, elegant, transcendant: Piccola Musica Notturna, Sex Carmina Alcaei, Canti di Prigionia, Preghiere, Divertimento in Quattro Esercizi. Another side I find overcomplicated and a little strident: Canti di Liberatione, Tempus Destruendi/Tempus Aedificandi. But the balance is on the transcendent side, and unlike with most 2nd Va. Sch. music, I don’t think about its construction when I listen to it. Also, like Berg only more patently so, he’s sometimes refreshingly anti-purist: in Canti di Prigionia he weaves a 12-tone row around the Dies Irae, with enchanting effect. So why isn’t his music more commonly encountered? Simply because there’s little resemblance between the music world and an actual meritocracy? In any case, the frequency with which his name has come up lately elects him into the Academy d’Underrated by acclamation.

(In Piccola Musica Notturna Dallapiccola calls for a tam-tam piccolo, and one of my best students asked, “Is that like a regular piccolo?” I had to remind her that “piccolo” means “little” in Italian, and that that probably meant a small tam-tam. We did, however, briefly consider the possibility that it was a piccolo struck with a mallet. But I digress.)