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Take off the mask

· The «Shakespeare Sonnets» by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco ·

The best are always the ones to leave. And so too, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in 1938. Forty-three years old and an extraordinary talent, he, like so many other composers, escaped the Nazi-Fascist racism and prejudice by fleeing to the United States. It was an unfortunate event for him but not for his music, which was enriched by the stimulation and eventually became an exceptional medley of styles. Italy lingered like a dream for a while, and then not even that.

He suffered, his home Florence was far. There was the natural amount of nostalgia. This and much more was the life a great musician in exile. This and much more are his Shakespeare Sonnets: a compound work, underestimated, written over several periods from 1944 to 1963 and a work brought back to life last Sunday by the Sagra Musicale Umbra. They offered a wide selection, 24 of the 32, at the Museo di San Francesco in Montefalco. The pianist researcher Claudio Proietti had tracked down the sheet music in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.. And Quirino Principe explored the meaning of the piece and then read aloud his own translations of Shakespeare before the execution of each sonnet. It then brought to life, with piano, by baritone Filippo Bettoschi and soprano Valentina Coladonato.

Shakespeare's Sonnets, all of them, help men know themselves better. Castelnuovo-Tedesco is no exception and he uses the bard to make an almost private confession, an authentic one, one unmasked: staring you straight in the face, the truth. And the truth is not always pleasant, it sometimes even hurts, as, for instance, when it comes to mind that not only do “roses have thorns” but a “loathsome canker lives in the sweetest bud”. Maybe he was a little homesick but without ever tying himself down to one style. Maybe that was because he found himself in a country where there simply was no sinlge fashion, where one style was no better than any other, where one used what he needed to say what he wanted to say at the moment, without prejudice. And these Sonnets seem like a succession of private rooms, where lurk from time to time the ghosts of Lieder, songs in Italan but with echoes of Cole Porter. These are the things that happen in America. Only one rule applies: take off the mask. It was a masterpiece, rendered beautifully by Coladonato, able to move gracefully from one mood to another, and by Bettochi, precise, elegant, at home especially in those lieder-like verses.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 20, 2020