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The MHS Review 398 VOL. 12, NO.2 • 1988

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Robert Maxwell Stern


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When this recording was sent to me for consideration, I felt a bit stumped. Com­poser Giulio Briccialdi's name was one that was (gasp) unknown to me. I asked some of my colleagues if they were at all familiar with him and I was met with shrugs. This made me feel better, of course, because I could feel moderately secure in my state of unenlightenment. I then heard a sneer­ing voice scold: "That's because you don't play flute!" True enough, I don't play flute--but I don't play piano yet I know Czerny; I don't play violin yet I know Viot­ti; and I certainly don't dance yet I'm familiar with Minkus. (I also know Dragonetti, but there I cheat: I play bass.)

There are hundreds of composers whose output concentrated mainly on works for one instrument, therefore their fame is limited to either those who play those in­struments or are enthusiasts in listening to those instruments. Guitarists are knowledgeable in the works of Fernando Sor, those who are cellists are certainly familiar with David Popper, and flutists surely know Johann Quantz and Giulio Briccialdi.

Composer/author/teacher/inventor Giulio Briccialdi was born in Terni on March 2, 1818, and although his father was his earliest tooting tutor, it is generally ac­cepted that he was essentially self-taught. Obviously, the family Briccialdi became most unnerved by all that whistling because when Poppa died, they urged Giulio to enter the church. Instead, flute in hand, he fled to Rome where he got a job playing in a theater orchestra.

In Rome he studied composition and theory with the singer Ravagli, and by the time he was 17 (some say 15--no doubt flute devotees) he was appointed to a pro­fessorship at the Academy of Saint Cecilia. In 1836 he moved to Naples where he was the flute teacher of choice selected by the king's brother, the Count of Syracuse. As his fame grew as teacher, composer, and performer, Briccialdi became very much in demand and concertized extensively throughout Europe and the United States.

For a time Briccialdi lived in London, where he concentrated on improving upon the universally accepted (Theobald) Bohm design of cylindrical flute key placement. (A most important innovation was the in­clusion of a B-flat key which certainly im­proved the system.) In Florence he organiz­ed a flute-making workshop and created a great deal of improvements which were patented to his name. Briccialdi's output is overwhelmingly for flute, but he also composed an opera, Leonora de' Medici, in 1858. Briccialdi died in Florence on December 17, 1881.

Virtuosic instrumental music hit its noblest stride during the 19th century. To be sure, this was due to the many technical refinements in instrument making which permitted a heightened level of brilliance in performance. These improvements en­couraged a good number of highly gifted artists to write bravura pieces for their own performance. Many of them, including Liszt, Paganini, and Briccialdi, looked to the opera for its seemingly endless source of melodies upon which to write pyrotechnical variations. Just about every successful, or quasi-successful, 19th-­century opera was quoted for virtuoso per­formance, or at least was reduced for chamber ensembles. (That practice still ex­ists but almost entirely within the art of jazz improvisation.)

Briccialdi composed at least 40 such fan­tasies based upon operatic themes; here MHS presents four. They are taken from the early Verdi works Attila and I masnadieri, Bellini's La sonnambula, and Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment. The performances, by Sato Moughalian, are ab­solutely dazzling and in perfect keeping stylistically with what one might expect to find if one was to take a time machine back to the age of virtuosic magnificence. Another feature the listener must ap­preciate is the piano playing of Mikael Eliasen, who, on an 1872 Steinway, inter­polates a number of fascinating cadenzas into the piano parts. So very authentic!

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