Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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Orefice, Giacomo

(b Vicenza, 27 Aug 1865; d Milan, 22 Dec 1922). Italian composer and critic. He studied composition with Mancinelli and the piano with Busi at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, graduating in 1885, presenting the short opera L’oasi as his final exercise. He was at first active as a pianist, mostly as a performer of his own works, but from the late 1890s he turned increasingly to opera. In 1896 he was placed third in the Steiner competition in Vienna with the one-act Il gladiatore, and in 1898 his Sinfonia del bosco was awarded a prize at the Turin Exhibition, where it was conducted by Toscanini. In 1901 his next opera, Chopin, loosely based on Chopin’s life and through-composed with quotations from his works, met with the audience’s approval at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, despite the conflicting opinions of critics; it was revived in Warsaw (1904) and Paris (1905). In 1905 his most highly regarded opera, Mosè, was performed successfully in Genoa, and in 1908 his ballet La soubrette was awarded a prize of the Société Musicale in Paris.

From 1909 until his death Orefice taught composition at the Milan Conservatory, where Nino Rota, Victor de Sabata and Lodovico Rocca were among his pupils. Meanwhile he was active as a lecturer and as a music critic, mostly for the Rivista musicale italiana and from 1920 for Il secolo (Milan). In this capacity, and as president of the Società degli Amici della Musica, which he founded in Milan in 1902, he played an active part in the city’s musical life. A cultured musician of broad interests, he emphasized in his writings the necessity of introducing greater historical awareness into technical and practical studies in the conservatory, and of bringing music to a wider public. He criticized certain provincial attitudes of Italy’s musical life at the time, inviting composers to go beyond mere imitation of foreigners and to rediscover the deeper roots of their own musical tradition. In this respect his transcriptions of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (Milan, 1909) and Rameau’s Platée, though philologically inaccurate, are of interest.

As an opera composer Orefice was stylistically eclectic: the strength of his dramatic technique, though rather static and conventional, lies in its effective orchestral images and the expressive qualities of the vocal lines, deliberately simple and sometimes archaic (as in Mosè). His choice of subjects was influenced by the veristic and historicizing tendencies of late 19th-century Italian theatre and literature (manifested in his vivid historical settings of the dramas of Pietro Cossa); later, in his most mature and refined works, Il pane altrui and Radda, he turned to the social realism of Turgenev and Gorky. His most famous opera, Chopin, was a case apart whose subject was inspired on the one hand by the cliché of the ‘artist’s life’ popular with the Italian Scapigliatura, and on the other by Orefice’s personal ideas about the importance of native and folk roots in musical inspiration.

His symphonic works present a skilful but rather light descriptivism (Sinfonia del bosco, Laudi francescane). His chamber compositions are more interesting, characterized by an austere sense of form and a noble and refined musical invention (for example, the piano quintet Riflessi ed ombre). In the series of short piano pieces (in particular in Quadri di Boecklin, Miraggi and Preludi del mare) his taste for arabesque, his colouristic use of harmony and his search for new sonorities is close to Impressionism.



all printed works published in vocal score in Milan

L’oasi (4 scenes, G. Dal Monte), Bologna, Liceo Musicale, 1885 (1886)

Mariska (op, 3, Orefice, after P. Cossa), Turin, Carignano, 19 Nov 1889 (1889)

Consuelo (commedia lirica, 3, Orefice, after G. Sand), Bologna, Comunale, 27 Nov 1895 (1895)

Il gladiatore (op, 1, Orefice, after Cossa: Messalina), Madrid, Real, 20 March 1898 (1898)

Chopin (op, 4, A. Orvieto), Milan, Lirico, 25 Nov 1901 (1901)

Cecilia (op, 4, after Cossa), Vicenza, Verdi, 16 Aug 1902

Mosè (op, 4, Orvieto), Genoa, Carlo Felice, 18 Feb 1905 (1905)

Il pane altrui (op, 1, Orvieto, after I.S. Turgenev: Chuzhoy khleb), Venice, Fenice, 12 Jan 1907 (1907)

Marcello Spada, 1909 (op, 3), unperf.

Radda (op, 3, C. Vallini, after M. Gorky: Makar Chudra), Milan, Lirico, 25 Oct 1912 (1912)

Ugo e Parisina, 1915 (op, 3, C. Raimondo, after Byron: Parisina), unperf.

Il castello del sogno, 1921 (op, 3, R. Simonini, after E.A. Butti), unperf.

other works

Songs (all pubd Milan): [6] Bozzetti veneziani (De Marchi) (1894); [12] Liriche (A. Orvieto) (1901); [4] Tanke giapponesi (1917); 4 liriche (G. Carducci, G. D’Annunzio, C. Rossi, P. Mastri) (1918); 7 canti (after R. Tagore), ed. (1955); other works

Orch: 2 syms., c, 1882–92, d, 1910; Sinfonia del bosco, 1898; La soubrette (ballet), Milan, 1907; Tempio greco, suite, vc, orch, 1914, arr. vc, pf (Milan, 1914); Anacreontiche, suite, 1915; Laudi francescane, suite, 1918, arr. pf duet (Milan, 1919)

Chbr: Sonata, e, vn, pf, 1908 (Bologna, n.d.); Sonata, D, vn/vc, pf, 1908 (Bologna, n.d.); Pf Trio, c1912 (Milan, 1918); Sonata, F, vc, pf, 1913 (Milan, 1918); Riflessi ed ombre da un tema, pf qnt, 1916 (Milan, 1918); other works

Pf (all pubd Milan): [6] Pagine d’album (1885); Sérénade allemande, valse caprice (1886); 2 concert studies: Ondine, 1886, Orde barbare, 1888 (1916); [3] Crepuscoli, 1904 (1916); [6] Quadri di Boecklin, 1905 (1916); Miraggi, 10 studi, 1906 (1916); [9] Preludi del mare, 1913 (1916); Preludio e fuga, on a theme by Meyerbeer (1919); other works


‘La crisi del nazionalismo musicale’, RMI xxiv (1917), 300–15

‘Conservatorio o università musicale?’, RMI, xxv (1918), 461–80

Luigi Mancinelli (Rome, 1921)



Pan’: ‘Giacomo Orefice’, Musica d’oggi, v (1923), 10–11

A. Casella: ‘Orefice, Giacomo’, Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, ii (London, 1930, rev. 2/1963/R by C. Mason), 201

G. Mantese: Storia musicale vicentina (Vicenza, 1956)

A. Bassi: Giacomo Orefice: tradizione e avanguardia nel melodramma del primo ’900 (Padua, 1987)


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