Twenty years after composing Mottetti di Montale
for mezzo-soprano and piano (1980), the last installment of its orchestration for chamber ensemble was completed. My interest in this piece has persisted 1) because I like the music, 2) because I am deeply interested in Montale's poetry and have found that the piece serve to interest others as well, and 3) because breaking the 56-minute span into shorter segments and transforming it into a mixed-ensemble format (vocal recitals being nearly extinct) promises more hearings for both the music and the words.
I expect these arrangements to be most performed as individual Libri of four to six songs. But only the entire span can provide the cryptic narrative, the "novel in verse" that Montale described when he published the sequence in 1950 as part of his collection Le Occasioni
The first of the arrangements, or Libri III and IV, entitled Due Libri
, was commissioned by the New York Philomusica and dedicated to Merle Montgomery. It was first performed by them in 1990, dedicated to Robert Levin, with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (who has recorded this music with the Greenleaf Chamber Players on Archetype). In 1998 came the premiere of Libro I, commissioned by the University of Oregon, entitled La Primavera di Sottoripa
. The performers were members of the Third Angle, conducted by the composer, with Janice Felty (who sang the first performance of Mottetti di Montale, with Edward Auer, piano, at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 1981). Finally in 2000, came Libro II, The White Swallow
, commissioned by Collage. The arrangements impart an individual color to each section (divisions decided by the composer, not the poet). It was my good fortune to experience the Ligurian surroundings of the poems a decade after I had set them for voice and piano, in time to involve their sights and sounds in the orchestration.
The heroine of the sequence, modeled on Dante's Beatrice, is Montale's Clizia, actually the Canadian-American poet Irma Brandeis. Her fleeting presences and prolonged absences are the glowing centers of the poems. Numerous elusive references, mostly evoking her or occasions with her, flash by in these poems.