Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco considered Evangélion “the high point” of his piano compositions. Written in 1949, Evangélion: The Story of Jesus, Narrated to the Children in 28 Little Pieces for Piano, was often misunderstood during the composer’s life. It was rarely performed and essentially forgotten for decades. In 2014 the Italian pianist Alessandro Marangoni made the world premiere complete recording of this cycle for Naxos. In collaboration with the Italian actress Claudia Koll as the narrator, he has performed Evangélion all over Italy and abroad in a multi-sensorial production conceived by director Stefano Sgarella. On the occasion of an upcoming performance in Palermo on 3 April, 2023 (Mario’s birthday!), Alessandro kindly agreed to tell us about the show they have created and about his experience bringing this intense work to the public.
Interview with Alessandro Marangoni by Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco — March 2023
How did you discover Evangélion and what motivated you to perform and record this work?
My love for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco goes back to when I discovered his Concerti for piano and orchestra. In reviewing his catalog of works, Evangélion immediately caught my eye. I sought out the score so I could read it through at the piano. I immediately realized that it was a masterpiece! There was no complete recording on CD, so I thought right away of proposing the idea to Naxos, my recording label. They immediately agreed to the project.
Tell us about your collaboration with Claudia Koll and about the show that you have created with Stefano Sgarella. How does it differ from a typical classical music concert?
Studying the score and reading what the composer wrote in his autobiography about Evangélion, I realized that one could create not just a classical concert or piano recital but a unique show based on this work. The information the composer provided about the biblical texts that inspired each and every piece of Evangélion, as well as the optional melologue verses included the score, made me think of involving a great Italian actress like Claudia Koll, who is very interested in sacred texts as well as in Jewish studies. I proposed the idea to her and she accepted enthusiastically. We worked with the director Stefano Sgarella on the selection of images from the history of art and from the cinema to create something spectacular that could best communicate the universal message of the story of Jesus. It’s a very evocative show thanks to projections suspended on transparent supports that surround the stage and seem to appear out of nowhere. Thanks to live synchronization, the images change according to what I am playing; as a result, each performance is unique and a bit different from the others.
At this point you and Claudia have performed Evangélion many times. Which have been the most unforgettable performances? How do you keep the magic alive each time?
I certainly remember the performance we did in the Basilica di Loreto in the Marche region, next to the Virgin Mary’s house, where tradition says that Jesus of Nazareth was born. What could be a better place for Evangélion? The magic stays alive thanks to the music, which, on its own, communicates great emotion and along with a crescendo of pathos, from the Nativity through to the Passion. Then the biblical verses, the images and the colors help the public to immerse themselves in a very magical multi sensorial experience.
Tell us a bit about how the audience responds to the show.
Audiences have always been very enthusiastic and attentive: as the work unfolds the emotional tension increases and the audience becomes more and more captivated.
When you play this music, what emotions do you feel?
I can truly visualize the story of Jesus’ life, as if it were in 28 short episodes of a TV series, with the music itself providing all the details. In this sense Castelnuovo-Tedesco has been tremendous: he seems to be right there in the places where Jesus lived and to be reliving those historical facts.
Of this work Mario wrote: “…I consider it…the high point among my works for piano”. Since you know Mario’s piano music so well, I wanted to ask you what you think of this judgment.
I agree with what the composer said. In Evangélion, Castelnuovo-Tedesco faces many pianistic complexities and experiments with different techniques, both compositional as well as instrumental. The cycle of 28 pieces is also a crescendo of technical-expressive challenges for the piano. It is undoubtedly among the most complete and mature works the composer wrote for the piano; it is very well written and also very enjoyable to play on the piano.
Does performing this work during the Easter season have a particular meaning for you?
I am a religious person so this work has an even deeper spiritual significance to me during the Easter season. For me, playing Evangélion is like reliving the life of Christ, especially the last part dedicated to the Passion. The music, perhaps even more than the biblical text, can create emotions and help one to fully immerse in the great mystery of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that Castelnuovo-Tedesco managed to make the figure of Christ clearer, better defined; he almost makes it possible for us to physically see him. Maybe God gave Mario a special sort of inspiration to write this piece? I certainly believe that God would be grateful to him for what he wrote!
Alessandro, our sincere gratitude to you and your collaborators for the magnificent work you have done! Thanks to you, this very special work is becoming more and more known and appreciated, both in Italy as well as in other countries.
To learn more, watch the Evangélion trailer and listen to the complete Naxos recording below.
Interview translated from the Italian by Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco.