Cristiano Porqueddu is recognized as one of the major interpreters of 20th and 21st century guitar music. His activities encompass live performances, recording projects and composition work. In November 2022 he released his latest project, a double CD that represents the first complete recording of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Greeting Cards for guitar based on the 2019 Ricordi edition edited by Frédéric Zigante. Cristiano kindly agreed to tell us about his experiences studying and recording these intimate and sometimes illusive pieces.
Between 1953 and 1967 Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote 53 Greeting Cards to celebrate friends, students and colleagues. They are musical portraits that he fashioned by assigning notes on the ascending and descending chromatic scales to each letter of the alphabet, and, with the letters of the subject’s name, he developed the thematic material for a composition in their honor. The 21 Greeting Cards written for guitar have been collected for the first time in a new critical edition edited by Frederic Zigante for Ricordi. After the publication of this volume Cristiano decided explore and record these pieces. The result of two years of work is Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Greeting Cards (Brilliant).
Interview with Cristiano Porqueddu by Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco — November 2022
Cristiano, your repertory and your discography are vast and impressive! What attracted you to the Greeting Cards?
Great artists reveal themselves in restricted circumstances: In their ability to create a unique connection from a handful of notes; in their ability to make a statement simply by drawing a few strokes on a canvas; or in their ability to write a masterpiece with just a few syllables. These pages of Castelnuovo-Tedesco are like precious watercolors. Although these compositions only use parts of the composer’s vocabulary, they demonstrate Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s innate ability to extract music even from seemingly haphazard sources.
It’s a challenge that I accepted as an interpreter, not only of the works of the Florentine composer but also of other repertory that I perform: I seek to understand where the interpreter can elevate a page of music independent of the objective quality of the writing. I put this concept into practice in the recent trilogy Easy Studies for Guitar, in which I did a world premiere recording of 179 studies for guitar written in our time, all virtually unknown. With this project, I sought to delve deeply into expressive, timbric and interpretative research.
The complete edition of the Greeting Cards, edited by Frédéric Zigante and published by Ricordi in 2019, presents the musical texts as conceived by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, without the revisions and changes of previous editions, which I imagine you already knew. How did the new edition inspire you?
I was inspired by the fact that the intentions of the author were finally revealed. As an interpreter I don’t love — to use the euphemism — when there is something in between me and the person who wrote the music.
You mentioned that you spent almost two years on this project. Tell us how you approached studying these pieces and how you found your interpretative path.
While obviously keeping my attention on the musical construction, I preferred to focus on the dedicatees. That is, where possible, I thoroughly studied the lives and the relationships between Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the people to whom he dedicated these compositions. At times, my research led to specific insights and inspirations, and other times it didn’t. In the first case I applied interpretative parameters that were based not only on the music as written, but also on the unique artistic qualities of the dedicatee. A clear example is Volo d’Angeli [for Angelo Gilardino] in which I made use of several timbric execution techniques applied to the Studi di Virtuosità e di Trascendenza as well as to the first five sonatas by Gilardino. In the second case, I reconstructed the interpretative path in a more direct way after studying the entire catalog of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s guitar works, which I have been exploring since my conservatory days.
While you were studying and performing these pieces, what emotions did you feel? After such a deep exploration of these intensely personal works, do you feel closer in some way to Castelnuovo-Tedesco?
The emotional component is inseparable from my existence, for better or for worse. It can often get me in trouble, but the majority of the time, it brings me satisfaction that no title or award ever will. My approach is primarily based on an understanding of the composer, which I gained from reading some of his correspondence and from studying his world and his relationships to the various dedicatees. I have combined this with all sorts of other emotional inspirations based on what I find in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music. Believe me, it’s easy to lose oneself in it.
When it comes to everyday matters, my mind is a sieve, but everything about music and my artistic journey is always so clear in my head that it surprises even me. I think it’s called “selective memory”. I recall perfectly the first time I read a page of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music, when I was twelve, as well as the first time I read one of the Greeting Cards, at sixteen. The music of the Florentine composer has held a place in my artistic life ever since. As I explained previously, with Angelo Gilardino’s precious guidance when I was a student at the Accademia Internazionale di Musica in Biella, I had the chance to begin studying Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s complete catalog for solo guitar as well as some of his writings, which were illuminating for me.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco is one of the few authors who treat notes the way Proust treated words: none of them can be in any place other than exactly where they are. Those who play the guitar must be obliged to feel a connection with this way of conceiving music for their instrument.
The composer always insisted that the Greeting Cards were “little more than diversions” – in other words, that they were not important compositions. Do you agree with him or not?
We must look at this question from two different points of view.
If we closely examine Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s artistic production, we become aware of the complexities of the works that he left us. The deeper we delve, the harder it becomes not to agree with the composer’s comment about the Greeting Cards. On the other hand, if we look at each individual Greeting, we realize that we are dealing with delightful miniatures, which work really well if the performer is up to the task. It’s true that some are more successful, while others need the intervention of a deep and mature performer. Probably the common thread that connects most of the pieces is, at times, excessively emphasized, but the melodic richness and the unexpected power of simple melodies to capture the imagination of the listener cannot leave a music lover indifferent to them.
Motivated by my study of the Greeting Cards and by one of the many challenges that Gilardino hid in his messages (“writing a melody is not a thing that can be learned: either you know how or you should just give up”), I decided to write Eight Studies from Views of Xiaoxiang. These are concert studies for solo guitar based on melodic construction, which I dedicated to eight excellent young performers. As I wrote them, I took into account the unique artistic qualities of these dedicatees, whom, in certain cases, I had heard live several times. As we speak, the publication of this work is imminent.
The Greeting Cards express a wide range of feelings, musical references and influences that Mario used to create his portraits of friends, colleagues and students. Did you find that some meshed better than others with your personal style? Do you have a favorite?
I hope it doesn’t sound too obvious, but it’s the truth: through my study of the Greeting Cards, in each of them I found some aspects that ignited my interest. The ones that most closely match my own instincts and that consequently had to go through necessary and radical changes to the dynamic and agogic systems are: Canzone Siciliana [for Mario Gangi] Tonadilla [for Andrés Segovia], Sarabande [for Rey de la Torre], Aria da Chiesa [for Ruggero Chiesa] and Volo d’Angeli [for Angelo Gilardino]. These ones stand out above all the rest.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a mentor to many musicians, among them the composer Angelo Gilardino (1941-2022), who was your teacher. In addition to the Greeting Card that Mario wrote for Gilardino, you also recorded Gilardino’s Sonata Mediterranea, which includes a movement dedicated to Castelnuovo-Tedesco, as part of this project. Why did you decide to combine Gilardino’s work with the Greeting Cards? Do you consider Gilardino a connecting thread between you and Castelnuovo-Tedesco?
I’d love to think so. My way of approaching music and the guitar repertoire in particular shares a lot with these two pillars in the history of guitar music. Gilardino witnessed the birth and development of this project. I thought that juxtaposing the Greeting Cards with the works that Gilardino dedicated to his mentor was a gesture I owed to the memory of a man who, for more than 20 years, shared an important part of his existence and an innumerable amount of music with me.
If there’s anything else you would like to add, please do so!
Yes: it’s just insane that the Greeting Cards are not included in concert programs or recording projects and that a disturbing number of guitarists prefer third class music to these musical jewels.
Thank you Cristiano, for sharing your thoughts with us, and more importantly, thank you for the beautiful music you create!