Mario’s Return to Chamber Music (1945-1950)

Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco / News /
Castelnuovo-Tedesco Chamber Music

In the mid-1940s, with the trauma of emigration starting to fade, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco returned to writing chamber music. During the period from 1945-1950, he wrote the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (Ricordi), the String Trio (Curci) and his Second String Quartet (Curci).  This second wave of chamber music also includes a series of three sonatas for string instruments, in which he enjoyed experimenting with the technical and expressive possibilities of different combinations.

Two of these works are currently available from their respective publishers: the Sonata in C Major for Violin and Viola (Theodore Presser) and the Sonata for Violin and Cello (Curci).  The third work in this trifecta is the Sonata for Viola and Cello (1950). In his autobiography, Mario recounts the backstory to this work with his characteristic sense of humor:

In 1950, two excellent musicians (who are also brothers), Sven and Kurt Reher, respectively a violist and a cellist, asked me to write a duet for their two instruments, and they invited me to one of their concerts at which they were to perform a sonata written for them by Walter Piston, one of America’s most respected composers. It just so happened that to get to their concert, I had to wait for a good half hour at the bus stop at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard; while waiting, I started to think “if I were to write a sonata for viola and cello (which I had no intention of doing), how would I begin?” So, almost without realizing it, I began to compose the Sonata for Viola and Cello. (Perhaps, if the bus service in Los Angeles had been better, I would never have written it.)….1

Published in 1953 by Associated Musicians (today EMI),  the work is currently out of print and unavailable except in a few libraries and in the composer’s archive at The Library of Congress; furthermore, there are no professional recordings.  These obstacles did not deter the unstoppable Duo Prism, Loïc Abdelfettah (viola) e Quentin Rebuffet (violoncello) from setting their hearts on presenting the work at the 2021 American Viola Society Festival, which was held last month. 

For the composer’s family, it’s a real thrill when overlooked works emerge from the shadows and can be heard by audiences. We continue to work to ensure that all of Mario’s music is published and available to musicians in the future. In the meanwhile, a big thank you to all the chamber musicians who bring these works to life.

Suggested listening:

Clarinet Sonata: Sergio Bosi, clarinet; Riccardo Bortoli, piano (Bongiovanni)

String Trio: Davide Alogna, violin; Federico Stassi, viola; Roberto Trainini, cello (Naxos)

Sonata for violin and cello: Davide Alogna, violin; Roberto Trainini, cello (Naxos)

Sonata for viola and cello: Duo Prism  Loïc Abdelfettah (viola) and Quentin Rebuffet (cello). The Duo have recorded the first two movements, the Allegro romantico and the Tema con variazioni  (Tempo di sarabanda). They intend to record the final movement, Allegro con fuoco, in the near future.  

Chamber music with guitar will be featured in a future article.

1 Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Una Vita di Musica. Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005, pp.520-521.