Ildebrando Pizzetti: no, he's nothing to do with Pizza

As we begin a new series of Lunchtime Concerts at LSO St Luke's exploring the links between two composers – Claude Debussy, who died a hundred years ago, and Ildebrando Pizzetti, who died 50 years ago – BBC Radio 3 Producer David Gallagher introduces the lesser known of the two.

Here are three fiendish quiz questions for you:

1. Which composer was described by a top Italian critic in 1921 (three years before Puccini's death) as 'without doubt the greatest musician in Italy today'?

2. Which composer's 'sensibility for the chorus' was rated as equal to 'Chopin’s sensibility for the piano' and 'Ravel’s sensibility for the orchestra' by an Italian critic in 1942?

3. Which Italian composer apart from Puccini wrote one of the top five operas of the twentieth century, according to a poll of Italian critics in 1956?

The answer to all three questions is: Ildebrando Pizzetti.

(The top five operas of the twentieth century, according to those Italian critics, are: Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande, Berg's Wozzeck, Richard Strauss's Salome, Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and… Pizzetti's Dèbora e Jaéle (Deborah and Jael) – which has never even been performed in the UK.)

I vividly recall the first time I ever heard music by Pizzetti, a broadcast of his piano concerto Canti della stagione alta (Songs of the High Season) on BBC Radio 3 in the early 1980s. Who was this composer who wrote such wonderful tunes, and why I had never heard of him?

Ever since then it's amazed me that – with one possible exception, his moving Requiem – Pizzetti's music is still hardly ever heard.

Pizzetti was born in 1880, so he was one year younger than Respighi and a few more years younger than Rachmaninov and Vaughan Williams: if you like any of those composers, you're sure to like Pizzetti. He died in 1968, so the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 2018 is the perfect opportunity to rediscover him.

That's why I invited Cédric Tiberghien and the BBC Singers to celebrate Pizzetti's music in February and March 2018 – in company with Debussy, one of Pizzetti's favourite composers, who died almost exactly half a century before him.

The BBC Singers will perform choral works by both composers, including Pizzetti's Requiem – the epitome of his "sensibility for the chorus".

And Cédric Tiberghien will play Debussy piano music together with chamber works by both composers. Pizzetti wrote a beautiful Piano Trio, and like Debussy he wrote superb Sonatas for both Violin and Piano and Cello and Piano.

Which prompts a final fiendish quiz question: Who said this?

'The Pizzetti Violin Sonata is one of my favourite works. I remember bringing a number of contemporary scores which I was interested in performing to my teacher George Enescu, and without hesitation he selected the Pizzetti. It is an inspired work which has yet to enter into the standard repertoire of violinists.'

(Answer: Yehudi Menuhin. And sadly it's still true that is has yet to enter the repertoire!)

BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts: Debussy and Pizzetti
Fridays 9 & 16 February; 9 & 16 March 1pm, LSO St Luke's

Cédric Tiberghien (piano) with Lorenzo Gatto (violin) and Camille Thomas (cello); and the BBC Singers

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