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LAURA ESPOSITO PILATI PILATI - SIXTY YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH: PORTRAIT OF THE NEAPOLITAN COMPOSER
 
 

 


LAURA ESPOSITO PILATI

SIXTY YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH
PORTRAIT OF THE NEAPOLITAN COMPOSER


RICORDI OGGI
2.6.1997 - 3.12.1997


Today no-one could say that Mario Pilati - Neapolitan composer, the sixtieth anniversary from his death will occur next year - is today a well known musician, remembered and appreciated for his right value.
He died at 35, in 1938, just before World War 2 - an historical period which will witness so many upheavals caused by such a tragic event. He was the innocent victim of an energetic renewal operation, in postwar years aimed at making a clean sweep of anything that had characterized the preceding period.

Who can affirm, today, that he knew Mario Pilati or he was familiar with his music? Not a witness of that period has remained - a period relegated, by the bloody fracture opened by the war, in a past that we perceive much more distant from our rough present than what it really is. Nor his most beloved students, closer to him for taste, culture, musical and human gifts - Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Giacomo Saponaro, Orazio Fiume, among others - could withstand the unjust shelving of an epoque which was surpassed and in contrast with the values emerging, with great difficulty, from the tormented - musical and non musical - situation of our last post-war period.

The performance of Mario Pilati's works, which regularly continued in Italy and abroad after his death, became less and less frequent, until it stopped. Something seems to change today: the undeserved silence laying on him and on his music seems to dispel and perhaps his long quarantine will soon finish. An evidence is the interest shown by young and enthusiast interpreters for this wrongfully forgotten composer.

The start to this successful venture was given by the rediscovery of the Sonata per flauto e pianoforte - 1926 Coolidge award - which in 1955 was finally printed by the Accademia Italiana del Flauto. After a drop off about seventy years long, this Sonata undertakes again a career it had started under the best auspices - it had been premiered in Rome and was then repeated in Naples by outstanding performers such as Alfredo Casella piano and Marcel Möyse flute.

Pilati started composing on instinct, when he was very young, before he started studying music. At 15 he was admitted at the composition course of his hometown Conservatoire, Naples. He graduated in only four years (maxima cum laude) under the sage guidance of Antonio Savasta, who had sensed the extraordinary gifts of his precocious student. Since then his ascent was extremely rapid: he was always the first and winner of any prize and competition for teaching post he participated to. At 20 he was already qualified teacher for composition at the Cagliari Music High School. He remained there until, in 1925, Ricordi Publishing House wanted him in Milan (under Pizzetti's suggestion, whowas at that time director of the Conservatoire).

He was entrusted the elaboration and reduction of other composers' works - he would soon see his own works published by our Publishing House - and the preparation of critical volumes, whilst he continued his private teaching. He participated with profit and enthusiasm to the intense and brilliant cultural life of this city, which had welcomed him, by collaborating with newspapers and music reviews, as conductor or piano accompanist, maestro accompagnatore. It was an extremely creative and active period in which he composed some of his best works: Sonata in fa, Preludio, aria e tarantella for violin and piano, Sonata in la for cello and piano gave the young composer a sound chamber music reputation and prestigious awards (among which the 1926 Coleridge Award, established by the American patron in order to make of the European composers awarded an example for the young generations of American composers). Overseas several famous performers often played Pilati's works: the flutist Barrère played the Sonata, Koussevitsky the Suite and, later, Mitropoulos the Concerto in do maggiore, which was premiered two months after the composer's death at the Venice Contemporary Music Festival and was, extreme consolation, his last success!

This happy period had to finish soon. In 1930 Pilati left Milan and moved to Naples, then to Palermo - where he had won professorships - then back again to Naples to teach composition and to die after a painful illness. He left unfinished his biggest work, the opera in Neapolitan dialect and ambient Piedigrotta - a celebration of Neaples, the uncontested queen of melody throughout the centuries - with whom he thought he would have been consecrated as a composer.

His name, which had often represented the young Italian music in the world most important international Festivals, kept being included in the repertoire of some of the most prestigious soloists and conductors: Heifetz and de Vecsey performed his Preludio, aria a tarantella which, in its version for orchestra, has been conducted in America by Mitropoulos and by Victor de Sabata in the European tournees and at La Scala Theatre.
All this was not enough: the dark years of the war and its consequences made the memory of Mario Pilati remain intact only for those who met and loved him and those who, almost exclusively in private, cultivated his memory. Should we hope that this period of residency in the limbus of memory will soon end?