Robin Holloway

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As if to answer my recent complaints (Arts, 30 October) concerning the dumb deserts of Radio Three between the end of the early-evening concert and the wall-to-wall small-hour tapestry of Through the Night, two weeks in succession have provided high seriousness, requiring committed attention, yielding deep artistic rewards, reminiscent of the great old days (let’s hope this is a trend; not all trendiness need be derogatory!).

Both were anniversaries. We live in a culture wherein ‘minority’ interests seem ignitable only by a birthday or deathday. First the former: Luigi Dallapiccola (given two whole sessions — three one-act dramatic pieces; a long succession of variegated smaller work interspersed with authoritative commentary, including the composer’s own fierce guttural voice). Born in February 1904, he reached a plateau of recognition in the mid-century, only to vanish almost without trace, together with most other composers who followed on from the modernist pioneers in more recent years. Of this lost generation, Dallapiccola is in some ways the most attractive as well as the most admirable, not so much for his impeccably correct credentials — anti-fascist, pro-freedom, humanity, classical stance with up-to-date techniques — as for the quality of his musical invention.

The first evening confirmed the implied reservation. Volo di notte (1937–9), after Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s celebrated novel of heroic nocturnal aviation, had moments both of radiance and of grandeur, but seemed deficient in operatic pacing and variety. Il Prigioniero (1944–5), after a conte cruel of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (itself deriving heavily from Poe), goes too far the other way, incongruously mating blatant Puccini-isms with an intricate mesh of purely instrumental polyphony out of Webern, the mix then smothered in luscious syrup sauce out of Strauss and Berg, disconcertingly inappropriate to the bitter subject: hope kindled, teased, deferred, betrayed.

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