Franco Alfano (1875-1954)

Franco Alfano was born at Posillipo, near Naples, on March 8 1875 and died at San Remo on October 27 1954. After studying the piano privately with Alessandro Longo, and harmony and composition with C. de Nardis and Paolo Serrao at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Maiella in Naples, he moved in 1895 to Leipzig, where he completed his studies under Jadassohn. In 1896 he went to Berlin and launched himself as a pianist, though he did not continue this activity systematically for long: in later life he appeared in public only as a song accompanist and chamber music player, mainly in his own works. From 1899 until about 1905 he was based in Paris, but travelled as far afield as Russia. He then settled in Milan, moving in 1914 to San Remo, which remained at least his summer home for the rest of his life. From 1916 he taught composition at the Liceo Musicale, Bologna, which he directed from 1918. While there (1920), he helped to found the society Musica Nova, which in some ways paralleled Casella's more important Societa Italiana di Musica Moderna. Alfano was appointed director of the Liceo Musicale (later Conservatory) of Turin in 1923, remaining there until 1939. He was then superintendent of the Teatro Massimo, Palermo (1940-1942), subsequently becoming for a few months professor of operatic studies at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. From 1947 to 1950 he was acting director of the Liceo Musicale in Pesaro. Although he is most known these days as the composer who completed Puccini's "Turandot", Alfano was far from being a mere Puccini disciple. It is true that he won his first success with an opera in the Puccini-Giordano tradition, "Risurezione", which enjoyed great success reaching its 1000th Italian performance by 1951. But the rest of his subsequent operas struck off in very different paths. His "L'ombra di Don Giovanni" shows an awareness both of teh more complex, radical aspects of Debussy and of the Strauss of "Salome" and "Elektra", without being imitative of either. The harmonic vocabulary sometimes has coincidental affinities with that of the more troubled music of Bax. "La leggenda di Sakuntala", unquestionably Alfano's most important stage work, fulfills all his early promise. This opera poses a poised, luminous though still very complex texture, saturated with the exotic, scented atmosphere of the Indian legends on which the libretto is based. De'Paoli aptly compared the intricate, colourful orchestral fabric to 'certain oriental carpets'. The rich harmonic palette is just as individual as that of "L'ombra". Moreover, the lyrical impulse is still recognizably Italian, notably in such highlights as Sakuntala's monologue 'O novola' in Act II, one of Alfano's most inspired passages. His other operas include "Miranda" (1896, unpublished and unperformed), "La fonte di Enschir" (1898), "Il principe" (1907), "I cavalieri e la bella" (1910), "Madonna Imperia" (1927), "L'ultimo lord" (1930), "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1933-1935), and "Il dottor Antonio" (1941). Alfano's output of songs is dominated by the four main groups of Tagore settings: chips from his operatic workshop, sometimes profoundly Debussian in conception, yet always with a highly personal touch. As an orchestral composer Alfano first came to prominence, shortly before World War I, with the pictureque 'Suite romantica' (later named 'Eliana') and the sumptuous First Symphony, which both, in their different ways represent transitional stages betweent the styles of "Risurrezione" and "L'ombra di Don Giovanni". The war years and the 1920s saw the composition of his most imporatnat chamber works, among which the agitated Violin Sonata and the more mellow and contemplative Cella Sonata are outstanding. Both pieces, in their different ways, spring from the same creative roots as "Sakuntala", and the Cello Sonata is probably his instrumental masterpiece. By the 1930s, when Alfano returned to 'pure' orchestral composition after an interruption of twenty years, he was showing signs of neo-classical tendencies: the Second Symphony is more succinct and economical in texture than the First, and more diatonic and trenchant in its themes. His most successful later instrumental work is the 'Divertimento', whose bright, kaleidoscopic outer movements represent his neo-classical phase at its best. Alfano also wrote several ballets, including "Napoli" (1900), "Lorenza" (1901), and "Vesuvius" (1931). He also wrote a Piano Concerto in A around 1900, which however was never published and is now deemed to be lost. He wrote three string quartets (written respectively in 1914-18, 1926, and 1945). Also a Piano Trio (1929), and a Piano Quintet (1936). Furthermore, there are numerous other pieces for various formations. ATTENTION! This site is under CONSTRUCTION. Much more on Alfano to come soon.