Piano Quintet No.1 in f minor, Op.4
After hearing Sgambati's two piano quintets in Rome, Wagner wrote to his publisher as follows:
"I wish to strongly recommend to you for publication two piano quintets by Signor Sgambati of Rome. It was Liszt who drew my attention to this composer, who is also an exceptionally talented pianist. I have now had the very real pleasure of discovering a truly great and original talent, which as it is somewhat out of place in Rome, I would gladly introduce to the greater musical world."
Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) was born in Rome and lived most of his life there. He received his musical training in Umbria, where he lived as a boy before returning to Rome. He was one of the few 19th century Italian composers (Giuseppe Martucci was another) who devoted himself solely to instrumental music and shunned opera. During the 1860's, he tried to popularize German instrumental music in Italy and in so doing befriended Liszt, who at the time was living in Rome. Liszt not only wanted to help Sgambati realize his goal but also was quite impressed with his compositional talent and recommended him to several German composers, including Wagner. Sgambati's main compositions are for orchestra, chamber ensembles or church music. Although any serious instrumental music, at the time, was rejected as a German thing by most Italians, who only had ears for opera, Sgambati was not deterred.
Despite his friendship with Liszt and Wagner, their influence is not to be found in Piano Quintet No.1 which was composed in 1866. It is a very original work which, unlike the works of Martucci, tonally bears little resemblance to any of the major German composers. The opening movement Adagio-allegro ma non troppo, begins with a lengthy, slow and somber introduction, the purpose of which is to build tension. The Allegro explodes forth with a highly dramatic theme which is super-charged with energy. The lyrical second theme is first presented by the cello before the others join in. (our soundbite begins with the last few measures of the Adagio introduction) The second movement, Vivacissimo, is a very modern Italian-sounding scherzo. Brilliant and full of pulsing energy, the music races along breathlessly until it reaches the dreamy, slow middle section. This movement is a real tour d'force. Next comes an soft Andante sostenuto. Its main theme has a religious feeling and the music sounds suitable for a church service. The extraordinary and gigantic finale, Allegro moderato, has enough musical material for an entire work, let alone a single movement. It opens with two chords which vaguely recall the scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, however, the main theme is a genial march that has a lop-sided rhythm. It's development is quite unusual. There follows a very dramatic second theme over tremolos, while the rhythm from the first theme is softly played in the background. Finally, a complete change of mood arrives with a highly lyrical and lovely third theme which the strings present as a unified group, creating an almost orchestral effect. The music continues on a panoramic trip to an exciting climax. (Though we have offered a very long soundbite, it is less than a third of the length of this magnificent movement)
This massive and superb work was published only once, any set of parts, including the one we worked off of, is over 130 years old. Sheet music of this age almost always has extensive water marks and other blemishes such as specks from paper deterioration. We have spent a great deal of time digitally cleaning the music, however, it is not pristine nor like a brand new edition. Here and there, small specks appear. However, as a reprint, it is much better than any set of old parts. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact. Truly a work for the concert hall where it will surely triumph, the quintet is by no means beyond the ability of good amateur players.