Piano Quintet No.2 in B flat Major, Op.5
Sgambati wrote his Second Piano Quintet shortly after he completed his first. It was completed in 1867. That he did so indicated that he was just teeming with musical ideas. Certainly, both of his quintets are brimming over with lovely melodies, unusual rhythmic effects and tremendous originality.
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 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 either of his piano quintets and tonally it bears little resemblance to any of the major German composers. The massive opening movement Andante, with its soft viola aria against an tonally advanced accompaniment was more than decade ahead of its time. The music slowly builds in tempo and tension reach a powerful climax before going onto to new ideas. Next comes a Barcarolle with its rocking 6/8 rhythm and flowing melody, it conjures up the canals of Venice. Again there are unusual tonal episodes which smack of a more modern era. In the following slow movement, Andante, the piano is given a lengthy, solemn introduction which recalls Schubert. The strings enter and embark upon a leisurely exposition of the spacious main theme. The finale, Allegro vivace, is a triumphant jaunt full of excitement and good spirits.
Here is another first class work, as Wagner recognized, and deserving of a place in the concert hall as will as on the music stands of amateur players.