Program Notes

The Otto Frammenti, to be given their first complete performance at the Festival Pontino, were written in 1978, and have passed through two successive versions in two distinct phases: a new version of Frammenti III, IV, V and VI, performable also separately, was prepared in 1979 for a performance by the Five Centuries Ensemble directed by Carol Plantamura. These Frammenti, which constitute the central nucleus of the work and involve both voices and instruments, are preceded and followed by two series of purely instrumental canons whose definitive version was completed in 1997 for a performance in Borås (Sweden) organized by Björn Nilsson. Even then Clementi still forgot one canon, No. 29. Overall, the structure of the composition is in a mirror form, or rather a palindrome, built through the progressive thickening of the instrumental parts starting from a solo lute, to which two voices are added at the culminating point of the four central Frammenti, then decreasing mirror-like until concluding, again with solo lute, at the point from which it had started. The mirror form is reflected in the canonic and contrapuntal handling of the musical material, which sets the text of the Ballade by Charles d’Orléans Je meurs de soif en couste la fontaine using the famous theme from L’homme armé, highly popular in the 15th Century, especially thanks to its structural clarity, perfect for contrapuntal use. In line with his habit of adopting well known melodies as the starting points for his canonic explorations, Clementi presents the original material with extreme clarity, submitting it to all four mirror forms and in three different rhythmic values, without ever forsaking the recognizability of the theme, played in different tonalities simultaneously, in that canonic polytonal counterpoint typical of Clementi. What we hear, then, are 40 canons arranged/organized in eight fragments, in turn set within a perfectly symmetrical arch form. The entire contrapuntal construction then undergoes continuous time changes, from the sprightly paces of youth and the start of Summer, to the Winter when the rigid joints are almost immobile; in the end the music is so slow that it almost stops and decomposes. Although the composer chose instruments contemporary to the musical material presented, he nevertheless specified that the instrumentation is only «a suggestion — as if Bach had suggested an instrumentation for the Art of Fugue or for the Musical Offering». The Otto Frammenti are effectively a grand exercise in counterpoint that leaves many questions open as regards their performance. As Björn Nilsson wrote, maybe, on the basis of what Clementi theorized already in the ’70s, his works should be considered like epitaphs for an art already disappeared. And yet, they are resplendent with love for music and history. Within the mesh of parts we feel the great joy for the small snatches of melody, the wonder for the symmetry of the notes, for the beauty enclosed inside even the feeblest of them. In no other composition by Clementi is the sensation of a culture reaching its end so profound. «The end derives naturally from saturation and tiredness», said Clementi of his own poetics, «but it is never definitive: through a desolate familiarity we suddenly plunge into the infinite and the eternal».