Achille Longo (1900-1954, Italian)

The little presentation blurb on the back of the jewel case of the CD through which I first discovered the composer Achille Longo and his Piano Quintet calls him, together with his disc-mate Mario Pilati, a “relatively unknown Neapolitan composer”. Quite an understatement, I’d say! I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the subject of neglected, “off-the-beaten-track” composers, but this is the first time I come across these two names. And I must not be the only one, judging from the fact that the International Music Scores Library Project doesn’t even have an entry for Achille Longo (1900-1954) – they do have one for Alessandro Longo (1864-1945), which even offers the score of a Piano Quintet (link will open a new tab), and IMSLP seems to confuse the two as they feature the Naxos CD as an audio illustration, but these are not the same composers and compositions – a check on Wikipedia shows that Alessandro was Achille’s father. Incidentally, every music lover is familiar with Alessandro Longo, not through his compositions… but through his cataloguing of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas (the famous “L”, as in Sonata L XXX), long the reference before Ralph Kirkpatrick’s catalogue numbering took over.

So, in my pantheon, I’d characterize Longo and Pilati as “totally unknown Neapolitan composers”. Well, it only brings further proof again that posterity is a bitch.

Longo’s Quintet, from 1934, isn’t as original as Pilati’s but it’s nonetheless an enjoyable work if you are ready to disregard the aesthetic controversies of the time and after between avant-garde and arrière-garde. Rooted in a 20th century kind of romanticism, it unfolds a vehement, rent lyricism alternating with more tender moments. But it also displays great freedom of form and expression, moments of humor even in the Finale, and the best comparison I can come up with is the music of the whimsical Vincent D’Indy. A further interest of the recording is the presence of pianist Aldo Ciccolini, himself born in Naples and who was, despite his young age of 9, already a pupil of Longo at the Naples Conservatory as Longo was composing the Quintet. Ciccolini calls Longo his “spiritual father”, having learned from him “everything I know in music”. His interpretation his filled with unique authority. The recording was made in 2009, six years before Ciccolini’s passing.

Mario Pilati: Piano Quintet in D major (1928). / Achille Longo (1900-1954): Piano Quintet (1934). Dario Candela (piano, Pilati), Aldo Ciccolini (piano, Longo), Circolo Artistico Ensemble. Naxos 8.572628 (2011)

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