Mario Pilati (1903-1938, Italian)

The little presentation blurb on the back of the jewel case of the CD through which I first discovered composer Mario Pilati and his Piano Quintet calls him, together with his disc-mate Achille Longo, 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, although it turns out that Pilati at least has a small CD representation.

Still, in my pantheon, I’d characterize these two as “totally unknown Neapolitan composers”. Well, it only brings further proof again that posterity is a bitch. Pilati’s Piano Quintet, written in 1927-28, is a magnificent work, reminiscent of Ernest Bloch (but the thorny Bloch of the first Violin Sonata and Piano Quintets) tinged with the delicacy and subtle colors or Ravel’s Piano Trio. On the basis of that work, Pilati is definitely a composer to explore further. Why did he fall in oblivion? A number of explanations can be given: first, he died at the young age of 35, which doesn’t help establish a solid reputation. Also, he was uncomfortably sandwiched between the generation of Pizzetti, Respighi, Maliperio and Casella on the one hand, and the firebrand “throw-it-all-away” gang whose figureheads were Nono, Berio and Maderna. Belonging to the same generation as Pilati were Goffredo Petrassi, Dallapiccola, Vittorio Rieti, Nino Rota and Scelsi, and it is significant that among Pilati’s predecessors and contemporaries, the more romantically-bent, like Pizzetti and Respighi, underwent (despite the latter’s ever-popular Roman Trilogy) an eclipse of sorts after the war, and that the ones that were able to secure some amount of of international exposure after the war were the more modernist among them, Malipiero, Casella, Petrassi, Dallapiccola.. and of course the maverick Scelsi, whose discovery happened only in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Finally, composing in Fascist Italy may not have helped the exposure of Pilati’s work outside of his country.

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)

Good website devoted to Pilati, maintained, apparently, by his daughter, but in Italian only.

Comments are welcome