The desire to compose modern music inspired by the baroque and classical styles was adopted by many composers in the first half of the twentieth century. The wonderful yet neglected composer Vittorio Rieti absorbed neo-classicism from Stravinsky in Paris, embraced it with all the passion of his youth and of the period, but unlike his contemporaries, Rieti never let go of it. He continued to write in this mode throughout his life, long after most composers had abandoned or transformed the style. As Rieti himself remarked in 1973, "I maintain the same aesthetic assumptions I have always had. I have kept evolving in the sense that one keeps on perfecting the same ground." Modern music inspired by earlier, often archaic forms has always held a special place in my heart (Bloch, Hovhaness, Rosner, Harrison, Cowell, Martinu, Part, etc. etc...) and Rieti's music is a charming and
important example of this compositional pursuit. The disc at hand offers up such definitive pieces for chamber ensemble.
Although an Italian native, composer Vittorio Rieti (January 28, 1898 - February 19, 1994) was born in Alexandria, Egypt; his early music studies were taken as secondary to a course in economics at the University of Milan, where Rieti earned his diploma in 1917. Conscripted for a short time into the Italian army during World War I, he resumed his music studies with Alfredo Casella after the war and composed his first works in an experimental, near atonal style. His work gained the attention of Arnold Schoenberg, who frequently programmed them at ISCM concerts and helped Rieti win a publishing contract with Universal Edition. However, by the time he joined the staff of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in Paris in 1925, Rieti had shifted to a more neo-classical vein in the manner of Stravinsky, who became his close friend. Rieti enjoyed a high profile in the years leading up to the Second World War, but its outbreak caused him to flee to the United States in 1940.
Once in the U.S., Rieti picked up right where he left off, writing ballets for George Balanchine and having his works performed by major conductors and orchestras. Unlike Stravinsky, however, Rieti's music began to experience an eclipse starting in the 1950s. Just before that, Rieti had begun to teach, first at Peabody and later in Chicago, concluding with professorships at Queens College and the New York College of Music. Rieti enjoyed a long retirement, and continued to compose right up until his death in 1994 at the age of 96. There is a handful of recordings of his music, mostly out of print however and I certainly hope New World continues to record his music, or better yet that other labels too will explore his output-imp his music deserves exploration in spades!
Vittorio Rieti left an impressive body of work: seven operas, 11 symphonies, and 11 string quartets in addition to numerous ballets, chamber works, songs, piano pieces, and choral settings. In a stylistic sense, Rieti never wandered very far from the neo-classic sound he'd cultivated since 1925. Considerations of historical relevance aside, Rieti was a highly skillful composer with a great sense of concision and balance. In his American works, Rieti managed to bring an element of old-world charm into pieces that still successfully adopt some of the sass and bite typical to American concert music of the 1940s. His "Second Avenue Waltzes" (1942) beautifully evokes the feeling of being an immigrant in America, living in Hell's Kitchen, and perhaps the breeze lifting the curtain in a kitchen window..
I have included the extremely informative notes on the composer and his music from the New World disc.