Impressions of war: 1915

Musical reactions to the turmoil of World War I

SUNDAY, 12 JULY 2020 | 6.00PM – 6.15PM

Event programme

Alfredo Casella
I. Nel Belgio: sfilata di artiglieria pesante tedesca [In Belgium: parade of heavy German artillery] from Pagine di guerra, op. 25 
for piano duet

Recorded live performance, 7 June 2019, St. Laurence Church, Catford, London, UK

Claude Debussy
III. Scherzando from En Blanc et Noir 
for two pianos

Recording by FlyOnTheWall, 24 May 2018, Jacques Samuel Pianos Showroom, London, UK

Event description

Both composed in 1915, the two pieces constitute two different musical reactions to the turmoil of World War I. The collection for piano four hands Pagine di Guerra (War Pages) by Alfredo Casella can be considered one of the first existing examples of music composed for motion images, the modern concept of a soundtrack. The Great War was indeed the first major historical event to be documented with footage as well as still images, and the viewing of some of these motion pictures inspired Casella in the creation of his ‘musical films’. The first one, here presented, evokes the deafening noise of heavy machinery; in the composer’s words, ‘rumble of huge motor tractors, swirl of squat, armoured wheels; skilful and mathematical monstrosity of colossal howitzers, advancing like pachyderms towards new devastations.’ The musical language is influenced by the French early twentieth-century avant-garde, and the use of the piano is heavily percussive and rhythmical.

Debussy’s suite for two pianos En Blanc et Noir was conceived during a time when the composer was suffering from cancer and deeply preoccupied with France’s involvement in the war. In spite of Debussy’s claim that the music derives its color and spirit simply from the sonority of the piano, and that it is in no way intended as a commentary on the war, virtually all his correspondence from this period indicates that he was obsessed by the conflict. In an exchange of letters with Igor Stravinsky (to whom the last piece of En Blanc et Noir is dedicated) from October 1915, the two composers share their preoccupation with the war, and their fear that it may not only destroy their nations but also their art.

About the creators

Giulia Semerano and Filippo Di Bari

Sharing like-minded musical views and a strong commitment to chamber music, pianists Giulia Semerano and Filippo Di Bari perform as a piano duo and are presently working on masterpieces written for this intimate ensemble, as well as lesser-known works from the XX and XXI century and collaborations with living composers. 

After meeting in Italy while studying under the guidance of Sergio De Simone, they pursued further studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, where they are now based. Praised for their intense and engaging performances, and recipients of several prizes and scholarships, Giulia and Filippo regularly perform in important venues across Europe, including St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James Piccadilly, Blackheath Halls, Festival Intersezioni, Artcevia International Art Festival.

Music at Royal Holloway MixTape

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