The Kennedy Center

Dai calanchi di Sabbiuno

About the Work

Fabio Vacchi Composer: Fabio Vacchi
© Richard Freed

This work, whose title may be rendered in English as "At the Trenches of Sabbiuno," enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra this week in the second of the three versions the composer produced between 1995 and 1998. The earliest of these, introduced at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan by the Ensemble Musica 20 on May 27, 1995, calls for only five performers. The latest is a version for chamber orchestra, first performed by the Orchestra dei Pomeriggi Musicali under Claire Gibault at the Milan Conservatory on February 14, 1998. The version for full orchestra was given its premiere at the Salzburg Easter Festival on March 30, 1997, by the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Iván Fischer conducting; Mariss Jansons conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the North American premiere on January 24, 2003.

The score calls for 3 flutes and piccolo, 3 oboes and English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons and contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, a low bell, bass drum, 2 harps, and strings. Duration, 7 minutes.

Following his studies with Giacomo Manzoni and Titto Gotti in his own country, Fabio Vacchi attended courses at Tanglewood in 1974 and took home the Koussevitzky Prize. He subsequently received other international prizes and awards, and by the time he reached the age of 30, concerts devoted entirely to his music were being presented at major festivals. His catalogue by now is a very large one, comprising operas (among them La station thérmale, after Goldoni, and Girotondo, after Schnitzler), ballets, symphonic pieces, chamber music (including the cycle of varied works collected under the heading Luoghi immaginari), film scores, songs and choral works of various dimensions. Commissions have come to him from performing organizations and festivals in both Europe and America. La Scala, Milan, which produced his earlier stage works, has commissioned the opera Teneke (with a libretto by the Turkish writer Yashar Kemal) for presentation next season.

Composers Roberto and Claudio Abbado have each identified themselves with Vacchi's music. The large-scale work for mezzo-soprano, cello and orchestra Tre veglie ("Three Vigils"), commissioned by the Salzburg Festival and introduced there in 2000, was given its first subsequent performance two years later in Rome under Roberto Abbado. Claudio Abbado commissioned the song cycle Briefe Büchners ("Büchner's Letters") for performance in the Berliner Festwochen of 1997, and in that same year suggested to Vacchi that he prepare this orchestral version of Dai calanchi di Sabbiuno.

The original chamber version of this work, scored for flute, bass clarinet, tubular bell, violin and cello, was composed in 1995 for a specific event, a program given at La Scala in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Italian Resistance in the Second World War. The full-orchestra version, as noted above, was introduced two years later. Following the Salzburg premiere, the conductor and orchestra who introduced it there took it on tour to several European cities and also recorded it. With three versions now in circulation, Dai calanchi di Sabbiuno is perhaps this composer's most frequently performed work.

The music is overtly elegiac in character, as befits the scene indicated by the title. The word calanchi is the Italian plural of a term better known in its French form: calanque: a ditch or trench. The trenches in this tragic scene are those carved by rain deep into the clayish landscape of Sabbiuno, a village near Vacchi's native Bologna. It was into these trenches, toward the end of the war, that the bodies of 40 partisans were thrown by the German troops who shot them. Vacchi's memorial to them is not on a grand scale, in respect to either its content or its proportions, but its heartfelt directness quite understandably led to the requests for the two versions for larger instrumental forces, and to the warm reception the piece has enjoyed in all three versions.