In this week’s blog Mr. Joseph Vella Bondin talks about Carlo Fiamingo, a composer who was active in between the 19th and the 20th century.
Carlo Fiamingo was aged 79 when he died in his Sliema home on 19 April 1961, just one month short of his 80th birthday. He was born on 3 May 1881 into a musical family, his father Giorgio and brother Paolo both also being very gifted violinists and composers.
He studied music and the violin with his father and refined his studies in harmony, counterpoint and orchestration with Giuseppe Vella, the Mdina Cathedral’s maestro di cappella between 1869 and 1902. His talent in the violin was so exceptional that, when aged just 14, he started to be regularly contracted as violinist and later first violinist with the Teatru Rjal orchestra. Indeed, it can be said that his many years of being part of this admirable ensemble, among the finest contracted Italian violinists and conducted by the finest maestri engaged by its impresarios, was instrumental in moulding the outstanding ability he showed as a composer.
Fiamingo was a professional violinist, in that he made his living by playing that instrument. There was hardly a performance in the theatre and the concert hall for which he was not engaged. He was also greatly in demand by maestri di cappella, particularly those belonging to the Nani family of church musicians. He was also active as a music teacher, particularly of the violin, among his outstanding students in this field being Paul Nani, Emanuele Caruana and Carmelo Pace. His works for the violin are among the best to be found in that instrument’s literature. The finest among them seem to be:
- Andante appassionato per violin con accompanimento di pianoforte (1890)
- Gran capriccio di concerto for violin con accompanimento di pianoforte on themes from Bellini’s Norma (1890)
- Danse infernale: caprice fantastique pour violon avec accompagnement d’orchestre ou de piano (1905)
- The shepherd’s love song for violin and piano
These 4 works were published by A. Forlivesi & Co. of Florence, Italy, and copies can be found in leading European libraries. These, and others for the same instrument, were admired by the leading violinists of the time, particularly the Spanish Pablo Sarassate (1844-1908) who characterised the harmonics Fiamingo introduces, particularly his double harmonics, as among the most difficult for that instrument he had ever encountered in his distinguished career. Another was the Hungarian Joseph Joachim (1831–1907) whose copy of Fiamingo’s Gran capriccio di concerto for violin is the one reproduced online by the public domain site Petrucci Music Library.
Besides works for the violin, Fiamingo also composed many others for different ensembles. Also extant is the song The vale of hope on a lyric by Harold W. Davey published in 1916 by West & Co. of London, a copy of which is in the British Library; there are also a few scores, mainly in autograph manuscript, belonging to the Mdina Cathedral Music Archives. And the rest? What has happened to them? Unfortunately, the writer of this blog, in spite of the many decades he has devoted to the study of the Maltese musical heritage does not have an answer. He much suspects that they are no longer extant and the Maltese nation has lost an important part of its precious and irreplaceable cultural heritage. Among them is also Fiamingo’s sole opera, Redenta.
Redenta is a lyric drama in two acts on a libretto by the Italian poet and writer Luigi Sbragia whose libretti were also set by, among others, Italian composers Mario Pieraccini and Cesare Bacchi. The story is set in Venice in the early twentieth century and is based on the love affair between Mario, an artist, and Elisa whose portrait he is painting. Lydia, his former fiancée, informs him that Elisa’s real name is Leda, a woman well-known for her licentious nature. Mario immediately breaks his relationship with Elisa but afterwards is sorry he took that step. Two years later, during Venice’s masked carnival, the two meet again and fall in each other’s arms but, in the interim period, Elisa’s health had deteriorated to such an extent that the intense happiness she now feels leads to her immediate death. The contemporary and down-to-earth story line, overtly colourful and passionate, suggests that Redenta belongs to what is now designated post-Mascagnian verismo.
The opera was premiered in the Teatru Rjal on 23 March 1912 and was repeated nine times, always to an admiring and enthusiastic reception. Critics praised the freshness of its refined melodies, the apposite musical depictions of its varied dramatic and contrasting elements, the strong interpretation of its well-chosen cast, and, above all, the surprising fecund talent of its young and much lauded composer.
Redenta is now another of those excellent operas by Maltese composers which live only in the nebulous shadows of the Maltese collective memory!
In next week’s blog Mr. Joseph Vella Bondin talks about a composer from the village of Żejtuin – Carlo Diacono.