The case for Casella: towards new methods of understanding and interpreting the Italian Modernist pianist-composer

Falconer, E. (2022) The case for Casella: towards new methods of understanding and interpreting the Italian Modernist pianist-composer. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


This thesis explores the piano music of Alfredo Casella. While there is much literature pertaining to Casella’s position in Fascist Italy, much of it fails to utilise archival sources. Similarly, the literature offers little stylistic analysis of Casella’s music, or discussion as to how performers might approach, interpret and perform his works. This thesis offers a tripartite insight into Casella. Part 1 reviews Casella’s biography and compositional process: Chapter 1 repositions the pianist-composer within Fascist Italy, reviewing archival sources including diaries, letters and personal artefacts and emphasising Casella’s importance as a pianist. Chapter 2 utilises sketchbooks and scores to outline his three-step compositional process. Part 2 of the thesis offers a theoretical interrogation of the pianist-composer. Chapter 3 gives a comparative and descriptive stylistic analysis of Casella’s piano works, based on LaRue and Keller models for analysis. Tactility, and tactile means of stylistic analysis is also discussed. Casella’s compositional style borrows tonality, form and structure, and style of other composers. Casella’s writings on music, and specifically interpretation and performance, are used to form a method for interpreting his works in Chapter 4. In the pianist-composer’s own words, interpretation is a form of construction, building on historical and contextual understanding, score analysis, and the performer’s own response to the work being performed. Part 3 of the thesis comprises case studies, applying the stylistic and interpretative approaches outlined in part 2 to five works: Toccata Op. 6 (1904), Sonatina Op. 28 (1916), Undici pezzi infantili Op. 32 (1920), Sinfonia, arioso e toccata Op. 59 (1936) and Sei Studi Op. 70 (1942-44). These are supplemented with recordings (found in the appendices). This thesis argues the case for Casella as an original and innovative composer whose works offer many interpretive opportunities for performers.

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