Vittorio Rieti (28 Janvier 1898, Alexandrie, Égypte - 19 février 1994, New York City, USA)

En 1917, Vittorio Rieti part  à Milan où il fait ses études en économie (Université Bocconi où il soutient une thèse sur l'économie turque) et étudie aussi le piano avec Giuseppe Frugatta et la composition avec Ottorino Respighi, Gian Francesco Malipiero et Alfredo Casella.
En 1925 il s'établit à Paris où il compose de la musique de ballet pour George Balanchine et les ballets russes de Diaghilev (Barabau), puis à New York en 1940. Aux États-Unis il enseigne dans différentes écoles des musiques, comme le Hunter College de New York (1960-1964), à Baltimore et à Chicago. Il obtient la nationalité américaine en 1944.
Il rencontre sa femme à Alexandrie, Égypte.
Sa musique est tonale et néo-classique, de style mélodique et élégant.

Samuel Rechtoris (1991) - booklet note published in "Vittorio Rieti" CD, New World NWCR 601

Few composers have sustained as prolific a level of compositional activity into their sixth or seventh decade as Vittorio Rieti has into his tenth.  A remarkable flourishing of creative energy has, in the years 1988-1991 alone, resulted in the creation of Symphonies Nos. 9, 10 and 11, the Second Harpsichord Concerto, Third Violin Concerto, Fifth and Sixth String Quartets and no less than seven instrumental works.

Throughout a century of rapidly evolving and radically disparate musical styles, Vittorio Rieti has maintained a consistent, unique stylistic identity.  In asserting that his principal composition teacher was Bach, Rieti reaffirmed in words what we hear in his music - that he understood and internalized the artistic workings of earlier masters, giving him the confidence to remain independent of fashionable trends. Joel Sheveloff has written, "Among twentieth-century composers, none knows more about his predecessors than Rieti, particularly about those dark corners in musical creativity in which rough places are made plain, and transitional passages get directed toward their proper goals. Perhaps Rieti’s greatest gift is his ability to see a musical idea through to its logical conclusion. When a Rieti piece ends, the audience is almost always sorry it is over — it was going along so well."

Vittorio Rieti has enjoyed describing himself as a citizen of the world.  Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1898, he traveled to Milan at sixteen to enter Bocconi University. Soon after submitting a doctoral thesis in 1917 on the economy of Turkey, he redirected his life and by 1925 had composed music for George Balanchine's first ballet, Barabau. He travelled widely throughout Europe and developed relationships of mutual respect with other composers: Schoenberg, Berg and Webern in Vienna; Casella and Respighi in Rome; Lambert and Walton in London; and numerous artistic luminaries in Paris.  His friendship with Igor Stravinsky, begun in the 1920s, continued for over half a century. Of all the musicians, dancers and theatrical figures who worked with the legendary Sergei Diaghilev, Rieti alone survives.

After fifteen productive years in Rome and Paris, political conditions in Europe compelled Rieti to immigrate to New York City in 1940.  He began a distinguished teaching career in the United States by succeeding Nadia Boulanger at the Peabody Conservatory in 1948.  He later held positions at Chicago Musical College and Queens College in Flushing, New York.  Rieti's orchestral works were championed by such great conductors as Ansermet, Kubelik, Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Monteux, Reiner, and Toscanini. His ballets continue to be frequently performed, La Sonnambula (The Night Shadow) having received more than two thousand performances.   In every corner of the world, Vittorio Rieti's name epitomizes urbanity, charm and technical mastery. 


When one is marking time in decades it may matter little that sixty years has elapsed before the first American recording of Rieti's 1931 Serenata per Violino Concertante e Piccolo Orchestra.  More significant is the fact that Janet Packer's perforrmance of the Serenata inspired Rieti to compose his third violin concerto, Concerto Giannetto, in 1991.

The Serenata was premiered in Brussels in November 1931 by Yvonne de Casa-Fuerte, the work's dedicatee and Rieti’s friend.  The composer conducted the Paris premiere, and the work was subsequently performed in Strasbourg, Rome and Vienna.

The first movement, marked Allegro, is interrupted after just fourteen bars by a short cadenza, whose striking material returns later to open the major second-movement cadenza.  This is a cheerful, neoclassical movement, providing the soloist with lyrical passages as well as brilliant cascades of double stops and string crossings.  The breathtaking conclusion frequently elicits spontaneous applause at live performances.

The second movement, in contrast, opens with a cadenza which is as prolonged an example of dissonance as one will find in Rieti's music.  While the movement is formally in three separate sections –  Cadenza, Adagio and Siciliana – unity is achieved through a gradual progression from tension to repose.  That is, the dissonances and metric freedom of the Cadenza are tempered in the Adagio and subsequently resolved by the tonality and metric regularity of the Siciliana. 

The Cadenza is unbarred, requiring the soloist to establish pulse and phrase.  The listener may enjoy following the individual lines here, independent but intertwined, while savoring each dissonance.  The Adagio non troppo is an interlude of suspended motion, as melodic fragments appear, are repeated with a slight twist, and dissipate.  Secondary pulses pull against the barline, creating a feeling of metric instability.  Tonality returns with the first notes of the Siciliana, in which a mood of warmth and relaxation replaces the angst of the Adagio.  The initial minor-key material alternates with a melancholic episode in C major.  This movement requires extraordinary sensitivity by each performer for the ideal instrumental balances to be achieved.  Hear, for example, the trumpet-violin dialog of such delicacy in the Siciliana!

The third movement is in two sections, the first of which, a playful Allegretto, is a continuum of shifting meter, syncopation and dynamic contrast.  Motives are tossed between soloist and ensemble, while a feeling of lightness and transparency is maintained – sixty percent of the Allegretto is marked piano or pianissimo.  After several minutes of dizzying harmonic instability, a cadence to C major announces the movement’s concluding section, Allegro vivace.  This is a breathless romp, each measure revealing surprises too numerous to appreciate at any one hearing.  Simple tunes, dynamic extremes and a foot-stomping rhythmic drive produce a remarkable synthesis of strict neoclassicism and music-hall merriment.

© 1991 Samuel Rechtoris


Published: New York Times January 13, 1985

Vittorio Rieti is becoming something of a wonder. He will be 87 years old on the 28th of this month, but he is still composing music that is as sprightly and cheerful as anything he ever wrote. Or at least he was doing so as recently as 1984. At Goodman House on Tuesday night, St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble gave a concert of his works - five all told - and all but one of them dated from the past two years.

There were the ''Sonata a Dieci'' and ''Verdiana'' of 1983, ''Tre Improvisi'' and ''Concertino pro San Luca'' of 1984 and one early work, ''Madrigale,'' from 1927. All the pieces had a common denominator in that they were scored for woodwinds, trumpet, piano and string quartet. The ''Madrigale'' and one of the ''Improvisi'' also also called for a French horn.

Mr. Rieti, who has lived in this country since 1940, is Italian by parentage and training, but his music is fundamentally French, influenced by Stravinsky's neo-classicism. Stravinsky was a friend, and Mr. Rieti spent a lot of time in Paris when he was young.

The influence of Paris in the 20's that has stuck with him more resolutely, perhaps, than with any French composer was that music should not pretend to profundity. Grandiose statements are definitely not for him, nor is sentimentality. Instead, he is known chiefly for lighthearted music that is meant to divert, to entertain.

In fact, the works in this program qualified as 20th-century equivalents of the serenades and divertimentos of 18th-century composers. Lively tunes were manipulated deftly, the instrumental coloring was bright, the textures were clear and the structural organization simple. This was generally true even of ''Verdiana,'' in which Mr. Rieti made a ballet score based on themes from Verdi operas.

The performances projected the Rieti spirit admirably, St. Luke's young instrumentalists delivering the music with insouciance and charm.