FEDERICO CAUDANA ORGANIST AND ORGAN MUSIC COMPOSER1
I reckon that the organ music of Federico Caudana (Castiglione Torinese, 4th December 1878 - San Mauro Canavese, 29th July 1963) – an author certainly most known for his sacred and secular choral music, thanks to the great widespread of Bergamo “Edizioni Carrara” Music Press - is known in Italy more among amateur organists (those who play during Catholic services) than by professional Conservatoire trained organists, thanks to the music set entirely contained in this recording, although in recent times, also thanks to Caudana’s biography that I have compiled for "Bollettino Storico Cremonese” (published in Cremona in September 2009), organists such as Gianluca Libertucci willingly perform at concerts and during Holy Mass some pieces taken from the Concentus Ecclesiae set.
We know for sure that the Organist and Choirmaster of Cremona Cathedral
(from July 1907 to his death) - completely immersed in the daily liturgical services life, constant teaching activity and the occasional concerts - was not particularly interested in composing music for organ2;
For him it was sufficient the inexhaustible imagination used during improvisation, using also, during concerts, part of the repertoire he had faced while he was a student at Milan Conservatoire, between 1896 and 1907.
In 1924 Caudana began a strong friendship and close and fruitful collaboration with the brilliant musician and editor Vittorio Carrara from Bergamo:
it is only thanks to the instigation of Carrara that a series of compositions began to flow from Caudana’s pen, and, among other things, in 1956 they were so many that were collected in the first volume (the planned second volume never saw the light of day) of Concentus Ecclesiae.
Actually in his youth Caudana had some occasions to compose for the organ (here you can listen to the inedited Offertorio in A major), but once in Cremona, Caudana was too absorbed by choral composition and choral singing teaching at the Bishop Seminary and at the "Blessed Virgin" College to care about organ composition, for which evidently felt no practical utility.
We have to wait until May 1929 for Caudana to be inspired and produce a significant organ work titled Quies, composed as a tribute to the performer Ulysses Matthey (1876 - 1949), who played it on the "Rotelli" Organ in the Cittanova Palace in Cremona during November of the same year; the piece was soon published by the publisher Carrara with the more marketable title of Mater amabilis – a concert piece.
This composition, therefore, opened Caudana’s organ music creative season,
a season that will last - we dare to say for Carrara’s felix culpa - until 1961, and which shows the composer's talent, talent that, however, was clipped by the needs of conciseness of the publisher: brevity and ease of performance were editorial prerogatives imposed by Vittorio Carrara to try to encourage those less skilled church organists (almost all, then as now, were not professional organists like Caudana) ... but you can understand the talent of a composer first of all by the little works!
The first real Caudana’s editorial success as composer for organ arrived in 1931: and is yet only after Carrara stimulus if he composed those Cinque pezzi (Preludio Dorico; Offertorio [in C major]; Contemplazione; Scherzo [in C minor]; Finale [alias Wedding March]) then all in Concentus Ecclesiae.
For an overall opinion about this organ music anthology, I think it’s important to show the following article appeared on “L’Avvenire d’Italia” in October 1956 by Father Pellegrino Santucci (1921-2010) from Bologna:
[...] there are thirty-four pieces for Organ or Harmonium easy to perform, of great musical interest and profound human and religious inspiration.
We must recognize in Caudana the true musician, of highly emotional temperament and strong sensitivity. These qualities allowed him to avoid mediocrity in all his compositions.
For these reasons he imposed himself immediately in Italy with remarkable compositions of all kinds, from symphonic to chamber music, from great masses to small compositions, in which Caudana succeded with popularity and seriousness at the same time, as in the magnificent hymn "Lauda Sion" that everybody in Italy sings and that makes Caudana one of those authors of more immediate appeal that nowadays we have in sacred music.
The pieces of "Concentus Ecclesiae" are taken from various journals to which Caudana gave his best contribution both as director and as a co-operator:
Yet a reason more to get to know this very personal composer.
To outline in more details the characteristics of Caudana as organ composer is useful to quote the words of Bologna Archiginnasio Library Director, Alberto Serra Zanetti, about Concentus Ecclesiae set, words that we would like to report here:
From this collection of music [...] becomes obvious what to me is the essential quality of the artistic and spiritual physiognomy of the composer: spontaneity.
An innate spontaneity, not achieved through the gradual refining of technique and studies, but related to the original character of this man.
This spontaneity is related to a simplicity, which is not poverty of ideas and resources, but rather an expert search and secure discovery of a personal style,
closely related to the artistic concept and the aesthetic sensibility of the composer.
In a period in which the majority of musicians swings, puzzled, between the traditional system and the atonal and twelve-tone system, confusing musical language itself with the means of expression, in a period of ruinous decay, in which the fear of not being technically updated suffocates in musicians any spontaneous impulse of inspiration, Caudana follows the path drawn by his direct experience, knowing that real music, the one without adjectives and without programmatic definitions, the one that flowed irresistibly from the heart, is neither ancient nor modern, but always actual, and that the problems that trap and worry so much contemporary composers of sacred and secular music are not of artistic nature, but purely ... technological.
In fact all music included in this collection is characterized by a sincere and communicative melodic discursiveness and by harmonic and contrapunctual modes of clear and simple structure, always adequate to the character of each particular piece. The content of the invention and the ambient of each piece are characterized with immediate evidence, so that the musical result sounds tasty and suggestive.3
And indeed those who were able to hear Caudana regularly playing as liturgical organist during Mass or Vespers at Cremona Cathedral, would recognize in the words of Serra Zanetti all features of Caudana as improviser.
Is Concentus Ecclesiae the summa of Caudana’s organ improvisation art?
In the late summer of 1907, when he arrived at the Torrazzo as winner of the competition for the post of Cathedral Organist and Choirmaster, the young Maestro recently graduated at Conservatoire did not fail to make people talk publicly about him as organ performer and brilliant keeper of a practice, the improvisation, which in Cremona Cathedral, during the second half of the 19th century, had illustrious predecessors like Vincenzo Antonio Petrali (1830-1889) and Gaetano Mascardi (1830-1901):
the opportunity was given by the inaugural concert for the new "Rotelli" organ in Villastrada (province of Mantova, in the Diocese of Cremona) when Caudana ‘with the performance of the themes assigned to him ex abrupto from Gregorian Victimae Paschali and the antiphon Domine quinque talenta, proved to be an unsurpassed interpreter and delicious harmonizer of Gregorian melodies’.4
On the other hand we can say with certainty that for Caudana there was no space for the performance of organ literature in the daily liturgical services, due to the incapacity of the big cathedral organ that was an 'old system' organ (built by Pacifico Inzoli from Crema in 1879), but especially because at that time the propensity of organists - as well as musicians in general – to regularly deal with music of the old masters, was almost not existent, however useful only as a historical knowledge during academic studies: so the only solution for good liturgical organist was the traditional practice of improvisation.
Still many years later, the audience in Andria (Bari) Cathedral on October 6th 1935 during the inaugural concert for the new "Mascioni" organ, could read in the program notes a biographical sketch in which the artist Caudana was described as "a brilliant, prominent improviser”.
Curiously, in this art for which he was always acclaimed during services and concerts, Caudana reported the lowest mark among competitors at the exam sustained during the competition in Cremona in 1907:
the question is whether the three examiners (Luigi Cervi, Guglielmo Mattioli e Oreste Ravanello) - however well aware of the importance of this skill for the
job of a church organist - were too severe or felt actually not entirely satisfied with the qualities shown by the competitors, which have perhaps found difficult to manage with good naturalness the complex machine of the monumental Cathedral organ which was responding to the canons of a typical 19th century organ of the Lombard school (in that period still very popular and used, before the advent of the repressive Caecilian season), but so huge5 to intimidate a little, perhaps, all the candidates in this competition, which had to be judged on this instrument not only for an improvisation over a short given theme, but also sight reading a piece of medium difficulty.
And yet in regard to this organ and to the practice of improvisation, the rector of Cremona Seminary, Monsignor Guarneri, questioned by the Cathedral Surveyors of the Fabric to express an opinion on the choice of the winner candidate to the post of Cathedral organist and choirmaster, wrote this on July 16th 1907:
I agree with the opinion [...] of the inappropriateness to examine the prospective candidates on the Cathedral organ. Despite its monumental dimensions it does not respond to the secular needs of the real art of organ playing.
19th century Italian organ makers realized this too late and ended up this way by building fine instruments that for real organists (not for the improvisers) are almost useless, I would say.
This judgment is an indication of the incipient mentality to appreciate also those organists able to perform not only improvised inventions - still useful during liturgical services - but also the works of masters of the past, usually neglected by Italian organists until that moment.
It is Cremonese Vicar Don Giuseppe Sansoni (to whom Caudana used to ask to sit at the organ while he was busy conducting the choir during solemn services at the Cathedral) to witness in August 1963, regarding the fame about Caudana’s ability as organ improviser saying that:
"Here Caudana, composer and performer at the same time, had few rivals.
All those who have listened to him agreed in judgment: a readiness, a freshness, a variety of themes and developments, a confidence of performance able to enchant and enthral."
According to another Cremonese priest, Don Giglio Bonfatti, Caudana’s improvisation was appreciated for “his brilliant and disciplined imagination”, both in services and in many concerts performed at the inauguration of new organs, when, in addition to performing some works of literature, which never lacked, he always played an amazing improvised encore, aware of the 'incantatory' power of a good improviser.
Although over the years Caudana was increasingly appreciated for the extreme pleasantness of his improvisations, particularly in the liturgy before that in concerts, Caecilian movement followers (founded and developed in Europe between late 19th and early 20th century) nurtured little sympathy for an art that had come to represent the emblem of the money-grubber involved in the performance of para-operatic music in Church.
About this theme as early as 1875 Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis argued that
[le veritable organiste] improvise lorsque cela est nécessaire pour le courts préludes et versets du culte catholique qui ne permettent pas de développements, à cause des nécessités de l'office; mais il sait que l'improvisation ne donnera jamais pour résultat de la musique de quelque valeur, parce qu'il ne peut s'y trouver ni plan, ni connexion d'idées, ni développement progressif d'une phrase principale et dominante. En réalité, sur un instrument qui offre autant de difficultés que l'orgue, il n'y a pas d'improvisations véritables: ce qu'on donne comme telles ne se compose que de réminiscences, de lambeaux bien ou mal ajustés et d'effets prepares.6
Anyway the art of improvisation, almost lost in the meantime in Italy,
has always been the prerogative of good organists: Caudana improviser at the organ, especially for people from Cremona, was indeed Caudana par excellence, and even the day of his funeral in Cremona Cathedral (31st July 1963), the Bishop of Cremona, Danio Bolognini, remembered and praised this particular quality of the Maestro.
After all, it was natural: the citizens of Cremona had grown accompanied by the daily music offered by this devoted church organist who, uninterruptedly from 1907 to 1954 (hereinafter increasingly less due to health reasons) played every morning at the Cathedral during Holy Mass chaired by members of the chapter, and during afternoon vespers.
Talking about Vespers, it was common practice for Catholic organists, until the advent of the liturgical reform towards the end of 1963, to improvise appropriate short organ verses alternating to the singing of psalms and verses of the Magnificat, according to a practice called alternatim, in use since the rise of the 15th century7 - which was appropriately regulated in Cremona cathedral with a circumstantial Organist specification for the service in which it was clearly asked to the organist to play “relatively long accompaniment of verses, keeping them within the limits of discreteness, so not too short, nor excessively long.”
In this recording is possible to listen to an inedited example of Caudana as organist at Vespers with the organ verses for the Magnificat in the eighth tone, alternating with as many inedited vocal verses by the same composer, taken from a manuscript preserved in the library of Cremona Schola Cantorum Episcopal Seminary.
There were, then, a few notes of the Maestro, music sketched ideas which he used as a track for his "improvvisi" at the Mass: of these musical sketches here are recorded some inedited examples, completed by myself.
Emblematic, among other things, a small autograph booklet entitled “Temi caudaniani per organo” - Caudana’s organ themes - (title that perhaps reveals the consciousness of his peculiar style) consisting of a set of numbered musical themes of different character (Brillante, Brillante per ance, Patetici espressivi per ripieni) ready to use (liturgically or in concert) to put on the music stand.
At this point comes naturally the curiosity to know what Caudana used to improvise in concerts and in what style he expressed those impromptu creations that stemmed from a vivid imagination and were supported by a solid technique.
A hint about this matter is provided by the previously mentioned Don Sansoni, "years ago, one who understood about music after hearing him improvising at the organ, said, "he has got something of the French school.”
Now, by going through the whole published organ music (which we remember, is very little compared to the entire catalogue of Caudana works published by "Edizioni Carrara Music Press" in Bergamo, consisting of 429 titles), it is difficult to find in it any clear French influence, with the exception perhaps of Théodore Dubois, of whom Caudana often performed several pieces in concerts, or even of Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wely whose organ works - inspired by the sensuality of the operatic Bel Canto and possibly by Offenbach operetta, with bright accents and martial orchestral and band effects, with a writing more for piano that for organ - may be partly found in those short compositions composed by Federico Caudana on Carrara request, listening to which we can dare to find the improviser Caudana.
In fact it is again Don Sansoni that left us a description of the Maestro compositional style, description that applies, I believe, also to his improvisational style:
In my opinion, despite being a son of his time and having written in the style of his time, Caudana belongs to a school of his own, a qualified and personal school: Caudana’s school; […] It is not easy to write sacred music, because if you exceed on the one hand, the is risk is to write cold and lifeless music and on the other hand the risk is writing music more suitable for a salon or a theatre than for a church. A good sacred music musician has to avoid the two extremes and stand with honour, right in the middle. Caudana has succeeded admirably in this. His liturgical music, as I said, is inspired, by a sacred inspiration; it is often lyrical, but with a lyricism that is not unsuitable for the liturgy and does not offend the temple; sometimes it is also dramatic or bright or joyful, but does not distract from piety: instead, it reconciles and helps it.8
In these words, in our opinion, is also summarized that virtus in medio that Caecilian reformation followers in general were not, unlike our Caudana, able to realize after Pope Pius X's motu proprio on sacred music (1903) because, anxious to extirpate from church music every 19th century melodramatic lasciviousness, had fallen into the opposite excess of a music, of course, the most pious and devout (inspired by the supreme example of purity and nobility of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina great polyphony), but often dull. In other words, the hasty Caecilian reform, born to break the clang of melodramatic church music, ended by encouraging the production of a wide range of sterile, vacuous, corny and monotonous music, without producing any progress, but only a mediocre drastic reaction to the pseudo-operatic music: liturgical music, yes, but also a bit '"lethargic", as Caudana used to call it jokingly, alluding to the same soporific boredom procured from the compositions of well-known contemporary composers such as Luigi Bottazzo, Giovanni Terrabugio, Angelo Nasoni, Antonio Arnaldi, Enrico Scarzanella etc.., all people that Caudana, talking confidentially to Carrara, called kindly but, with great controversy, lethargic.
If, then, for the most puritan Caecilian followers the only way to follow was a slavish imitation of Palestrina venerable polyphony, for our Caudana, a very practical and less theoretical musician, the solution was to write choral and organ music according to the path laid down in the contrapuntal academic tradition, supported by a personal naturally flowing melodic sentiment ("friendly melodic mood" according to Silvia Caudana, niece of the Maestro, who in 1974 dedicated to his grandfather her Literature thesis at Turin University), though far from obvious allusions to the slightly anterior operatic style, in order to have a stronger appeal on the average listener, while not giving up a healthy "sacred lyricism" that Caudana, thanks to publisher Carrara, considered the trump card for modern church music, always carefully avoiding, as once again Silvia Caudana testifies, "that flatness of expression that to the majority of people was a synonymous of spirituality ”.
However, even considering the lack of recordings of some exempla of this art in which he excelled and for which was very popular in his concerts and liturgical celebrations at the cathedral, we can say with good approximation that Caudana improvisation style could be not dissimilar from the body of his own compositions, still known to many Italian church organists, although unfortunately "who has not attended Mass at Cremona Cathedral, I think cannot realize how he treated the organ and how he was able to improvise "(Giorgio Costi, one of his students); and for more than fifty years in the Cathedral “continual opportunities for listeners revealed to Cremona congregation the ability of an improviser worthy of their tradition, with a lyrical and effusive fantasy, warmly expressive without being overly sentimental (as says yet Silvia Caudana).
But Caudana had also several occasions to perform as concert player: since his early days in Cremona, he was often required as a tester of new reconstructed organs (the new musical and liturgical requirements promulgated by the Caecilian movement increased considerably, since the last decades of the 19th century, the construction and restoration-reconstruction of organs, only the famous organ builder Giuseppe Rotelli from Cremona produced more than thirty works between 1896 and 1937 in the province and Diocese of Cremona).
We remember that Caudana, after having completed his academic studies in 1907, had no chance to further his studies of organ repertoire of the past because, in substance, concert activity was not a priority for him: first came the daily liturgical commitments (where there was no space for original organ pieces), as well as teaching at the “Blessed Virgin” college and seminar, then the direction of the choir at “Amilcare Ponchielli” theatre and many piano and organ private lessons (for a certain period during the Thirties also at Crema “Folcioni Music Institute”).
For these reasons Caudana concert repertoire was, we believe in good part, limited to the music he had faced during his training at Milan Conservatoire.
For example, in December 1909, on the occasion of the new Rotelli organ inauguration at Cassano d’Adda (Milan) church, Caudana played Rheinberger’s Sonata, already performed at his final recital at Milan Conservatoire two years before and the Musette op. 89 by Roberto Remondi.
is also the program that Caudana performed in May 1914 during the
concert for the inauguration of the organ at S. Imerio
Church in Cremona, rebuilt by Cremonese organ builder Rotelli:
37); Capocci, Allegretto
for Flute, Joseph
Renner (1868-1934), Adagio
of the 2nd Sonata (Op.
45); Dubois, Marche
des Rois Mages and Toccata, Bach, Toccata
D minor; Remondi, Pastorale (op.
93), Ravanello, Preghiera, Caudana, Minuetto.
About the mentioned well known composition by Bach, Giuliano Pedrini (one of Caudana’s several students in Cremona) affirmed that it was rarely performed and taught by the Maestro, and while testifying his "deep admiration for Bach [...], the few times I heard him performing it, he was anchored to the severity of Schweitzer, certainly not to trills and speed later accepted. "
fame of the Cremonese musician went also outside the province: in
August 9th, 1919 Caudana was invited to play at the inauguration
concert for the organ rebuilt by Giuseppe Rotelli, at the collegiate
church of S. Lorenzo
in Monticelli d'Ongina (Piacenza), with a program including music by
Bach, Capocci and Guilmant and one of his composition "divided
into three movements which are all elegant gems of composition with a
marked tendency to the classic style." 9
Let’s note how this "tendency to the classic" is perhaps the chief characteristic of Caudana’s organ music, little inclined to the contemporary evolution of music and not influenced by the 19th century Italian Operatic tradition and classical harmony; the previously mentioned composition by Caudana "Divided into three movements" could refer to the three pieces shown at the end the following list (The concert program played by Caudana on December 3rd, 1933 at the organ of the St. Agata Church in Cremona, rebuilt, once again, by organ builder Rotelli): Reger, Preludio, Guilmant,Pastorale Capocci, Scherzo; Caudana, Minuetto and Mater amabilis, Max Springer (1877-1954), Sonata; Dubois, Chant Pastoral, Moussorgsky, Il vecchio castello; Caudana, Suites: Preludio, Scherzo, Marcia Nuziale.
On June 27th, 1926 Caudana accompanied two Cremonese musicians: soprano Marcella Maggi and Violinist Lino Pizzamiglio during the inauguration of the small organ "Francesco Vegezzi-Bossi & Son” built in the chapel of the Nuns “Handmades of Charity " in Cremona, playing the program which is given below: Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Air on 4th string (violin and organ), Gounod, Musette (violin and organ). Bottesini, Che cosa è Dio? [Soprano and organ]; Gounod, Preghiera alla Vergine (Soprano and organ); Guilmant, Pastorale; Bossi, Canzoncina a Maria Vergine (organ); Caudana, Andante appassionato (violin and organ) and Uxor tua (motet for voice, violin and organ), Karl Goldmark (1830-1915), Aria, Grieg, Allegretto from Sonata op. 8 (Violin and organ); Moussorgsky, Il vecchio castello; Caudana: Finale (organ).
As a further testimony, finally, we provide the program played in the previously mentioned concert in Andria: Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Moussorgsky, Il vecchio castello; Bossi, Canzoncina alla Vergine Maria; Caudana: Scherzo in C minor, Marcia Nuziale and Mater amabilis, Mendelssohn, Sonata II, Guilmant, Pastorale, Dubois, In Paradisum and Fiat lux.
From the few examples given, we can observe that his own compositions rarely played a key role during his concerts, whose programs were primarily consisting of compositions by other authors of the more recent past; probably, instead, Caudana performed occasionally his own music during Mass in the Cathedral, in which, however he much preferred to improvise.
I hope that the recording of this music collection will help to keep alive Federico Caudana’s organ art and that will be an incentive for today's organists to compose organ music good for our time.
Paris, 28th November 2012
[english translation by Vincenzo Scarafile]
1 This paper is the summary of the content of pages 243-295 of: BOTTINI P., Federico Caudana. Vita e Opere di un musicista tra professione e vocazione, “Bollettino Storico Cremonese”, New Series, XIII-XIV, Cremona, September 2009, pp. 205-414.
2 [...] I will start working at the organ pieces later ... I am not very keen on doing it, because it’s not the kind of music I prefer, being too legato [...] "[Letter of Caudana to Vittorio Carrara, founder of the homonymous music publisher, 25/4/1931. The entire collection of letters between the two men, that Paolo Bottini transcribed and widely cited in the biography of Caudana, has been neatly kept by the Commendatore Vinicio Carrara (1902-2006) at the headquarters of Edizioni Carrara Music Press in Bergamo.
3 «Cæcilia. Periodical of information and culture of Carrara Music Press», X (January-March 1957), 37, p. 12.
4 «L'Azione», Cremona, 9th May 1908.
5 The organ console was equipped with 120 interlocking stops placed in two double rows at the side of the keyboards, moreover the bottom end of the top keyboard and of the pedal keyboard started from an F1 instead of the more common C1.
6 See “Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris”, XIII (April 6th, 1856, 14).
7 As can be seen in the famous "Faenza Codex" compiled around 1400, though, as evidenced even by Dante Alighieri, it seems that already between 13th and 14th Century the practice of alternatim during cult was widespread (See La Divina Commedia, Purgatorio, Canto IX vv. 139-145).
8 SANSONI Giuseppe, [Federico Caudana] La sua personalità artistica, in «La Vita Cattolica», Cremona, August 4th 1963; also the niece Silvia conferms that «in Caudana the organ composition was a reflex of the improvisation that he always cultivated»; cfr. CAUDANA Silvia, Federico Caudana o della professione musicale, Dissertation, Turin University, Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, 1974-1975, Prof. Massimo Mila, p. 62.
9 «L'Azione», Cremona, August 23rd 1919.