BIRTH OF THE SOCIETÀ DEL QUARTETTO DI MILANO
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed for the first time in Italy on April 18th 1878, in Milan, in a memorable concert conducted by Franco Faccio and organized by the Società del Quartetto. It was the culminating moment of the great project to perform all of Beethoven’s symphonies – a project that had begun with the “Pastoral” Symphony in 1867 and that the Società brought to completion thanks to great effort and determination. The fact may seem surprising, for two reasons: for the great delay with which that masterpiece arrived in Italy – more than half a century after its premiere, in Vienna, in 1824; and then, because the performance was organised by a Society that, by definition, was focused on chamber music.
The explanation, however, is simple, and it is to be found in the history of the musical life of our country, of Milan, and of the Società del Quartetto. That history is not restricted to a particular period, however important and even long-lasting, of our musical 19th century; it is interwoven, rather, with all of the circumstances that made the 20th century so varied and changeable and that are now carrying the Society into the new millennium, as artistically lively and institutionally independent as ever.
It all began with a reaction, halfway through the 19th century, against opera’s predominance over Italy’s entire musical world – a predominance that restricted the space for instrumental music nearly to the point of disappearance. There was minimal symphonic and concert activity in the theatres, a lack of concert halls and permanent ensembles, little chamber music in private homes, and general ignorance of what was happening north of the Alps. It is not surprising, therefore, that Beethoven was largely unknown, as were the instrumental works of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Chamber music was known only to its most avid fans.
Among this group was Tito Ricordi, of the Ricordi music publishing house, who was born in 1813 – son of the founder, Giovanni – and was an excellent pianist. From childhood on he was able to hear, at home, the great foreign piano and violin virtuosi who came (rarely, in reality) to Milan. He enjoyed getting together with them to read through scores that were not accessible to the general public, for the reasons given above, and as a music publisher he was specifically interested in opening a new market alongside opera, in which Ricordi was in top position, with composers of the calibre of Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. He knew that a Quartet Society had been founded in Florence, in 1861, with the precise intention of moving away from the provincialism of “only opera,” and of broadening musical horizons through the great classic and romantic European instrumental tradition, with concerts, lectures, publications and commissions; its founder was Abramo Basevi, a merchant by profession and music lover by passion – a nonconformist extrovert with a volcanic, unpredictable temperament.
Such personalities were proliferating in Milan, too. They were tired of the pre-established order; they wanted to discard everything, to change art, music and literature, and they called themselves scapigliati (disheveled, in the sense of disorderly, bohemian). Among them were the writer and composer Arrigo Boito and the composer and conductor Franco Faccio, both of them very young but well inserted into Milan’s intellectual circles. There were signs of life at the Milan conservatory, too, and a new generation of music critics (Filippo Filippi and Antonio Ghislanzoni, for instance) had acquainted themselves with the international musical literature and seemed to be interested in new trends.
Tito Ricordi sensed that the times were favourable, if not exactly ripe, and he decided to act. On 1 September 1863 he proposed constituting a society with the task of “encouraging the cultivators of good music through public experiments, through the founding of competitions and through the issuing of a Musical Gazette, an organ of the Society.” In the spring of 1864 the project took effect, and, once a statute had been prepared, an administrative council was nominated; it boasted a perfect balance within Milan’s intellectual community: music teachers, noblemen and professional people were coordinated by Giulio Ricordi, Tito’s young son, who was an excellent publicist and a future head of the publishing house. For obvious reasons of prudence and convenience, Tito Ricordi, Boito, Faccio and Filippi were not in the administration, although they were the moving forces behind the initiative. Members were divided into protectors (“music lovers and amateurs”), professionals (“working artists and teachers”) and correspondents (“people resident outside Milan”). Annual membership dues were set at 40 lire for the protectors and 25 for the professionals plus an “entrance tax” of 20 and 10 lire, respectively.
The first event was set for 29 June at 2 p.m. in the conservatory’s auditorium.
The first seasons: 1864-1866
The first concert (described as an “experiment”) had a mixed programme, although solely of chamber music: Mozart’s Quartet in G Major, op. 10 no. 1 (K 387); Mendelssohn’s Piano Quartet in F minor, op. 2; and Beethoven’s Septet, op. 20, and Piano Sonata in D minor, op. 31 no. 2 (“The Tempest”). The turnout was good (more than 100 people attended) and the reaction satisfactory. Arrigo Boito’s account in the newborn Giornale della Società del Quartetto was enthusiastic – but it could hardly have been otherwise. A second experiment took place on 20 November (Schumann, Mozart, Bazzini, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Beethoven), a third on 11 December (Beethoven, Boccherini, Hummel, Piatti and Mendelssohn), and the first season ended on 8 January 1865 with solo and chamber pieces (quartets and quintets) by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Heller, Onslow and Beethoven.
A reading of the programmes sheds light on the Society’s efforts to respect its mission: to present a great deal of music by great foreign classical composers, but also to feature new works, preferably by Italians. Thus, one notes the omnipresent Beethoven and Mozart and Boito’s adored Mendelssohn, but also the presence of contemporary Italians – Bazzini and Piatti – and “new” foreigners – Heller and Onslow. And attention was paid to the audience by avoiding the potential boredom of similar sounds – thus the alternation of strings with piano solo and with ensembles with and without winds.
The format seemed to function, and for a couple of years it remained unchanged. Great Bach and little Croff were added to the aforementioned great classics, as were the classic Italians Boccherini and Tartini, the contemporary Andreoli, Bazzini and Faccio, and more recent foreigners such as Meyerbeer, Spohr and Vieuxtemps.
The performers, too, remained largely the same, inasmuch as the Society created a basic ensemble made up of some competent string players (Bassi, Santelli, Truffi, Cavallini, Corbellini, Rampazzini, Quarenghi and Negri), with the frequent addition of real virtuosi (Bazzini, Sivori and Piatti), plus excellent pianists (Andreoli and Fumagalli) and fine winds; the combinations and permutations of this group made a virtually infinite repertoire possible. In any case, famous names and foreign performers were not sought: attention was given to the music, not to its performers.
The number of experiments grew, from the original four to eight in 1866, and the balance-sheet wasn’t bad, since the first year ended with a credit of 2,807 lire. The number of members also grew: in 1864 there were 87 protectors, 31 professionals and 48 correspondents; by the following year the total had increased by 84. The Giornale, on the other hand, had to be discontinued, for lack of funds and for excessive costs.
Instrumental, vocal, symphonic and chamber music
Thus, the Società del Quartetto di Milano was created in order to diffuse all non-operatic music, not only chamber music. From the start, the founders also kept orchestral music in mind; in this they were urged on by Faccio, who, after the lukewarm success of his early compositions, was becoming successful as a conductor in both the theatre and the concert hall.
The first symphonic experiment took place at the start of the 1867 season, on 21 March (repeated ten days later), with overtures by Gluck, Rossini, Weber and Foroni, followed by the Milan premiere Beethoven’ s “Pastoral” Symphony. An orchestra, put together for the occasion, was led by a conductor whose name has not been preserved. From then on, and until the end of the century, every season of the Società del Quartetto included at least a couple of orchestral experiments, with up-to-date, interesting programmes, usually featuring the great German classical-romantic tradition. The first regular conductor was Terziani, but Franco Faccio gradually came to the fore, and it is to him that such memorable occasions as the aforementioned 1878 “premiere” of the Ninth Symphony were owed; that event also completed the larger project (begun ten years earlier, with the “Pastoral”) of performing all of Beethoven’s symphonies.
A significant taste of the Ninth, however, had been offered during the 1870 season, when Hans von Bülow conducted the Scherzo and Adagio movements in a grandiose concert commemorating the centenary of Beethoven’s birth. The programme also included the Eighth Symphony, the Consecration of the House and Egmont overtures and the Romanze for violin, op. 50. Bülow dominated the 1870 season, performing in four of the six “experiments” as a solo and chamber pianist, in repertoire that stretched from Bach to Liszt, from Beethoven to Anton Rubinstein, and included Mozart, Schumann and Chopin.
The exploration of old and new chamber repertoire continued contemporaneously, with the Società del Quartetto’s “regular ensemble. Beethoven’s quartets dominated, but many new pieces were also performed; these included works that had won prizes offered by the Society – compositions by Bazzini, Faccio and, later, Martucci, Bolzoni and Frugatta.
The year 1878, with the premiere of the Ninth and the conclusion of the Beethoven symphony cycle, marked a turning-point in the Society’s programmes, in part because the decade-long “symphonic experiments” had enriched the city. In the winter of 1877, Andreoli, an old collaborator, had founded the Popular Concerts at the conservatory, and within ten years he would manage to organize nearly 100 concerts. Two years later, Franco Faccio would create La Scala’s Orchestral Society to present a regular symphonic season alongside the opera season.
The Società del Quartetto’s “symphonic experiments” continued, of course, but with the explicit aim of developing original notions, such as single-themed concerts revolving around an individual composer, performer or occasion. After Bülow’s Beethoven celebrations, the 1874 season opened with Anton Rubinstein as conductor, pianist and composer. Saint-Saëns was the dedicatee of six of the 1879 season’s eight concerts: the French musician focused on his own and others’ compositions conductor, solo pianist or chamber music pianist. Wagner’s death in 1883 inspired a concert of his orchestral music, conducted by Faccio. Another grand all-Wagner concert was conducted by the expert Felix Mottl, in 1890. Richard Strauss – 24 years old and not yet famous – appeared in 1888 as conductor of his Symphony, op. 12, among other works.
Nevertheless, the participation of orchestras tended to be limited to special occasions, such as the three grand concerts conducted by Arturo Toscanini (1900, 1901, 1905) and the visits of the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Hans Richter (1900), the Berlin Tonkünstler conducted by Richard Strauss (1903) and the Orchestra of La Scala conducted by Martucci, who led one of his own symphonies (1904). But orchestras often continued to accompany soloists, as in memorable first performances of the Beethoven and Brahms violin concerti (1915) and Brahms’s two piano concerti (1919 and 1923), with the soloists Arrigo Serato and Nino Rossi, respectively, conducted by Enrico Polo.
The Society’s interest in the vocal-instrumental repertoire also continued, thereby filling an obvious lacuna in Milan’s musical life. In 1871, the Cappella del Duomo (Cathedral Chapel) presented a mixed programme as a prelude to a long series of Italian and foreign choruses performing Renaissance, classical and modern polyphonic works. Attention was of course focused on Bach, and the culmination was the first Milanese performance of the St. Matthew Passion, conducted by Volkmar Andreae, on 22 April 1911.
The all-Bach concerts had begun in 1894 with two “experiments” conducted by Guglielmo Andreoli, with Milanese soloists and choirs. The tradition continued with Enrico Polo (1915), Michelangelo Abbado (1921) and Reinhart (1932 and 1935). Günther Ramin and the Leipzig Gewandhaus ensemble brought the St. John Passion to Milan during the 1954 season. Over the following years, the Passions returned, along with Christmas and Easter oratorios and the Mass in B minor. Attention was turned, contemporaneously, to Bach’s instrumental output, with our customary love for philological rigour and monographic style: there was a concentration on the violin works (1910, with Arrigo Serato) and piano works (1916, Ferruccio Busoni), and performances of all of the Brandenburg Concerti (1938, with the Busch ensemble; 1961, with Münchinger); the complete Well-Tempered Clavier (1958, Jörg Demus); all of the keyboard partitas (1961, Alexis Weissenberg); the sonatas and partitas for solo violin (1960 and 1961, Nathan Milstein; 1989, Miriam Fried); and all of the suites for solo cello (1990-91, Mischa Maisky).
With respect to cycles of complete works, the Society’s strong-point in programming is Beethoven, and especially the great series of string quartets. The first cycle was, of course, the most difficult one. It began in 1864 with op. 59 no. 3, during the Society’s second “experiment”, and ended half a century later, in 1913, when the Rosé Quartet performed the Grosse Fuge, op. 133. In the meantime, however, all of the others had been played many times, with the maximum number of performances given to the three op. 59 quartets and op. 131 (however strange this may seem). The Busch Quartet presented all of the quartets in six concerts during the 1927 season; the experiment worked and was repeated in 1931. In 1943, in the midst of the war, the Strub Quartet presented another complete series. The Hungarian Quartet gave an “almost complete” cycle spread over three seasons (1954, 1955, 1957). Then it was the turn of the Amadeus Quartet and the Quartetto Italiano (half a cycle each, 1966 and 1967), then the “troika” Amadeus-Cleveland-Guarneri (1977) and the well-known Tokyo and Guarneri quartets together with the young Sine Nomine and Giovine Quartetto Italiano (1990). Also memorable were the complete violin and piano sonatas, given over three evenings (1928, Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin; 1970, Zino Francescatti and Robert Casadesus); the cello-piano evenings (1920, Andrea Hekking and Alfredo Casella; 1947, Enrico Mainardi and Carlo Zecchi); all of the string trios (1970, Trio Italiano); and all-Beethoven piano recitals with great keyboard soloists – most memorably, Ferruccio Busoni in 1915 and Rudolf Serkin in 1964.
There were solo evenings also for the other greats: Domenico Scarlatti (1938, Wanda Landowska), Mozart (1948, Hans Leygraf), Chopin (1911, José Viana de la Motta; 1943, Nikita Magaloff; 1964, Arthur Rubinstein) and Schumann (1952, Benno Moisseiwitsch; 1955, Claudio Arrau). Great attention was paid to Mozart, some of whose quartets appear almost every season, often accompanied by other instrumental combinations – especially the string quintets (1932, complete, with the Busch Quartet). Brahms’s chamber music has been explored in depth, with the violin sonatas (for the first time in 1933, with Busch and Serkin), the piano trios (since 1927; in 1947 with the Trio di Trieste), the quintets, sextets and, obviously, quartets; many of these events were entrusted to the Busch Quartet augmented by prestigious soloists. Haydn, too, has been featured, inasmuch as he is recognised as the father of the string quartet, and so have all the other great exponents of the genre, from Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn down to the twentieth century’s protagonists.
Among these last, Béla Bartók has always occupied a special place: his First Quartet was presented in 1926 by the Budapest Quartet and the Sixth in 1946 by the Quartetto Italiano, with frequent repetitions during the following decade. The first complete series was given in 1982, a second one in 1995 (fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death). Also programmed have been quartets by Berg (Lyric Suite, 1934), Bloch, Casella, Ghedini, Hindemith, Malipiero, Martinů, Milhaud, Pizzetti, Prokofiev, Schönberg and Shostakovich. The local premiere of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was presented in 1924, conducted by the composer. Igor Stravinsky appeared as both pianist (together with his son Soulima) and composer in 1936. An entire evening was dedicated to Vladimir Vogel’s Fall of the City of Wagadu (1960). Les Percussions de Strasbourg debuted in 1967. In 1974 a short, three-concert festival devoted only to modern music was organized, with pieces by Sciarrino, Cage, Bussotti, Castiglioni, Pousseur, Messiaen, Berg, Maderna, Berio, Boulez, Petrassi, Gorecki and Donatoni; this demonstrated the Society’s ongoing interest in contemporary chamber music, which was perfectly in keeping with what took place during its early years, when the names of living composers Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Grieg, Rachmaninov, Rubinstein, Ravel, Debussy, Fauré and the Italians Bazzini, Bottesini, Faccio, Martucci and Sgambati appeared on its programmes. Many of these last were prestigious composers and in some cases winners of the Society’s competitions for new works.
Other curiosities included the Don Cossack Choir (1924), Marian Anderson singing African-American spirituals (1936), and Cathy Berberian’s unusual vocal itineraries (1977).
The great variety in the Society’s programmes derives naturally from the great variety of the performers and from the criteria in accordance with which they are invited. The formula that had worked for the first few seasons was carried on for a long time. For decades, a core of fine Milanese instrumentalists was responsible for preparing programmes in the old “academy” style, in which individual performers combined into various groupings or provided a solo intermezzo (usually for piano). Early in the twentieth century, Enrico Polo’s string quartet served as a basic group, and Polo often performed also as violin soloist and conductor. Another important collaborator during this period was the Capet Quartet, which debuted in 1908 with three memorable concerts, one of which was entirely dedicated to the music of Gabriel Fauré, with the composer at the piano.
Between the two world wars, this role was taken by no less a figure than Adolf Busch, who, beginning in 1923, became a regular guest as violin soloist and as leader of his string quartet and of the flexible chamber ensemble that bore his name. The pianist Rudolf Serkin – versatile soloist, accompanist and chamber musician – also debuted with him and would become the artist who performed with the Society more frequently than anyone else. After the Second World War, the “academy” style largely disappeared, although in its way it continued through the Complesso Strumentale Italiano (Italian Instrumental Ensemble), led by Cesare Ferraresi, another violinist who shaped Milan’s musical life. Among chamber orchestras, the most frequently heard were I Musici (debut in 1953), I Virtuosi di Roma (1954), the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (1954) and I Solisti di Zagreb (1955).
In the meantime, the presence of more or less permanent Italian and foreign chamber ensembles grew, from the duo to the chamber orchestra, with all the intermediate groupings. The Society makes no distinction among nationalities, so long as the interpretative level is at the top or on the verge of reaching the top. Following the first, aforementioned Italian virtuoso soloists, in 1870 the first great foreigner, Hans von Bülow arrived, followed by Anton Rubinstein (1874). Then came the violinists Josef Joachim (1880, three concerts), Pablo de Sarasate (1882), Eugène Ysaÿe (1889), Fritz Kreisler (1895); the cellist David Popper (1889); and the pianists Francis Planté (1883) and Eugen d’Albert (1885). Ferruccio Busoni debuted in 1896 and was followed by Paderewski in 1897.
All the great international twentieth-century virtuosi made appearances. Here is a short, incomplete list, beginning with pianists, showing only the debut years (all of them returned repeatedly) and ending with the 1970s, without including the most promising exponents of the younger generations: Moritz Rosenthal (1900), Teresa Carreño (1900), Raoul Pugno (1901), Alfredo Casella (1903), Wanda Landowska (1905, as harpsichordist), Wilhelm Backhaus (1907), Alfred Cortot (1908), Frédéric Lamond (1911), Artur Schnabel (1913), Leopold Godowsky (1914), Nino Rossi (1915), Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1916), Eduard Risler (1919), Ricardo Viñes (1919), Walter Gieseking (1921), Wilhelm Kempff (1922), Rudolf Serkin (1923), Arthur Rubinstein (1924), José Iturbi (1925), Edwin Fischer (1925), Sergei Rachmaninoff (1928), Vladimir Horowitz (1930), Carlo Vidusso (1934), Elly Ney (1939), Egon Petri (1939), Nikita Magaloff (1940), Dinu Lipatti (1946), Clara Haskil (1946), Robert Casadesus (1948), Claudio Arrau (1949), Friedrich Gulda (1950), Benno Moiseiwitsch (1953), Rudolf Firkušný (1955), Emil Gilels (1959), Martha Argerich (1959), Maurizio Pollini (1960), Alexis Weissenberg (1961), Dino Ciani (1962), Sviatoslav Richter (1963), Vladimir Ashkenazy (1964), Murray Perahia (1967), Radu Lupu (1973), Alfred Brendel (1976) and Krystian Zimerman (1977). Not to be forgotten are the piano duos Gorini and Lorenzi (1948), Badura-Skoda and Demus (1957), Canino and Ballista (1966) and Gold and Fizdale (1973).
The list of violinists is no less impressive than that of the pianists; it is arranged here according to the same criteria: Jacques Thibaud (1902), Mischa Elman (1911), Franz von Vecsey (1911), Carl Flesch (1913), Georges Enesco (1914), Váša Příhoda (1920), Bronislaw Huberman (1920), Josef Szigeti (1925), Jascha Heifetz (1926), Nathan Milstein (1931), Yehudi Menuhin (1932), Georg Kulenkampff (1933), Zino Francescatti (1936), Ginette Neveu (1948), Arthur Grumiaux (1948), Isaac Stern (1950), Henryk Szeryng (1953), Leonid Kogan (1956), David Oistrakh (1957), Salvatore Accardo (1959), Uto Ughi (1963), Itzhak Perlman (1966), Pinchas Zukerman (1969), Shlomo Mintz (1982).
Among cellists: Pablo Casals (1906), Enrico Mainardi (1915), Gaspar Cassadó (1924), Gregor Piatigorsky (1931), Pierre Fournier (1942), Antonio Janigro (1950), Paul Tortelier (1953) and Mstislav Rostropovich (1965). Other instrumentalists included the clarinettist Richard Stolzman (1979), flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal (1969), guitarist Andrés Segovia (1926) and organist Fernando Germani (1950).
Nor must we forget the great voices, because the Society has always given ample space to Lieder and other non-operatic vocal music, thanks to singers of the level of Toti dal Monte (1918), Elisabeth Schumann (1933), Lotte Lehmann (1936), Suzanne Danco (1942), Kirsten Flagstad (1948), Nicola Rossi Lemeni (1949), Victoria de los Angeles (1950), Kathleen Ferrier (1951), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1952), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1954), Irmgard Seefried (1955), Oralia Dominguez (1956), Maureen Forrester (1961), Gérard Souzay (1961), Montserrat Caballé (1964), Teresa Berganza (1964), Gundula Janowitz (1965), Elly Ameling (1966) and Christa Ludwig (1972).
There have been so many ensembles, starting with piano trios: from the historic Cortot-Thibaud-Casals trio (1908) early in the century to Casella-Poltronieri-Bonucci (1936), Fischer-Kulenkampf-Mainardi (1941), Istomin-Stern-Rose (1964) and up to the still active Trio di Milano (1972) and Beaux-Arts Trio (1973). Special tribute must be paid to the Trio di Trieste, a regular presence from the time of its debut in 1942.
But the Society’s cornerstone has always been the string quartet. The list is a long one, and brevity requires some painful cuts: there were the Fiorentino (1872), Becker (1876), Boemo (1895), Rosé (1897), Joachim (1905), Polo (1907), Capet (1908), Ševčík (1909), Budapest (1921), Busch (1921), Lehner (1922), Flonzaley (1924), Poltronieri (1925), Pro Arte (1925), Kolisch (1933), Strub (1941), Italiano (1947), Hungarian (1955), Juilliard (1956), Amadeus (1957), Janáček (1958), Koeckert (1959), Tátrai (1960), Végh (1961), Borodin (1961), LaSalle (1965), Guarneri (1969), Bartók (1970), Tokyo (1972), Smetana (1973), Cleveland (1974), Berg (1976), Lindsay (1980) and Melos (1980). Many of these magnificent ensembles have also provided – through subtraction or addition of players – countless evenings of trios, quintets, sextets, septets and octets, which have brought the chamber music repertoire before singularly attentive and faithful audiences. And let us not forgot some worthy pre-existing expanded groups, such as the Quintetto Chigiano (1941).
Già, il pubblico del Quartetto! Se ne sono dette tante, con simpatia e con malignità, tramandando luoghi comuni che ormai fanno parte della storia ultrasecolare della Società. Di sicuro sappiamo che è fatto di circa 1800 soci che da decenni, spesso da generazioni rinnovano una quota associativa che da sola copre tutti i costi di gestione delle singole stagioni. Fin dalla fondazione, sono stati esclusi finanziamenti esterni pubblici o privati, e non è ammessa la vendita di biglietti per singoli concerti. È una condizione rigida e rispettata, che ha però consentito la totale libertà di scelte artistiche e organizzative, e della quale ciascun socio è giustamente orgoglioso. Può apparire elemento di chiusura, invece la lunga esperienza ha dimostrato che dà forza e coesione alla Società, e che alla lunga consente un rapporto di collaborazione equilibrato e fruttuoso con il mondo musicale e culturale che le sta attorno.
I soci che affollano la Sala Verdi del Conservatorio nella canonica serata del martedì sono pur sempre gli eredi dei padri fondatori e delle loro idee. Vengono dal mondo delle professioni, della scuola di ogni ordine, dall’industria e dal commercio e, secondo un altro tipico luogo comune, rappresentano bene la città di Milano. Ben rappresentata è sempre stata la comunità musicale milanese, con i docenti del Conservatorio in prima fila, non solo sul palcoscenico ma anche nel consiglio direttivo della Società. Alternandosi con nobili e industriali e grandi professionisti, sono stati presidenti i musicisti Arrigo Boito (1912), Ildebrando Pizzetti (1928-1936), Gianandrea Gavazzeni (1992-1996).
Inizialmente (1864) i soci sono 118. Raddoppiano in sette anni si stabilizzano sulle 300-350 unità negli anni Novanta, in funzione della capienza della sala del Conservatorio in cui di norma si tenevano gli “esperimenti”. Grazie agli ampliamenti successivi della sala, i soci possono diventare 621 nel 1915 e più di 1500 nel 1920. Per soddisfare la sete di musica, cresce vistosamente il numero dei concerti (il termine esperimento viene messo nel cassetto nel 1898). Dapprima il numero oscilla fra 5 e 8, passa a 10 e 16 nel primo ventennio del Novecento, schizza oltre 30 e fino a 40 nei primi anni Venti (in due serie, con gli stessi artisti, di regola però con programmi diversi), scende di nuovo fra 11 e 16 negli anni Trenta.
La programmazione procede senza interruzioni durante la guerra del 1915-18 e per i primi tre anni della Seconda Guerra, però deve arrestarsi nel tempo della Repubblica Sociale. Il dopoguerra dimostra che la fedeltà dei soci è letteralmente a prova di bomba. Distrutta la Sala del Conservatorio, i concerti dal 1945 al 1958 diventano itineranti: si tengono in parte alla Scala, in parte nell’Aula Magna della Cattolica, in parte nei cinematografi Gloria e Metropol, in parte in altri luoghi, secondo disponibilità.
Ricostruita la Sala Grande (1958), il numero dei concerti risale a 20 e 25. Il numero dei soci è determinato dai posti disponibili in sala e siccome sono pochissimi coloro che non rinnovano la tessera annuale, si crea il mito della “chiusura” della Società alle nuove iscrizioni. È anche per soddisfare questa crescente, e non soddisfatta, domanda di musica strumentale e da camera che negli anni Settanta a Milano nascono le nuove iniziative che rendono vivacissima la vita musicale cittadina. Che però si stipa sempre di più nella Sala Verdi del Conservatorio che ridiventa ancora una volta insufficiente; finalmente, a partire dall’autunno 2001, offre nuovo respiro alle stagioni la riapertura lungamente attesa del Teatro Dal Verme, con il suo nuovissimo Auditorium
La Società del Quartetto di oggi
All’appuntamento con il Duemila, la Società del Quartetto si presenta con il volto di sempre, i suoi soci e i suoi concerti che sembrano avere una struttura immutabile. Invece ripercorrere le stagioni passate fa balzare agli occhi le tante differenze che sono state introdotte negli ultimi anni.
Dal 1995, la Società del Quartetto ha concepito le sue stagioni attorno ad un tema conduttore: sei i temi sinora toccati per l’esplorazione della musica nella poliedricità delle radici e delle forme: Musica e Natura, Musica e Nostalgia, I luoghi della Musica-Romanticismo e dintorni, Forme – Geometrie, Fin de Siècle – Capisaldi e Transizioni, Il Viaggio – Movimenti e migrazioni nel tempo della musica. Continuano le “solite” integrali: i Quartetti di Beethoven, i Quartetti di Bartók, le Suites per violoncello di Bach. Tornano gli autori di sempre, con interpreti che negli ultimi anni sono diventati mitici o che si sono affermati o che sono del tutto nuovi, giovanissimi e freschi vincitori di concorsi internazionali. Restano gli appuntamenti con le più varie formazioni da camera, con il coro e col Lied. Anche quelli con la musica contemporanea però (ecco la novità): riprende infatti la tradizione ottocentesca di commissionare nuovi lavori a Bruno Bettinelli, Niccolò Castiglioni, Riccardo Malipiero, Wolfgang Rihm, Marco Stroppa.
Rinnovata è anche la tradizione di inserire concerti sinfonici in stagione: inizia nel 1988 la Philharmonia di Londra diretta da Giuseppe Sinopoli, arrivano l’Orchestra Sinfonica di Radio Pechino e la Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester diretta da Claudio Abbado (1989), la Sinfonica di Radio Stoccarda con Gianluigi Gelmetti e Martha Argerich solista (1990). Più forte è il rapporto con la tradizione sinfonico vocale: Requiem di Mozart (1991), Passione secondo Giovanni (1992) e secondo Matteo (1993) di Bach, Creazione di Hadyn (1994). Eventi organizzati spesso in collaborazione con il Comune di Milano e punto di partenza per il grande progetto comune di esecuzione integrale delle Cantate sacre di Bach, tuttora in corso.
Parallelamente si è sviluppata dalla costola della Società la nuova organizzazione “I Concerti del Quartetto”, che ha lo scopo dichiarato di organizzare grandi eventi concertistici, in collaborazione con altre istituzioni (in primo piano la Scala e il Comune), accettando sponsorizzazioni da società industriali e mettendo i biglietti d’ingresso a disposizione degli appassionati e non solo dei soci.
Sono sempre attuali le parole di un celebre Presidente della Società del Quartetto, Gianandrea Gavazzeni: “Il Quartetto intende continuare la sua illustre tradizione rinnovandola con l’apertura a tutte le autentiche richieste di chi non si limita ad onorare il passato, seppure illustre, ma si associa nella volontà di crescere con costanza come organismo aperto a quelle manifestazioni che comportino un livello di interesse, magari anche polemico, comunque di sicura moralità e di mestiere”.
Nel momento che compie 140 anni, il Quartetto si ritrova dunque cambiato. Non basta, anche se emoziona sempre, confortarsi leggendo la storia del passato, riassaporando i momenti magici vissuti dal vivo o immaginati sulle carte. Non ci si può fermare alla contemplazione del presente, pregustando le gioie che ci riserva una delle stagioni più ricche di artisti e di stimoli musicali degli ultimi decenni: la gloriosa ghirlanda di sommi pianisti, le grandi orchestre, il ricchissimo spazio dedicato alla musica da camera; e poi le presenze costanti di Bach e di Beethoven, accanto ai classici di sempre e agli accostamenti fantasiosi di altri autori, comunque all’insegna del tema della stagione “Dialoghi e Contrasti”.
Questa stagione ci porta soprattutto a guardare al futuro, per capire come i cambiamenti introdotti negli ultimi anni influiscono sul nostro modo di partecipare ai grandi eventi musicali della nostra città. La Società del Quartetto è ora un’associazione aperta di amici della musica, che offre un amplissimo ventaglio di proposte fra cui scegliere in libertà e che impone ulteriore flessibilità (e complessità) al calendario. Anche se rimane il comune amore per la grande musica, vengono accostati pubblici, e dunque gusti, diversi. Altri potranno avvicinarsi per la prima volta al mondo del concerto stimolati dalle tante iniziative in programma in cui la musica viene inserita in un più ampio orizzonte di arti e di culture.
Di questo si tiene gran conto, certo in sede di programmazione, ma anche di comunicazione. Ed è qui che “Il Giornale del Quartetto” offre il suo contributo costante e progressivo di informazione e di guida all’ascolto, con testi brevi e precisi, chiari e utili per tutti, firmati dai maggiori giornalisti, critici e studiosi del mondo musicale. Per assicurare una prospettiva fresca e aggiornata su interpreti e programmi. Per contribuire ad arricchire di conoscenze e di emozioni ogni serata che passeremo a concerto.