Program Notes

Inverno in-ver, Eleven musical poems for small orchestra

BORN: July 17, 1932. Milan, Italy
DIED: September 7, 1996. Milan

COMPOSED: 1973, revised 1978

WORLD PREMIERE: October 1, 1974. Paris, France


INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes (doubling piccolo and alto flute), oboe, 3 clarinets, bassoon, horn, 2 trumpets, trombone, glockenspiel, vibraphone, triangle, xylophone, marimba, Chinese metal wind chimes, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, bells, celesta, piano, harp, and strings

DURATION: About 24 mins

THE BACKSTORY Niccolò Castiglioni trained at the Milan Conservatory, where he began composing under the sway of Stravinsky’s crisp, neoclassical style. Starting in 1956, Castiglioni attended the influential summer courses in Darmstadt, Germany, a hotbed for the musical avant-garde. Like many of his contemporaries, Castiglioni latched onto the hermetic music of Anton Webern. But whereas Pierre Boulez and company used Webern’s twelve-tone practice as a springboard to rigorous serialism, Castiglioni took Webern’s crystalline textures and miniature forms and adapted them into a personal and flexible musical language.

THE MUSIC Castiglioni composed Inverno in-ver in 1973, after he returned to Italy from a five-year teaching stint in the United States. These eleven “musical poems” for chamber orchestra reveal Castiglioni’s debt to Webern, as well as his engagement with music of earlier centuries. In particular, the title word “inverno,” Italian for “winter,” calls to mind Vivaldi’s Inverno, from The Four Seasons. Archaic dance forms and rhythms figure prominently in Castiglioni’s work, most explicitly in the Salterello, an Italian folk dance characterized by its muscular leaps.

The cryptic second half of the title, “in-ver,” suggests an abbreviation of “in verità,” Italian for “in truth,” while the wordplay also hints at the compositional technique of inversion. The musical language mingles strident dissonances with bright tonality and rustic harmonies, all filtered through Castiglioni’s characteristic fascination with the upper end of the pitch spectrum. The orchestration emphasizes the treble instruments—namely piano, violins, upper woodwinds, xylophone and other bright percussion—with small subsets of the ensemble breaking out for extended passages. This clean and sometimes brittle sound captures the chill of winter, as in “Flowers of Ice” (No. 1) and “The Frozen Lake” (No. 6). The two sections marked “Memorial”—notated as "Nenia" in Italian, a form associated with ancient Roman funeral rites—transport the work from literal winter to the metaphorical winter of death. The music becomes still and rarified toward the end of the sequence, with a hushed chorale in “Silence” (No. 9) and naked arpeggios in “An Old Adagio” (No. 10). The finale closes the cycle with music as aphoristic as the title: “Noise does no good. The good makes no noise.

Aaron Grad

Aaron Grad is program annotator for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and is a regular program note contributor to the Cleveland Orchestra, New World Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Celebrity Series of Boston, and others. This note originally appeared in the program book of the New World Symphony and is reprinted here with permission.



Recordings: Gianluigi Gelmetti conducting the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (Stradivarius) 

Reading: For an overview on the composer, see Toni Geraci’s article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition

(September 2018)

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