The late-romantic dimension of Brahms opus was the reference point for decades of classical instrumental music in Europe, an "academic" tradition in in the highest sense of the word. The opus of Guido Alberto Fano should be set in this context. This composer remained firmly anchored to his own undisputed compositional skills, typical of the late 18th century, although he was almost a contemporary of Schoenberg. In the wake of Maestro Martucci, he was a representative of that generation of Italian composers who, once for all, broke away from the provincialism of the Italian school of "melodrama", and turn towards the European instrumental tradition.
In Fano's Quintet in C Major, dated 1917, the whole body of these experiences can be seen in all its greatness. In the first place, naturally, Brahms' influence can be seen in the aristocratic melodiousness, and in the dense writing, in which each single part maintains its own independence and vitality. A glance at the whole work reveals that Brahms is not the only source of inspiration, as can be seen from the first movement. In fact, it is clear that, as the movement unfolds, it does not adhere to the rigours of the logic of Brahms' way of composing but has moments of rhapsody, sometimes characterized by interesting colourful harmonics and at other times by explicit archaic modalisms, which remind one of the French instrumental music of the end of the century, Fauré for example. Moreover, one feels that Fano, a pianist of superior class, intended to make full use of the characteristics of his own instrument, which plays, in the Quintet, an almost "concertante" role. This is not mainly due to the thematic preponderance of the piano, but is due to the peculiar aura of colour which the score takes from the integration, in its writing, of the most complex idiomatic passages drawn from the lexicon of late romantic, virtuoso piano playing.
The peculiar placing of the Quintet within the context of the persisting dichotomy between "musica a programma" and pure music, at the very beginning of the century, is a point of particular interest in this score. The Quintet seems to want to incarnate a progressive movement from the first category, which is typically Brahmsian and historically linked to the world of chamber music, to the second category, which finds expression, above all, in the field of symphonic poems, to which Fano dedicated himself repeatedly. In fact, if the first movement follows the line of a normal and abstract sonata form, the Scherzo, which, after a short introduction of long harmonic chords, reaches the distant tonality of E Major, is already marked by contrasts and discontinuities. These remind one of the esoteric and intellectual tradition in chamber music, as in Beethoven's last quartets and in certain of Schumann's works. After the lyrical parenthesis of the Adagio, the Finale heightens this allusive dimension by a broken and gestural writing, which is typical of symphonic poems. The obvious spiritualist resonances of this work made clear in the epigraph ("Mi ridestai all'arte e alla vita / E fu dolore ancora / Nell'Eterno speranza e luce"), emerge from the contrast, which is almost a leitmotiv, between the menacing, chromatic figure of the lower register of the piano and the chorale, played by the strings. In the ultimate passages, the religious sublimation completes itself with the triumph of the chorale. Its melody is enunciated by a contrasting register of a trumpet with a mute, a choice which is both unusual and happy, and provides a basis for a solemn, figurative elaboration. The above development surprisingly predates that which, more than twenty years later, Honegger would employ in his Second Symphony. ~Carlida Steffan