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Listen to the beginning of "Ossian’s song"

In 1755 Jerome Stone published the first historically certified translation of a Gaelic ballad 'Albin e la figlia di May" in "Scott Magazine".
A few years later, in 1760, the Scottish poet and writer James Macpherson (1736 - 1796) printed his Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language, a translation, according to Macpherson, of ancient Gaelic manuscripts from the XII to the XVI centuries. Macpherson soon obtained official permission to collect all the ancient Gaelic poetry he could find travelling in the Highlands and the western islands of Scotland. His expenses would be paid by subscriptions. Macpherson and his collaborators, experts in the Gaelic tongue, undertook two trips, after which they published Fingal, An Ancient Epic Poem in six books (1761), and Temora, An Eroic Poem in eight books (1763), later published together in The Poems of Ossian (1765). The "Ossian cycle" immediately received a universally enthusiastic response and, through the translations of excellent writers, it rapidly spread all over Europe, thus arousing the admiration of intellectuals like William Blake, Goethe, Herder, Schiller, Foscolo, Monti, Diderot, etc. Even Napoleon, a great admirer of the poems of Ossian, commissioned Gérard, Girodet and Ingres to paint pictures with Ossianic themes.
In any event, Macpherson's Ossianic poems did not represent a primary source for the study of the authentic Celtic saga, or Celtic archaeology or Gaelic style, since they were essentially freely inspired versions of traditional Gaelic songs only partially based on authentic documents and alternating with excerpts that were entirely imaginary. In fact, doubts on the authenticity of the sources used by Macpherson soon raised the objections of great critics like Samuel Johnson, the great English authority, or Voltaire, who refused to admit the poems had any historical value from the very beginning.
Ossian (Oisin) is a legendary warrior and Gaelic bard, the son of Finn (Fingal, who probably lived in the III century A.D.) who died in a great battle. Old and blind, the only surviving hero, he is accompanied by Malvina, the sweet young widow of Oscar. She guides him as he stumbles on, singing the past deeds and misadventures of his people. He tells of the chivalric virtue of his warriors and the melancholy destiny of lovers; he describes feelings, atmospheres and landscapes dear to pre-¬Romantic sensibility and taste, passing by lakes and solitary heath country, gloomy stretches of sea,windblown oaks and birch trees, tombs with no names, ruins of once-flourishing cities, scenes of hunting and storms.
There are numerous elements that are typical of the epic tone in Alfredo Piatti's "Ballad" Ossian's Song: from the initial arpeggios that recall the harp, the instrument used by the Gaelic bards of Ireland and in the Scottish Highlands to accompany their songs, to the sounding of the hunting horn, down to the cello, which has the same theme, constructed on an "ancient" pentatonic scale, a stout-hearted cadenza and an evocative tone in the final harmonics.

In my revision of the Ossian's song I wanted to preserve the author's original annotations for fingerings and bowings by putting them above the music in the cello part. Under the music are some of my suggestions, among many possible solutions.

Christian Bellisario

Opera details:
Ossian’s song, Ballad
for cello and piano

Alfredo Piatti Cello Collection
Editor Christian Bellisario
Pizzicato Verlag Helvetia, PVH 764


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