Five Words of Calvino (2010) is a double concerto in five movements for cello, accordion and symphony orchestra. The concerto reflects the book Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino (1923-1985). Originally written for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, Six Memos defines the concepts and values of literature that Calvino thought were essential to pass on to the 21th century. However, while preparing the lectures, Calvino unexpectedly died, leaving the sixth lecture unfinished. The five completed and posthumously published lectures – Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility and Multiplicity – were the inspiration for the concerto by providing titles for individual movements, as well as offering the fundamental concept as a basis for the entire work.
Lightness was a repetitive theme in Calvino’s thinking, and one that occured throughout his writing career. Twelve years before his death Calvino wrote: “My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.” In Six Memos Calvino continues exploring this theme, in fact, the book largely concentrates on pondering the contradiction between lightness and weight. Calvino’s leitmotif also serves as a conceptual starting point for my composition. In the concerto, the concept of lightness is highlighted by using natural harmonics in the cello solo part, as well as in the whole orchestral string section. The lightness-weight dichotomy is most clearly presented in the fourth movement, Lightness, in which the abundance of natural harmonics carries the the solo cello to ethereal, weightless heights, while the static and heavy accordion chords prevent the floating cello from escaping into the immateriality of musical infinity.
The slightly more than half-an-hour-long double concerto is divided into two major structural continuums. The first movement, Visibility, starts as a quiet duet between the cello and accordion, gradually growing into virtuosic and rich concerto texture that uses the full orchestral resources of the accompanying instruments. Continuing attacca to a swift second movement Quickness, the first half of the concerto ends with a furious climax. The spectral and strictly to natural-harmonics-scale-committed third movement Exacitude opens the latter part of the concerto. Through the previously mentioned fourth movement – Lightness – the concerto reaches its finale, Multiplicity, in which both solo instruments are provided with separate solo cadenzas. After the last orchestral forte, the soloists conclude the concerto by gradually reaching their highest register in a continuous diminuendo. Eventually, a soft bell-like low C from the celesta and vibraphone brings the concerto to its end.
for solo cello, solo accordion and symphony orchestra
Clarinet (in Bb)
Bass clarinet (in Bb)
Trumpet (in C)
Celesta (doubling piano)
Refined and colorful Calvino thesis
Olli Virtaperko (b. 1973) has one of his generation’s most striking voices. His best qualities are an infallible timbral instinct and a superb orchestral technique.
Virtaperko’s Five Words of Calvino – a double concerto for violoncello, accordeon and orchestra sensitively varies color palette, includes an abundance of refined string harmonics and imaginatively contrasts solo instruments, blending them in as an inseparable part of the orchestral whole. This is especially evident in the first movement “Visibility”, while the fourth movement “Lightness” focuses on the soloists underneath of who there is a surreal sound world. Placed at the traditional slow movement’s place, the third movement “Exacitude” was the concerto’s dramaturgical culmination. The fast “Quickness” was written in the spirit of a classic scherzo and the finale – “Multiplicity” summed the concerto up in a conclusive way.
Virtaperko has taken the titles of the movements from Italo Calvino‘s famous essay collection “Six Memos for the Next Millennium”. Anyone who wishes may draw obvious conceptual parallels in the concerto’s musical texture.
The excellent soloist duo Timo-Veikko Valve and Veli Kujala mastered the technical and musical challenges of their solo parts with astounding ease.
– Mats Liljeroos, Hufvudstadsbladet 8 December 2010