Albinoni or Giazotto? Who composed Adagio in G minor?
The “Adagio in G minor for Organ and Strings” was supposedly written by Tomaso Albinoni sometime between 1695 and 1705 in a period in his life where his creativity was more split between his opera compositions and instrumental work. We do not know the exact year since the original composition was lost in the Allied Fire Bombing of Dresden in 1945 during World War II. In fact the Major Corpus of his works are lost at this time, very few complete pieces of his remained. Alas, musicologist are literally reconstructing pieces of Albinoni’s work from burnt scraps found in Dresden repositories. It should therefore be noted with some caution that when you hear an “Albinoni” piece, it is likely that while you may be listening to mostly what Albinoni wrote the arrangement is likely contemporary and whole passages may be extrapolated from, say, just a bass line or a few bars of the violin part. Enter Remo Giazotto…
Giazotto was an Italian musicologist, music critic, and composer, mostly known through his systematic catalogue of the works of Tomaso Albinoni. By all account he was well versed in music, especially music of the 17th and 18th century. In 1947 he had the Dresden Library send what was left of the Trio Sonata by Albinoni to him in Italy. From this Giazotto “arranged” the now famous “Adagio in G minor” based on a bass line from a slow passage in the Trio Sonata. 1958 he published the Adagio crediting Albinoni, but by 1965 he claimed full credit for the work. There is controversy still as to who this piece should be properly attributed.
We will of course never know the answer to who really wrote “Adagio” unless the original or some verifiable copy of it or the Trio Sonata is found and can be verified older than 1945. But maybe we can extrapolate and answer by listening to some of Albinoni’s other work, particularly the slower moving pieces.
When listening to Albinoni there are some qualities you can immediately discern; foremost is Albinoni’s use of very clockwork like cadence. This is not a negative of Albinoni’s but rather an expression of style. It is in fact that meticulous timing that brings out the beauty, a fine Swiss watch as opposed to a Timex. Another quality is his backing syncopations, they are there in the background to add an emotional tension that enhances our emotional feel for the music; we hear it but do not relate it consciously to the way we are feeling. Third, Albinoni was a composer to get right to the point, rarely did he use “pickup” or “intro” themes in his music, use of intros in music is considered rather modern in fact. Let’s take these three ideas and see how they work with or against the “Adagio”.
The first 25 seconds of the piece is an introduction to the main theme. For a 17th/18th century composer to have written this may be too much to ask. An intro of only a few bars to get the listeners attention I could see, but maybe Albinoni was ahead of his time in this regard. If so he never showed it anywhere else in his composition. At about 3 minutes there is a very long stretch between organ and violin. This duet is rather drawn out it seems to me for Albinoni’s usual style, especially since there is no additional “clockwork” counterpoint for a whole 1 minute and 30 seconds, at which point you can hear Albinoni in all his glory, counterpoint and all. At 7 minutes the piece enters into a series of connected chords, almost a tone poem of sorts. And finally a long drawn out ending (30 seconds),
Are we listening to Albinoni? Yes, there are certainly parts that make me want to say that this is Albinoni, but then again there are sections of the piece that may be a bit too modern. The intro and duet are for me points of contention that I could see NOT being Albinoni but rather Giazotto. It is not that Giazotto did poorly, he did quite well, but his modern training is showing. One other part stands out as Ablinoni, all be it a variation is the “tone poem” section. Here may be a patchwork of a sorts; I believe Giazotto used the chording of Concerto in B flat Opus 9/1 as the basis for this section of the Adagio. Listen to it and make up your own mind. It should be noted it is not uncommon for composers to “reuse” parts of their own works they liked, so this could indeed be Albinoni doing the deed, but I do not feel that is correct for the abrupt way the section is added. Somehow I feel Albinoni would have found a more flowing way to enter a tonal section like that if he had written it.
So, Albinoni or Giazotto? Personally I think this is a toss up but leaning more to Albinoni; not that Giazotto didn’t have a strong influence. In which case Giazotto was correct in his original attribution and should not have claimed it later.
Of course none of this has anything to do with the fact that Adagio in G minor is now one of the most recognizable and romantic themes to date. In the end it truly does not matter who wrote it, this piece, be it Albinoni or Giazotto will be with us always and stirring people’s emotions and thoughts forever more.