It is not easy to sum up in just a few lines the figure of Sergio Cafaro, who passed away on Friday April 1, 2005 at the age of 81. He was a profound connoisseur of many aspects of artistic expression: pianist, composer, writer, painter, and entomologist. Particularly appreciated as an interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert (composers that he helped me discover during unforgettable lessons), prize winner at the international music competition in Geneva, he had played under the baton of Stravinsky, Hindemith and Boulez. A retiring person, unconcerned with glory and the more commercial aspects of music making, he nevertheless reserved for his friends and pupils the greatest of affectionate attention and spontaneous, totally selfless generosity. He never flaunted his immensely vast culture, nor his rare talent, which emerged, however, on many occasions, for instance in his numerous improvisations at the keyboard: he was able to “create” at the piano, without any notice, a prelude by Debussy, an intermezzo by Brahms or a movement of a Mozartian sonata on any theme chosen by the audience! Even Rudolf Serkin, on hearing him, was left dumbfounded. His repertoire was vast and unusual: it included numerous contemporary pieces and works by little performed composers, like Heller (of whom he recorded the complete Studies op. 45) and Rossini, to whom he dedicated himself also as reviser of the critical edition of the Péchées de Vieillesse produced by the Ente Rossini in Pesaro. His cantabile of rare beauty, the special brilliance of his sound and the innate elegance of his phrasing, allowed him to create highly poetic performances. Sergio Cafaro was also a first class composer. Having gained his diploma under the guidance of Goffredo Petrassi, he wrote many pieces for piano, for chamber groups and for orchestra (as well as an opera). His keen sense of humor and his untroubled attitude towards various aspects of life are evident also in his music, in which quotations of other composers from the past, or of popular elements, are often treated ironically, but without ever forsaking the class that marks his artistic figure. Of his many compositions, we remember Vive Carmen, a piece for piano four hands written for the T.I.M. competition for humorous composition (where not by chance he won first prize), in which the two pianists take turns in reciprocally “stealing” the themes from Carmen and in the end superimpose the Toreador's song against the theme from Wagner's Meistersinger von Nürnberg, in perfect double counterpoint! His sense of humor transpires also in the titles of his compositions: for example Le Tombeau de Boccherin, that is to say Boccherini's famous Minuet reworked for bass trombone and piccolo, is sheer fun. Sergio Cafaro loved to transcribe music, especially for the simple pleasure of unearthing the truth hidden among the notes of orchestral masterpieces by rewriting the scores. His version of Dvořák's New World Symphony for piano four hands is wonderful; memorable too is his transcription of Ravel's Bolero for six pianos and drum. On the subject of transcriptions, Sergio Cafaro collaborated for some years with the composer Giacinto Scelsi: as is known, Scelsi didn't usually write down his piano music, but recorded it while at the piano. Thanks to his exceptional perfect pitch, Sergio was able to transcribe many of these pieces onto the stave: still today his hand can be recognized in some of Scelsi's scores published by Salabert. His finesse and sensitivity are also evident in his works of art, his water-colors, his pencil drawings, his humorous vignettes. Sergio also left many writings, often surreal (including a nonsensical re-elaboration of the Divina Commedia). His capacity to wonder at the many small details of nature fueled his passion for botany and entomology, disciplines that, alongside music, were always at the center of his interests. His death leaves a great vacuum, and one regrets not having been able to become better acquainted with the multiple expressions of his artistic talent. But Sergio also leaves us a fine legacy: his approach to music and to life itself, so simple and yet profound, his amused irony able to make light of any situation, his honesty and sincerity both in his personal relations and in his work and his interpretative research, will remain a model for all musicians.
Three improvisations on a theme given by the audience ("O sole mio"), performed live by Sergio Cafaro as encore, after the recital at Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti, Roma, La Sapienza University, 1991.
Intermezzo in the style of Brahms
Hungarian Rhapsody in the style of Liszt
Sonata movement in the style of Mozart
Sergio Cafaro's compisitions are published by Edipan www.edipan.com
The 4-hands piano score of Vive Carmen is published by Gwhiz Arts & Sciences (California, USA)
Roberto Prosseda's recording of Swing Piece (1993) is included in the CD "Piani Vibratili"