Every Suzuki violin student who reaches Book 6 learns the Fiocco Allegro. I remember studying it in high school; it’s a lot of fun to play. But I realized recently that I didn’t know anything about it—like, the first name of the composer, or what century he lived in, or if the Allegro is part of a larger piece, and if so, which one?
The first two questions were easy enough to answer. My Suzuki book from the 1970s provided only the composer’s first initials—G.H. Fiocco—but it took no time at all to establish that his full name was Joseph-Hector Fiocco (some sources give his name as Gioseffo Hectore). I had guessed that the piece was written in the eighteenth century, and my musicological instinct turned out to be sound: Joseph-Hector Fiocco lived from 1703-1741. Despite his Italian name, Fiocco lived his entire life in what is now Belgium. His father Pietro Antonio Fiocco (1653-1714) had left Venice to work as a musician and composer at the ducal court in Brussels. Both Joseph-Hector and his older half-brother Jean-Joseph Fiocco (1686-1746) followed in their father’s musical footsteps, holding positions in Brussels and Antwerp.1
The answers to my third and fourth questions turned out to be more complicated, and more interesting, than I had imagined. I had assumed that the piece was something like the Allegro movement of a Baroque violin sonata, but that is not the case. It was not originally written for the violin at all; it was originally written for harpsichord. It comes from Fiocco’s Pièces de Clavecin, Opus 1, published in 1730 and consisting of 24 pieces divided into two suites. The Allegro is number 10 of the first suite.
What I found most interesting, and most unexpected, was what I learned in investigating how the Fiocco Allegro became a violin piece. It entered the violin repertoire in the early twentieth century when several movements from the Pièces de Clavecin, including the Allegro, were arranged for violin and piano by Norman O’Neill and Arthur Bent. Both these names were completely unknown to me, but Norman O’Neill was easy to find information about. He’s well-known enough to have a Wikipedia entry and a brief article in Grove’s Dictionary.2 I was also able to consult a biography written by his son-in-law Derek Hudson, originally published in 1945,3 and even a website put together by the Royal College of Music.
Norman O’Neill (1875-1934) was a British composer. He studied composition in the 1890s at the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt, where he became friends with a group of British and Australian composition students, collectively known as the Frankfurt Group or the Frankfurt Gang. They all had careers as composers; a few, like Roger Quilter and Percy Grainger, became quite well-known.4 It was also in Frankfurt that O’Neill met his future wife Adine Ruckert (1875-1947), a pianist who was studying with Clara Schumann.
Back in Britain, O’Neill became the music director for the Haymarket Theatre in London’s West End. In those days, even “straight” plays were often accompanied by music that provided an effect similar to today’s movie soundtracks. Known as “incidental music,” it might include an overture, scene-change music, and music to set a mood or underlie dramatic action. Norman O’Neill was best known for his incidental music, although he also composed vocal music, chamber music, works for piano, and orchestral music. The Bridge Quartet recorded some of his chamber works in 2012; some of his incidental music can also be heard on youtube. It’s all quite lovely; I’m delighted to have discovered him.
At first I thought that Arthur Bent was going to remain an International Man of Mystery (no Wikipedia, no Grove’s article, nothing in the Hudson biography, no info. on the O’Neill website). However, when I used the “Contact us” feature on the O’Neill website, I received a prompt response from one of the site’s creators, Katherine Jessel, who turned out to be Derek Hudson’s daughter and therefore Norman O’Neill’s granddaughter. She was able to consult a British reference book, the 1935 edition of Who’s Who in Music, which informs us that Arthur Bent (b. 1868) was a violinist who taught at the Royal College of Music and, like O’Neill, was an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), which is likely how they knew each other (they also both lived in the same part of London, in Kensington). Who’s Who also includes the tantalizing fact that Arthur Bent was “Musician in Ordinary to the King.”5 My guess is that Bent’s role in the Fiocco arrangements was to lend his violinistic expertise.
Norman O’Neill doesn’t seem to have been a prolific arranger; his website lists only one arrangement apart from the Fiocco collection, an orchestration of Three-Fours, a suite for piano by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.6 I don’t know for certain what prompted O’Neill to do the Fiocco arrangements, but I suspect it may have been his wife Adine. At a time when Baroque music was not very well-known, Adine O’Neill performed works by Scarlatti and other Baroque keyboard composers on the BBC. From 1903-1937, her day job was Head Music Mistress at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London; one of the instructors she hired was Gustav Holst, who wrote the St Paul’s Suite for his pupils there. In a 1932 letter to Adine, Holst wrote, “Amongst all you have done for me the two things I am most grateful for are, firstly, introducing me to Scarlatti and then bringing me here [St Paul’s].”7 It’s more than likely, therefore, that it was Adine O’Neill who discovered the works of Fiocco and brought them to the attention of her husband.8
In addition to the violin and piano arrangements, Norman O’Neill also arranged some of Fiocco’s harpsichord music for his orchestra at the Haymarket Theatre. A review from The Times of a production of the now-forgotten play All that Matters has this to say:
Two charming little pieces by Fiocco, one of the family of 18th century musicians who came from Venice and settled in Brussels, have been gracefully scored for the modern orchestra and are delightful to hear in the first interval. 9
According to Katherine Jessel, “unfortunately the orchestral arrangements have gone missing but were last performed by the BBC in an anniversary tribute in 1975.”10
Happily, the violin and piano arrangements have not disappeared. Bent and O’Neill published seven movements from Fiocco’s Pièces de Clavecin in 1910; O’Neill added three more movements in 1931. All ten are still available from Schott, the original publisher, although only as individual pieces, not as a collection. Bent and O’Neill changed a few of the movement titles, which threw me for a bit. I was able to identify them by comparing the violin arrangement to the original harpsichord version. This table sorts it out:
|First Suite for Harpsichord||Arrangement for Violin and Piano|
|8. La Francoise||Menuetto|
|Second Suite for Harpsichord||Arrangement for Violin and Piano|
|14. La Legère||La Legère|
|18. Gavotte||Deux Gavottes|
|22. Les Zephirs||Rondo|
|24. La Fringante||La Fringante|
O’Neill’s website has two of the three movements that he added in 1931 available for download—the Deux Gavottes and the Rondo. However, if you want L’Inconstante, you’ll have to order it from Schott.
Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any recordings of any violinists playing any of the movements other than the Allegro. The Allegro, however, entered the standard violin repertoire in the early twentieth century. Yehudi Menuhin recorded it at age 12 in 1928, accompanied on the piano by his teacher, Louis Persinger. There is also a recording by Artur Grumiaux from 1958. Itzhak Perlman included the Fiocco Allegro on his 1994 album Bits and Pieces.12 Of course, there are also innumerable videos made by Suzuki students.
When I compared my Suzuki versions in Volume 6 to the 1910 Bent and O’Neill arrangement of the Allegro, I discovered that not only are they note-by-note identical, but they are also laid out on the page exactly the same way. While the Suzuki violin part does change a few bowings and dynamic markings and add fingerings, the two piano parts are identical down to every accent and pedal mark. With the exception of the name of the composer, which Suzuki gives as G.H. Fiocco instead of J.H, and Suzuki’s total omission of the names of the arrangers, they look like Xerox copies of each other.13 I checked the latest edition of Suzuki Volume 6; the piano part has been re-engraved, but Bent and O’Neill are still uncredited.14
I think that, just as with Suzuki’s use of the Tivadar Nachéz editions of the Vivaldi concertos (also originally uncredited), the inclusion of the Fiocco Allegro is another example of how the Suzuki repertoire is a product of the musical influences of Shinichi Suzuki’s youth in the early twentieth century. It is regrettable that except for the Allegro, the other violin arrangements of the Pièces de Clavecin have been forgotten. I’ve put them on my list of pieces to learn someday, and violin teachers ought to consider adding them to their teaching repertoire. Some of the movements in the original harpsichord suites look like they might be easy enough for me to learn them on piano. Maybe I’ll organize a Fiocco Festival!