In a letter dated 1 October 1922, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote to the composer, theorist and writer Franco Casavola: I''ve listened to Tankas, Quatrain, Gioielleria Notturna, Leila and Muoio di sete on the piano. They reveal to me a strong and original musical genius. We Futurists would be pleased if you would join our fight against obsolete ideas.
Casavola (who had studied music at the Rome Conservatory) accepted this invitation with alacrity and formally joined the radical Italian art movement. Thereafter he began to compose new pieces under the influence of earlier manifestoes written by Marinetti, and later the specific manifestoes on Futurist Music produced by Francesco Balilla Pratella and Luigi Russolo, variously dated between 1909 and 1914. Early Futurist work by Casavola included productions such as Ranocchi al Chiaro d Luna (Frogs in the Moonlight) by A.G. Bragaglia and La Danza della Scimmie (Dance of the Monkeys) for the Teatro della Sorpresa (Theatre of Surprise).
Between 1924 and 1927 Casavola published a series of original essays and manifestoes, dealing with new theories of music, and its relationship with theatre and the visual arts, which are listed below. 1924 proved to be his productive year as a Futurist, Casavola producing no less than eight essays and one novel, Introduction to Madness. At the Futurist Congress held in Milan on 23 November 1924 the composer also delivered a lecture entitled Visible Syntheses, Chromatic Atmospheres and Scenic-Plastic Versions of Music.
Courageously, Casavola risked opposing the escalating cultural autarchy imposed by Mussolini's Fascist government after it seized power late in 1922. Bravest of all was his defence of jazz, not merely through his written articles, but also his compositions - indeed the rhythms and styles Casavola utilised in many of his best pieces are closely related to jazz forms.
Break With Futurism
In 1927 Casavola radically revised his views, and chose to break decisively from the Futurist movement, although in truth his musical direction had already begun to display increasingly lyrical and refined qualities.
Although Casavola subsequently claimed to have destroyed his Futurist scores, this is not entirely true. The location and cataloguing of many of his lost scores has been the result of diligent research by Grazia Sebastiani, and musicological studies by Pierfranco Moliterni. The result is that today Casavola, like fellow Futurist Silvio Mix, stands as one of the most interesting Italian experimental composers of the 1920s. Certainly his status equals that of the five composers defined by Massimo Mila as la generazione dell' Ottanta': Gian Francesco Malipiero, Alfredo Casella, Ottorino Respighi (who taught Casavola), Ildebrando Pizzetti and Franco Alfano.
Certain key Futurist works by Casavola are lost, among them Anihccam del 3000, the mechanical ballet subtitled Interpretazione e riproduzione dei movimenti e rumori delle macchine, whose costumes have become enduring icons of Futurism. However the surviving scores include a Fantasia Meccanica for orchestra, and music for a stage production of Tre Momenti by Luciano Folgore, which also incorporated Luigi Russolo's revolutionary intonarumori (noise generators) and the Danza dell'Elica for ensemble. There is also the complete score of Piedigrotta, a ballet inspired by the omonimopoema parolibero of Francesco Cangiullo, in which Casavola combined the piano with traditional Neopolitan instruments such as the Scetavaiasse and Putipu, in an attempt at polyrhythmic structure. Of all the music written during this period, these compositions alone represent a significant moment, directed by the ideal of creating a truly Futurist musical style.
Following his break from Futurism, Casavola won praise for his short opera Il Gobbo del Califfo, staged in 1929 at the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome. Other successful theatre productions also included the ballet Hop Frog, Il castello nel bosco, L'alba di Don Giovanni and Il mercante di cuori, the sogno mimico by Enrico Prampolini, performed in Paris in 1927 by the Teatro della Pantomima. In 1931 Casavola composed the music for the play Garara's Journey by Marinetti's wife Benedetta, and after 1936 he wrote only film soundtracks.