Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Capriccio Italien, opus 45
Instrumentation: 3 Flutes, 3 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 4 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, harp and strings
Souvenirs often reflect our own personality. They are things we seek to remember time away from ordinary routines and sights. But when Tchaikovsky found himself in Rome in early 1880 he was not vacationing; he was officially “wandering.”
His work at the Moscow Conservatory had come to an end, but several of his works (including his fourth symphony, the violin concerto, and the opera Eugene Onegin) had established a significant international reputation. He was receiving a regular allowance from Nadezhda von Meck; his mysterious and wealthy patroness for the next ten years. His marriage had dissolved; and it became time for that “wandering” that was the Romantic poetic ideal.
One might best hear this work as a presentation of memories from this time in Rome; with Tchaikovsky guiding us from one sonic photograph to the next; sometimes returning to a previous slide to add or develop another memory or forgotten association.
His brother Modest wrote that the opening trumpet call was transcribed from actual bugle music played by an Italian cavalry regiment stationed near his hotel. Other segments of these musical souvenirs reflect the exotic and rustic qualities of life in Italy as observed by Tchaikovsky. Near the end of the work he launches into a Tarentella; a characteristic southern Italian dance.
For advanced listeners: observe how the final four notes of the opening trumpet call are isolated by Tchaikovsky into a fate motive. Immediately after the opening fanfare there are four echoes of these four notes each differently scored in the orchestra. The accompaniment of the next passages uses a four-note figure (in much faster rhythmic articulations) also stated four times before the melody begins in the strings.
Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp and strings
“I felt inspired,” wrote Puccini about the composition of his Capriccio sinfonico, “and composed it at home, in the street, in class, at the Osteria Aida or at the Excelsior of good old Signore Gigi where one ate without the silly pretense of being able to pay for it; I wrote on odd sheets, bits of paper and the margin of newspapers.”
The work came at the end of a great turning point in Puccini’s life. He presented it formally as part of the graduation requirements for a degree from the Milan Conservatory, on Monday July 16, 1883, at the age of 25.
Puccini had come to Milan to study three years prior. A stipend from a relative and a scholarship from the Conservatory afforded him the opportunity to study in an operatic town that boasted the presence of La Scala. During his studies he worked with the composer Amilcare Ponchielli (best known for his opera La Gioconda).
The sense of what the Bohemian life was like was something Puccini learned during his college days.
Listening to the Capriccio sinfonico can give us an autobiographical glimpse into this connection. In spite of the title “sinfonico,” the work is best heard as an introduction, a sequence of instrumental “scenes” and a coda. The second of these “scenes” (about four minutes into the work), is music that was extracted by Puccini to open his most famous opera La bohème. The music is immediately recognizable if you know the opera, and the direct connection to his bohemian student days through this thesis composition is irresistible.
Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri
Instrumentation: flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings
L'Italiana in Algeri was written in 1813 when the composer was 21 years
old. It was one of four operas he wrote that year (Tancredi was another
of the four). It was the 11th of Rossini’s 39 completed operas. The
libretto was written by Angelo Anelli, but the same libretto was set in
1808 by the composer Luigi Mosca for La Scala.
opera itself explored new ways to revitalize the comic opera tradition,
and its solutions would give new life to the genre. From this point
forward there would be no turning back. Rossini became famous. He would
influence and alter the course of operatic history and made enough
money that he could retire at age 39. He lived in relaxed style in Paris
for many years while giving advice, when he felt like it, on topics
ranging from music to cooking.
This overture reveals
the exotic setting for the opera by imitating textures that were
considered “Turkish” in the early 19th century. In this case it involves
the use of bells (originally supported on an instrument called a
“Turkish crescent”) and several extended solos for the oboe.
slow introduction begins with pizzicato strings but is centered on an
extended oboe solo. The allegro music is fast and celebratory and after a
sparkling transition the oboe returns as a featured solo instrument of
the second theme group.
Listen carefully for a passage
of gradual intensification that culminates in a brilliant display of
colorful sound. This technique was so characteristic of the composer, in
both instrumental and operatic vocal ensembles, that it became known as
a “Rossini Crescendo.”
There is no independent
development section and, typical of operatic overtures from this time,
after the Rossini crescendo the recapitulation begins immediately,
recasting and balancing all the music sounded after the slow
Medea's Meditation & Dance Op.23a
3 Flutes, 3 Oboes, 4 Clarinets, 3 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3
Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, harp, piano and strings
ballet from which this work was derived was created for Martha Graham,
commissioned by the Diston Fund of Columbia University, and premiered in
the spring of 1946. Graham’s title was “Cave of the Heart,” but Barber
specifically named the legendary sorceress in his adaptations from the
ballet: his Medea suite (op.23) and in this Meditation and Dance op.23a.
Jason/Medea legend is not portrayed with any intention of being
literal. “These mythical figures,” wrote Barber, “served rather to
project psychological states of jealously and vengeance which are
timeless.” Barber intended for us to catch the ancient origins of these
emotional states, but as the musical tension and conflict increases, for
the characters to “step out of their legendary roles and become modern
man and woman…caught in the nets of jealousy and destructive love.”
dance begins with music that unfolds over an extended drone in the
bass. A broken sounding gesture in the xylophone overlays lyrical but
discordant wind music. As it progresses the personality of the music
moves further away from consonance and stretches into simultaneous but
conflicting tonalities. The gestures then become isolated and staccato
in a pointillistic development of the idea originally stated in the
The entrance of a military sounding snare
drum introduces a march which leads inexorably to a dark fanfare and
then into the Dance of Vengeance. The dance is strangely jazzy; led by
an ostinato in the piano. The music surges further and further out of
control pausing occasionally to gather itself, but ending in fury.
Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)
Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, (6 buccine), timpani, harp, celesta, piano, organ and strings.
Respighi spent the first half of his life as a performer (he played both viola and violin), and the second half as a teacher of musical composition in Rome. There were two important and colorful excursions he took; one during each of the “halves” of his life. At the age of 20 he spent a season in St. Petersburg where he was principal violist for the Italian Opera series of the Russian Imperial Theatre. This experience allowed him to study with Rimsky-Korsakov; one of the greatest masters of orchestral writing of his generation. A trip to Rio de Janerio colored his later life.
Respighi was born in Bologna, but lived in Rome beginning in 1913 when he was appointed to teach composition in the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. He soon began a series of three now famous works that celebrate Rome: The Fountains of Rome (1916), The Pines of Rome (1924) and Roman Festivals (1928).
The “Pines of Rome” is divided into four sections played without breaks between the movements. The four movements are designed to provide maximum contrast from one to the next. The first movement, “I pini di Villa Borghese” (Pines of the Villa Borghese), evokes the sound of children laughing and playing. The trees provide protection and shade for this energetic scene.
This is contrasted by the “Pini presso una catacomb” (Pines Near a Catacomb). Now we descend into the darkness of catacombs with the sound of deep divided strings alternating with chant-like music in the brass. We are treated to otherworldly images and occasionally guided by the harp.
From the world of the dead we emerge in the third movement to meditate on the evening sky. “I pini del Gianicolo” (Pines of the Janiculum), is set on a hilltop, looking up to mediate on the evening sky as the light fades from it. The entrance of piano figuration marks the beginning of this section of the work, and it ends with a recording of blackbirds whistling and singing that will be played over the Klein’s sound system. The orchestra continues to play and to interact with these recorded birds; Respighi carefully constructed the passage and notated them all into the score.
The final movement, “I pini della Via Appia” (Pines of the Appian Way), moves us back into the real-world evoked in the first movement; this time the music is a steady march that intensifies as the procession grows closer and closer to us. The work ends with one of the finest extended loud passages for orchestra written in the 20th century.
University of Bridgeport