Piacenza 1861-1864

  • The Glory of a Bandmaster

    The Glory of a Bandmaster

Piacenza 1861-1864

 

The documentation related to Ponchielli's four-year tenure are scarce. In fact, his hiring in Piacenza must have dealt a real blow to the proud "Piacentini" to hire a "Cremonese" for such an important position. Located on the opposite side of the River Po, Piacenza and Cremona are rivals to this day and still consider each other to be a sort of "foreigner" called a forestiero. The official record of the competition does not list Ponchielli as one of the contenders, though he is listed as the winner. Very few of the needed positions are filled at this time, most not being hired until late August, 1861. One particularly onerous requirement of Ponchielli's contract was that he had to remain in Piacenza, leaving only with the permission of the town council (giunta municipiale).

The documentation related to Ponchielli's activities as capobanda in Piacenza are a fraction of the Cremona collection. His letter of acceptance and contract exist along with the rules and uniform requirements for the band. As was the case throughout Italy, the band in Piacenza was formed to support the activities of the Guardia nazionale, a relic of the Napoleonic era when all men of a certain age were organized into a militia. Oddly, the existence of this militia may have aided the success of the wars for Italy's independence under Vittorio Emmanuale and Giuseppe Garibaldi. The musical requirements for Ponchielli listed in his contract were minimal, requiring only newly-composed dance music (ballabili) and marches. Due to the lack of a published concert schedule, one can only surmise the works that Ponchielli prepared for the band of Piacenza. In fact, only one score remains in Piacenza, and the instrumentation of the score suggest that it was really intended for the band in Cremona.

The administration of the band seems to have come directly under the control of the mayor (sindaco). This assumption is based upon the stream of letters to him from Ponchielli on blue note paper that he seems to have preferred for much of his life. Barely thirty years old, Ponchielli writes never-ending pleas for more players, improved instrumentation, and more appropriate concert sites. It is in these letters that we hear of his fondness for doubling cornets and flugelhorns. Further, the concert sites are large piazzas that cannot be filled properly with a band of only twenty-four players.

Ponchielli accepted the position in April but did not begin his activities until the following September. There is no sign of his participating in the auditions; however, several of the musicians in this band will hold important slots in the band in Cremona after 1865.

One cannot discern the attitude of the mayor and town council of Piacenza when they were approached (by letter) by their counterparts in Cremona to interview Ponchielli for the post of capobandain Cremona. One measure of their relief at his departure may be the cessation of all band activities in Piacenza from that time onward. Like Cremona, Piacenza was an agricultural center and was very conservative, especially regarding fiscal affairs. In spite of the continuing presence of a conservatory, a community band was not to be a part of the musical life of Piacenza.

 






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