The Band Music of Amilcare Ponchielli
The Glory of a Bandmaster
Though the score is undated, the April, 1866 date of its first performance means that the Concerto per tromba in Fa is one of the first "original" works that Ponchielli composed for the band in Cremona. The intended soloist, Giuseppe Cesare, had been a member of the band before Ponchielli; however, the archival documents make it clear that he did not participate in the auditions of January, 1865. He does appear on the very first band roster. Cesare's first documented appearance is in an 1859 letter to the commandant of the local Guardia nazionale wherein his initial training appears to have been by the timpanist, Giuseppe Galeotti. Cesare also was prominent in the removal of Ponchielli's predecessor as documented by several complaints to the oversight committee about his absence from band performances and rehearsals. His exact year of elevation to the position of a second leader is undocumented.
This piece was first prepared for modern performance by Emil Herrman. In fact the concerto's first recording was made by Armando Ghitalla (1925-2001) who was a friend of the editor. Besides the editor's own early versions of this work, Swiss trumpeter, Max Sommerhalder, has prepared several different versions for BIM. Another version was prepared for Gabriele Cassone by Luca Valenti of the Band of Soncino, which has been recorded. After sixteen years and having transcribed over a hundred other scores, the editor has returned to this work for a comprehensive look.
The choice of an instrument in F is no accident. One of Ponchielli's first documents is a list of the instruments used in the band. Cesura's instrument is listed as being an F trumpet of Austrian manufacture. The odd part is that Ponchielli's first documented concert with the Cremona band included a selection from Donizetti's Maria Rohan that has a demanding virtuosic solo for E-flat trumpet. Thus, Cesura may have availed himself of a crook such as can be seen in the picture of the band in the header of this website. As all will see when this work is posted, the solo part in E-flat is no less demanding. The 1869 Traviata Fantasia is for F trumpet, however.
This is the first work that Ponchielli entitles "concerto." Though he may use "concerto" in various appearances of Il Convegno, "concerto" never appears on the score. Nearly fourteen minutes in length, the trumpet concerto's substantial reliance on theme and variations has led many to discount it as a serious work. One of the most unfortunate misunderstandings can still be heard in the many YouTube performances. Emil Herrman assigned the initial entry of the soloist to a member of the band, leading Armando Ghitalla to being careful to make the audience aware that he was not playing during those measures. The "premature" entry of the soloist in measure 25 should, by itself, alert performers and audiences that this is no pedestrian work. The opening figure is reminiscent of a valveless "natural" instrument, a sound familiar to the Cremona audience who surely heard the timbre of its military twin, the cavalry bugle in F.
The opening Allegro extends measures 49-89 and contrasts some virtuosic measures with several brief cadenzas. The accompaniment is sparse, consisting mainly of clarinets, horns and tubas with occasional tuttis. The sixteenth-note triplets in measures 78-80 might have been originally performed as lip trills, a technique that Arban documents.
One of the more confusing aspects of this work is its "through-composed" structure. The six instrumental tuttis are unique in each instance, owing more to an operatic tradition than an instrumental one. In these tuttis, the second trumpet functions as the ensemble's first trumpet, voiced generally an octave below the E-flat clarinet. Ponchielli will not use this technique again until the Traviata Fantasia.
The extended aria section (measures 120-159) has long been problematic due to careless binding by a librarian in which the notes of an extended cadenza can only be read by backlighting the page.
Further, Ponchielli has supplied a shorter, simpler version of the cadenza as well. The entire cadenza requires five unequal measures to accurately transcribe it into FINALE. A major problem throughout lies in the phrase/articulation marking. These vary wildly from precision to improbability to nothing. The problems here will likely never be fully solved except by individual efforts. As in all of Ponchielli's band music, the lack of a continuing tradition will always be an ultimate hindrance. The theme and its four variations (measure 192-end) finish the piece. The variations are distinct and ascend in difficulty as one might expect. The variety and enthusiasm of the tutti passages between them has been both a point of attraction and distraction to the general popularity of this concerto. Ponchielli's own fascination with rhythm has led to the mono-rhythm assigned to the 6/8 and 3/8 sections that close the piece. Each is interpreted as 72 M.M. to the measure, so there is no accelerando, merely a transformation of a compound duple into a simple triple meter.
A word must be said here about updating the accompaniment to a modern band. It is hoped that one will note the exceptional clarity Ponchielli achieves with the original ensemble. Instead of viewing Ponchielli's scoring as primitive or uninformed, one should marvel at the rich combinations he achieves with what most musicians would consider a limited timbral palette. Several modern versions have been published; however, it is the practice here to maintain timbral consistency with the original score. This is most evident in the accompaniments to the soloist. While low woodwinds have been used to strengthen the upper tuba line, a second euphonium could be substituted or added as desired. With the ability to re-create a semblance of the Cremona band's original sound, there is a responsibility to aim toward it in its updating.
As a service to the trumpet community, a B-flat part with Ponchielli's ossia is here. There are a few cases where measure numbers will need to be adjusted; however, this part should otherwise be useful to any of the several published editions.
Performances: Sunday, April 15, 1866, Piazza Garibaldi; Sunday, April 14, 1867, Piazza Cavour; Sunday, May 3, 1868, Piazza Cavour; Thursday, September 1, 1870, Piazza del Duomo.