The Band Music of Amilcare Ponchielli
The Glory of a Bandmaster
The Marcia Funebre No. 1 likely had a long career in the repertoire of the Cremona band, though its continuity there may have been broken. . The autograph cited in the header seems to be from the very beginning of the "new" band in Cremona in 1866. This might be assumed from the unique absence of a part for flicornobasso. Since the preferred flicornobasso candidate refused the offer after the January, 1865 auditions, the initial band roster omitted the position. The absence of the E-flat cornet and the presence of a lone cornet (no fluglehorn either) also suggest a score from 1865-66. Additionally there is an 1890 "re-scoring" by Raffaele Coppola who thanks a "Maestro" Mascari for his donation. The A-flat clarinet is replaced by a D-flat piccolo, and the cornet and fluglehorn parts have replaced the trumpets. The flicornobasso part is now present. There are two tuba parts as before, but now the lower part can be played only by a true contrabass in BB-flat. In spite of some similarities between the two pieces, The "Coppola" version is not an exact re-voicing of the autograph, though it has thematic similarities. The third score may reinforce the connection between 19th-century Italian bands and the organ as it might have served not just as preparation for the final score but point to this work's inception as an organ piece. Structurally there are no surprises in this piece. While there are no actual funeral marches from the Piacenza period, this work could have been performed by the smaller band. One important aspect of this march is lost in Coppola's re-orchestration. The C-Minor to A-flat-Major leap in the bass becomes a sedate descending major third instead of the gripping minor sixth leap Ponchielli originally composed. Ponchielli's band had no real low woodwinds, so timbre and range add to the drama of measures 9-16. These small bits of polyphony provide a useful variant from the usually unstinting mass homophony found in so many funeral marches. The edited score is much longer due to Ponchielli's da Capo instructions to omit the ritornello (refrain) on the repeat. The trio is quite simple in contrast to the march itself. This section seems to be closer in its scoring to the quickstep marches, allowing players to rest in the course of what might be an extended performance. Sadly, there is yet no documantation of how the band might have participated in a funeral. The city cemetery was outside the city wall and would have required a march between one half and two kilometers depending on the church where the requiem mass was performed.
In spite of some truly inspiring moments, this funeral march seems sedate and formal as one proceeds through the remaining "Cremona" marches. In them we may see Ponchielli's own developing empathy as he watches his fellow Cremonesi. While the bandsmen would be too involved to see and hear the morners, Ponchielli as the non-playing capobanda was in a position to observe their suffering at closehand.
Performances: None can be ascertained