The Band Music of Amilcare Ponchielli
The Glory of a Bandmaster
This may be the most significant of all of Ponchielli’s festive marches. The score has a wealth of notational detail, though there are spots where Ponchielli omits details that any Italian musician of ability would supply from the podium. Due to its obvious non-military designation and the addition of “capriccio” to its title, Piazza Stradivari is as much a political statement as it is a piece of music.
Its premiere occurred on Thursday, May 1, 1870, for the very first concert in the area once occupied by a monastery and church of the Dominican Order dedicated to their founder, St. Dominic. The significance of this demolished church is that it had been the site of Antonio Stradivari’s (1644-1737) grave. In fact, Stradivari’s workshop had been located across the street from the entrance to the church in a building that no longer exists. Ponchielli was obviously campaigning for the city to name the new open space after the famous violinmaker. This area was named “Piazza Roma” after 1871 and is the site of Ponchielli’s statue in Cremona. Further, it has just been found out that the convent associated with the church was still standing as late as 1872 and may have been the site of the band and its associated music school. In the score of the 1872 Sinfonia seconda, Ponchielli lists the site of its completion as Caserma San Domenico - "St. Dominic's Barracks." The practice of turning convents and monasteries into military barracks was well-estblished in Cremona (and Italy), and may have been a reflection of the anti-clericalism that was fueled in the Risorgimento.
The structure of this 6/8 march follows the general “march-trio-march” layout with some formal twists and turns that mark it as a special case. The never-repeated introduction “tunes” an imaginary violin in paired strings followed by a scalar passage suggesting a frantic technical exercise. The spare application of the percussion to the march in general further marks this as a “concert” march..
The accompanying image from the last page of the score reveals both the haste with Ponchielli works and his relationship with copyist Francesco Belforti who had worked with him since 1861 in Piacenza. While the markings of the second note use markings similar to those found in published music, the scissors (forbici) and “horned hand” (mano cornuta) are common symbols in a number of Ponchielli’s scores. The result of Ponchielli’s instructions is borne out in the edition. Instead of a direct da capo or dal segno, Ponchielli inserts four unison B-flats and restates measures 54-83 before the actual dal segno to the soft first strain. The Fine occurs (as usual) with the cadence before the Trio section.
The singular passage passage in this march may be found in measures 47-53. The choral-like passage is unmarked regarding dynamics though very soft dynamics seem appropriate at this point where no percussion is scored. The lack of a performance tradition is a major shortcoming here.
The instrumentation reflects the most elaborate and last ensemble Ponchielli uses with pairs of cornets and flugelhorns.
First Performance: Sunday, May 1, 1870 “on the site of the demolished church of St. Dominic.” Sunday, May 5, 1872, Piazza Cavour; Thursday, July 18, 1872, Piazza Garibaldi; Sunday, June 22, 1873, Piazza Cavour; Thursday, July 31, 1873, Piazza Roma.