Ponchielli & the Music for Band

Ponchielli and the Music for Band

English Language Abstracts

Licia Sirch

Ponchielli and Music for the Band: An Introduction

Within the context of nineteenth-century musical life, the activities of Amilcare Ponchielli as a bandleader in Piacenza and Cremona (1861-1873) are described. The musical life of Cremona enjoyed a fruitful period during the first half of the nineteenth century; thanks to outstanding musicians such as Carolina Bassi, Ruggero Manna, Carlo Bignami, and Folchino Schizzi who formed various musical organizations such as the Philharmonic Society, the “Esercizi Musicali,” the “Pia Istituzione Musicale,” as well as a city orchestra and band which furthered concert activities and the training of the excellent musicians for whom Ponchielli composed his first instrumental works.

There follows a brief history of the band in Cremona and its function in the civil, religious, and military spheres - as entertainment, as a supporter of the operatic literature, and as an extension of the theater orchestra during opera performances and public and private dances. Though he continued to compose stage works for the theater (which he succeeded in 1872 with Gioconda), he returned to Cremona in 1864 as leader (capomusica) and worked hard to reform the band to his specifications by re-auditioning all of its members, founding a music school to train new members, and radically reorganizing the band’s constitution. After barely a year of work, he began the series of 300-plus concerts for which he produced a rich body of music admired by his fellow citizens and discussed and analyzed by scholars in these pages.

The opportunities provided by the band’s musical demands constituted (for Ponchielli) an optimal compositional outlet and greatly contributed to the formation of his skill in instrumentation which was and remains today an object of critical and popular admiration.

Annely Zeni

Anthems and Marches: The Rhythm of Ideas and Amilcare Ponchielli’s Music for Band

Among Ponchielli’s works for band (especially in the sphere reserved to the march), the external linguistic elements (titles: Victory March, Dreams of War, Democracy, Roma!, Allies, etc.) and the internal musical elements (rhythms, melodies, instruments) reflect Italy’s nineteenth-century conceptual framework in a historic perspective in which the band may be viewed as a central element in the diffusion of a national sentiment and its subsequent transformation.

Antonio Carlini

Amilcare Ponchielli and the Concert Works for Trumpet and Cornet in the Italian Band Tradition of the Nineteenth Century

An important chapter in the Italian band repertoire of the nineteenth century consists of concertos for wind instruments and band. The sheer number of scores and the law of supply and demand are bound by the rules of consequences to demonstrate the public demand to composers, performers, and audiences. Therefore, if the presence of concertos for trumpet and band among the works of Ponchielli honors a tradition, a study of the formal characteristics and (more so) the style of the solo instrument leads one to consider the type as an autonomous derivation of the Baroque concerto let alone as an example of an instrumental composition liberated from the opera (from which, in any case, it derives its sentimentality). The synergy related to the technical evolution of brass instruments and their capacity to achieve true artistry provides an interesting alternative to the Germanic schools of composers. In an appendix to the article there are lists of methods and etudes for trumpet, concertos for trumpet and orchestra, trumpet and piano, trumpet and band from nineteenth-century Italy, which continue the work begun in Edward H. Tarr’s 1993 article, The romantic Trumpet.

Licia Sirch

Transcriptions, Potpourri, Fantasias, and Reminiscences of Operas: Dramatic and Formal Considerations

Recent musicological interest has been drawn to a previously ignored repertoire, namely works transcribed for band from the pages of Italian opera by several composers in the form of fantasias, potpourri, and reminiscences. This very rich band repertoire satisfied the taste of the nineteenth-century Italian public and was a factor in the promulgation of this repertoire.

As the sources of these transcriptions were piano-vocal scores (thus “instrumentation” may better serve than “transcription”), one notes a particular fidelity to these sources and at the same time intent to interpret dramatic moments in the new medium.

The terms “fantasia, potpourri, etc.” do not indicate specific forms and structures. More than mere re-settings or collages, these works are diverse polyphonic and structural elaborations of their sources that include virtuosic variations for soloists from the band. Common to all these pieces is the concerted structure of a “classical” model with tutti-solo, forte-piano, allegro-adagio, virtuosity-lyricism, etc. Therefore, these works do not limit themselves to a re-telling of moments in an opera; rather, they also explore the model of classical instrumental music, though there is a tendency to highlight moments of drama. Finally, these works represent a complex web constructed from the original vocal elements, freed from the constraints of the libretto, and above all the concerto-instrumental tradition.

Fred Ormand

Forgotten Gems: Ponchielli’s Compositions for Clarinet

This article traces briefly the reasons that have led to the “rediscovery” and performance today of instrumental chamber music and soloistic works for clarinet by Ponchielli. These are divided into three groups: (1) Two “juvenile works, the Wind Quartet (Op. 110) and II Convegno for two clarinets and piano, which exists also for orchestra (1876) with redactions for band; (2) Various pieces by other composer-clarinet virtuosos (Luigi Bassi, Domenico Mirco, and Ernesto Cavallini) arranged for band by Ponchielli; (3) Two chamber works Paolo e Virginia (1877) and Ricordanze dell’opera La Traviata.

All of these works, for having been composed in different epochs, have in common happy, operatic melodies that recall the famous Dance of the Hours and reveal a virtuosic instrumental style and an extraordinary ability and imagination in Ponchielli’s compositions for woodwinds. These are the main reasons that have promoted the rediscovery of this repertoire.

In particular one notes that the Concerto per clarinetto by Domenico Mirco is a transcription and elaboration of Mirco’s Variazioni brillanti sopra il tema veneziano ‘Vieni la barca è pronta’ to which the cremonese master affixed a new introduction.

An appendix cites the musical sources.

Marco Ruggeri

Ponchielli, the Organ and the Band: Comparing the Organs and the Bands of Lombardy in the Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth-century Italian organ is seldom discussed within contemporary musical trends and concerns. Particularly, toward the middle of the nineteenth century, the band (as well as the orchestra) exercised a notable threefold influence on the organ: (1) social-cultural in which both served to disseminate the music of the popular operas to the middle and lower classes; (2) stylistic-formal in which various genera and styles of the band music were incorporated into the repertoire of the organ; and (3) organological by means of new registrations which imitated the sonorities of the band. Ponchielli’s organ output (though slight) is analyzed and placed in perspective with several of his works for band. In furtherance of this study, organ works by other contemporary Italian composers such as Padre Davide from Bergamo and Vincenzo Petrali are included. From their music, organists such a Lingiardi, De Lorenzi, Carrera, and Inzoli are shown to be receptive to the new climate and at odds with the spirit of their time in its adherence to the classical old-world (declining) ideal of the organ. Their experiments in timbre were directly influenced by developments in the band realm.

Henry Howey

Death in Cremona: Ponchielli’s Funeral Marches

In Ponchielli’s band music one finds a surprising number of funeral marches. Among these eight can be directly associated with the civic duties of the band in Cremona, while the remaining two can be associated with particular events: one composed in 1872 for the obsequies of Ponchielli’s first publisher (Fernando Lucca) and a second in 1873 for Alessandro Manzoni. These marches reveal the honesty and humanity acquired by the youthful Ponchielli as he matured as a man and as an artist within his world and society. Each march is discussed in detail as to structure, style, and possible ties to historic events. Like brass rubbings of gravestones, these tiny masterpieces effectively reveal moments of communal and human sadness.

Renato Meucci

An Organological Case Study: The Identification of the Trumpet and the Cornet

The trumpet and cornet are fundamentally distinguishable by the development of their tubing and internal structure upon which the sound and ease of performance depend. The trumpet has a primarily cylindrical bore while cornet is first conical, then cylindrical, and finally conical. This distinction has been obscured in the last 100 years by a singular historical occurrence that has become (in Italy) a true and thus “overstated” terminology: what has long been called a “cornet” is more correctly a “trumpet” in B-flat. This phenomenon (of which few scholars and fewer performers appear to be aware) is amply documented and had begun toward the end of the nineteenth century when the B-flat version of the trumpet (a key peculiar to that era’s cornet) came to be preferred over the traditional trumpet tunings in F or G. Briefly, when the instrument in B-flat became the choice over F or G, these parts were often given to a cornet instead. The question as to what instrument for which part has led to the continuing confusion of the names where a trumpet in B-flat is called for that a cornet might be used.

Raffaella Barbierato

Ponchielli’s Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Statale in Cremona: New Works and the Integration of the Collection

Since the 1989 publication of Licia Sirch’s Catalogo tematico delle musiche di Amilcare Ponchielli, many new works by Ponchielli have been found. Specifically, new acquisitions and, particularly, work involved in combining nearby resources that had been divided in earlier years have enabled the author to virtually reconstruct the repertoire of Ponchielli’s band. Nearly 70 works thought to have been lost as well previously unknown resources of known works have come to light in the last several years. These discoveries are organized as an appendix to update the catalog.

Marco Mangani

Lyrical Mood and The Elegiac Tonos: Ponchielli’s Triste Rimembranza

Within the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century Ponchielli composed five elegies, two of which are commemorative and for band (one for Felice Frasi, his teacher, in 1881 and the second for Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1882). Another, entitled Triste rimembranza (Sad remembrance), is for large orchestra and datable after 1879. The era of these compositions is the same, which in Italy a new interest toward the elegy as poetic classical genre, revived in literary environments, in particular thanks to Giosué Carducci.

In the musical context of the nineteenth century, the word "elegy" refers to two aesthetic categories which are not necessarily in the same composition: one is related to commemorative works and the others to stylistic and expressive original elements, caused by a research of new harmonic and timbral solutions. After a consideration of some important elegies of the nineteenth century (by Liszt, Fauré, Berlioz, and moreover a previously unknown autograph of Bazzini has been found), the elegy in honor of Garibaldi is analyzed. Ponchielli seems here to retell the popular anthem to Garibaldi Si scopron le tombe (Open the graves) using tunes of this vocal piece but elaborating and putting beside other original tunes. Here we can also find a typical elegiac stylistic element: the "transfiguration" of the minor key of the introduction to the major key in the central part of the composition.

The mature style of the genre "orchestral elegy" in second half of the nineteenth century is entirely present in his Triste rimembranza, Op. 114 for which an analytical reading is suggested. This musical genre is not recognized so much for its form, but rather for its lyric tone, unmistakable to its audience and realized by precise compositional procedures, particularly an elaboration of a musical cell that permeates the whole composition and which reminds one of an almost coeval composition of Ponchielli’s most important pupil, Giacomo Puccini’s Preludio sinfonico. The general dynamic is directed toward a climax in the center with the transfiguration of the tune from the minor key at the beginning, to the major at the end of the composition; the texture formed by superimposition of different rhythmic and timbral lines which also remind one of passages of Puccini’s style; the unusual elaboration of harmonies which reflects the assimilated Wagnerian lesson.

Pietro Zappalà

Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dances for Band

After commenting upon the scarcity of modern studies about the vast phenomenon of “dance music” (particularly for the Italian nineteenth-century band), Ponchielli’s extant repertory is identified including its dating and possible chronology and its inclusion of both original works as well as transcriptions. Among the latter we find famous works from the Viennese repertoire by musicians such as József Gung’l, F. Joseph K. Lanner, and Johann Strauss, Jr.

Ponchielli’s original dances – polkas, schottisches, mazurkas, and waltzes – are viewed from historical and musicological points of view. Beyond the exigencies and conventions of the contemporary dance movements, Ponchielli invests his original pieces with melodic invention and novel compositional devices that contrast sophisticated melodies, harmonies, and instrumentation with a disregard for the same.

Finally, the dances are placed within their social epoch. The occasions for their performance were many: during the open-air concerts in the piazzas of Cremona, for private parties in the palazzi of the social elite or public parties in the city’s theater, and as entr’actes for either operas or ballets.

An appendix updates the original and transcribed dances for the band by Ponchielli.