Fantasia originale per banda, Op. 126, PP.141.14

The Fantasia originale exemplifies Ponchielli's instrumental music in that it betrays his operatic underpinnings while blurring the German distinction among musical genres. Whether "sinfonia" or "fantasia," this work is in its Minor/Major thematic juxtaposition very like the two sinfonias. What it lacks is the program of the Fantasia militare composed at Piacenza. Its first performance a mere two days after the finishing of the score suggests a working methodology between Ponchielli and his copyist, Francesco Belforti. Obviously, the parts were prepared as the score moved forward. The rehearsals of the band were initially the responsibility of the principal players so the parts were likely distributed as they were completed. In sections such as the clarinets with multiple stands per part, one wonders if the extra parts were further prepared by others besides Belforti. With a sole set of parts extant from this era with no extra clarinet parts one can only speculate.

There is one measure that is very striking, and the effect lasts for a fraction of a second. It is in measure 270 where the first cornat has a G-flat concert pitch in the context of an otherwise unremarkable dominant seventh chord on F. As has been often noted, the band scores rarely rise beyond the level of sketches entailing many shortcuts and downright errors such as omitting resolution notes after a page turn. The first cornet was none other than a very young Achille Bissocoli in his very first year as Ponchielli's second in command. He alone plays the cringingly dissonant note. Is this perhaps a musical joke intended to startle the young second leader and (maybe) to embarrass him just a bit? He was, after all, from Mantua, and thus a forestiero - a "foreigner" surrounded by Cremonesi who might have been in on the joke.

The "operatic" nature of these original works for band cannot but wonder how they were received by their contemporary audiences. The interplay between opera soloists and audiences continues to this day. Applause as well as brickbats flow freely between artists and audiences, and stories of these are endless. In contrast to this is a story related to me by the late Armando Ghitalla, former solo trumpet in Boston and trumpet faculty at the University of Michigan and Rice University. After World War Two, he was in Milan at an outdoor concert by a municipal band. He was struck by the attentive audience and mothers shushing children so others might hear better. Sadly, there are no descriptions of the audiences at Ponchielli's Cremona concerts. His own correspondence is revealing; however, the surviving letters are to Cremonesi and lack any references to the concerts.

The sound files accompanying all of the examples were made with reasonably good VST sources. More than one listener has remarked at the "organ-like" sound of the band. This is no accident in that Ponchielli was an organist, and restored instruments that he used in Cremona display these timbres, even to including a set of percussion instruments.

Finally, the last concert listed from the pages of Corriere Cremonese is in Piazza Roma, the site of the former Dominican church whose cloister served as the band's headquarters at the time. It as during this time when Ponchielli took leave from Cremona and the band's two assistant leaders held its reins.

Date on score: Thursday, September 28, 1866

Performances: Sunday, September 30, 1866, Piazza Cavour; Sunday, October 14, 1866, Piazza Cavour; Sunday, April 28, 1867, Piazza Cavour; Sunday, March 22, 1868, Piazza Garibaldi; Thursday,June 3, 1869,Garibaldi; Sunday, November 20, 1870, Piazza Cavour; Thursday, January 1, 1873, Piazza Cavour; Sunday, January 12, 1873, Piazza Roma.

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