The Sinfonias

Sinfonia, Op. 106, PP.141.5

Due to the absence of concert data from Piacenza (1861-1864), no timeline for the repertoire that Ponchielli prepared for his initial experience as a capobanda can be created. In fact, the only Piacenza score that is clearly dated is Ponchielli's arrangement of the "Garden Scene" from La Traviata that features a solo cornet as Violetta and a solo bombardino as Germont. The original Sinfonia was for orchestra and was dated 1850. This must be considered a "student" work composed when Ponchielli was only fifteen. It was performed at the end of the academic year and called for an orchestra of piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, bassoon, ophicleide, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, two timpani, and strings. There is no score, only a surviving set of parts held at the Milan Conservatory. There is a four-hand piano setting that was published in 1854 by Francesco Lucca, who was Ponchielli's first publisher. Ponchielli dedicated it to the priest of Paderno Fasolaro, Don Cesare Paloschi (1790-1863), who was his first instructor.

Originally in G-Minor/Major, Ponchielli lowered the key to F-Minor/Major as much in deference to the strain of the higher key on brass players as well as a friendlier key for the entire band. The manuscript score is one of Ponchielli's most carefully prepared, so much so as to lead one to believe that it might have originally been intended as an audition example for the position in Piacenza. This said, I must note that the original parts of the student version must be relied upon for the clearest understanding of this work. Further, Ponchielli's longtime copyist, Francesco Belforti, was not hired until just before the start of the "season" in Piacenza. Ponchielli's confidence in Belforti was such that many of the later scores in their partnership are sloppy, leaving much clean-up work for Belforti to accomplish. In spite of the care with which the score was prepared, many of Ponchielli's "errors" continue in matters of accidentals, repeats, and articulations.

The term "sinfonia" must be interpreted in the Italian manner; that is to say, it is actually an "overture" in one movement with a slow introduction and an Allegro that moves from minor to major. The slow introduction consists of what will become a Ponchielli trademark - an extended pedal elaborated in various guises to conceal its actual simplicity. There is a "Beethovenian" suggestion with the unison dominant notes that open the work. A further example of Ponchielli's homage to Beethoven is the use of the lowered submediant (D-flat Major) as the contrasting key in the Minor section.

The dates of Cremona performances seem to be quite precise, as the Seconda Sinfonia is identified as Sinfonia originale in the concerts of 1872 and 1873.

Date on score: None Given

Performances: Sunday, June 9, 1867, Pubblico Passeggio; Wednesday, October 16, 1867, Piazza Cavour; Thursday, October 22, 1868, Piazza Garibaldi; Thursday, July 22, 1869, Piazza Cavour.

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