The Variations

Theme and variations has long been a staple of popular music, especially through the nineteenth century. Ponchielli composed two works in this genre that are polar opposites. The "Greek" variations are a compositional tour de force, illustrating Ponchielli's considerable skill in musical variation. Ponchielli's fifteen variations on the Parisian song, Carnevale di Venezia strain the limits of brass instrument virtuosity. The most famous set of brass variations on Carnevale were done by the French cornet virtuoso, J. B. Arban (1825-1889). Instead of one soloist, Ponchielli has six, including himself on a set of bells controlled by a keyboard. While there is nothing new in the demands on the solo clarinet, the cornet, trumpet, bombardino, and flicorno basso parts are vastly more difficult than any other brass variations. The only saving grace is that none last more than sixteen bars at a time. The United States Marine Band has performed them in concert and (in a shortened version) on tour.

The Variations Compared

VariationCavallini GrecoPonchielli GrecoCarnevale Ponchiellie
Intro mm.1-23 mm. 1-46 mm. 1-124
Theme mm. 24-58 mm. 47-63 mm. 125-132
1 mm. 59-74 mm. 64-87 1/Eb Clarinet mm. 133-148 1a/Clarinet
2 mm. 75-106 mm. 88-103 2/Cornet mm. 149-164 1a/Clarinet
3 mm. 107-122 mm. 104-127 3/Tutti mm. 165-180 2a/Bombardino
4 mm. 123-154 mm. 128-159 4/Tutti mm. 181-196 3a/ Low brass
5 mm. 155-170 mm. 160-183 5/Tutti mm. 197-212 4a/ Cornet
6 mm. 171-202 mm. 184-199 6/Tutti mm. 213-228 5a/ Clarinets
7 mm. 203-218 mm. 200-215 7/Trumpet mm. 229-244 5½a/Trio
8 mm. 219-250 mm. 216-231 8/Low brass mm. 245-260 6a/Low brass
9 mm. 251-278 mm. 232-255 9/Clarinet Duo mm. 261-276 7a/Clarinet Minor
10 mm. 279-300 (Andante-Minor) mm. 256-285 10/Cornet-Trumpet mm. 277-292 8a/Cornet-Trumpet
11     mm. 293-308 9a/Bells
12     mm. 309-324 9½a/Flicorno basso
13     mm. 325-340 10a/Tutti
14     mm. 341-365 11a/Trumpet
15     mm. 366-380 12a/Clarinet Duo
Coda mm. 301-332 (Allegro-Major) mm. 286-298 mm. 381-428

Carnevale di Venezia Variazioni per Banda, Op. 140, Ms.Civ.91

Variazioni sul Canto Greco di Cavallini per Banda, Op. 144, PP.135.14