The Funeral Marches
There are ten funeral marches by Ponchielli in the edition. Nine of them were undoubtedly played for funerals in Cremona 1865-1873. The funeral march for the 1872 funeral of Ponchielli's first publisher Francesco Lucca is not an autograph score; rather, it is in a format from the era of Raffaele Coppola who was Ponchielli's successor as capobanda in Cremona. Likely, the copy was prepared by Francesco Belforti who remained active as a copyist to 1880. The funeral march dedicated to Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) is dated May 23, 1873; however, the actual march performed for Manzoni's funeral was the composition Ei fu! by the capobanda in Milan, Gustavo Rossari (1827-1881).
Though undated, Ponchielli has a lone transcription of Beethoven's Marcia funebre sulla morte d'un Eroe from his Op. 26 Piano Sonata from 1800-01. Subtitled as "No. 14," it is a late work due to the scoring for bass clarinets, instruments that do not appear in dated scores until 1867. Due to the lack of a true contrabass tuba (capable of a resonant low A-flat) in the band, Ponchielli transposes the work up one step to B-flat Minor. There are enough dynamic and articulation variants from the original that Ponchielli may have created this score from memory. This transcription was found in a renewed search of the archives of the Biblioteca statale in the summer of 2004.
When John F. Kennedy was buried, The United States Army Band performed an arrangement of Chopin's March from his Second Piano Sonata. Since the melody and rhythm had been used too widely in cartoons, that solemn occasion had a comedic air that certainly was not intended by Jacqueline Kennedy who had requested it. When Britain's Queen Mother recently died, her casket was accompanied by a funeral march Ponchielli had composed for his opera Marion Delorme. Since this work is unknown, there was only an air of great dignity at this funeral. The nine "Cremona" marches are very worthy additions to the repertoire and should be viewed as musical "brass rubbings" of grave markers where real human grief can be viewed aesthetically by the grace of the distance of time.
The matter of tempo is always a concern for performing marches. In various Italian manuals for training soldiers, there is a "teaching speed" or tempo di scuola. This is set at sixty-six beats-per-minute (66 BPM). Nearly all of Ponchielli's band members would have had experience in the Guardia nazionale, so it is reasonable to assume that they were accustomed to this slow tempo for drill and marching. When funeral marches are performed at this tempo, they have a solemn grandeur that surely impressed and awed the populace. Another performance note is that Ponchielli instructs that the snare drum be "veiled" (velato) and that the bass drum alone (Cassa sola) be used in Marcia funebre No. 2. These instructions should likely be observed throughout all of the funeral marches. Sadly, the "Godfather" movies with their rural Sicilian venues practically ridicule events that were undoubtedly magnificent in towns with musicians like those in Cremona.