The Italian peninsula was a draw for artists and composers throughout nineteenth-century Europe. The repertoire planned for our season concert highlights the splendors of this vibrant land with Richard Strauss’s engaging and evocative “symphonic fantasy” Aus Italien, Respighi’s exquisite Fountains of Rome, and Tchaikovsky’s exuberant Capriccio Italien.
* As a reminder, all season and family concerts have been canceled due to COVID-19. However, if you would like a sneak peek at the virtual concert experiences that will be created this year, here is a copy of our season brochure.
Please stay safe and we look forward to welcoming you back to Wentz Concert Hall soon!
Aus Italien, Op. 16
Strauss’ Aus Italien is a tone poem for orchestra described by the composer as a “symphonic fantasy.” While it consists of the four-movement layout found in a traditional symphony, it gives musical representation to non-musical ideas.
The opening movement, considered more of a “prelude,” is quite sunny; the second movement begins by reflecting the Roman Campagna “bathed in sunlight” but ends in a more pensive mood, as if viewing the ruins of a once-great empire; and the third movement is the most peaceful and reserved, providing a pastoral passage before the final movement, which begins with furious strings, bangs and crashes before introducing what Strauss thought to be a charming Neapolitan folk tune. However, this tune was actually Luigi Denza’s Funiculi Funicula. Strauss was later sued for using Denza’s piece and lost the case.
Work began while the 22-year-old composer traveled at Brahms’ encouragement throughout Italy. It premiered in March 1887 in Strauss’ hometown (Munich) with Strauss himself conducting.
Fountains of Rome
Fountains of Rome, a symphonic poem composed in 1916, is considered Respighi’s best-known work, and its popular success led Respighi to write two sequels – Pines of Rome (1924) and Roman Festivals (1928). Like Strauss’ Aus Italien, Respighi’s Fountains of Rome consists of four movements, each representing one of Rome’s fountains at a different time of day when, according to the composer’s own notes, “their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or in which their beauty appears most impressive to the observer.”
“The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn” imitates a shepherd’s shawm in a theme introduced by the oboe and passed to the woodwinds and “depicts a pastoral landscape: droves of cattle pass and disappear in the fresh, damp mists of a Roman dawn.”
“The Triton Fountain in the Morning” opens with a “sudden loud and insistent blast of horns,” which then leads to a light, scherzando theme in the flutes that develops into orchestral colors that seem to reflect the glint of morning light on the water.
“The Trevi Fountain at Noon” opens with a solemn theme in the trumpets and trombones that seems to depict a triumphal “Neptune’s chariot drawn by sea horses and followed by sirens and tritons. The procession then vanishes while faint trumpet blasts resound in the distance.”
“The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset” is announced by a sad theme which rises above a subdued warbling. It is the nostalgic hour of sunset…The air is full of the “sound of tolling bells, birds twittering, leaves rustling… Then,” as a distant bell tolls, “all dies peacefully into the silence of the night.”
Soon after moving to Rome in 1913, Respighi met two sisters who lived where they could hear a fountain “singing,” which inspired the piece. The first performance in 1917 received such a cool reception that Respighi put it away until conductor Arturo Toscanini asked for a new work to conduct, and Fountains was the only work ready. Toscanini’s February 1918 performance was a smashing success.
Capriccio Italien, Op. 45
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Italy was one of Tchaikovsky’s favorite travel destinations, and he frequently escaped Moscow’s harsh winters for its sunnier climate. It was during his third visit to Rome in the winter of 1879–80 that he was inspired to compose his Capriccio Italien during “the height of carnival,” as he wrote to his generous patron Nadezhda von Meck (whom he never actually met).
This orchestral fantasy opens with a reveille-like trumpet fanfare. According to his brother Modest, Tchaikovsky’s hotel in Rome was next to a cavalry barracks that sounded this very bugle call each day. The strings then introduce a slow, languorous melody that alternates with the fanfare in varying orchestral guises, until the oboes introduce a lovely waltz-like tune. The theme grows more brilliant as more instruments join in, leading to a rushing new theme in the violins and flutes over a pulsing accompaniment. After a dancing tune featuring the tambourine, the music dies away and the opening theme returns. The tempo picks up again as woodwinds introduce a fast, minor-key tarantella, a vigorous dance thought to chase away the poisonous spider’s bite. The waltz melody then makes a grand return, leading to a thrilling Tchaikovskian finale.