Work: Capriccio Italien
About This Work
In 1880, Tchaikovsky left Russia to travel Europe, taking full advantage of the support of his sponsor, Nadezhda von Meck. Soaking up the local music while abroad, he collected souvenir melodies for later use; his favorites from the streets and music
books of Rome formed the basis of his Capriccio Italien, a mélange that has been one his most popular orchestral works ever since. Although based on borrowed material, the Capriccio is vintage Tchaikovsky, easily identifiable by its distinctive orchestration and tight structure -- two aspects of the composer's work that are often overlooked in favor of his own gift for melody and sentiment. Capriccio Italien is pure entertainment, devoid of larger expressive intent, but it is anything but simple. The tremendous variety of mood and color might remind a listener of everything from an epic tone poem to a circus calliope, and the way in which all these things are knitted together into a coherent larger structure, and the work's unfailing tunefulness, are at the heart of its appeal.
The opening trumpet fanfare was heard each morning from a barracks next to the composer's hotel; grand and solemn, and pompously harmonized, it is anything but capricious. The modally inflected string melody that follows is similarly heroic, showing no hint of a smile. But it finally gives way to the evocation of an Italian street band, heard first in the woodwinds and brass, and finally by the whole orchestra; soon the lighthearted medley takes wing, only looking back to the opening mood briefly before the final frenetic tarantella.
-- Allen Schrott
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