the composer

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Biography

Amilcare Ponchielli was born in the 31 August 1834 in Paderno Fasolaro (Paderno Ponchielli today), a locality of the cremonese farmland, from Caterina Mora and Giovanni, from which it received the first lessons of music. The young Amilcare quickly demonstrated a natural musical talent and for interest of Marquis Giovanni Battista Jacini, obtained a full paid place at the Conservatory of Milan where it entered in 1843 like student of composition in the classes of Felice Frasi and Alberto Mazzucato. At this early period passed in Conservatory belongs the first simple compositions for piano, and the year-end exam test work pieces between which the Scene, Trio and End from the booklet Maometto, of Felice Romani (1817) and some pieces for orchestra between which the most interesting Sinfonia Scena Campestre (1853).

In the 1854 he graduated with high scores in Composition and came to live in Cremona where he met with the city musical institutions and with the most authoritative local musicians (Ruggero Manna). Forced then from economic shortage, it accepted several roles: of organist in the church of S. Imerio, of orchestra director and main substitute in several cities of the north of Italy and therefore of head-music of the band of Piacenza (from 1861 to 1864) and then of that of Cremona from the end of 1864 to 1873. At the same time it works hardly, helped from friends and supporters, between which the amateur musician Bortolo Piatti, in order to advance itself more in the sought career from the musicians of the age: the opera career, synonymous of prestige and success. The Theatre debut of P. happened at the Teatro della Concordia of Cremona in 1856 with the work I Promessi Sposi (the promises spouses), whose booklet, elaborated from local poets (Giuseppe Aglio, Cesare Stradivari, C. Ettore Colla and Giovanni Bergamaschi), is drawn from the novel of Alessandro Manzoni. The work had insufficient fortune and it did not enter in the national circuit, thus like the works that followed: La Savojarda (1860), Roderigo Re dei Goti (1863), Bertrando dal Bormio (1858) where not even played.

In 1868 P. won a public competition from the Conservatory of Milan for a place of teacher of counterpoint, but the Jury Commission privileged Franco Faccio. The good luck smiled on to P. at the end of 1872 thanks to the triumphant performance of the new edition (Teatro Dal Verme of Milan) of I Promessi Sposi, with the booklet ennobled from the poet `Scapigliato' Emilio Praga. The part of Lucia was sang from the soprano Teresa Brambilla who in 1874 will become the wife of P.

The critics of that year declared the event “the discovery of an important man” and Giulio Ricordi received P. in its prestigious publishing house.

From that moment the life of the musician changes radically: it abandons the province, it is moved to Milan and it begins a diamond like, even if suffered, career that will see him protagonist, even if for only 12 years, in the more important Italian theatres (La Scala) and internationally. 1873 was a febrile year of plans (not all realized and between these the “album” of Romanze, published posthumous, from the poems of Heine and Marcello) in which the top musician of Ricordi it can put to profit the acknowledgments of the newly received prizes: it represents to the Scala the dance Le due Gemelle, on a commission basis of G. Ricordi composes two pieces for the death of A. Manzoni and puts in scene to Lecco the comic joke Il Parlatore Eterno. In March of the 1874 comes the official debut at the Scala with the opera I Lituani , very important for the magnificent scenes and the cast, in the style of the Italian Grand Opéra. Despite the success, the work came successively modified because of the excessive lenght, for being newly represented in 1875 and therefore in 1885 to St. Petersburg as Aldona.

In the 1875 the musician is busy with other engagements: with the long remake of La Savojarda (that will become Lina), with the Cantata in honor of G. Donizetti and with a new work on booklet of Arrigo Boito (that was signed as Tobia Gorrio): La Gioconda. The work, that  will consecrate P. like the more important Italian musician of the age after Verdi, had a troubled period of gestation and also despite obtaining a good first performance (T. La Scala, 8 April 1876), was successively subordinate to wide rewriting. The definitive version is from the 1879 (Genoa, T. Politeama, 28 November) and had a wide favour of public and of critics, much to be considered still today the masterpiece of P.

In the meantime the musician begins to work on two new booklets: I Mori di Valenza (booklet of A. Ghislanzoni) and Olga (booklet of Carlo D' Ormeville). Neither of the two works came completed from the author: the first, remained unfinished even with the participation of Giulio Ricordi, and of which it remains only the ”continuativo” first draft, it came then orchestrated from Arturo Cadore and represented in Montecarlo in 1914.

From the end of 1876 to the autumn of the successive year P. it is in Rome where he listen and directs some works of the Italian and European repertoire between which the Roi de Lahore from Massenet and the Lohengrin of Wagner. In the 1878 dates the beginning of the composition of an other work sponsored from Ricordi: Il Figliol Prodigo, on booklet of Zanardini Angelo elaborated from an other booklet of Eugène Scribe. Represented with success at the Scala the 29 November 1879, but with few successive representations, the work constitutes an other example of Italian style Grand Opéra for the huge effects from the Oriental fashion.

During the last few years of Ponchielli life it assumed two more prestigious roles: that one of teacher of high composition to the Conservatory of Milan from 1881 and had like students, between the others, Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and Giovanni Tebaldini; and that one of head master of Chapel of the Church of S. Maria Maggiore of Bergamo from 1882. In this same year it began to compose its last work, Marion Delorme, on booklet of Enrico Golisciani. The work, represented 17 March 1885 to the Scala, manifest new style guidelines, but the happened one was lukewarm. A new edition was performed in the Teatro Grande of Brescia (9 August) with happier outcome. The life and the career of P. without warning were ended from a pneumonia, 16 January 1886.

 

Licia Sirch

 

Compositions

Opera

Unfinished

Balletts

  • La Grisetta (op. 14), Cremona, Teatro Concordia, 2 o 3 febbraio 1865
  • Orsowa ossia il genio della montagna (op. 15), Cremona, Teatro Concordia, 10 febbraio 1871
  • Le due gemelle (op. 16), Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 4 febbraio 1873
  • Clarina, Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 7 settembre 1873 (perduto)

Cantate

  • La Tirolese (op. 103), inno di lode al Signore per coro a sette voci e orchestra, 1850-4
  • La Prigione del Bargello (op. 102), per coro di voci maschili (tenori e bassi) e pianoforte, 5 agosto 1854 (per il diploma di composizione)
  • L'Italia e Dante, per voci e orchestra, Cremona, Teatro Concordia, 4 giugno 1865 (perduta)
  • A Gaetano Donizetti (op. 12), per voci e orchestra, Bergamo, Teatro Ricciardi, 13 settembre 1875
  • Come noi che siam bambini, inno per l'Esposizione nazionale del 1881, per 2 voci, violino e pianoforte, Milano, Giardini Pubblici, 5 maggio 1881
  • Cantata per il monumento ad Alessandro Manzoni, Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 22 maggio 1883
  • Cantata per papa Gregorio VII (op. 13), per tenore, basso, coro e orchestra, Bergamo, Palazzo Cittadella, 14 dicembre 1885

Choir compositions

  • All'opra all'opra (op. 196), per coro di ragazzi, violino e pianoforte (s. d. - opera attribuita a Ponchielli)
  • La sera (op. 104), cataplasma per voci di bambini e pianoforte (s. d.)
  • L'aura mistica del cielo (op. 28), per coro di soprani a tre voci, organo o fisarmonica (s. d.)
  • Sega sega il legnajuolo (op. 194), per coro di soprani e ragazzi con accompagnamento di pianoforte

Sacred music

  • Messa per la chiesa di S. Ilario di Cremona (perduta, tranne il Credo, trasferito nella messa del 1882)
  • Messa per solisti, coro e orchestra (op. 20), Bergamo, Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore, 25 dicembre 1882

Various

  • Maometto (op. 1), scene d'opera su libretto di Felice Romani, 1850-54 ca.