The ’Gran quartetto concertante’ by Amilcare Ponchielli is sui generis. It is not a woodwind quartet concerto – similar to Louis Spohr’s Concerto for Solo String Quartet and Orchestra, for example. In essence, Ponchielli’s quartetto is a short opera in which the stereotypical roles of traditional Italian melodramma are personified by a quartet of solo woodwind instruments. The flute is the soprano coloratura, all’Amina in Bellini’s ’La Sonnambula;’ the clarinet in E-flat is the tenore lirico-leggiero, al Ernesto in Donizetti’s ’Don Pasquale;’ the oboe is the ardent mezzo-soprano all"Angelina in Rossini’s ’La Cenerentola;’ and the B-flat clarinet is the spirited baritone, remiscent of Figaro in Mozart’s ’Le Nozze di Figaro.’
This operatic instrumental work has everything required for a bel canto opera: coloratura flights of fancy, passionate arias, a storm scene, ornate cadenzas, a Spanish bolero, and even a pas-de-deux suitable for a ballet. And everywhere there are tight, virtuosic quartet ensembles that recall Rossini at his most dextrous.
In sum, this brilliant piece is a hilarous spoof of Italian opera – a form in which Ponchielli was a master. Author of numerous grand operas, Ponchielli’s magnum opus – ’La Gioconda’ – remains today in the standard repertoire of many great opera houses. And of course, his ’Dance of the Hours’ is now an icon of pop culture for many listeners who have never set foot in an opera house.
However, this work is much more than an uproariously funny joke. Ponchielli realized his parody with extraorindary virtuosity and an inexhaustible supply of memorable melodies. Here is an instrumental work that will test the mettle of the finest woodwind players.
When my orchestral arrangement of this work was performed for the first time with symphony orchestra, the quartet of woodwind soloists elected to wear operatic costumes that included a hunchback, the Queen of the Night’s pointed hat (with a veil down to her eyes), a horned helmut and a torreador’s cap. I hope that future woodwind quartets will continue this apt tradition.
In the 19th Century, Ricordi published the Quartetto as a piece for woodwind quartet and piano (oddly, it appeared to the public as a quartet for five instruments.) Working from the original edition, I have arranged and orchestrated the 15-minute piece for large 19th Century Italian opera orchestra – replete with obbligato percussion instruments, such as the gran cassa and due piatti. Despite the symphonic forces, I have taken great pains to ensure that the solo woodwind quartet can always be heard. Here is a showpiece for any top-notch orchestra to show off the star principals in its woodwind section.
The solo woodwind parts and the separate orchestral parts are now available on rental from Noteworthy Musical Editions (website: zasu.us/noteworthymusic ). To inquire about parts rental fees and performance fees, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Here is a link to the webpage for this work:
The full orchestral score is available for perusal, audition, purchase, downloading and printing on the website of sibeliusmusic.com . You can find the score on sibeliusmusic.com in the catalog under Works for Solo Woodwind Quartet and Symphony Orchestra at the following link:
Because of its considerable length, the full score is posted on sibeliusmusic.com in two parts.
I hope those interested in this score will take the time to listen to the attached MP3 file – which was realized with several layers of sampled instrumental sounds. I also hope that listeners will communicate to me their reactions to my orchestration of this work – either in an online review or in an email direct to me. To send me an email, please click on the green button marked ’Email the Publisher.’