Interactive: North Carolina Symphony Blog
One of my favorite vacations was to Italy, about ten years ago. During that trip, I visited all the locations that are described in Respighi's Roman triptych; The Fountains of Rome, The Pines of Rome and The Festivals of Rome, all of which I performed with the North Carolina Symphony. Respighi was a Roman native writing musical valentines to his place of birth. I thought it would be fun to construct a program of musical mementos by some of the famous composer/tourists that visited Italy.
For centuries, especially for people of the North, Italy has represented an almost a mythical land of bright sun, vivid colors and uninhibited emotions. All of the composers on this concert visited Italy and were charmed by what they heard and saw and created these brilliant musical post cards which became some of their most popular works.
Within the Italian theme I wanted to have as much variety as possible, so the program includes a symphony, an overture, a waltz, a work for chamber orchestra (Wolf), a piece originally written for six solo strings (Souvenir de Florence), and one of the great orchestral sonic spectaculars of all time (Capriccio Italien). Within this variety, there are similarities. For instance, four of the five pieces feature the characteristic quick triple meter of the popular Neapolitan folk dance called the Tarantella. (According to popular legend, the dancing of which would cure the victim of the poisonous bite from a tarantula spider.)
Johann Strauss Jr. wrote his "Where the Citrons Bloom" for a concert in Italy. The original title was "Bella Italia" (Beautiful Italy). When he later performed and published it in Vienna he changed the title to its present one. The title is a quotation from Goethe's “The Sorrows of Young Werther" that describes Italy.
Italy was Tchaikovsky's favorite escape from Russian winters and gloomy personal situations. On one occasion he was staying in a hotel next to an army barracks and was prematurely awakened every morning by a military bugler. However, there was a positive outcome; he realized the bugle call was the perfect melody to begin his Capriccio Italien.