Quartetto, a quintet for
Flute, Oboe, E flat Clarinet, B flat Clarinet and Piano
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886) was born in the Italian village of Fasolaro not far from Cremona. His extraordinary musical talent was quickly recognized and at the age of 9, he was sent to the Milan Conservatory to study composition. After graduating, he immediately started composing opera, for in Italy it was then impossible to make a name for oneself except through opera. At first, he had no luck and for a number of years was forced to take jobs as a band conductor in several small towns before he wrote the opera for which he is remembered, La Gioconda with its famous Dance of the Hours, perhaps the only work for which he is still remembered. After this, things changed. Recognition brought a professorship at Milan Conservatory and many other honors. Among his many students were Puccini, Pizzi and Mascagni.
His work as a band conductor, however, proved invaluable to Ponchielli and he learned to write quite effectively for wind instruments leaving many works for band and wind instruments. Not surprisingly, the musical treatment is generally operatic. There are arias, recitative-like transitions, sections of quiet dialogue, radical changes of mood, declarations of accord and stunning stretta sections. His Ouartetto, which dates from 1873, is a misnomer, it is actually a quintet for four wind instruments and piano. It is not entirely clear why he chose to call it Quartetto because the piano, though often an accompanist, is given solos along with the other instruments. The treatment of the wind instruments is outstanding and clearly show that the composer well knew each instrument's abilities and strengths. Lasting about a quarter of an hour, this is a great show piece which will bring down the house. Our soundbite presents a little less than half the work.