Canto Greco Variazioni
Variations on a Greek Melody
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–1886)
Modern edition by David Whitwell (1937–)
Instrumentation: Concert Band
Ponchielli was a famous nineteenth-century Italian opera composer whose opera, La Gioconda, with its famous “The Dance of the Hours,” is still in the international repertory. He also served as the conductor of the Cremona Civic Band, for whom he composed more than seventy original works and an equal number of transcriptions.
The date on the autograph score for this composition is given as “April 16, 1869, Cromona.” In our view the Greek melody (Canto Greco) must have been a popular song in Italy earlier in the nineteenth century. There was an earlier set of variations for band and solo clarinet by a former student of Ponchielli, Ernesto Cavallini (1807–1874), principal clarinetist of the La Scala opera. The Cavallini set of variations for clarinet and band is entirely undistinguished, and it is likely that Ponchielli heard his student perform this work and was moved to create a more musical setting, with variations for all sections of the band and not just for clarinet.
As in the case of Ponchielli’s great “Variations on the Carnival of Venice,” the great composer, Ponchielli, creates not a work for full band, but a series of variations with many separate smaller groups of players, resulting in much more color and musical interest than a work in which everyone plays all the time. Our goal has been not to overload the work with doublings, but to represent the original ideas of Ponchielli in so far as modern instruments can reproduce the original instruments of the score.