95. Original Italian Sinfonias for Band

Beginning during the nineteenth century in Italy one finds a very large repertoire of original Sinfonias composed for the various civic bands. These are all one-movement long and of a serious nature, not entertainment in character. This form of the one-movement Italian Sinfonia was first very common in the eighteenth century as the opening movement of operas, the idioms of which, for example, can be seen in the first movements of the Symphonies of Mozart and others. At this time in central Europe this form evolved into the first forms called “sonata.”

As original music for bands this popular form traveled with the musicians who emigrated to America, which included in at least one case of an entire band emigrating together with their library. In the new country the form’s name was changed to Overture.

Amilcare Ponchielli, Sinfonia in B-Flat Minor

Ponchielli (1834–1886) 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 70 original works and an equal number of transcriptions.

This Sinfonia, which the composer dated May 25, 1872, was one of the works composed for the civic band of Cremona. I consider this Sinfonia to be one of the great examples of this repertoire and one I have conducted several times, including on my conducting tour of Italy in 2017. It begins with a soft and mysterious first section, followed by a thrilling heroic Allegro.

Amilcare Ponchielli, Sinfonia in F Minor

Another one of the works composed for the civic band of Cremona.

Alessandre Vessella, Sinfonia Funébre in F Minor

The autograph score for this Sinfonia is dated Rome, January 5, 1890, and commemorates the twelfth anniversary of the death of Vittorio Emanuale (1820–1878), the first king of the united Italy. Alessandro Vessella (1860–1929) was the author of La Banda, the most important book on the history of the Italian bands ever written.

In my Whitwell Archiv in the Bundesakademie in Trossingen, Germany, one can find [with my original catalog numbers] these Sinfonia scores by Vessella:

1389 Vessella Overture II in Eb autograph score copy
1390 Vessella Overture III in C minor autograph score copy
1151 Vessella Overture in C minor my mss
1714 Vessella Overture in C minor score and parts, my mss
1728 Vessella Overture in F minor score and parts, my mss
1145 Vessella Overture IV in F minor autograph score copy

Vincenzo Avallone, Sinfonia, “Entrata in Napoli”

Vincenzo Avallone (1863–1934) was born in the village of Panza, on the Ischia Island off the coast of Naples and died in Panza in 1934. He became a Catholic priest with the title, “Cappellano dela congrega Santissima Annunziata di Panza.” He also taught at the primary school, which is named after him, having given the land for the building of this school. He was also a musician and in 1902 founded the local band, the Banda dell’Associazione San Gennaro, and financed the instruments and uniforms.

The band ceased to exist during World War I but reorganized after the war as the Banda Aurora Città di Panza. The period of Fascism fell over Italy under Mussolini during 1922–1943 and for this period information is difficult to find. It does appear, however, that in 1927 Avallone was severely persecuted by the Fascists and was the victim of a physical attack by members of that political party and which left him paralyzed in one leg and in one arm.

My guess is that this very interesting band composition by Avallone was composed between 1922 and 1926. The title refers to a tunnel, also known as the Bourbon Tunnel, a geographical feature long associated with Naples which was based on a series of connecting aqueducts dating at least to the seventeenth century and perhaps much earlier. The tunnel served during subsequent years as an escape route from the city and in modern times as an air raid shelter.

The “Cannon” part which appears from time to time in the bass drum part reflects the ceremonial cannons one would have heard on important occasions in the Bay of Naples. I would recommend these individual effects be performed by another bass drum, perhaps with harder mallet heads, off-stage.

Sebastiano Vitaliti, Sinfonia, “La Corona d’Italia”

This original Sinfonia for band was dedicated to Umberto I, King of Italy, who reigned from 1878 to 1900. Vitaliti was the “Maestro di musica” in the town of Giarre, Catania, in Italy. There he was an active music teacher and composed two operattas which were performed in Catania (1887) and Naples (1888). Following are two reviews of this fine composition,

The evening ended with an appropriate bang with a great performance of Sebastiano Vitaliti’s composition, Sinfonia, La Corona d’Italia. The charged, operatic piece had the audience mentally dancing through 19th century Italy and left them applauding Whitwell and the Wind Ensemble.

“Daily Sundial,” review, Dec. 7, 1989 by Ben Eshbach

I have listened with attention to the Vitaliti symphony—it is excellent.

Luigi Lettiero, Jan. 15, 1990, Rome, Italy, Professional Symphony Clarinetist


Vincenzo Gallo, Piccola Sinfonia

The composer of this lovely and elegant Sinfonia was Vincenzo Gallo (1861–1941) who founded the civic band in Barletto, Italy in 1882. The civic archives indicate this composition was first composed for orchestra, but since there is also a band autograph manuscript from 1884 we can assume the composer made this version for his new civic band. I conducted this Sinfonia twice on my Italian conducting tour in 2017.

Manlio Bavagnoli, Sinfonia Pastorale (1888)

I. Andante
II. Scherzo
III. Allegro

I know nothing of this composer whose 1888 symphony for winds is found in manuscript in Florence, Italy. Perhaps his son was the later conductor by the same name, Manlio Bavagnoli (1879–1933), an opera conductor in Genova and Parma.

Gaetano Parmegiani, Sinfonia, “Bologna, 1896”

Gaetano Parmegiani was a composer and conductor associated with the civic band at Montorio al Vomano, Italy, in 1852. This Sinfonia carries the inscription, “Bologna, 1896.”

Federico Savazzini, Sinfonia for Band

This work is dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II (1820–1879), King of Italy, a title he assumed in 1861 as the first king of the unified nation of Italy.

Federico Savazzini (1830–1913) was an active conductor in nineteenth-century Italy and at the time he wrote this Sinfonia he gives his position as “Conductor of the Banda Nazionale of Castell’Arquato.” Castell-Arquato is a town near Parmi and the hometown of Luigi Illici, known for his libretto work for Puccini.

Savazzini’s name appears in a dispute regarding the hiring of the maestro di musica in Busseto, Italy. Verdi was much involved in this dispute as he was strongly advancing the candidate, Emanuelie Muzio, and he reminded the local officials that Muzio had been extensively examined for this position. Muzio, Verdi’s longtime friend, and only student in fact, became a distinguished conductor of opera in Brussels, London and New York City. Verdi had wanted Muzio to go to Cairo to conduct the premiere of his opera Aida. In the end another Italian conductor made the trip, Giovanni Bottesin. With regard to the Busseto position, Verdi gave up in disgust when a new candidate, Federico Savazzini, had been nominated yet had not been examined.

Scores and parts for these Sinfonias can be found in the amazing catalog by Maxime’s Music at concertbandmusicstore.com.