Tchaikovsky – Capriccio Italien, Op. 45

by Max Derrickson

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky      Born in 1840 inKamko-Votinsk,Russia; died in 1893 in St. Petersburg

Capriccio Italien, Op. 45

When Tchaikovsky had finished with his Fourth Symphony, a work whose heavy psychological underpinnings of Fate deeply affected the composer’s nature, he was ready for a vacation.  There were other issues that Tchaikovsky faced, of course, in his daily life – his father had just died, his public difficulties with his sexuality, his manic-driven work habits (leading many to believe today that he was bi-polar), his coming to grips with his recently failed marriage – situations which plagued him deeply.  And so, in 1879 his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, arranged to send him on a funded tour for three months in Rome.
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Tchaikovsky wrote a letter to his patroness explaining what he had been up to.  A patron then was regarded as a co-creator in the deepest of ways, and so this was meant as a collaborative explanation: the composer briefed von Meck on their work, explaining that he was planning a composition very much in the vein of Glinka’s (Russia’s musical hero) Spanish fantasies.  Indeed, folk music and galas were the order of the day.  So charmed was Tchaikovsky that he poured over collections of Italian folksongs to color this work.  Of these, only one can be discreetly placed, that being the bugle call that Tchaikovsky heard every evening at the cavalry barracks across the street from his hotel.  This is the fanfare that begins the Capriccio, full of regality and charm.

The following section in the low strings is often described as melancholy, but given that Tchaikovsky deliberately titled his work a capriccio (meaning whimsical), this section might as well, rather, be describing the sincerity of the Italian at mealtime, engrossed in his flavors and vino – something quite serious about great pleasures.  In any case, these two first themes converse
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