Pietro Maria Crispi: The Periodical Overture in 8 Parts – No. V

This is the fifth installment  of the Periodical Overtures in 8 Parts which are being published in conjunction with Musikproduktion Höflich.

Listen here before heading over to musikproduktion höflich to obtain the score and parts.

Although Crispi’s overture is scored for the customary “eight parts” that comprised the majority of works of Bremner’s series, the winds are not given truly independent material. In fact, whenever the oboes play, they double one or both of the violin parts almost without fail. On a few occasions, they play sustained pitches while the higher strings present measured tremolos or oscillating patterns. Similarly, the horns customarily play a simplified version of material drawn from various string parts; they are never featured on their own. Moreover, as is the case in over half of the Periodical Overtures, the ensemble is reduced to strings alone in the middle movement.

The first movement introduces Crispi’s fondness for sharp dynamic contrasts. Structured as a sonata-rondo form in common time, the cheerful “Allegro Spiritoso” opens with a principal theme that returns in the tonic D major at m. 60 and again at m. 99. Curiously, the opening theme consists of two six-bar phrases in its first two appearances, but it is truncated to five-measure phrases in its final statement. Although Crispi was not a member of the Mannheim school of composers, various devices associated with that influential mid-century ensemble appear throughout the movement, such as the measured tremolos in m. 17 and onward, the “drum 8ths” in the low strings beginning in m. 3, or the oscillating Bebung gestures that launch each occurrence of the second theme (mm. 37, 57, 88, etc.).[1] In comparison to the robust principal melody, the secondary theme seems wispier and much less substantial. Its phrase lengths are also modified in its successive re-appearances.

The central “Andantino”—a thirty-six-measure ternary structure with a codetta extension, set in the dominant key of A major—again displays Crispi’s penchant for variable phrasing. During the opening section, he shifts between short motifs that start on the downbeat and phrases that begin at other points of the duple-meter measure, keeping listeners slightly off-balance. The B section (m. 12), in E major, sustains a quiet dynamic level, contrasting with the final A section (m. 20) in which Crispi again plays with subito dynamic contrasts.

The closing “Allegro assai” returns to D major but is a bit more adventurous in its harmony. The first half of this gigue-like finale (in 3/8 time) resembles a conventional sonata-form exposition, presenting a first theme in the tonic, then moving to the dominant A major for both a second theme (m. 17) and a closing theme (m. 28). After the repetition of the exposition, the first theme is heard in A, and shifts abruptly to a repetition in the tonic minor (m. 45). (Crispi uses a favorite device—a rapidly descending five-note scale—to transition to this surprising key.) A short rising sequential passage leads to the second (m. 61) and closing themes (m. 72), set in the expected D major. As with the preceding movements, Crispi delights in echo effects achieved by sudden dynamic changes.

We do not know if Bremner issued the Periodical Overtures simply in the order that he acquired them, or if he planned the way that the early symphonies would be grouped in their respective sets of six. If he did follow some scheme, it is tempting to regard Periodical Overture No. 5 as the lighter, scherzo-like “relief” before the subsequent Periodical Overture No. 6 by Johann Stamitz, which, in performance, is triple the length of Crispi’s contribution. Still, Crispi incorporated various moments of flair in his treatment of phrasing, dynamics, and harmony, and the appeal of his sole representation in Bremner’s series should encourage musicians to seek out his many other surviving compositions.

Alyson McLamore

[1] Hugo Riemann, ed., Sinfonien der pfalzbayerischen Schule (Mannheimer Symphoniker), in Year 7, Vol. II, of Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Bayern, in Series 2 of Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1906), xvii.