Italian Capriccio

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Tchaikovsky's Italian Capriccio (Итальяанское каприччио) on themes from folksongs, in A major, Op. 45 (TH 47 ; ČW 44), was composed in Rome in January and February 1880, and orchestrated in Kamenka in May 1880.


The Capriccio is scored for an orchestra of 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (F), 2 cornets (A), 2 trumpets (E), 3 trombones, tuba + timpani, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, glockenspiel + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.


There is one movement: Andante un poco rubato—Pochissimo più mosso—Allegro moderato (A major, 633 bars), lasting around 15 to 20 minutes in performance.


The earliest reference to the composer's intended new work occurs in a letter of 4/16 January 1880 to Sergey Taneyev: "I want to write an Italian suite on folk melodies" [1]. By 16/28 January, he had already begun to compose the fantasia (as it was then styled), as the composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I have begun to make sketches for an Italian Fantasia on folk themes. I want to write something in the manner of Glinka's Spanish Fantasia" [2].

On 24 January/5 February 1880, Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck: "All the same, I have worked successfully over the recent days, and I have already prepared in rough my Italian Fantasia on folk themes, which it seems to me, might be predicted to have a good future. It will be effective, thanks to its delightful tunes, some of which were chosen from collections, and some of which I heard myself on the streets" [3]. In this same letter Tchaikovsky provided a detailed account of a Roman carnival, at the height of which he created the Italian Fantasia on folk tunes. According to Modest Tchaikovsky, the theme of the opening fanfare was a signal used at a cavalry barracks, which the composer heard through his window every day while staying at the Hôtel Constanzi [4].

The composer was very pleased with his new work, as is evident from his letters to his family and friends. For example, he wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 31 January/12 February 1880: "I have composed such a sweet little Italian Fantasia for orchestra—delightful!" [5].

Returning to Russia, at Kamenka Tchaikovsky set about the instrumentation of the Italian Fantasia. In a letter of 3/15 May, he asked Pyotr Jurgenson to send him a metronome: "The Italian Fantasia (which I am scoring) cannot be issued without metronome markings" [6].

From time to time the composer reported on the orchestration of the work to Anatoly Tchaikovsky [7]. On completing it, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck on 12/24 May: "I have only just finished scoring the Italian Fantasia... Now I shall start arranging it... for four hands" [8]. The composer wanted the fantasia to be played in the next concert season [9]. Evidently, after completing the full score, the composer reviewed it and inserted the metronome marks, since the date at the end of the manuscript is "(RomeKamenka) 15 May 1880" [O.S.].

The title Capriccio (instead of Fantasia) appears for the first time in a letter from Tchaikovsky to Pyotr Jurgenson of 16/28 May 1880, in which he reports that he has completed its arrangement for piano duet [10]. On 22 May/3 June, Tchaikovsky sent Jurgenson the full score and arrangement to be published [11]. In mid/late August the first proofs were ready [12].


Tchaikovsky decided to make his own arrangement for piano duet (4 hands), for fear that it would be held up if this task were entrusted to Sergey Taneyev, and this work was carried out between 12/24 May and 16/28 May 1880 [13].


In reply to a letter from Eduard Nápravník (now lost), apparently written in early/mid September, in which Nápravník wrote that he would like to perform the Italian Capriccio in Saint Petersburg, Tchaikovsky reported: "The arrangement of the Italian Capriccio for piano duet is now ready, and the full score and orchestral parts should be ready by 1st November [O.S.]; at least, that's what I was promised by Jurgenson, to whom I am writing that you wish to perform the thing, and would like precise news of when it will be ready" [14].

However, the first performance of the Italian Capriccio took place in Moscow on 6/18 December 1880, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein, in the seventh concert of the Russian Musical Society. Its Saint Petersburg premiere took place on 26 December 1880/7 January 1881, in a concert given by artists of the Saint Petersburg Russian Opera in the Mariinsky Theatre, conducted by Eduard Nápravník.

Other notable early performances included:

  • London, Crystal Palace, 23 November/5 December 1885, conducted by August Manns
  • New York, Metropolitan Opera House (Symphony Society concert), 24 October/5 November 1886, conducted by Walter Damrosch
  • Hamburg, Ludwigsgarten, 8/20 January 1888
  • Warsaw, 2/14 January 1892, conducted by Tchaikovsky.


In September 1880 the piano duet arrangement of the Italian Capriccio appeared in print, and in November the same year—the full score and orchestral parts. Pyotr Jurgenson also published two arrangements of the Capriccio made by Eduard Langer, for piano duet (March 1884), and for two pianos and eight hands (April 1898), as well as an arrangement by Henryk Pachulski for piano, two hands (October 1899).

The full score of the Capriccio was published in volume 25 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1961), edited by Aleksandr Nikolayev, and Tchaikovsky's arrangement for piano duet in volume 50А (1965), edited by Irina Iordan.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score (ф. 88, No. 80) [view] and arrangement for piano duet (ф. 88, No. 81) [view] are both preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow.


See: Discography


The Italian Capriccio is dedicated to Karl Davydov [15], cellist, composer, conductor, and director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.

Related Works

The tarantella (from bar 291) is based on the Italian folk tune "Ciccuzza".

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Letter 1396 to Sergey Taneyev, 4/16 January 1880.
  2. Letter 1408 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 January 1880.
  3. Letter 1412 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 January/5 February 1880.
  4. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2 (1901), p. 418.
  5. Letter 1418 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 31 January/12 February 1880. See also Letter 1422 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 5/17 February 1880.
  6. Letter 1488 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 3/15 May 1880.
  7. See Letters 1490 and 1491 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 5/17 May and 8/20–9/21 May 1880.
  8. Letter 1493 to Nadezhda von Meck, 12/24–14/26 May 1880.
  9. See Letter 1492 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 10/22 May 1880.
  10. Letter 1498 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 16/28 May 1880.
  11. See Letter 1502 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 22 May/3 June 1880.
  12. See Letter 1562 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 August 1880.
  13. See Letter 1493 to Nadezhda von Meck, 12/24–14/26 May 1880 and Letter 1498 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 16/28 May 1880.
  14. Letter 1586 to Eduard Nápravník, 12/24 September 1880.
  15. See Letter 1414 to Karl Davydov, 25 January/6 February 1880.