I’ve been meaning to dust off this once-regular feature of mine, in which I take time each Saturday to explore the world of that grandest of classical music forms, the symphony — and what better time than right now?
During the 19th century, Italy did not have a great symphonic tradition as did other nations in Europe. In Italy, opera was by far the most popular form of musical composition, and practically zero symphonies by Italian composers of the Romantic era have entered the standard symphonic repertoire. This is not to say that there were no Italian symphonists during that era, however.
Giovanni Sgambati achieved some renown for his piano music, but he also wrote two symphonies, the first of which is the subject of this post. Listening to the work, it is easy to hear the heavy Germanic influence that Sgambati felt. He was an eager champion of German and Austrian music in Rome, and this symphony, with its decidedly Teutonic feel and sound, definitely shows that. It is clear that Sgambati felt more attuned to the line from Beethoven to Brahms than that from Cherubini to Verdi. The work does not feature the kind of lyricism one might expect from an Italian, but it is full of the kind of Germanic writing that is notable in many a symphony from the north.
Sgambati’s Symphony No. 1, like many an obscure work, deserves to be heard more than it is. Enjoy!