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Program Notes & Synopses

Enhance your patrons’ experience with notes that highlight the music’s humanity and illuminate its depth. Choose from our wide selection of pre-written pieces or commission custom notes that complement your concert story.

Program Notes & Synopses

Enhance your patrons’ experience with notes that highlight the music’s humanity and illuminate its depths.

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Ponchielli: Dance of the Hours

Ponchielli: Dance of the Hours

50.00

451 words
program notes by Chris Myers

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Copyright © 2015 Chris Myers. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution or reproduction prohibited.

“Dance of the Hours” from La Gioconda
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886)
piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, 2 harps, strings

Composed 1876. First performance: April 8, 1876. Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

The “Dance of the Hours” was intended to depict neither dancing hippos nor desperate letters from summer camp, but good luck listening to this piece without letting your mind wander to either of those images. In addition to being featured in Disney’s “Fantasia” and serving as the melody of “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”, this music has been adapted into pop songs by singers ranging from Nancy Sinatra to Spike Jones. Madeline Kahn even used it to select soldiers for her evening entertainment in Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I”.

Though his operas are rarely performed today, Amilcare Ponchielli was wildly successful in his lifetime and was second only to Verdi in popularity. We’ll let you decide for yourself how he might feel to know that he is remembered, not as one of the most influential figures in Italian grand opera and the teacher of Puccini and Mascagni, but as the composer of the most parodied tune in music history.

Ponchielli originally composed the “Dance of the Hours” as the Act III finale of his most successful opera, La Gioconda. The music’s original context stands in stark contrast to its light-hearted reputation in the popular consciousness. Alvise, the head of the Inquisition, has invited the Venetian nobility to his palace, where he entertains them with this ballet depicting the eternal struggle between good and evil. At the conclusion of the performance, he reveals to the shocked revelers the dead body of his wife, whom he sentenced to death by self-poisoning (condemning her to hell by making her death a suicide) as punishment for her infidelity.

Camp Granada doesn’t sound so bad anymore, does it?

The “Dance of the Hours” is structured in five parts, each representing a portion of the day: dawn, day, dusk, night, and the return of the morning. After a brief introduction, harp arpeggios introduce the shimmering string chords that herald the arrival of the dawn. Playful outbursts from the woodwinds punctuate these chords before introducing the famous daytime melody.

A modulation and a new staccato figure from the winds signal the setting of the sun and the transition to the evening hours. The daytime tune plays once more before a legato melody emerges in the cellos, which are featured prominently throughout the course of the night section. After major-key sunrise in the strings, daytime returns as a boisterous can-can which brings the “Dance of the Hours” to an energetic and crowd-pleasing conclusion.

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