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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Nationalist Era > Symphonic Fantasia, "Francesca da Rimini". Op. 32 (Tchaikovsky)


Symphonic Fantasia, "Francesca da Rimini". Op. 32

Pytor Il'yich Tchaikovsky
(1840-93)



The Fantasia "Francesca da Rimini," based upon passages from the fifth canto of Dante’s "Inferno," was written in 1876. It was first conceived as an opera, but the plan was abandoned when the librettist imposed certain unsatisfactory conditions. Impressed by his reading of the canto, however, and inspired in some degree by Gustav Dore’s drawings, the composer decided not to abandon the subject altogether, and cast his music in the form of a fantasia, appending the following program to his score:

"Dante arrives in the second circle of hell. He sees that here the incontinent are punished and their punishment is to be continually tormented by the cruelest winds under a dark and gloomy air. Among these tortured ones he recognizes Francesca da Rimini, who tells her story.

" '... There is no greater pain than to recall a happy time in wretchedness; and this thy teacher knows. But if thou hast such desire to learn the first root of our love, I will do like one who weeps and tells.





"’One day, for pastime, we read of Lancelot, how love constrained him. We were alone, and without all suspicion. Several times that reading urged our eyes to meet, and changed the color of our faces. But one moment alone it was that overcame us. When we read of how the fond smile was kissed by such a lover, he, who shall never be divided from me, kissed my mouth all trembling. The book, and he who wrote it, was a Galeotto. That day we read in it no farther.’

"While the one spirit thus spake, the other wept so that I fainted with pity, as if I had been dying; and fell, as a dead body falls."

The fantasia opens Andante lugubre, describing "the cruelest winds under a dark and gloomy air" which greet Dante and Virgil as they arrive upon the second circle and the spectral figures they encounter. After this appalling picture is presented there is a lull, and horns, cornet and trombones give out a theme announcing the meeting with Francesca and Paolo. The episode is very tender and at the same time passionate. A short recitative leads to the second section of the fantasia, Andante cantabile non troppo. After the theme of the first section a beautiful melody is given out by English horn and harps, evidently suggesting the relation of Francesca’s meeting with Paolo and her sudden love. It is interrupted by the reappearance of the spectral forms, and the lovers are lost in the horrible storm which breaks out afresh, above which, however, is heard the love song of Francesca.





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