Fantasia due sopra motivi dell ‘opera “Un ballo in maschera” di Verdi – Antonio Pasculli (c.1900)
Antonio Pasculli (13 October 1842-23 February 1924) began his musical career as a performer, and it seems likely that most of his impetus for composing was the lack of sufficiently virtuosic music for the oboe and English horn. Pasculli declared himself the “Paganini of the oboe,” and the title seems to have been well deserved. His extant compositions, which include ten fantasias, nine of these on operatic themes, are mostly for oboe and piano, but Pasculli also composed many arrangements, now lost, for the wind orchestra of Palermo, which he conducted. In addition to his solo career, which began in 1856 and lasted until 1884 when he was forced to retire because of sight problems, Pasculli was professor of oboe and English horn at the Regio Conservatorio di Palermo from 1860 until 1913.
The opera paraphrase or fantasia for solo instrument and piano was a popular form at the end of the 19th century, and the virtuosity of Pasculli’s compositions is characteristic. While the choice of English horn rather than oboe for both this piece and Pasculli’s first Fantasia on “Un ballo” is rather unusual – of Pasculli’s nineteen surviving pieces only three include English horn – Verdi was the composer most frequently used in Pasculli’s fantasias. Fantasia due uses six themes from “Un ballo,” focusing on the love triangle between Ricardo, the hero; Renato, the villain; and Amelia, the heroine and Renato’s wife. However, Pasculli changes the order in which the themes appear in order to manipulate the narrative of the opera.
The piece opens with the opera prelude’s opening theme, but the English horn melody and piano accompaniment give way quickly to an English horn cadenza which leads into a prolonged statement of Ricardo’s first aria, “La rivedrà,” in which Ricardo sings of his love for Amelia, his “star”. Here the piano plays a florid accompaniment as well as a low, ominous statement of the music from Ricardo and Renato’s duet. The English horn remains unconcerned with this hint of tragedy, launching into a second cadenza and restatement of Ricardo’s aria, here accompanied by jaunty music from Amelia and Ricardo’s love scene in the second act. However, this reprieve is short-lived. While the English horn continues to elaborate on Ricardo’s aria, the piano plays both Renato’s music and the melody of Ricardo’s aria, drawing the English horn into the ominous duet. This slowly fades out, and after a pause, Amelia enters the scene.
Here Pasculli breaks from chronological order, introducing the music from Amelia’s Act Three aria, “Morrò, ma prima in grazia,” in which Amelia, threatened with death by Renato, asks that she be allowed to see her son before she dies. This theme is the emotional heart of the fantasia, opening up the English horn’s dynamic and expressive range. “Mournful English horn obbligato…is a traditional pointer of the isolated heroine,” but here Pasculli merges the two, giving the English horn a note for note statement of Amelia’s lament, complete with phrasing, articulation, and many of the aria’s dynamics. The col canto piano alternates between simple chordal accompaniment and short echoes and harmonizations of the English horn melody. The section ends with a reworked, though vocalistic cadenza, before an abrupt change of mood occurs.
The tragedy of the opera seems imminent, with Ricardo and Amelia dead as a result of Renato’s jealousy, as music of Ricardo and Renato’s duet returns in the piano under a virtuosic sixteenth-passage for the English horn. However, despite the flashiness of this section, which implies a drive to the piece’s close, Pasculli is unwilling to submit to the opera’s story. The music of Ricardo and Amelia’s love scene returns in the English horn, and though the ominous music of Renato’s duet briefly surfaces in the piano it is quickly surpassed by additional themes from Ricardo and Amelia’s scene. Over these, the English horn’s second virtuosic passage expands on a sunny F-Major arpeggio. A final statement of Renato’s duet music, rhythmically augmented and sapped of energy, is overcome by four measures of repeated tonic chords. In the world of Pasculli’s fantasia, love at last triumphs over tragedy.
 Days of Bliss are in Store, Anna Pennington, Dissertation, The Florida State University College of Music, p 1.
 Days of Bliss, pp 58-9.
 Preface to Hofmeister edition of Fantasia due, Christian Schneider.
 "Un ballo in Maschera," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition.
For citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing of [dot] polyhymnia [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.