Overture to a Comedy by Gozzi
(b. Kittsee, 28 June 1831 — d. Berlin, 15 August 1907)
Overture to a Comedy by Gozzi
(1854, published 1902)
In 1898, Joseph Joachim, then 67, commented on his Gozzi overture in a letter to J.O. Grimm: “I always thought the Gozzi overture was in your possession until I found it, by coincidence, at Brahms’s. I have no memory of this surely immature thing, nor a copy.”1 When the work was composed in 1854, Joachim, indeed, sent a copy to Brahms, which is preserved.2 Joachim’s later memory lapse suggests that he was distanced from his early compositions. Yet, he attempted some sort of revival, as the 1902 publication of the overture indicates. As with other works published long after Joachim’s main compositional decade (1849 to 1863), e.g. the Violin Concerto in G Major, there is a sense of retrospective nostalgia in the act of reviving and publishing an old piece. The question emerges, why?3
Joachim’s friends, like Hans von Bülow, saw value in Joachim’s early compositions, encouraging him to publish them. However, some of these compositions radically diverged from the absolute music aesthetic, to which Hanslick, Brahms (while he was alive), the old von Bülow and, indeed, Joachim subscribed. As described below, Joachim in effect withdrew his earlier program for the 1902 Simrock publication. Uncovering the old program is therefore one way of illuminating not only a largely unknown overture, but also a composer’s changing relationship with it.
Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806), whom the German Romantics called the Italian “Shakespeare,”4 was mostly known for his fiabe, or tales. Whereas his Italian fame rapidly declined after the 1760s, German romantics revived him – via German translations – and elevated him to a position alongside Shakespeare and Caldéron.5 Goethe and the Schlegel brothers helped manufacturing such an active reception, that one can almost speak of a Romantic Gozzi revival. Gozzi’s fiabe, partly fairy tales, re-invigorated the old Commedia dell’arte, and influenced both music and literature well into the 19th and 20th centuries.
Although the first score page of the 1902 Simrock publication references two Gozzi-plays that supposedly inspired the composition of this overture, Joachim’s 1854 manuscript just mentions one play: Scherzo als Ouvertüre zu einem Gozzischen Stück: etwa zu “König Hirsch.” The main programmatic cues present in the early manuscript –in form of literary incipits inserted into the score by the composer – have been removed in 1902. Here, we use the 1854 version of the score to bring to light Joachim’s ingenious programmatic approach, thereby creating a window into his understanding of Gozzi’s Stag King (1762). Furthermore, just as Friedrich Werthes’s German translation puts a spin on Gozzi’s play, constituting a “reinterpretation,” Joachim’s overture, likewise, proposes an idiosyncratic reading of Gozzi’s play.
The overture, in G minor, is in a sonata form. Thanks to a Picardy third in the last two measures, the work ends in G major. The opening presents a brief gloomy pickup gesture and fermata, d-e-flat, thus announcing the primary theme (4+4). The theme reveals how the pitch e-flat from the opening gesture becomes an intruding element. Already in the first few measures, the e-flat is used alternatingly as a minor second in a dominant minor ninth chord on D (mms. 3 and 5), and in a second-inversion G minor chord (m. 4), before it becomes the minor sixth of the root-position G minor tonic (m. 6). The articulation and dynamics of the primary theme, consistently piano and staccato, point to the old masks, on whose behalf Joachim chose this play. As Joachim shared with Brahms in 1855, the raison d’être of this overture was to “revive Smeraldina and Truffaldino.”6 Fittingly, the primary theme is light and crisp in character….
Read full preface > HERE