Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2013 by Fred Flaxman

Program 216
"Impressions of Italy"

opening of: Wolf: Italian Serenade, performed by the Brodsky Quartet [Chandos CHAN 10761, Track 1] [under the following]

Everyone loves to visit Italy -- especially composers. And the country inspires lots of tuneful, cheery, sunny music. Stay with me for the next hour and we’ll hear from three such composers: one Russian, one German, and one Austrian.  I’m Fred Flaxman, this is Compact Discoveries, and the theme for this hour is “Impressions of Italy.”

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The Russian composer is Tchaikovsky, and his Italian contribution is Capriccio Italien. The German is Mendelssohn. His fourth symphony is called “The Italian.” The Austrian is Hugo Wolf, the composer of Italian Serenade.

These were not the only composers to succumb to the charms of sunny Italy. Richard Strauss set down his impressions in an early tone poem, Aus Italien/From Italy, and Gustave Charpentier composed Impressions d’Italie. There was even, believe it or not, an Italian composer who was inspired by his native country. His name was Alfredo Casella and his opus 11 was called Italia. But they’ll all have to wait for a second hour on this subject.

Let’s start now with the Tchaikovsky, since it is the most like an overture of the three pieces we’ll hear in this hour.

Capriccio Italien is a distillation of typically Italian popular dances and songs, including the Venetian gondoliera, a saltarello, and the military tatoos and marches Tchaikovsky heard in Rome. Its very free style makes no pretense at structural unity or conservatory correctness, but its charms have captured the affections of concert-goers ever since its first performance by the Russian Musical Society under Nicholas Rubinstein in December, 1880. In this Telarc recording, Erich Kunzel conducts the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien, Op. 45, performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel [Telarc CD-80041, Track 2]  [15:20]

Capriccio Italien, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Erich Kunzel led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in this Telarc recording from 1979.

You are listening to “Impressions of Italy” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

Hugo Wolf, who lived from 1860 until 1903, was an Austrian composer known mostly for his art songs, or lieder. He was a child prodigy, learning to play the piano and violin beginning at the age of four. Subjects other than music failed to hold his interest and he was dismissed from the first secondary school he attended as being "wholly inadequate." He left another secondary school because of his difficulties in the compulsory Latin studies. He made a third attempt at secondary school, but after a falling-out with a professor who commented on his "damned music", he quit that one too.

From there, he went to the Vienna Conservatory, much to his father's disappointment. He had hoped that his son would not try to make his living from music. Once again, however, he was dismissed for "breach of discipline." Wolf would later claim that he quit in frustration over the school's conservatism.

After eight months with his family, he returned to Vienna to teach music. But his fiery temperament was not ideally suited to teaching. Nevertheless, Wolf's musical gifts, as well as his personal charm, earned him attention and patronage. The support of benefactors allowed him to make a living as a composer, and a daughter of one of his greatest benefactors inspired him to write.

Her name was Vally (for "Valentine") Franck, and she was Wolf’s first love. He was involved with her for three years. During their relationship, hints of his mature style would become evident in his Lieder.

Wolf was prone to depression and wide mood swings, which would affect him all through his life. When Franck left him just before his 21st birthday, he was despondent. He returned home, although his family relationships were also strained. His father was still convinced his son was a ne'er-do-well. His brief and undistinguished tenure as second Kapellmeister at Salzburg only reinforced this opinion. Within a year Wolf returned to Vienna to teach in much the same circumstances as before.

Though Wolf had several bursts of extraordinary productivity, depression frequently interrupted his creative periods, and his last composition was written in 1898, before he suffered a mental collapse caused by syphilis. His one-movement Italian Serenade for string quartet is regarded as one of the finest examples of his mature instrumental composing style. On this 2013 Chandos compact disc, it is performed by the Brodsky Quartet.

Wolf: Italian Serenade performed by the Brodsky Quartet. [Chandos 10761, Track 1] [6:58]
Italian Serenade by Hugo Wolf. The performance was by the Brodsky Quartet: Daniel Rowland and Ian Belton, violins; Paul Cassidy, viola, and Jacqueline Thomas, cello.

You are listening to “Impressions of Italy” on this hour of Compact DIscoveries. I’m your tour guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

The major work in this hour is Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony Number 4 in A Major, Opus 90 -- the “Italian.”  Mendelssohn set out on a journey to Italy in October, 1830, visiting Venice, Bologna, Florence, and Rome, where he spent several months. He also went to Naples, Genoa, and Milan before returning via Switzerland to Germany in July 1831. He began work on his fourth symphony in Italy, and it was inspired by music he heard on his visit, which is why it is called “The Italian.”

In this Deutsche Grammophon compact disc recording from 1985, the London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Claudio Abbado.

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 (“Italian”), performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado [Deutsche Grammophon 415 353-2, CD-4, Tracks 1-4] [28:09]

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 (the “Italian”), performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado.

That concludes this hour of Compact Discoveries, which I called “Impressions of Italy.” I hope you enjoyed the music.

If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. You’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is program number 216.

You can also contact me through the website or simply e-mail me at I enjoy hearing from listeners from Italy and all over the world, where these program are carried 24 hours a day on the SKY.FM internet radio service.  I’m Fred Flaxman. Thank you for listening!

(Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you!

Program Ends at 58:00