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"Trash Music": Valuing Nineteenth-century Italian Opera Fantasias for Woodwinds



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Becker, Rachel Nicole 


Opera fantasias have been denigrated as insufficiently intellectual or serious, as derivative, as merely popular or sentimental. However, many of the perceived flaws were, if not hallmarks, at least accepted realities of Italian opera composing. Like opera itself, the opera fantasia is a popular art form, stylistically predictable yet formally flexible, based heavily on past operatic tradition and prefabricated materials.

I approach opera fantasias, instrumental works that use themes from a single opera as the body of their virtuosic and flamboyant material, both historically and theoretically, concentrating on compositions written for and by woodwind-instrument performers in Italy in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Important overlapping strands in my theoretical framework include the concept of virtuosity and its gradual demonization, the strong gendered overtones of individual woodwind instruments and of virtuosity, the distinct Italian context of these fantasias, the presentation and alteration of opera narratives in opera fantasias, and the technical and social development of woodwind instruments.

I have uncovered a large body of compositions and composers, many of whom have not been written about in English, through archival research in Milan, Naples, Parma, Bologna, and Palermo. This reveals trends in operas used for fantasias, temporally, spatially, and between instruments, as well as further trends in the use of specific melodies. I use contemporary reviews of performances and compositions to attest to the popularity of the opera fantasia throughout the second half of the nineteenth century in Italy, including oboist Antonio Pasculli as a case study.

This often overlooked genre is intimately tied to the central canon and deeply connected to its social and musical contexts. Approaching the opera fantasia as a coherent and meaningful group of works clarifies a genre that has been consciously stifled and cultural resonances that still impact music reception and performance today.





Ennis, Martin


opera, fantasias, musicology, opera fantasias, woodwind, virtuosity, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, Italian music, Italian musicians, narrative theory, genre theory, gender, Antonio Pasculli, Giulio Briccialdi, Giuseppe Gariboldi, Emanuele Krakamp, Donato Lovreglio, Ricordano De Stefani, Giacomo Mori, Raffaele Parma, Ernesto Cavallini, Giuseppe Tamplini, Nicola de Giovanni, Giovanni Rossi


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge