In 1784, on Sarti’s advice, Cherubini moved to London, a European musical capital where success was much sought after. But he did not get the reception he had hoped for there, despite presenting two specially written works, the dramma giocoso La finta principessa
and an opera seria inspired by a character from Roman history, Il Giulio Sabino
. The latter piece, a setting of a libretto by Pietro Giovannini, was given at the King’s Theatre in 1786. The Sinfonia shows considerable stylistic progress on Cherubini’s part: it is a particularly elaborate and powerful instrumental piece, as is reflected in the forces it calls for (pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani, in addition to the strings). Its surprising formal structure comprises four sections linked in pairs: Adagio, Allegro, Adagio, Allegro vivace. The Adagio introduces the discourse in martial tones, which then make way for hints of a more subdued melody; soon the Allegro springs forth in fiery counterpoint, a gesture which already contains the dramatic force so typical of Cherubini, here underlined by the tension of a syncopated rhythmic motif that delays the movement’s true conclusion. In complete contrast to this are the elegiac tones of the Adagio, conceived in the spirit of a sinfonia concertante, which shows exceptional sensitivity in the tender dialogue between violin, cello, flute and oboe. It is the violin that leads directly into the final Allegro vivace, where its solo passages alternate with the orchestra to outline a sturdy rondo. Act I of the opera features the aria ‘I mesti affetti miei’, sung by Epponina, the hero’s faithful wife: the lady asks that her steadfast conjugal love may elicit pity, and Cherubini portrays her proud bearing in vocal writing of acrobatic virtuosity, a surging line studded with frequent runs and heralded by a large-scale Allegro which once again gives the orchestra a prominent role.
from notes by Francesco Ermini Polacci © 2012
English: Charles Johnston