Juventus is, as its name implies, a tone poem about youth. It portrays, first of all, youth’s enthusiasm and impetuosity, its ambition, its search for joy and power, and all those resplendent dreams that – when we are young – dwell in the hearts of us all …
Then, all too soon, comes the inevitable confrontation with the realities of everyday life. The triumphant dreams fade: exaltation gives way to sadness, idealism to despair. The songs of hope are transformed into mocking laughter and the tolling of funeral bells, until those, too, gradually die away into silence – bearing with it the threat of eternal annihilation.
But suddenly youth revives, its energy restored by the force of life within it. Its faith and its hopes return, made stronger by past adversity. It spreads its wings and soars again into the empyrean to the conquest of life.
The first performance of Juventus was given on 25 May 1919 at the Teatro del Popolo in Milan, under Arturo Voghera, and the piece was soon taken up by Toscanini.
‘It is’, as Otto Kinkeldey wrote, ‘an ode to youth, filled with all the boundless, impulsive enthusiasm of youth as seen by a vigorous young man’. In some respects the work shares similar moods to those of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan, but Juventus is no imitation of the earlier masterpiece, although de Sabata’s score is likewise notable for its orchestral brilliance and symphonic control. It falls into three large sections, related in outline to sonata structure. Juventus opens, ‘Allegro impetuoso’, with a tremendous outpouring of energy, based on a brilliantly rising idea, firmly in A major (the overall key of the work). This is treated to extended development – with momentary recollections of Petrushka– before the tempo (‘Moderato molto’), key (F sharp major) and mood change. A new theme, clearly that of youthful rapture, unfolds, and is likewise treated developmentally. A subtle change to B flat ushers in the main central section wherein the material is more closely juxtaposed and the orchestration assumes a more fantastical character. At length, the tempo changes to ‘Allegro vivace’, but pp, as the underlying pulse ‘filled with all the boundless, impulsive enthusiasm’ returns. The final recapitulatory section has all the energy and drive of the first, underpinned by some wide-ranging tonality changes until the exciting ending is upon us.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2001