The Capriccio Italien, op. 45 is a fantasy for orchestra composed between January and May of 1880 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The Capriccio was inspired by a trip Tchaikovsky took to Rome, during which he saw the Carnival in full swing, and is reminiscent of Italian folk music and street songs. As these elements are treated rather freely initially he intended this piece to be called Italian Fantasia. Tchaikovsky even uses as the introduction a bugle call that he overheard from his hotel played by Italian cavalry regiment. Another source of inspiration for this piece are Mikhail Glinka's Spanish Pieces.
The premiere was held in Moscow on December 18 of the same year; the orchestra was led by Nikolai Rubinstein. Although Tchaikovsky wrote to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck that the work would be successful (the piece was praised by most critics) by the time he came to orchestrate the work he expressed doubts about its musical substance.
Dedicated to Karl Davidov, the Capriccio was later arranged by the composer for 4-hand piano. A typical performance lasts for around 15 minutes.
The Capriccio is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 cornets in A, 2 trumpets in E, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), tuba, 3 timpani, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, glockenspiel, harp and strings.
Notes and references
Brown, David. Tchaikovsky: The Years of Wandering, 1878-85. London: Gollancz, 1986