- "Poor Ponchielli! Such a good man, such a fine musician." —Giuseppe Verdi, 1886
Amilcare Ponchielli (August 31, 1834 – January 17, 1886) was an Italian composer, largely of operas.
Born in Paderno Fasolaro, now Paderno Ponchielli, near Cremona, Ponchielli won a scholarship at the age of nine to study music at the Milan Conservatory, writing his first symphony by the time he was ten years old. Two years after leaving the conservatory he wrote his first opera, I promessi sposi (1856), based on Alessandro Manzoni's novel, and it was as an opera composer that he eventually found fame. His best known opera, La Gioconda ,which his librettist Arrigo Boito adapted from a play by Victor Hugo, was produced in 1876.
His early career was disappointing. Maneuvered out of a professorship at the Milan Conservatory that he had won in a competition, he took small-time jobs in small cities. The turning point was the success of his revised version of I promessi sposi in 1872, which brought him a contract with the music publisher Ricordi and the musical establishment at the Conservatory and at La Scala. A successful ballet in 1873 Le due gemelle confirmed his success.
After Gioconda his musical invention seemed to fail and his later operas did not meet with the same success.In 1881, Ponchielli was appointed maestro di cappella of the Bergamo Cathedral, and from 1883 he was a professor of composition at the Milan Conservatory, where among his students were Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni.
He died in Milan and was interred there in the Cimitero Monumentale.
Although in his lifetime Ponchielli was very popular and influential, in introducing an enlarged orchestra and more complex orchestration, the only one of his operas regularly performed today is La Gioconda. It contains the soiprano set-piece "Suicidio!" and the ballet music "The Dance of the Hours", known even to the non-musical from its use in Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940), and its burlesque in the 1963 Allan Sherman novelty song, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" and, to a lesser degree, the 1966 Perrey and Kingsley song, "Countdown To 6."
- (Il sindaco Babbeo, a student project)
- (Bertrando de Bornio) scheduled for Turin but not performed)
- I promessi sposi Cremona, 1856. Ignored by the press.
- La Savoiarda, 1861; revised as Lina, 1877
- Roderico, re dei Goti, 1863
- La stella del monte, 1867
- Il parlatore eterno a monologue for baritone
- I promessi sposi, Milan 1872. Success in a revised version.
- I Lituani, 1874; revised as Alduna (Aldona? Alguna?), 1884/5
- La Gioconda Milan, 1876; revised version 1880
- Il figliuol prodigo 1880
- Marion Delorme 1885
- I Mori di Valenza ( left incomplete; completed by Ponchielli's son and A. Cadora and premiered in 1914)