• details

    • Order numbers: Rental - AMR 15 (see Rental Catalogue)
    • Instrumentation: Solo Cello & Orchestra
    • Duration: 26'30
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Casanova (Orchestral Version)

Johan de Meij - Instrumentation Ted Ricketts

The composition CASANOVA is a musical portrait of Giacomo Casanova who lived from 1725 to 1798. This illustrious character, represented by the violoncello, takes shape by means of eight musical scenes. The events concentrate on some of the most striking episodes from Casanova’s adventurous life: his arrest, his captivity and his escape from the ill-famed Piombi prison in Venice. By composing this work, two of my long-lived dreams came true. First of all, I wanted to write a musical homage to one of my favourite composers, Giacomo Puccini. Secondly, for many years I have had the intention to compose a substantial work for violoncello and winds.

CASANOVA was commissioned by the Dutch Music Foundation « Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst » at the request of the symphonic band « Sint Michaël » of Thorn and it is dedicated to the band’s conductor Heinz Friesen.

Soloist Roeland Duijne gave the official world premiere performance on 2 April 2000 at the Vredenburg Concert Hall in Utrecht. In August 1999, CASANOVA was awarded the First Prize at the Corciano International Composition Contest in Italy. Johan de Meij Amsterdam, April 2000.

Background information about CASANOVA
CASANOVA is a musical tribute to the great Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini. I have always wondered why Puccini never considered writing an opera based on the adventurous life of his fellow countryman. It appears that Puccini’s favourite themes such as love, passion, intrigue and treason are to be found everywhere in Casanova’s memoirs. Even so far as their private lives are concerned, many striking similarities are found: Puccini’s life consisted of a succession of romances and passionate love affairs, though they do not really match the extravagant adventures of our charming Venetian hero. However, it would be totally unfair to describe Casanova as a mere incorrigible womaniser. His voluminous memoirs, entitled « History of my life » clearly demonstrate that he was a quite intelligent and versatile personality, who was a welcome guest of the Italian aristocracy as well as at several European courts. He held several career positions and had many different avocations; at one or other time he was a diplomat, a faith healer, director of the first French Lottery and even probably a spy. He spent the last years of his life writing the already mentioned memoirs and, thanks to his incredible memory, he was able to remember even the smallest details.

In-depth study and diligent investigations in dusty archives (a/o. those of J. Rives Childs, the Casanova authority par excellence) revealed that - except for some chronological mistakes - Casanova had given a truthful and clear report of his thrilling adventures and of the tempestuous era in which he lived.


Short musical explanation of the eight scenes.
(N.B. The numbers between brackets correspond to the measures in the score).

I . Prologo: Il Tema di Messer Grande (Prologue - the Messer Grande theme)
Three powerful minor chords with the brass (b flat, a flat and e minor) build the so-called “Messer Grande theme”. Chief of Police Messer Grande was at the service of the Venetian Inquisition and was placed in charge of Casanova’s arrest. This arrest was due to some intrigues and vague accusations about our hero’s so-called « wicked and libertine way of life ». There is a great similarity between Messer Grande and Scarpia, the cruel chief of police in Puccini’s opera « Tosca », so the musical thematical similarities are not a mere coincidence. Just like Scarpia or Javert (a character from « Les Misérables »), Messer Grande is the bad guy and his musical theme immediately supplies the necessary dramatic tension. The Messer Grande theme changes into the Passion theme (m. 18) with the minor ninth chords that are so typical for Puccini.

II. Cadenza - Atto di Presentazione (Cadenza: Casanova presents himself)
Casanova comes to the fore (m. 47) in a solo cadenza for violoncello, the latter constantly being surrounded by varying instrumental combinations. The ardent and seducing sound of his voice becomes more and more passionate...

III . La Vita a Corte (Court life)      
The third scene (96) depicts a scene at court: the frivolous setting consists of a magnificent ballroom, complete with chandeliers, sumptuous costumes, an abundance of food and drink... and ... of course, pretty women galore. The violoncello introduces the Casanova theme (pickup into m. 100) which is soon taken over by the complete orchestra.

IV. L’Arresto di Casanova (Casanova’s arrest)
The music comes to an orchestral climax (173) at which the violoncello is overwhelmed by the complete orchestra: Casanova is arrested and transferred to « Il Piombi », the infamous prison of the Doges’ Palace. Casanova’s despair and indignation is expressed by the violoncello which descends gradually to its lowest register, while being surrounded by some dark Messer Grande chords with the trombones (pickup into 230). The heavy cell door is softly, but irrevocably, closed (237).

V. Reminiscenze (Reveries)     
For quite some time Casanova lies apathetically on his straw mattress in a pitifully cramped cell. During that first night of captivity he is overwhelmed by gloomy thoughts. A pale ray of daybreak light shines through the prison bars (256). Casanova reflects on his adventurous life, while we hear some street sounds in the background (masked dancers and a mandolin serenade). At the same time, he tries to find a trick that will enable him to escape from this hell as quickly as possible. The lamentations of the monk Marino Balbi, imprisoned in the adjacent cell (bassoon solo, 266) draw Casanova’s attention. Both men furtively come into contact, and with Balbi’s help, an ingenious escape scenario is elaborated.

VI. L’Evasione dai Piombi (Escape from the Piombi prison)      
The roof of the prison is covered with lead plates, which explains its nickname. Several percussion effects suggest the destructive activities that will allow our friends to escape from the Piombi via the roof of the prison. The exciting escape is portrayed by nervous sixteenth note passages for the violoncello, surrounded by recurrent themes and finally giving way to the Passion theme (544).

VII. M.M. e C.C. (M.M. and C.C.)     
A monastery on the nearby isle of Murano is the setting of the next scene. In this convent Casanova has, for some time, a love affair with two of the nuns. Being tactful, Casanova only mentions his mistresses’ initials in his memoirs. A sugary tune accompanied by harmonium-like chords played by the clarinets, leads to a climax that turns into the Finale (607) in a very fluent way.

VIII. Finale e Stretto: Il Trionfo dell’Amore (Love’s triumph)     
We hear the Passion theme once more, but this time in a triumphant E major key (653) and after a short, melancholic reminiscence of M.M. and C.C. by the soloist (668), a presto vivace leads to the thrilling conclusion.


Cello solo
Piccolo [doubling 3rd Flute]
2 Flutes
2 Oboes

English Horn in F
2 Clarinets in B flat
Bass Clarinet in B flat [doubling 3rd Bb Clarinet]
2 Bassoons
Double Bassoon

4 Horns in F
4 Trumpets in B flat
3 Trombones

Percussion (4 players):

Snare Drum, Bass Drum, Susp. Cymbal, 2 Cymbals, Triangle,  Temple Block, Large Tam-Tam [Gong], 2 Dobachi [Japanese Temple Bells, in B and F], Finger Cymbals, Lion's Roar, Thunder Sheet, Conga's, Whip, Tom-tom, Tambourine.
Bells, Vibraphone, Marimba, Xylophone, Tubular Bells
Piano & Celesta [one player]

Violin I [18 recommended - 9 parts included]
Violin II [16]
Viola [14] 
Cello [12]
Double Bass [10]