I first heard Tchaikovsky’s Italian Capriccio sometime in the mid-nineties, when I was in college. It was a compilation – on tape – of a variety of composers, put together into a four-part set by HMV. Often, after dinner, I would go to the hostel’s rooftop terrace and listen to the tape, on my Sony Walkman, beneath the canopy of a starlit sky. It was the perfect setting for this entrancing piece of music. What stuns me even today is the variety of moods it evokes, and the swift changes of tempo that doesn’t let you settle down: you never know what is coming next.
When I listen to it with closed eyes, I imagine myself in an enchanted forest with animals staging a show. You get a grand welcome from Elephants (with their trumpets) and Rhinos (with their horns); soon you run into Horses marching handsomely; around one corner is a lake where Swans glide to a waltz; beyond the lake you find Peacocks dancing and nimble-footed Deer showing you the way. There’s thunder in some places, and soft ripples of a stream in others.
No wonder Tchaikovsky originally wanted to name it Italian Fantasia.