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Il Racconto del Re Pazzo is based on the story “The Wicked Prince” by Hans Christian Andersen.
The music follows the general drift of the story. The Prince is represented by a melody which is characterized by the suggestion of a large range. The heroic character as well as the atrocities are portrayed by the virtuoso allegro.
The abrupt breaking off of the fugue-like foundation symbolizes the total shock resulting from the announcement that the prince wants to attack God.
The priests, who try to prevent the Prince from attacking God, are presented through a more plaintive melody. The priests confer with each other about their tactics in the form of a fugue.
However they do not get enough time for this as the Prince abruptly attacks with his wondrous ship. Then God appears and opens the Gates of Heaven for the angels by means of a beautifully sounding G Major chord. The Angel descends (piccolo/flute and clarinet) and lets the single drop of blood fall (glockenspiel). Then follows the dizzying decline of the ship (without the cliché of letting it fall to the accompaniment of loud crashing noises).
The Prince is deeply affected but is more militant than ever. War fanfares announce the start of the 2nd battle (offstage trumpets) accompanied by the pleas of the priests begging him not to go ahead with it. The battle is represented by a buildup of an “armada” which becomes increasingly faster.
A swarm of gnats emerges out of nowhere, one of which (piccolo) manages to sting the Prince. The Prince screams loudly (high woodwinds, trumpets and trombones), after which the main theme returns but now in a mocking tone.
The allegro now returns but this time in a minor key. The work ends with the death of the Prince – God calls him – in the form of a quickly rising swarm, shortly after which the piece ends.