The composer has written:
The Sinfonietta was written on board the S.S. Christoforo Coloumbo en route from New York to Europe. I was going to Europe for a conducting tour which included an appearance with Radio Symphony Orchestra in Zurich, Switzerland. The work was commissioned by Rolf Liebermann, then Director of the Zurich Radio, to whom the work is dedicated. I finished the work by the time the boat docked in Naples. The parts of the score were copied within 24 hours after my arrival in Zurich. The performance took place on October 30, 1955. The United States premiere occurred on June 11, 1956 at the Los Angeles Music Festival under my direction.
The three movements are in sharp contrast to each other. After a short introduction of three bars the Allegro of the first movement starts with the rhythmical pattern in the lower strings above which the first and second violins announce the first theme, interrupted by heavy timpani accentuations. The second theme is introduced in the middle of the movement. After short developments of both themes, the Coda again states the principal theme, ending with an extended version of the introduction.
The second movement is a Dirge-like song supported throughout by an even timpani beat. It opens with a cello solo and builds to various formations of the song-melody in a rather rhapsodic style ending again with the solo cello phrase of the beginning. No violin or basses are used in this movement. The Scherzo introduces entirely new material using the five notes of the extended introduction as a cantus firmus over the fugato middle section of the movement. It closes with another rhythmical variation of the introductory theme.
Franz Waxman frequently guest-conducted orchestras in the United States, Europe, Israel and was chosen to be the first American, as part of the cultural exchange program, to conduct the major orchestras of the Soviet Union. During his Moscow concert, on March 15, 1962, the orchestra requested permission to incorporate the Sinfonietta into its permanent repertoire, as a result of the composition’s enthusiastic reception by the Russian audience which demanded a repeat of the work during the concert. Waxman presented the score, onstage, as a gift to the orchestra.
The La Plata Festival in Argentina staged the Sinfonietta as a ballet and Kirk Peterson choreographed it under the title “Blue Rain” for the American Ballet Theatre in New York.
Lawrence Foster and the Orquestra Simfonica de Barcelona I National de Catalunya have recorded the Sinfonietta for Koch International Classics and can be heard on the recording Goyana. The composer’s recording of the Sinfonietta with the Los Angeles Festival Orchestra is available for digital download from Naxos.