Orchestral Rome of Ottorino Respighi

[I’m moved today to remember the death anniversary of Ottorino Respighi, who died April 18, 1936. My late older military brother, Misbah, who happened to share Respighi’s birthday of July 9, admired his tone poems immensely, as did I, particularly the Pines of Rome.]

Ottorino Respighi (9 July 1879 – 18 April 1936) was an Italian violinist, composer and musicologist, best known for his three orchestral tone poems Fountains of Rome (1916), Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1928). His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music also led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods.

Respighi was born in Bologna, Italy into a musical family. His father, a local piano teacher, taught him to play the piano and violin at an early age. He went on to study the violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, composition with Giuseppe Martucci, and historical studies with Luigi Torchi, a scholar of early music. Respighi passed his exams and received a diploma in the violin in 1899.

In 1900, Respighi accepted the role of principal violist in the orchestra of the Russian Imperial Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Russia, during its season of Italian opera. While there, he studied composition for five months with Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  Respighi returned to Bologna to continue his studies in composition, which earned him a second diploma. Until 1908, his principal activity was first violinist in the Mugellini Quintet, a touring quintet founded by composer Bruno Mugellini. Following his departure from the group, Respighi moved to Rome. He then spent some time performing in Germany before returning to Italy and turning his attention primarily to composition. In 1919, he married the composer and singer Elsa Oliveri-Sangiacomo, who had been his composition pupil.

During the early twentieth century, Respighi was active as a performer and composer. His compositions began to draw attention and, in 1913, he was appointed as professor of composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome, holding the post for the rest of his life. In 1917, his international fame rose following multiple performances of the first of his orchestral tone poem Fountains of Rome. Subsequent tone poems include Pines of Rome (1924), and Impressioni Brasiliane (1928). Here on YouTube you may hear the Appian Way from the Pines of Rome with Andre Rieu conducting The Johann Strauss Orchestra live in the Amsterdam Arena:

“In a misty dawn on a portion of the famed Appian Way flanked by pines, a march rhythm is heard. The poet sees a vision of past glories and the advance of the army of the Consul towards Capitoline Hill; he hears the sound of blaring trumpets. Throughout this fourth and last section of an altogether stunning work, the music gains in power and intensity, grows ever more lustrous in tone color, until a mighty crescendo is released.”

From 1923 to 1926, Respighi was the director of the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. In 1932  Feste romane, the third of his Roman tone poems, was premiered by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1929. Thereafter, Respighi’s music had considerable success in the USA.

Apolitical in nature, Respighi attempted to steer a neutral course once Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922. His established international fame allowed him some level of freedom but at the same time encouraged the regime to exploit his music for political purposes. Respighi vouched for more outspoken critics such as Toscanini, allowing them to continue to work under the regime.

 His composing and touring went on unabated until January 1936, after which he became increasingly ill. He died of endocarditis on 18 April that year, at the age of only 56. A year after his burial, his remains were moved to his birthplace, Bologna.

Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen, Wikipedia

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