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Pini di Roma

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Respighi
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor / Daniil Trifonov, piano, plays Rachmaninoff; Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano, sings Falla Mar. 13 - 15, 2014
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Ottorino Respighi, born on July 9, 1879 into the family of a piano teacher in Bologna, was introduced to music by his father and progressed so rapidly that he began his professional training in violin, piano and composition at age thirteen at the city's respected Liceo Musicale; his principal teacher was the school's director, Giuseppe Martucci, then Italy's leading composer of orchestral music. Respighi was granted a leave from the Liceo in 1900 to play as a violist with the orchestra of the St. Petersburg Opera, and he took advantage of his time in Russia to arrange what he called "a few, but for me very important" lessons with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose brilliant orchestral technique would prove to be a lasting influence. Respighi returned to Bologna the following year to complete his degree and then went to Berlin to study violin and composition with Max Bruch. After spending another season in St. Petersburg, he settled in Bologna in 1903, earning his living as a free-lance violinist and receiving his earliest notice as a composer-some of his violin and piano pieces were published in 1904; his first opera, Re Enzo ("King Enzo"), was given a student production at the Liceo in 1905; Rodolfo Ferrari conducted the Notturno on an orchestral concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1908-and becoming active as an editor and arranger of music from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Respighi was back in Berlin in 1908, teaching piano at a private school there, befriending such musical luminaries as Busoni, Kreisler, Caruso, Paderewski and Bruno Walter, and promoting his work so effectively that the renowned conductor Arthur Nikisch included his transcription of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna on a Philharmonic concert. Deeply impressed by a performance of Richard Strauss' three-year-old Salome that he attended in Berlin, Respighi went home to Bologna in 1909 and wrote his own operatic "tragic poem in three acts," Semirâma, set in ancient Babylon; it was premiered in Bologna in 1910. Performances of the Notturno and excerpts from Semirâma in Rome in 1912 (and frustration at being unable to land a regular teaching appointment at Bologna's Liceo Musicale) led him to accept a post on the faculty of Rome's Santa Cecilia Academy in 1913. He found his first great success, and his musical voice, with the opulent tone poem Fountains of Rome and the first set of Ancient Airs and Dances in 1917. He was appointed director of the Conservatory of the Santa Cecilia Academy in 1923, but found the administrative duties too intrusive on his creative work and resigned from the position three years later, though he did continue teaching privately for several years. Respighi began touring internationally with a visit to Prague in 1921 and he thereafter traveled extensively throughout Europe and North and South America to conduct and occasionally appear as piano soloist in his works; he made four trips to the United States between 1925 and 1932. His burgeoning career began to take a toll on his health, however, and a heart murmur was diagnosed in 1931. Like Gustav Mahler after a similar diagnosis of heart disease, Respighi nevertheless carried on with his demanding schedule and by 1935 he had pretty well worn himself out. He died of a heart attack in Rome on April 18, 1936; he was 56.

Pines of Rome is the second work of Respighi's trilogy on Roman subjects. The first was Fountains of Rome of 1916; the last, Roman Festivals, dates from 1928. These compositions depict various aspects of the city through Respighi's musical impressions. He wrote (in the third person) of his intentions in a note for his performance of Pines of Rome with the Philadelphia Orchestra: "While in his preceding work, Fountains of Rome, the composer sought to reproduce by means of tone an impression of nature, in Pines of Rome he uses nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and visions. The centuries-old trees which dominate so characteristically the Roman landscape become testimony for the principal events in Roman life." Respighi collected material for this work for some time. His wife, Elsa, recalled in the short biography of her husband that he had asked her in 1920 to sing some songs from her days of childhood play in the Villa Borghese. She was wonderfully surprised when they emerged four years later in the first section of Pines of Rome.

Respighi supplied the following synopsis of the four continuous sections of Pines of Rome as a preface to the score:

1. The Pines of the Villa Borghese. Children are at play in the pine grove of the Villa Borghese, dancing the Italian equivalent of Ring around the Rosy; mimicking marching soldiers and battles; twittering and shrieking like swallows at evening; and they disappear. Suddenly the scene changes to ...

2. Pines near a Catacomb. We see the shadows of the pines, which overhang the entrance of a catacomb. From the depths rises a chant which re-echoes solemnly, like a hymn, and is then mysteriously silenced.

3. The Pines of the Janiculum. There is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Gianicolo's Hill. A nightingale sings.

4. The Pines of the Appian Way. Misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of innumerable steps. To the poet's fantasy appears a vision of past glories; trumpets blare, and the army of the Consul advances brilliantly in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph the Capitoline Hill.