OTTORINO RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
PINI DI ROMA (THE PINES OF ROME)
PREMIERED: Rome, Italy, 1924
In a sense, Ottorino Respighi was two composers; much of his music was actually written in collaboration with his wife Elsa, who completed a great deal of his music during his grim final illness and after his death. As far as can be told, however, Pines of Rome was all his own work, written during the turmoil of early Fascism (Mussolini came to power in 1922). The Rome of the Pines is not the swaggering Rome of the Duce, but the romantic past-that-never-was of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. Although Respighi’s postwar reputation was tainted simply by his having lived under Fascism, the advocacy of such ferocious anti-Fascists as Arturo Toscanini ensured that his music has always been hugely popular worldwide.
Respighi’s music had two overwhelming influences – the dazzling orchestration of his teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and his interest in Gregorian chant and other “ancient” music. Both appear clearly in the Pines. The very famous opening of The Pines of the Villa Borghese is textbook Rimsky – and similar in telling ways to the opening of Petrushka, by another of Rimsky’s students, Igor Stravinsky; the Pines Near a Catacomb explicitly quotes Gregorian chant. The fact that Respighi could play all the instruments of the orchestra (he learned the harp in three weeks) allowed him to write virtuosic instrumental parts that never quite become the terrifying ordeal of Ravel’s; his sound is the musical equivalent of Technicolor.
The Pines of the Villa Borghese depict the home of the Borghese family, who rose to fame in the late Renaissance and remain influential to this day. The resident in Respighi’s time was Junio Valerio Borghese, a prominent officer in Mussolini’s navy and a notorious Fascist hardliner; the music’s jubilation has its dark side.
As in his personal life, Respighi retreats from the terrors of the present into the comforts – or, at least, certainties – of the past. The Pines Near a Catacomb sings parts of the Tenth Gregorian Mass to alleviate the gloom (and worser) of Rome’s famous underground tombs.
The Pines of the Janiculum is a nocturne set at the temple of Janus, the god who guarded the gates of the city. The darkness clears with the recorded song of a real nightingale; the score specifies not only the recording to be used but the make of the phonograph. The recording originally used was made by the students of the American Academy.
Evoking Imperial Rome was a loaded gesture in the Italy of 1924. Fortunately, The Pines of the Appian Way avoids – just – the alarming triumphalism of many of Respighi’s contemporaries. Like the end of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (written under a different kind of terror), there is something unnerving about the blazing major-key ending.
About the Concert
From the craggy rocks of the Scottish islands in Mendelssohn’s overture to Respighi’s triumphant trumpets of ancient Rome, join us as we explore four exotic musical landscapes. Commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloch's death with local virtuoso Ronald Mutchnik in an exploration of Chassidic life, and then hear the premiere of Albert Hurwit’s winning work in the orchestra’s fourth American Composer Competition, inspired by his family’s migration during the Jewish Diaspora and the Holocaust. Don’t miss our pre-concert lecture with the composer in attendance!
Featuring the winner of the American Composer Competition, Albert Hurwit.