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8.223348 - RESPIGHI: Suite in E Major / Burlesca

Ottorino Respighi (1879 -1936) Early Orchestral Works

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Early Orchestral Works


Listening to the early orchestral works of Respighi all recorded here for the first time, one would never suppose the composer to have been Italian. They belong to the earlier period of Respighi's career, before the water-shed of his development, which, in his own judgement, came at the age of 37, in 1916, the year of Fontane di Roma. If Respighi had lived no longer than this, posterity would have seen him as a very talented Bologna composer, a former pupil of the violinist Federico Sarti, of Luigi Torchi and, for composition, of Giuseppe Martucci, with a predilection for a form of music largely neglected at that time in Italy: the symphonic. Bologna was, in fact, the centre of German-oriented tendencies. In the Teatro Comunale the first Italian performances of Wagner's operas had been given, under the direction of Martucci, and the whole musical atmosphere of the place, where Respighi, like Toscanini, served as orchestral players, exercised an influence on the composer that deserves further detailed treatment. This was a period when artists met to collaborate, to inspire and criticise each other and to enjoy friendship. In this society Respighi was something of a portabandiera, a standard-bearer, for alternative musical tendencies, which were looked at askance by the musical intelligentsia in the circle of La Scala in Milan, some 200 kilometres away.


Respighi had first studied German and French composers even more seriously than he had the Italian masters, writing music that contains more or less overt tributes to the former, in, for example, sonatas, quartets, orchestral suites and songs. These works he eventually put on one side, but never destroyed, although very few were published in his life-time and only two more after his death. Today, when attitudes to Respighi are changing, the musical world, and some publishers, are inclined to treat these early works with greater generosity, while still regarding coolly a real masterpiece, like, for example, the opera Semirâma of 1910.


Another very important influence on Respighi's early symphonic work came from the Russian school. In 1900-1 and 1902 the young composer accepted a contract from the Imperial Theatres of St. Petersburg and the Bolshoy in Moscow as a viola-player for two seasons of Italian opera. This brought him an introduction to Rimsky-Korsakov, who immediately recognised his talent and gave him lessons over a period of five months. At the same time he was introduced by Rimsky-Korsakov to local musical circles, including the Friday Chamber Music Society. In between his two stays in Russia, Respighi took a composer's diploma at the Conservatory of Bologna with his Preludio, corale e fuga, his second work for a large symphony orchestra.


Other important events in Respighi's early career include the two periods he spent in Berlin, in 1902 as an occasional and somewhat dissatisfied pupil of Max Bruch and in 1908 as a piano coach in the singing class of Etelka Gardini Gerster. In 1913 he was appointed professor of composition at the Liceo di Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he remained until his death in 1936.


Variazioni sinfoniche


Respighi had his Symphonic Variations performed for the first time at the Bologna Conservatory on 24th June 1900 and took the score with him to Russia, where Rimsky-Korsakov was favourably impressed by the work. Still neo-classical in form, the Variations give the impression of a tribute to the romanticism of César Franck and Brahms. The work consists of a series of passacaglia-like variations, preceded by an introduction and the actual passacaglia theme in D minor, transformed, in various episodes, into a march, an adagio and a scherzo. The climax comes in a fugue, introduced by the organ, leading to a triumphant restatement of the theme in D major. Already Respighi shows a masterly command of writing for brass. The orchestration includes a cor anglais, two harps and organ, with timpani, the only percussion instrument used. The Variazioni sinfoniche is still a long way from the Metamorfoseon of 1930, but shows the composer's early interest in variation form, demonstrated again in his Adagio con variazioni for cello and orchestra, or piano, probably written before 1916, but published only in 1922, a later favourite with audiences.


Preludio, corale e fuga


The Preludio, corale e fuga is conceived on a larger scale than the Variazioni sinfoniche and is double the length, although in a similar style. The first performance took place exactly one year after that of the Variations and a photograph survives of Respighi on the conductor's podium in front of the Orchestra dei Conservatorio. From the manuscript paper on which the score is written it is clear that the work was orchestrated in Russia. It carries the date of March 1901, in the composer's hand. It is possible that Rimsky-Korsakov himself supervised the work, giving advice as necessary, although this is not apparent from the music, which, in any case, was presumably sketched out before Respighi went to Russia. This time there is a touch of Saint-Saëns, with a clear initial reference to the Organ Symphony, while we may suspect the ending as a reference to the tone-poem. Also sprach Zarathustra of Richard Strauss, if Respighi knew the work at this time.


The scoring is for a similar orchestra to that used in the Variazioni sinfoniche, without the organ, but with percussion. Unlike César Franck's work of the same title, sometimes heard in the orchestrated version by Gabriel Pierné, Respighi's work amalgamates the three musical forms into one piece, which develops in a cyclic and almost symphonic way. The Corale is dominant and subject to development from its original form to a lyrical episode with violin solo, to re-appear in the final section. The Preludio is built up into aseries of chords that form the basis of the Corale itself, followed by the actual theme, with its reminiscence of Saint-Saëns, but this last has also a scherzo-like function in the central episode, serving eventually as a development of the Fuga. Martucci was sufficiently impressed to declare Respighi not a pupil but already a master.


Suite in mi maggiore


Manuscript versions of the Suite in E major survive from 1901 and 1903. Of the former there is no record of performance,while the Adagio of the second version was given on 23rd May 1907 under the direction of Pietro Cimini. It seems probable that the second version was at some point played in its entirety, since the original orchestral material contains markings and corrections by the musicians. The first version of the Suite has in brackets the additional title Sinfonia, a description perhaps rejected for reasons of modesty, since his only work of this kind is the Sinfonia drammatica of 1914. It is tempting to retain the title Symphony for the second version, in the orchestral material of which (and not in the score) some inappropriate movement titles appear - I. Nella foresta, II. Visione, III. Danza and IV. Eroica.


If we restore the more ambitious title of symphony, we may regard the work as a particularly elaborate example of the form. The rustling introduction, for example, returns as a short developing episode, a reminiscence of the battle scene in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, in the fourth movement, and the buoyant main theme that follows is the source of the march in the finale. The key relationships of the movements, E major, D flat major, B minor / B major and E major, also suggest a symphony.


It is in fact only the second movement that is characteristic of a traditional suite, an arrangement, in the same key, of a love-duet from the first act of the opera Semirâma, a work that Respighi withdrew after its first performance, leaving it to be revived on the stage and in recording only today. The sensuous motif in D flat major and its plaintive continuation, sustained by murmuring strings and harp, sound as exciting as in the original version with singing voices, with a touch of the exoticism that marked Respighi's later works. There is considerable musical interest in the scherzo, with its trio of Russian character. The chromaticism of the music and the delicate instrumentation, with effective percussion writing and parts for pianoforte and glockenspiel, instruments that do not appear in the remaining movements, make this the most modern-sounding of the four. The first and last movements are clearly linked to the music of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and, even more, to that of Dvorák, with a finale theme that declares its debt to Dvorák's Symphony From the New World. Nevertheless, whatever his debt to these composers, Respighi uses a more advanced and even boisterous technique of development. Apart from a short excursion into the pathetic before the affirmation of the march in the finale, the work is optimistic. At the same time it has no passages of unnecessary length, no empty transitions or repetitions, and in the present writer's opinion is of greater value and interest, and certainly less academic, than the three symphonies of Rimsky-Korsakov.




The period of three years between the Suite in mi maggiore and Burlesca saw the composition of two more suites, both for string orchestra, one with organ and the other with solo flute, and the comic opera Re Enzo. The stylistic differences between these works and Burlesca are obvious and it is tempting to regard the latter work as the beginning of Respighi's impressionism. The manuscript score carries the composer's note "faccio questo lavoro!!" (I am doing this work!!), suggesting his particular approval of what he was at. The work was given its first performance in Bologna in May 1906, apparently in a concert that also saw performances of works by Ferruccio Busoni, under the direction of Bruno Mugellini.


Contrasting elements in the form of scherzoso interventions, which Respighi intended as justification of the title, serve this purpose, while sustaining the development of the lyrical main theme of the Burlesca. In G major / G minor, the work is dionysiac in mood, more convincingly than the Poema autunnale for violin and orchestra of 1925. Similar, episodic pre-Stravinskyan stamping rhythms recur in both works, but the Poema lacks the extensive and rapid ostinato triplets of Burlesca, a possibly tiresome irritation to string-players. Allusions to other composers may be fewer, but there is already a tendency towards the symphonic poem, with suggestions of the sounds of water to be heard later in Fontane di Roma and passages anticipating the comic mood of Belfagor. The work is scored without trombones, but with four French horns and double wind, and delicate writing for celesta and harp.


Ouverture carnevalesca


In 1913 Respighi appeared as a conductor of his own works in ten different Italian cities. In the same year he started work on the Sinfonia drammatica and his third opera Marie-Victoire. Ouverture carnevalesca was first performed under the direction of the composer in Bologna on 19th April of the same year. This work, in E major / E minor, is in form the most Italian of Respighi's early orchestral compositions, using as it does the Saltarello, although the secondary theme has a Russian touch. The work is scored for large orchestra, with tuba, glockenspiel and drums. In spite of its rather dense harmonic structure, the instrumentation never becomes overloaded, providing an admirable work for an enterprising orchestra. An earlier version of the ending has been restored for the present recording, showing the composer in an almost indecently hilarious mood.


Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)


The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was František Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the direction of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. The orchestra has made many recordings for the Naxos label ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten and Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Rubinstein and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian.




Swiss-born Adriano began his artistic activities in the domains of the theatre and the graphic arts. In music he is largely self-taught. When he was in his twenties, he was urged by conductors such as Joseph Keilberth and Ernest Ansermet, who recognized his gifts, to embrace a conducting career. Instead he became a composer of stage, film and chamber music and also a record producer tor his own gramophone label, Adriano Records. In the late 1970s he established himself as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi, organizing a comprehensive exhibition at the 1979 Lucerne Music Festival and and publishing a discography. For the past six years Adriano has worked as an Italian and French language coach, teacher and stage assistant at the Zürich Opera House and its InternationalOpera Studio.


His numerous efforts to promote little known music include an old Italian translation of Telemann's opera Pimpinone, which was given its first performance in Italy in 1987. For a production of Galuppi's II filosofo di campagna at the Stuttgart Music Festival in 1988, he conceived a theatrical prologue in which he himself appeared as an actor.


Adriano is now a regular guest of the Czecho Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), mainly contributing to a classic film music series tor Marco Polo Records, in which it is planned to include recordings of more than a dozen scores by composers like Honegger, Ibert, Bliss, Khatchaturian, Waxman and others. Adriano's Respighi commitment for this label will include important premier recordings of youthful and later works.


(from a note by David Nelson)

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