About this Recording
8.572332 - RESPIGHI, O.: Violin Concerto in A Major / Aria / Suite for Strings (Marzadori, Chamber Orchesta of New York, Ottorino Respighi, Di Vittorio)
English  Italian 

Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936)
Aria for strings • Violin Concerto in A major • Suite for strings • Rossiniana


The Italian composer Ottorino Respighi is best known for his ‘Roman Trilogy’: Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome), Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) and Feste romane (Roman Festivals). In the early years of the twentieth century his compositions, along with those of his contemporaries Gian Francesco Malipiero, Alfredo Casella and Ildebrando Pizzetti (the so-called ‘Generation of the ’80s’), contributed to the revival of Italian symphonic music which had been initiated by Martucci, Sgambati, Bazzini, Mancinelli and others. Embracing the continuity of tradition through his love of the ancient world, Respighi also promoted a renewed appreciation of Renaissance and Baroque musical forms dressed up in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century compositional techniques. Respighi’s prolific compositional output includes about 200 works, including symphonic music and operas, about three dozen transcriptions, and a handful of unfinished works.

Respighi was first noticed with his orchestration of the Lamento di Arianna by Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), which was first heard in Berlin in 1908 under Artur Nikisch. The performance received wonderful reviews in the German press (Allgemeine Musikzeitung and Tageblatt), with praise for Respighi’s magnificent elaboration and orchestration. Respighi then drew national attention with the première of his opera Semirama in Bologna in November 1910, when Pizzetti wrote: “…one can say with certainty that with his Semirama Ottorino Respighi has demonstrated tonight such quality both in his masterly skill and as a composer of opera, to have us believe that in him Italy will soon have one of its most respected musicians”. In 1916, at the age of 37, Respighi achieved international recognition with his Fountains of Rome.

Ottorino Respighi studied violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, as well as composition with Giuseppe Martucci, and musicology with Luigi Torchi, a scholar of early music. Following his graduation from the conservatory in 1900 he travelled to Russia to become principal violist for the Russian Imperial Theatre Orchestra in St Petersburg, for its season of Italian opera. During his stay he studied composition for five months with Rimsky-Korsakov. He then returned to Bologna to earn a second degree in composition. From 1908 to 1909 he spent some time performing in Germany to study with Max Bruch, before finally returning to Italy, and turning his attention entirely to composition.

Upon being appointed a teacher of composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in 1913, Respighi moved to Rome and lived there for the rest of his life. In 1919 he married a former pupil, the singer Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo. From 1923 to 1926 he was director of the Rome Conservatory. In 1925 he collaborated with Sebastiano Arturo Luciani on an elementary textbook entitled Orpheus.

Roman Festivals, the third part of his ‘Roman Trilogy’, was given its première by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1929. Toscanini recorded the music twice for RCA Victor, first with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941 and then with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1949. As a result, Respighi’s music had considerable success in the United States. The Toccata for piano and orchestra was first performed, with Respighi as soloist, under Willem Mengelberg and with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in November 1928, and the large-scale theme and variations, Metamorphoseon, was commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In his rôle as musicologist Respighi was also an enthusiastic scholar of Italian music of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. He published editions of the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi, and of Benedetto Marcello’s Didone. Because of his devotion to these masters and their compositional styles, he is often seen as an exponent of Neo-Renaissance or Neo-Baroque traditions. Respighi typically preferred combining pre-classical melodic styles and musical forms (such as dance suites) with standard late nineteenth-century romantic harmonies and textures.

In 1932 Respighi was elected to the Royal Academy of Italy. He continued to compose and tour until January 1936, after which he became increasingly ill with a cardiac infection and died of heart failure on 18 April of that year at the age of 56. A year after his burial, his remains were moved to his birthplace Bologna and reinterred at the city’s expense.

The Aria for strings, which dates from 1901, and was later incorporated into the Suite in G major for strings and organ, clearly shows Respighi’s affection for the music and composers of the Baroque, especially Vivaldi, Corelli and Frescobaldi. The work is a strong lyrical statement by the young Respighi, who was then on the threshold of a prolific musical career. Di Vittorio’s transcription of the Aria, based on the original manuscript and hand-written parts, makes the work accessible not only for string orchestra but for string quintet, so as to inspire performances at music conservatories and schools.

One cannot help but be impressed by the beauty and romantic, lyrical style of Respighi’s First Violin Concerto in A major, left unfinished by the composer in 1903. This work, which harks back to the concerto writing of such masters as Vivaldi and the young Mendelssohn, pre-dates Respighi’s other violin concertos, the Concerto all’antica (in A minor) from 1908, Concerto gregoriano from 1921, and the single movement Poema autunnale from 1925.

As for the original manuscript of this concerto, Respighi had completed the first two movements and begun the third movement in piano reduction, with only a few measures orchestrated. In completing the concerto, Di Vittorio maintains the nature and musical integrity of the work, based on the unfinished Respighi manuscript. He begins by enhancing the orchestration of the first two movements, and then models the third movement development section as a sort of rondo comprised of musical ideas gathered from these two movements. Di Vittorio then extends the introductory and secondary themes of the third movement, which greatly resemble the thematic material of the first movement, through a series of variations and reinventions. The resulting completed work embraces Respighi’s vision, while Respighi’s conclusion to the first movement foreshadows the master’s later colourful orchestration in arguably his greatest work, Pines of Rome. The completed concerto received its world première under the baton of Salvatore Di Vittorio with the Chamber Orchestra of New York on 13 February 2010, at the Church of St Jean Baptiste in New York. The event launched the new international competition, the “Respighi Prize for young composers and soloists” endorsed by the city of Bologna, the city of Respighi’s birth.

The Suite for strings of 1902 was composed in six movements in the style of the Baroque. The Ciaccona begins in a reflective manner. This is bold and serious music, with an underlying harmonic progression (as with the Baroque chaconne), before shifting to quicker tempi for its remaining variations. The second movement Siciliana is light and graceful with its pastoral, almost jig-like dance, high soaring notes and melodic turns. With basses tacet, this wonderful music is also ideal to be performed by a string quartet at festive occasions. The third movement Giga immediately establishes its quick metre in a scurry of counterpoint. The middle section of this movement highlights the composer’s later use of trill-figures and tremolos as key effects throughout the orchestra. Nonetheless, despite all the excitement in the music, Respighi’s lyricism controls all other aspects of the composition. This gift of lyricism is perhaps even more apparent in the Sarabande, with its ever-present tied beats and other sustained sounds. The fifth movement Burlesca, remains playful from beginning to end, with rich ornamentation and introduces the finale Rigaudon, which interrupts with a lively duple metre and accented melodies. The Suite for strings not only introduces us to what may be Respighi’s reflection on the string music of Edvard Grieg (1843–1907), but allows us keen insight into the master who later composed the well-received Ancient Airs and Dances No. 3 for strings. In effect, the Suite is its precursor. Salvatore Di Vittorio’s transcriptions of the Aria and the Suite for strings received their United States premières under his baton with the Chamber Orchestra of New York on 22 May 2010, at the Church of St Jean Baptiste in New York.

For more information on these Respighi scores contact:
Francesco Panasci, Edizioni Panastudio,
Corso Via La Mantia, 72, 90138 Palermo, Italy; panasci@panastudio.it; www.panastudio.it

Respighi’s Rossiniana Suite is one of two works which the composer wrote in homage to Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), the other being the ballet (and its resulting Suite for orchestra) called La boutique fantasque. Respighi based both of these orchestral works on Les riens (Trifles), piano music that Rossini completed during his retirement. Although the work is published as music of Rossini orchestrated by Respighi, this is not entirely correct. Extended research into Rossini’s Les riens, and Respighi’s Rossiniana and La boutique fantasque proves otherwise. There are countless melodies in both orchestral works that do not strictly resemble those by Rossini in Les riens. Numerous melodies in Rossiniana were surely reinvented by Respighi through either extension or variation, for they only hint at the original material by Rossini. At times in Rossiniana, we may actually hear more of Giuseppe Verdi’s influence on Respighi, particularly in the second movement Lamento, where one is reminded of the former’s many beautiful and dramatic operatic moments. Apart from its historical significance, the music here is absolutely delightful, in the tradition of Respighi’s better known, famously colourful and innovative orchestrations.

Chamber Orchestra of New York
(with thanks to Salvatore Di Vittorio, Potito Pedarra and Luigi Verdi)

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