23 Mar 2016

Respighi – I pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome)

Ottorino Respighi (1879 — 1936): I pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome)

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 3rd doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contabassoon; 6 horns, 5 trumpets, 5 trombones, tuba; timpani, bass drum, campanelli, piatti, raganella, tam tam, tamburo basco, triangle; strings

Performance time: 15 minutes


I pini di Roma, “The Pines of Rome,” is the second of the orchestral suites that comprise Ottorino Respighi’s popular “Roman Triptych,” which also includes Le fontane di Roma, and Feste Romane (“Roman Festivals”). All three showcase his gift for creating music that seems vividly and specifically visual, a goal sought by many of the baroque composers he so admired. 

In his determination to create a richly detailed and truthful sense of atmosphere for this work, Respighi calls for the use of a recorded nightingale at the close of the third movement — one of the earliest inclusions of an electronic element into a classical score (1928). Over the years, the recording medium has progressed from 78-rpm records to audiotape to digital media, but the nightingale’s song has remained true to Respighi’s original selection.

What to Listen For

In the first movement of “The Pines,” we are treated to a view of the sumptuous Villa Borghese, where rambunctious children are playing and soldiers are marching amid the pines. Next we are transported to a subterranean catacomb in Campagna, with its eerie vaults and priestly chanting deftly evoked by low orchestral voicing, organ and trombones. In the third movement, the nocturnal feeling is accented by the sound of a nightingale among the pines of Janiculum Hill.

As Respighi’s Roman travelogue progresses, we realize that not only has he transported us through the city of Rome, but through a day as well: starting with children at play on a sunlit afternoon, through the night, and finally to the Via Appia, where “The Pines of Rome” ends in the brilliance of a Roman sunrise. 

Respighi’s notes about the suite include the following observations:

The Pines of the Villa Borghese (Allegretto vivace)—Children are at play in the pine groves of the Villa Borghese, dancing the Italian equivalent of “Ring around a Rosy.” They mimic marching soldiers and battles. They twitter and shriek like swallows at evening, coming and going in swarms. Suddenly the scene changes.

The Pines Near a Catacomb (Lento)—We see the shadows of the pines, which overhang the entrance of a catacomb. From the depths rises a chant, which echoes solemnly, like a hymn, and is then mysteriously silenced.

The Pines of the Janiculum (Lento)—There is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Gianicolo’s Hill. A nightingale sings.

The Pines of the Appian Way (Tempo di Marcia)—Misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of unending steps. The poet has a fantastic vision of past glories. Trumpets blare, and the army of the Consul bursts forth in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph the Capitoline Hill.