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Pines of Rome

What brought Respighi most of the fame and fortune he so thoroughly enjoyed was his trilogy of Roman symphonic poems.

Composition and premieres: Respighi wrote Fountains of Rome in 1916, and it was premiered in Rome on November 12, 1920, led by Arturo Toscanini; Pines of Rome followed a few years later and was premiered December 14, 1924, by Bernardino Molinari conducting the Augusteo Orchestra. Respighi completed the “Roman Trilogy” with Roman Festivals later in the decade.

The first BSO performance of Pines of Rome was on February 12, 1926, Serge Koussevitzky conducting. Victor de Sabata led the BSO in the first Tanglewood performance on August 3, 1950; the most recent was conducted by Michael Stern on August 27, 2016. (Charles Dutoit led the complete trilogy here on August 23, 2014.)

Ottorino Respighi was a minor master, but a master surely. He began as a pianist, violinist, and violist, and in 1900 became principal violist in the opera orchestra at St. Petersburg. There he had the opportunity of taking some lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov, which accounts in part for his dazzling brilliance as an orchestrator. He soon returned to Italy, leaning more toward composition, but still active as a performer, particularly as violist in the Mugellini Quartet. In 1913 he settled in Rome, teaching at and later presiding over the St. Cecilia Academy. He was a cultivated amateur of what was then called “ancient music,” a taste that led him to composing a piano concerto in the mixolydian mode and a Concerto gregoriano for violin, as well as, more famously, making the transcriptions of lute and keyboard pieces he published as three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances and as The Birds. He was one of the composers commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to mark the BSO’s fiftieth season, for which occasion he produced his Metamorphoseon modi XII, introduced in Boston in November 1930. But what brought Respighi most of the fame and fortune he so thoroughly enjoyed was his trilogy of Roman symphonic poems (Fontane di Roma, Pini di Roma, and Feste romane): the Fountains of 1916, the Pines (above all) of 1924, and the Festivals of 1928-29. Each of these scores has a brief descriptive preface, given below.

Michael Steinberg

Pines of Rome

The Pines of the Villa Borghese—Children are at play in the pine groves of the Villa Borghese. They dance round in circles; they play at soldiers, marching and fighting; they are intoxicated by their own cries like swallows at evening; they rush about. Suddenly the scene changes...

Pines Near a Catacomb—We see the shades of the pines fringing the entrance to a catacomb. From the depths rises the sound of mournful psalms, floating through the air like a solemn hymn and mysteriously dispersing.

The Pines of the Janiculum—A shudder runs through the air: The pines on the Janiculum stand distinctly outlined in the clear light of a full moon. A nightingale sings.

The Pines of the Appian Way—Misty dawn on the Appian Way; solitary pine trees guarding the tragic landscape; the muffled, ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps. The poet has a fantastic vision of bygone glories: trumpets sound and, in the brilliance of the newly risen sun, a consular army bursts forth forward the Via Sacra, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.