Otterino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi was born on 9th July 1879 in Bologna, Italy. A reserved boy of obvious musical talent, he began studying the violin when he was only eight. By the age of twenty, he was also a brilliant viola player and a more than competent pianist, accompanying his wife Elsa in very early recordings of his own songs and performing as soloist in his own Concerto in modo misolidio and Toccata - pieces which many of today's pianists find difficult!

When he was about thirteen, Respighi began studying composition, and in 1900 composed his first major work, still perhaps influenced by the German tradition - the Symphonic Variations, written for his final school examinations at the Liceo Musicale.

In the same year, he was playing in the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, and such was his talent on both violin and viola, that he applied for, and was offered an engagement with the Imperial Theatre in St.Petersburg as a viola player. He later also played at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Soon fluent in Russian, as he was to be in many other languages, he spent some five months with Rimsky-Korsakov. The Russian master quickly appreciated the young Italian's flair and, in the main, looked over Respighi's shoulders, offering suggestions as appropriate. Nevertheless, Respighi's own brilliantly colourful scores do owe something to Rimsky-Korsakov. Respighi also attended lectures by Max Bruch in Berlin.

Back in Bologna, Respighi took his diploma in composition in 1901, and in the following years consolidated his reputation with a scintillating variety of works - songs such as Nebbie, his first opera Re Enzo , the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for orchestra, a piano concerto, quintets, sonatas and the Suite in G Major for Strings and Organ, a sort of musical homage to Bach, a composer Respighi admired immensely. A brilliant orchestral arranger, Respighi transcribed not only works by Bach such as the Three Chorale Preludes and Passacaglia and Fugue, but also works by compatriots such as Monteverdi, Tartini, Vitali, Vivaldi, and Rossini (the popular score for the ballet, La Boutique Fantasque is Respighi's arrangement of music by Rossini). Additionally, Respighi edited many ancient chamber works for printing and performance and, interestingly, Rachmaninov , in response to Koussevitzky's suggestion, selected Cinq Etudes- Tableaux for Respighi to orchestrate.

One critic has called Respighi's music 'new old music'. His profound love of, and identification with the Italian musical past and deliberate homage to almost forgotten composers from that past, inspired works like the charming Antiche danze ed arie (Ancient Airs and Dances), the Concerto in the Antique Style and Gli uccelli (The Birds). Part pastiche, Respighi stamped his own unique idiom on these works.

He paid homage in other ways too. Initially introduced to mediaeval Gregorian plainchant by his wife, Elsa, Respighi brilliantly introduces the Gregorian mode into his Concerto gregoriano, Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows) - adapted from his own Three Preludes on Gregorian Melodies - and his archaizing Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode for piano and orchestra.

The city of Rome (where Respighi became Professor of Composition at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia) is immortalized in his three most famous works, the Roman trilogy:- the Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome), Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) and Feste Romane (Roman Festivals). In the last named work in particular, Respighi belies his reputation for being a `traditional' composer, with spectacular dissonances, raucous effects and wholly `modern' orchestrations.

Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, brilliant works of very different type and scale poured forth - the melodramatic Ballata delle gnomidi (Ballad of the Gnomes), the glorious Adagio with Variations for Cello and Orchestra; and the Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures) for chamber orchestra. There were also distinctive operas, full of brilliant colour and dramatic flair such as his masterpiece La Fiamma, La campana sommersa, the witty, ironic Belfagor, the delightful La bella dormente nel bosco (Sleeping Beauty), and the powerful and concentrated Lucrezia - his last and most original work for the stage. As Respighi's fame spread, particularly in the Americas, he was championed by such musical giants as Toscanini, Koussevitsky and Fritz Reiner as well as Bernardino Molinari, Tullio Serafin and Willem Mengelberg. He became, perhaps, the most lionized Italian composer of his generation. On his travels, he met Busoni, Kodály, Richard Strauss, Ravel, Schoenberg Sibelius and Stravinsky.

Honours were showered on Respighi - in addition to being awarded the Chair for Composition at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome in 1913, he was elected to the Academy of Italy in 1932. Respighi died on the 18th April 1936, aged only 56. In the January of that year, Respighi's doctor had diagnosed endocarditis lenta viridans, a bacterial infection which in those days was still incurable. It sapped the composer's strength (he had a strong physique) but he struggled on courageously for four months. The disease caused distorted hearing (in fact Respighi was terrified of becoming deaf.) This disease very likely affected his work on his last opera, Lucrezia, which was completed, after his death, by his widow Elsa.

Elsa Respighi, Ottorino's widow, was herself a gifted composer. It was Respighi's songs that first drew the eighteen year old Elsa to him to become his pupil before their relationship blossomed into a love affair and marriage. Elsa outlived Ottorino for many years to champion her husband's work unflaggingly until her death in 1996 aged almost 102.

In the last twenty years, Respighi's reputation, for some time belittled and patronized, has been radically reassessed. Recordings and performances of his work now proliferate. The RESPIGHI SOCIETY, founded in 1993, exists and campaigns to defend (where necessary), and consolidate, the reputation of one of the great composers of the first half of the 20th Century

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1914-1916 Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) 4.00 stars LP
Respighi Comments:

New Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Munch

1914-1916 Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) 4.00 stars 2CD
Respighi Comments:

Philidelphia Orchestra cond. Riccardo Muti

1917 Sonata for Violin and Piano in B Minor 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

Anne-Sophie Mutter - Violin
Lambert Orkis - Piano

1924 Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) 4.00 stars LP
Respighi Comments:

New Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Munch

1924 Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) 4.00 stars 2CD
Respighi Comments:

Philidelphia Orchestra cond. Riccardo Muti

1927 Trittico Botticelliano 4.00 stars 2CD
Respighi Comments:

Academy of St Martins-in-the-Fields cond. Neville Marriner

1927 Trittico Botticelliano 4.00 stars CD
Respighi Comments:

I Solisti Veneti cond. Claudio Scimone

1927 The Birds 4.00 stars CD
Respighi Comments:

I Solisti Veneti cond. Claudio Scimone

1928 Feste Romane 4.00 stars 2CD
Respighi Comments:

Philidelphia Orchestra cond. Riccardo Muti

1930 Metamorphosen 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Geoffry Simon

1930 Belkis, Queen of Sheba 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Geoffry Simon

1917-1932 Antiche Arie Danze, Ancient Airs and Dances. 3 Suites 4.00 stars 2CD
Respighi Comments:

Suite 1 : 1917
Suite 2 : 1924
Suite 3 : 1932

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra cond. Neville Marriner

1932 Antiche Arie Danze, Ancient Airs and Dances. Suite No 3 4.00 stars CD
Respighi Comments:

I Solisti Veneti cond. Claudio Scimone