Respighi settled in Rome in 1913 when he took up an appointment as professor of composition at the Santa Cecilia academy, the city’s famous conservatory. He met and married his wife there – she was one of his students – and the vibrant concert life in Rome spurred Respighi to action. The Fountains of Rome was the first result of his efforts.
His symphonic poem The Pines of Rome was the second in a triptych of works paying tribute to The Eternal City. The piece’s first movement shows children playing outside the Villa Borghese, the opulent home of one of Rome’s most prominent 17th-century families. “Pines Near a Catacomb” depicts a solitary church in the middle of a Roman field dotted with pine trees, the section’s ominous melody building to a sweeping climax. In the third movement, Respighi paints a musical portrait of the “Pines of the Janiculum” at night. The Janiculum was one of Rome’s seven hills, so named because it was the site of temple of Janus, the Roman god of portals and the new year. In this section, Respighi specified the use of a gramophone recording of birdsong to capture the atmosphere perfectly. The work closes with a portrait of the pine tree-lined Appian Way, the military road of the Roman Republic. The Roman legions emerge from the mists, and the orchestra mirrors their approach, growing louder as the soldiers get closer to the Capitoline Hill. As the movement closes, the victorious warriors, led by the Republican Consul, arrive at the Capitol with the rising sun behind them, their glory reflected in the work’s jubilant closing pages. The Pines of Rome was, and continues to be, a great success and popular favorite, so much so that Respighi used the money he made from it to buy a villa, which he appropriately named “The Pines.”