Pines of Rome
Respighi managed to get a couple of operas staged in his native Bologna by the time he was 31 years old, but work as an orchestral musician (violin and viola), teacher, piano accompanist, and arranger of Baroque music sustained his peripatetic career in its early years. A move to Rome in 1913 as professor of composition at the Liceo Musicale of Santa Cecilia proved decisive, since Rome was then the center of orchestral life in Italy. In 1916, he completed Fountains of Rome, a four-part symphonic tone poem that gradually became a huge success, making Respighi famous and wealthy.
In 1919 the Liceo became the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, and in 1923 Respighi was appointed its director. He held that administrative post only three years, during which he composed Pines of Rome, a sequel to Fountains and even more lucrative for Respighi. Its success, following its premiere in December 1924, enabled Respighi to quit as director of the Conservatory in 1926, although he continued the teach- ing he loved, as an advanced composition professor there until 1935.
The great popularity of this music is not hard to understand. It is brilliantly evocative, well-crafted, and emotionally sincere musical pageantry. The first section of Pines – all four are played without a break – is a short prelude depicting children at play in the pine grove of the Villa Borghese, their dances and games raucously projected through quick brass and woodwind exchanges.
“Pines Near a Catacomb” presents a serene, even somber scene, with muted strings supporting an orchestral chant which “re-echoes solemnly, sonorously, like a hymn” rising from the catacomb, in the composer’s words.
“The Pines of the Janiculum” is night music in which a solo clarinet sings plaintively, introducing the actual song of a nightingale (Respighi even specified the recording to be used) over tremolo strings. “The Pines of the Appian Way” suggests morning dawning over the march of imperial Roman glory in trumpet-driven triumph. Mussolini adored Respighi’s orchestral music, but the sound of a fascist parade here is probably the result of purely musical muscle flexing rather than any consciously propagandistic intentions on the part of the rather non-political composer. — John Henken