Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Ottorino Respighi, 1879-1936

Continuing with birthday celebrations, Italian composer Ottorino Respighi was born July 9, 1879, in Bologna, Italy. He's probably best known his "Roman Trilogy" for orchestra, and for also being a musicologist and writing a number of pieces based on music from the 16th-18th centuries. He hasn't been favored by standard music history texts. Much like composers Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, he wasn't enough of a revolutionary to warrant much space in a Western music history text, but he remains a favorite of musicians and audiences alike.

My favorite Respighi piece, aside from the bombastic finale to The Pines of Rome (which speaks clearly to the low brass player inside me and was used to great effect in Fantasia 2000), is his Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures). (I adore the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recording, but this version on YouTube is pretty good.)

I had the extreme fortune of visiting Florence, Italy, my junior year of college (when I studied abroad just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland). I took it upon myself to visit the Uffizi Gallery, where 2 of the 3 Botticelli paintings hang. I was aware of this, and purposely brought my Discman (this was pre-MP3 player) with my Orpheus CD and listened to those movements whilst standing in front of the paintings. Looking back, I probably wouldn't do that if I were to visit the museum today (for the first time), but it was a moving experience, nonetheless.

I remain in awe with Respighi's scoring in the third movement, especially, with how the piece seems to float through the air almost aimlessly. In my mind, its a perfect description of "The Birth of Venus." The double-reed writing in the second movement, based on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," is also fantastic.

Respighi is even lesser-known for his piano music, but his Nocturne is a wonderful piece.

Happy birthday, Signore Respighi! Know that your music is still played, heard and enjoyed today, 132 years after your birth.

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