JoAnn Falletta on Respighi’s Pines of Rome

(Photo: Heather Bellini)

7th July 2021

Grammy-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta serves as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Connie and Marc Jacobson Music Director Laureate of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Brevard Music Center and Artistic Adviser to the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra. She is hailed for her work as a conductor, recording artist, audience builder and champion of American composers

As Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta became the first woman to lead a major American ensemble. Celebrating her 20th anniversary with the Buffalo Philharmonic this past season, she is credited with bringing the orchestra to a new level of national and international prominence. Her recent and upcoming North American guest conducting includes the National Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Nashville Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, and Milwaukee Symphony; and further north, the Toronto Symphony and Orchestre metropolitain. Internationally, she has conducted many of the most prominent orchestras in Europe, Asia, and South America. Pending further national and international guidance on the current COVID-19 pandemic, she is looking forward to guest conducting appearances in Canada, Poland, Sweden, and Spain in 2021.
With a discography of almost 120 titles, Falletta is a leading recording artist for Naxos. Gramophone Magazine says ‘JoAnn Falletta conducts performances that are assured, spontaneous and superbly played’. In 2019, she won her first individual Grammy Award as conductor of the London Symphony in the Best Classical Compendium category for Spiritualist, her fifth world premiere recording of the music of Kenneth Fuchs. Her Naxos recording of Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan received two Grammys in 2008. Recent and upcoming releases by the BPO for Naxos include the world premiere recording of Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua, Salome by Florent Schmitt and Poem of Ecstasy by Scriabin as well as two recordings on the BPO’s Beau Fleuve label—BPO Live: Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, with pianist Fabio Bidini; and Forgotten Treasures, featuring five rarely played orchestral works.
Falletta is a member of the esteemed American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has served by presidential appointment as a Member of the National Council on the Arts during the Bush and Obama administrations and is the recipient of many of the most prestigious conducting awards. She has introduced over 500 works by American composers, including well over 100 world premieres. In 2019, JoAnn was named Performance Today’s Classical Woman of The Year, calling her a ‘tireless champion’ and lauding her ‘unique combination of artistic authority and compassion, compelling musicianship and humanity.’

Ms. Falletta has held the positions of Principal Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, Music Director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Associate Conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director of the Denver Chamber Orchestra and The Women’s Philharmonic. 

After earning her Bachelor’s degree at Mannes, Falletta received Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School. When not on the podium, JoAnn enjoys playing classical guitar, writing, cycling, yoga and is an avid reader

(A little prologue for any guitarists amongst you…)

I’m intrigued – is the Respighi a piece you particularly love?

Well, I liked all of the pieces you suggested, as my favourite era of classical music is the same as yours – the early Twentieth Century.

Yes! It’s so much more interesting. People weren’t afraid to say difficult things in music, and they had a big orchestra so they could say them in technicolour.

I know. And by the way, my first instrument is also the classical guitar…

Oh really? So we have a lot in common. Oh my gosh – the colours of the guitar are amazing in themselves. They’re not like the orchestra, but still fabulous.

Yes! I was interested in what you said on the Point of Learning interview[1] that you did at the end of last year (2020). You said that playing the guitar improved your listening skills (from playing accompaniment), your sense of phrasing (because of the lack of sustain on the guitar), and that sense of building an architecture (37m25s – 40m00s).

That’s right.

For me, it also helped in understanding chord progressions and harmony in larger scale pieces.

Yes. Well, being a harmonic instrument makes it like a miniature orchestra. I started to think about this because everyone was saying to me, ‘how can you be a conductor if you play the guitar?’ and it really rankled! I felt that I learned so much about music from playing the guitar, more than any person playing a single line instrument learns when you’re dealing with voicing and chord progression. Doing them on a six-stringed instrument makes you really think about the voicing, they’re not always pianistic, as you know. The idea of sustain is so critical. I always felt that I learned a lot more about the architecture of conducting from the guitar than people would ever understand unless they were a guitarist.

I think so too. I also found that I would be more open to different styles than many other conductors/academics.

That’s possibly because the guitar transcends all boundaries. From folk to rock to jazz to classical to flamenco, and even going back to the age of the lute and the viheula. It’s an instrument that is everywhere and has so many different voices.

And also similar instruments from beyond Europe like the Saz or Sitar (to name just two), it’s a very transferable skill.


Anyway, Pines of Rome! I remember the first time I heard this I thought it sounded Russian.

Right, maybe because of the scope and drama of it? What’s interesting about that is Respighi actually went to study with Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia. Can you imagine the courage it took to go from Italy to Russia in those days? He didn’t have a job, he had nothing – he just arrived at Rimsky’s house, showed him his music and Rimsky agreed to teach him. Then he had to get a job so he could stay there and started to play with one of the Russian orchestras. I think there is a Russian element to Respighi’s music because he absorbed this great orchestration that Rimsky taught him.

He was obviously like a sponge. I read he was fluent in eleven languages!

He was brilliant. I think everything that he writes glistens. People can be great composers, but they don’t have the ability to transfer it into the fabric that he does. It just shines and it also gives you a sense of the cinema. I always marvel that you can actually see what he’s writing about. He doesn’t really have to describe it – you can imagine the rocking of the water, you can see the moon coming up in the sky at night with the nightingale. How does he do that? It’s amazing.

That visual element lends itself to theatre. This is the only book I could find (in English) on Respighi – Michael Webb’s Ottorino Respighi: His Life and Times [see Bibliography]. He wrote that Margherita Wellman choreographed ballets to several of his works – one being the Pines of Rome (2019:191).

I didn’t know that, wow.

Another one was Gli Ucelli.

Oh Gli Ucelli (The Birds) – that would make a beautiful ballet. I can imagine that one.

… otherwise there is precious little information about not only this piece but about Respighi generally. Did you also find yourself scratching around for information?

I have read a lot about him, and I feel I’ve supplied my imagination, but I think the problem is that some of the snobbery of the orchestra world took hold a little bit later on. He was found to be too romantic, looking backwards, and not contemporary or dissonant enough. Respighi never claimed to be a modernist. For him music was about beauty, and that’s what he was writing. He wasn’t trying to break any rules. So you can imagine in the 1950s and 60s people started to say that his music may be beautiful, but it’s not important.[2]

But I think Respighi is critically important, for so many reasons. He was making a very important point to the Italians. Italy was in a very bad way at that point. It was the last country to unify (it was unified in name but that was about it). There were all these little cities, each one had its own language, each one didn’t like the city next to it, and they had been under foreign rule for centuries. It was a mess, it really was! Poverty was rampant – I think that’s partly the reason my great grandparents and grandparents came to the US. So Respighi is trying to make a point to them. He’s saying, ‘think of your past, think of what the Roman Empire gave to the world. The aqueduct system, the government system, the philosophy, the architecture, all of the great things they did – think of who we were, and we can be great again’. So he’s making this plea in the only way he knows how – through music. He’s always been a kind of hero to me in that way.

He was also trying to get them to think about writing orchestral music, that was very important to him. Italians in the Baroque period were writing orchestral (or small orchestra) music, but for two centuries after that were only famous for writing opera. At that point the great centre of the orchestral world was Germany and Austria, but Respighi was telling the Italian people to be proud of who they were. He does this in the most wonderful way in these pieces. He wasn’t Roman (he was born in Bologna) but he travelled to Rome and worked there and it became his adopted city. He devoted his life to Rome, and wrote three pieces about it (Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals). He’s writing about Rome at that time (between 1916 and 1928), but of course the city is also filled with the presence of 2000 years ago. So he writes about that as well, and weaves it all together in a way that seems like time stands still. At one moment you’re in the Twentieth Century and then all of a sudden, effortlessly, you’re in the First Century at the time of Caesar.

He picks specific places, and he identifies what they are. For example, the first movement is about the Villa Borghese in the days of the Renaissance when the Borghese family were powerful. The children are playing in the park with enormous pine trees, and you get this sense of a time warp. You’re not really sure where you are – the Twentieth Century, or long ago? I think he’s saying, ‘these were your ancestors. Look what the Borgheses gave to the world, with their wells and sponsorship of artists, writers, painters and musicians’. I think that is such a tremendous vision and it runs through this piece and everything he writes.

I found photos of the Appian Way [the very long road that leads into Rome], and it looks absolutely stunning. Have you been there?

Yes, I’ve seen it and it is stunning. That was one of the Romans’ greatest accomplishments. You can still go to the Villa Borghese, and you do hear a lot of noise with children playing.

When this was first played in New York the audience was shocked that it was quite so dissonant. In the opening bars you hear the trumpets – the little boys are pretending to be soldiers. It’s just so noisy! I always think of Respighi creating a movie. That first scene fades out and it changes all of a sudden. It’s like you run around a pine tree and there’s something different there! Now we’re at the catacombs at the time of the persecution of the Christians (i.e. post-Christ) where they’re hiding down there and having services and masses. It’s very eerie. Respighi has a trumpet go offstage and play – that’s supposed to be a voice of one of these early Christians singing a hymn down there.

When we do it in Buffalo we’re able to get our trumpet player to go way under the stage into the basement so that the sound actually floats up through the floor. That is where it would be coming from in the catacombs.

Wow, that sounds wonderful.

He’s playing some sort of very ancient psalm or religious chant. It’s like a leftover voice down there – so solemn, so mysterious. Then that voice fades away.

Respighi takes you on this kind of psychological journey, as well as a journey in time. We go from afternoon, through the evening, through the night-time, into the morning. He’s actually taking us through a day. The colours of the sky change – this man was a genius.

In the third movement, it’s twilight and you can almost feel that the air is getting a little cooler. You can see the outline of the pines against the full moon, and the nightingale sings (it only sings at that time). This is one of the most magical moments. It starts out in the clarinet, which is a very good choice. It’s an instrument that could sound like a bird – very smooth, very gentle. But then Respighi actually has a recording of a nightingale in there. That was very scandalous – it was the first time a tiny little extra musical sound was used in an orchestra. I mean, now we’ve heard everything like that, but at the time a lot of people disapproved.[3] The clarinet stops playing and the birds start singing as if the clarinet has transformed herself into the bird, or the bird has come into the room, drawn by the clarinet.

I remember when I first conducted it we would use a cassette tape, after that it was a CD, and now we get a file. The way we manipulate the sound has improved, but the bird never changes. It’s the exact voice of Respighi’s nightingale, frozen in time. I think it’s amazing that that bird is still alive in the performance.

It’s immortalised.

It is! There’s something really mysterious and shivery about that movement. You can almost feel like something is about to happen – the night-time is coming, it’s getting darker. Then he takes us overnight to the next morning. We fall asleep with this nightingale.

I think the last movement is the one that people never forget. It’s solidly in the First Century, it takes us way back.[4] At the beginning it’s almost silent – it’s morning and no-one is awake. You hear footsteps on the Appian Way and they’re coming closer. They’re inexorable. The people of Rome are just waking up and know that it has to be a huge group. This is an army, what else could it be? They’re walking lockstep towards Rome, and it’s terrifying because they’re getting louder and louder and louder. If you listen to that movement thinking of that you feel the fear. The strings are going ‘teeedum teeedum’ (fig. 18) – the anxiety. Is it an enemy coming? Their army is out at war somewhere, so they don’t know. The english horn (starting at fig.18+10) is like a woman’s voice singing., and the bassoons are sighing. What can this mean? Who’s coming?

Then in a stroke of genius he has this portion of the army that’s still in Rome, right at the capital. They send a signal on their Roman trumpets (from fig. 20+4) out to the army. If they don’t hear anything back, that’s very bad news. They play out, play out again and then they hear the same sort of trumpets playing back at them. All of a sudden they dare to hope that it’s our army. They play again and the army plays back. ‘It’s our army!’ In our concert halls we try and have those brass players in the balcony at a distance. The whole mood becomes so joyful, ‘our army’s coming home! Our sons, husbands and brothers are coming home!’ and there’s this feeling of celebration and hope. How do people create hope in music? This one of the stunning examples. I mean, who else could write this?

I don’t know if I know many (or any) pieces that are twenty minutes long and cover so many different atmospheres…

Yes, you’re absolutely right.

… and he does them all so brilliantly. Are any of these moods/atmospheres more difficult for the conductor to work with?

Well, when you look at the music on the page, it seems like it wouldn’t be difficult – it’s clearly written. But it’s actually very difficult to fit together. There are so many layers, and often this pulse underneath that has to have its own space – like a heartbeat or a footstep. Everything has to fit around it, it’s almost like a tapestry with many intricate lines and threads. When that (somehow) all comes together it’s brilliant, but it actually is much harder than it looks. You’ve got to really look to each other and breathe it together. There’s something ordered about it but it’s never stiff. It’s always flexible, like it’s alive – changing and breathing.

But another very strong reason for that is that (as you said) he never lets us wallow in something for too long. Even the army coming into Rome (which would probably in reality have taken twenty-four hours) he does so effortlessly and seamlessly that we live it in just a few minutes. I really think that nobody has ever done anything quite like that.

The transitions in the first movement look really tricky.

They are very tricky – he is writing for virtuoso orchestra. He’s testing everyone, just look at the first page with the 32nd notes in the woodwinds going back and forth and the cellos playing up in the very high register (at fig.1). He’s not making it easy, but he’s creating a brilliant fabric. Just as we’re admiring that he shifts tempos a little bit, it’s a little faster (fig. 2), then he pulls it back a little bit. It’s never automatic, you always have to stay with him.

Are there any transitions that are particularly difficult?

Well, if you look at fig. 6 where it says più vivo, there’s no way of preparing that faster tempo. It’s like all of a sudden one of the boys is racing ahead in this game that they’re playing. It’s suddenly faster, so how do you show that? I actually wind up for a second, I stop conducting and then go into the fast tempo because there’s no relationship. He’s not making it easy for you. There’s a lot of transitions like that and the orchestra has to snap into those new tempos very quickly.

But even psychologically the transitions are tricky ­– from that action into the catacomb pines – it’s as if all of a sudden all of the noise is just shut off. What happened? Now you’re not really sure what the violas, cellos and basses are playing. The horns play from far away and there’s a lot of mystery there. He uses a lot of triplets and you have to really be feeling them together. It’s not so easy. When the trumpet is under the stage, we usually try and follow it. He can’t see us when he starts playing. The strings are just listening and listening. Respighi is very, very good at psychology – he always knows the point where he needs to do something else. Either he needs to change the tempo, add in another element or change his dynamics – he just always knows.

You just don’t get bored.

He won’t let you get bored! He has this unerring sense of when to surprise. He lets the audience relax a little bit, but just for a while until he reaches this point – it’s as if he’s reading people’s minds. I’ve watched people listening to this music – they’re completely engrossed in it. They may not understand exactly what is happening, but he won’t let them go.

The piano coming out of nowhere, in the third movement, is an amazing moment. You don’t often hear a piano solo like that, it’s one of the most crystalline, beautiful things. He lets the piano be quite free – you can imagine that it’s meant to be night-time now. But again, it’s not easy with all the little tiny tempo changes, but it’s so worth it.

This third movement is very impressionistic, almost Debussyian. Do you have to put a different conducting ‘hat’ on for each movement?

You made a good point, I hadn’t thought about this before. He actually makes each movement distinct. The one at the beginning is a lot of fast playing and a lot of glistening show-off passagework in all the instruments. Then there’s the medieval sounding movement with the ancient hymn (he had great love of ancient music and Gregorian chant[5]). Then he gets to this really impressionistic movement that could be something Debussy wrote. The last one is an inexorable march from beginning to end. Even though he connects them in this beautiful way, each one is a different world. I’m glad you said that, I hadn’t thought about it like that. Each movement is completely distinct in it’s world.

The problem with the fourth movement is that you have to make sure that there’s no time lag with the brass at such a distance. They need to hear each other and somehow fit together. When the soldiers in Rome play first I imagine they marched a little tentatively. They don’t know what’s going on, they’re just playing what they might play in formation. Then they hear it back and then the next time they’re playing out a little bit louder saying ‘OK we heard you – just verify that it’s you! Let us know it’s really you!’ And then the group from behind plays a little bit louder so there’s this build up over the march that is inexorable. It may sound loose, but it’s very structured to sound organic and natural.

What about the Buccine instruments he requests in the score? Do people always use different brass combinations?

They do, they do. He says Buccine, which is a kind of ancient Roman trumpet. That’s what he’s imagining, but usually people choose what they want. It’s almost always six players in the balcony. I like to use four trumpets and two trombones best, because those are outward pointing instruments. They can be aggressive and play right into the hall and at the stage. I know that some people like to use two trumpets, two horns and two trombones. I like that less because the horns are pointing backwards and they have a very different approach. The trumpets and the trombones have a unified brass approach, the kind of sound that you would get from an army group. There are also trumpets and trombones who are playing back at them on the stage.

It calls for six people (although you could use more) and there are two groups. Sometimes you can divide them and put them on different sides of the balcony (two trumpets and a trombone on each side). It’s really thrilling. Very often 95-98% of the audience have no idea there’s an orchestra up in the balcony. All of sudden the brass on stage plays and then they hear something coming from behind them. At that moment everyone turns around. Maybe they think, ‘why are they there?’ but they get this sense that they’re playing to each other and it’s building up to an incredible climax. They may not know the scene (although I hope that they do know, and came to a pre-concert talk or something) but the moment that all of a sudden something happens is amazing because they’re not used to hearing sound that way. It’s usually very loud. It’s one of those pieces that if you had to go to a concert for the first time and saw Pines of Rome on the programme… go to that concert. That’s the experience you want to have!

That’s right. So how to you cue/conduct them?

We rehearse it so that I don’t turn around, what I do is I make sure I’m beating in very big gestures. They’re watching me from behind, but they can still see the beats. That way when they first start playing there is no clue to the audience that anything like that is going to happen.

A conductor I know, Scott Wilson, does a podcast making classical music more accessible for new audiences. The first episode he made was on this piece and the recording he recommends is yours.[6] Your recording comes up a lot when people discuss the good ones!

Oh really? I’m so glad you told me that! It was so much fun for us to make that. It’s a piece everybody dreams about if they’re in middle school – ‘someday I’ll play the Pines of Rome.’ I did it with the Cleveland Institute of Music a couple of years ago (before the pandemic). They’d never played it, and I know it was an experience for them. Maybe it wasn’t perfectly played on every single note, but it didn’t matter. The experience was one that they’ll never forget.

I found it very interesting that Toscanini was very possessive of the piece.[7]

He was, he was. He brought it to New York and it was a very big thing![8] Having Respighi there must have been really special. The New York Philharmonic had the rights to do the US premiere with Toscanini, and then right after that Philadelphia was going to play it. Those two cities are within a two-hour drive of each other, so supposedly of all of the Philadelphia musicians came to the New York performance to hear it – it was that important a piece.

Yes! I read that no-one else was allowed to conduct it until Toscanini had done the USA premiere, and the author thinks that even included Respighi himself because he conducted it with the Philadelphia Orchestra the very next day.[9]

Seeing as he was so possessive of the piece, what do you think of Toscanini’s interpretation? Do you have any favourite recordings that really inspired you?

Well, I’ve listened to a lot of them. I like Toscanini’s recording because he is focussed on this piece in such a way that he is never going to be diverted from it. He loves it, and I like that. He was a very honest conductor and did things in a very direct way. But there are so many great recordings, I can’t choose one. I got so enmeshed in how the Buffalo Philharmonic played it and how I could reflect their personality in it. I feel very strongly that when you perform a piece it has to reflect who the musicians are – you can’t get a cookie cutter and say, ‘this is the way it’s always done’. You have to allow them some flexibility. Each of them has their own strong ideas and it was really fun to hear your own orchestra interpret it. The notes are the same but there’s a lot of room for a different feeling.

I loved your recording, and I also loved Bernstein’s (of course).


And also the 1960 recording of the Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Fritz Reiner.

That must have been great too, because Chicago were noted for their brass. Maybe the power of the brass was overwhelming.

I preferred the recordings where you could really hear all the layers of the piece. This is piece is not straightforward!

No, it’s very complicated. But that’s a sign of a great composer – it’s multi-layered at every moment. Sometimes I look back at these Respighi scores and wish more people today wrote with this kind of extraordinary skill. But maybe it’s something you can’t learn – just a gift that he had for texture, for colour, and for something else I can’t explain. Why, when we’re hearing this music, can we actually see a picture? That doesn’t happen with many composers. In Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade you can feel that you’re on that boat with Sinbad the Sailor and actually picture yourself there. Rimsky had that gift too.

Yes, and I suppose having studied in Russia, Respighi would have absorbed a lot from such a strong theatrical tradition.

Yes, right.

So Respighi’s music is very visual. But when you’re getting to grips with the score, do you also look for a structure?

I do, I do – but it’s a different type of structure. When people are listening to it, it’s not like they’re reading a short story and have forgotten a little bit about that character. They can’t go back and remind themselves. So you have to create a structure and know it well enough that you can highlight it and take people along through it without them feeling confused. What I always do is start with the big picture first. In this case I might think, ‘here’s four video portraits of Rome. OK, how do they relate to each other?’ Then you get the idea of the time of day, some of them are current time, some of them are past time. Then I go smaller and smaller. I’ll just look at the first piece and think, ‘OK, here’s the Villa Borghese. There’s a lot of activity, the kids are constantly running around. They may have a little time where they slow down a bit but not for long and they pick up again’.

How do I structure that so that people feel that when all of a sudden we’re out of it, they understand what happened before? It’s all subconscious, it’s not like you can have supertitles above explaining everything. You have to give them a way of subconsciously feeling like they got what it was about. But of course composers help when they create a great internal structure – you can follow that. Sometimes the most difficult pieces to conduct are the ones that seem aimless – they have beautiful moments but there’s no architecture to them. But Respighi somehow knew a lot about how humans listened, because his architecture is amazing. Just at the point where you think we might be lingering somewhere, he goes somewhere else and surprises you. A lot of composers don’t think that way.

I find it fascinating that you work in layers like that. That is definitely how I get to grips with… anything, really.

You start from the big and go in like that? Yeah, I think that makes the most sense, because if you go from note 1 to the end you don’t see the shape, you’re just in a tunnel going through. You will get to those details, but you can’t know how it fits in unless you know the whole picture. You need to start with the big picture, then you go to each movement, and then go to each section of each movement and then little by little you’re looking at one bar at a time. Then it’s in a context that makes sense.

I looked at where the piece was premiered: the Augusteo in Rome. It’s a huge round concert hall. Sometimes it is important to know where a piece was premiered, because you can then tune in to what the composer’s intentions were.

I hope you can see this – here is a black and white picture of the Augusteo.[10]

Oh yes, that’s enormous! It looks like a great opera house. Oh that’s beautiful, imagine the sound in that place.

Do you think that’s why he used such a huge orchestra?

I wonder if Respighi was told where the premiere would be or if he thought, ‘I’m going to write this for a big orchestra just so will need the space’.

He was probably at the stage in his career where he could say, ‘I want this performed in a big hall with a big stage and have a lot of musicians.’ And they would say, ‘absolutely. Yes maestro, we’ll do it’. And thank goodness, because these pieces have just enchanted and overwhelmed people since they were written. The orchestra for Fountains of Rome is a little smaller (that’s the first one of the Rome pieces), but the Roman Festivals is enormous too. He’s just following his love of colour, and he doesn’t want to have a small paint box.

It took me a while to even realise there was an organ in the piece.

I know. You hardly hear it. (laughs)

I was reading the score through and suddenly thought, ‘there’s an ORGAN in this? How did I not hear that?’ I was a bit embarrassed at myself.

(Laughs) You hear it in the Roman Festivals (and you really do hear it then) but in Pines of Rome you don’t hear it so much, there’s just so much sound going on.

Exactly. Where did you record it?

We recorded it in the Kleinhans Music Hall [home of the Buffalo Philharmonic]. We don’t have an organ built in but we brought in a large electronic organ. We did two performances of it and then the next week we recorded it. It was tremendous fun for everybody, it really was.

Was there anything else you’d like to mention that you think we’ve missed before we finish ?

No, you taught me a lot about the piece, I’m just so thrilled that we talked together! I really like thinking about the piece being in four distinct styles. We should have another conversation, we’ll find another piece sometime.

I would love that, that would be amazing! I can’t believe Respighi isn’t played more.

Well it could be because it’s big, especially this last year with everyone playing in small groups. But now’s the time to bring him back!

Well, thank you for making me look into his music in detail. I hadn’t before, and really loved it.

No thank you, it was wonderful! I hope to talk to you again soon.


Ottorino Respighi: A Dream of Italy An Allegro Film by Christopher Nupan Available at:

Respighi, O. (1924) Pini di Roma: Poema Sinfonico [Music Score]Milan, Ricordi

Webb, M. Ottorino Respighi: His Life and Times (Matador, Leicestershire 2019)

Wilson, S. (2021) A Thousand Pictures Episode 1: Spectacular Sound [Podcast]. 16th February 2021. Available at: (Accessed 30th June 2021)


[2] From the documentary Ottorino Respighi: A Dream of Italy (see Bibliography): ‘Respighi was acutely aware of the crisis in European music, and was disturbed by the disintegration of the European musical tradition. He became increasingly concerned with the idea of a new European musical language, but he rejected Schoenberg’s departure from tonality and Stravinsky’s neoclassicism. Respighi’s interest in the past was to give new life to tradition, not to stress that it had gone forever’ (37m40s).

[3] For example, Ernest Newman (after hearing the work at an LSO concert in October 1925) wrote that the ‘tame nightingale… did not communicate the expected thrill… realism of this sort is a trifle too crude to blend with music’ (cited Webb 2019:121).

[4] An alternative suggestion has also been presented by Webb, who writes that ‘the event that allegedly inspired the last movement of the symphonic poem was the so-called “March on Rome” that took place on 28 October 1922, during which thousands of fascist supporters descended on the Italian capital to express their solidarity with Mussolini’ (2019: xxi).

[5] Sergio Martinotti believed that Respighi’s fascination with plainsong was able to ‘…immunise his art from the excesses of Strauss and the impressionists’ (cited Webb 2019:102).

[6] 16m26s

[7] He also regularly performed the work alongside classic works by Beethoven, Mozart etc.

[8] ‘The international success of his new symphonic poem, Pini di Roma, was largely the result of Toscanini’s championship of the work in the USA’ (Webb 2019:115)

[9] ‘After the first performance of the work in Rome, Toscanini had insisted that no one else should conduct the piece until he had premiered it in the USA. Presumably, this agreement also included the composer himself since Respighi’s performances of the work all date from after the New York premiere… just one day after the New York concert… Respighi conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra’s first performance of the work’ (Webb 2019: 134).