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Pines of Rome (at Home) • Program Notes

Ottorino Respighi
The Pines of Rome

Having spent three years in Russia studying orchestration with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Ottorino Respighi came home determined to craft exciting symphonic scores in the spirit of Rimsky’s famed Scheherazade. This intention is vividly displayed in Respighi’s three most famous works: The Fountains of Rome (1917), The Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1929). All are vivid instrumental tone poems using various sections of the orchestra, and in brief passages, even soloists chosen from those sections, to evoke the spirit of the scenes the composer had in mind.

Of Pines, Respighi wrote “the century-old trees which dominate so characteristically the Roman landscape become testimony for the principal events in Roman life.” Those “events” ranged from the shrill cries of frolicking children to the thundering approach of Caesar’s army, with a recorded nightingale — Respighi strongly preferred to have an actual recording, rather than just a piccolo in imitation — singing his sweet song in the interim. The Pines of Rome premiered in 1924 in the city whose name it bears. It was a spectacular success, and within two years, Toscanini conducted the work with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall.

The Pines of Rome is structured in four movements, each with its own subtitle, though they are played without pause, so that the music flows uninterrupted from beginning to end. In the first, “The Pines of Villa Borghese,” children play in the pine groves, with sparkling activity for the full orchestra, though most prominently and repeatedly the brass. For contrast, the second section “The Pines near a Catacomb,” sets mournful hymn-like phrases against a dark tapestry of mostly string tones.

A lighter mood returns for the third section “The Pines of the Janiculum,” in which Respighi attested that he was imagining a moonlit scene with nightingales singing. Here, the piano that Respighi included in his orchestra comes brilliantly into the spotlight and the clarinet is awarded a lengthy and lyrical solo passage. The oboe (nightingale) sings as the movement comes to a close. Immediately afterward, the scene moves to “The Pines of the Appian Way” with visions of the ancient past and the Roman army approaching the capital city. At first, the army is quite distant, but the relentless tread of many booted feet becomes clear long before the splendor of brass and percussion brings those soldiers into imagined view. Respighi has crafted the grandest of grand finales.

  1. The Pines of Villa Borghese
  2. The Pines Near a Catacomb
  3. The Pines of the Janiculum
  4. The Pines of the Appian Way


Headshot Image for Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi


Pines of Rome debuted in 1924, the same year Benito Mussolini rose to power. Could the marching army you hear in the last movement represent the Fascist Party’s 1922 March…

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