Respighi: Six Pieces for Solo Piano (Scherbakov)

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve not paid much attention to the work of Ottorino Respighi. Oh, I know he wrote “The Pines of Rome,” and “The Fountains of Rome,” and “Festivals of Rome.” For godssake, I even lived in Rome and have seen the pines, some festivals and hundreds of fountains. But if you asked me to hum something from one of these piece, I’d be hard-pressed.
Not that I haven’t heard them like, a thousand times, since they used to get played again and again on the local classical radio channels, especially on the call-in request shows.

If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? If Respighi plays in the background, did I actually hear it? He was 17 years younger than Debussy, and I tend to pigeon-hole him either in the Impressionist school, or maybe as an anachronism like Rachmaninoff–poised between Romantic and Cubist or Atonal music.

He was first noted for his violin and viola virtuosity, playing in string quartets as as principle violist in St. Petersburg, with the Russian Imperial Theatre. While in Russia he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, and later, living in Germany, reportedly studied with Max Bruch.

Returning to Rome, he taught composition at the St. Cecilia Conservatory, where he managed to weather the Mussolini years trying to remain a-political though he did promote his music for nationalistic purposes. At the same time, he championed more vocal critics of fascism like Aurturo Toscanini.

Today, I’m posting something I stumbled upon while surfing youtube. It’s six pieces for solo piano. From Wikipedia, I see that he wrote operas, ballets, symphonic works, quite a few chamber pieces. His list of works does not include any works for piano, so maybe I should update the Wikipedia entry. Do any of you know anything about his piano works that you can steer me to?

Here’s a piano sonata I just found.

O. Respighi: Pines of Rome

I lived in Italy from 1980 to 1982. I’m not too familiar with Respighi’s work, aside from this, which I’ve only heard bits from over the years on classical music channels. The title was enough to grab my attention.

This picture should explain why.


These are umbrella pine trees and they are all over Italy, but in Rome they are particularly striking, especially when you catch a glimpse of them at sunset running along the crest of a hill.


Once in Paestum, I parked my rental car under one in a parking lot. When I got out, I looked down and saw a small nut about the size of a pistachio, but harder and smoother. I cracked it open and ate the meat. It was a pignolo, a pine nut, like the ones you grind up with basil and olive oil and parmesan and salt and pepper to make pesto. What a nice surprise.

These pines are called stone pines and here’s what Wikipedia says about them: “The stone pine, with the botanical name Pinus pinea, is also called the Italian stone pine, umbrella pine and parasol pine.

Respiphi’s Pines of Rome dates to 1924. It has four movements depicting Roman Pines in different places in the city.

      1.1 Pines of the Villa Borghese (I pini di Villa Borghese: Allegretto vivace)
      1.2 Pines Near a Catacomb (Pini presso una catacomba: Lento)
      1.3 Pines of the Janiculum (I pini del Gianicolo: Lento)
    1.4 Pines of the Appian Way (I pini della Via Appia: Tempo di marcia)

Respiphi became music master at St. Cecilia’s church in Trastevere. I visited the church in 2010 when on my honeymoon. It is build on the ruins of a Roman Villa, church, and mausoleum. Below the church you can wander through the streets of ancient Rome and there’s a beautiful medieval chapel under the church as well. Here are some pictures I shot back then.

May 26 Rome 210

May 26 Rome 286

May 26 Rome 277

May 26 Rome 276

May 26 Rome 275

May 26 Rome 254

May 26 Rome 253

May 26 Rome 247

May 26 Rome 237

Here’s another piece called Suite “Sinfonia” in E major (1907):


%d bloggers like this: