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Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi (/rɛˈspɡi/ reh-SPEE-ghee,[1] also US: /rəˈ-/ rə-,[2] Italian: [ottoˈriːno reˈspiːɡi]; 9 July 1879 – 18 April 1936) was an Italian violinist, composer and musicologist, best known for his trilogy of orchestral tone poems: Fountains of Rome (1916), Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1928). His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods. He also wrote several operas, the most famous being La fiamma.



Early lifeEdit

Ottorino Respighi was born on 9 July 1879 in an apartment inside Palazzo Fantuzzi on Via Guido Reni in Bologna, Italy, into a musical family.[3] His father, a piano teacher, encouraged his son's musical inclinations and taught him basic piano and violin at an early age. Not long into his violin lessons, however, Respighi suddenly quit after his teacher whacked him on the hand with a ruler when he had played a passage incorrectly. He resumed lessons several weeks later with a more patient teacher.[4] His piano skills, too, were a hit and miss affair, but his father arrived home one day surprised to find his son performing the Symphonic Studies by Robert Schumann on the family piano, revealing that he had learned it by himself in secret.[5]

Respighi studied the violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, composition with Giuseppe Martucci, and music history with Luigi Torchi, a scholar of early music. Respighi passed his exams and in 1899 received a diploma in violin. By the time his studies had finished he had acquired a large book collection, including many atlases and dictionaries, due to his interest in languages.[6]


In 1900, Respighi accepted the role of principal violist in the orchestra of the Russian Imperial Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia during its season of Italian opera. He found great influence as an operatic composer during this time, and it was there when he met Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose orchestrations he greatly admired.[7] Respighi studied orchestration with the composer for five months. Respighi returned to Bologna to continue his studies in composition, which earned him a second diploma. Until 1908, his principal activity was first violinist in the Mugellini Quintet, a touring quintet founded by composer Bruno Mugellini. Following his departure from the group, Respighi moved to Rome. He then spent some time performing in Germany before returning to Italy and turning his attention primarily to composition. Although many sources indicate he studied briefly with Max Bruch during his time in Germany, his wife later asserted that this was not the case.[8]

In 1909, Respighi's second opera Semirâma premiered, and was a considerable success. However, he fell asleep during the post-performance banquet from exhaustion of writing out the orchestral parts; his inconsistent sleeping patterns may have been caused by narcolepsy.[9]

External audio
  You may listen to Respighi's symphonic tone poems: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome here on

In 1913, Respighi was appointed professor of composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome and held the post for the rest of his life. In 1917, his international fame rose following multiple performances of the first of his orchestral tone poems, Fountains of Rome. Subsequent tone poems include Pines of Rome (1924), the Trittico Botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych; 1927; in three movements, Primavera, Adoration of the Magi, and Birth of Venus, after the paintings by Botticelli), Vetrate di Chiesa (Church Windows; 1927), and the Impressioni Brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions; 1928). Other notable orchestral works include the Sinfonia Drammatica (1914), in three movements, and the Metamorphoseon Modi XII (variations on the twelve musical modes, 1930).

In 1919, he married the composer and singer Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo who, at fourteen years his junior,[10] had been his composition pupil. In 1921, the couple relocated to a flat in Rome.[11]

From 1923 to 1926, Respighi was the director of the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. In 1925, he collaborated with Sebastiano Arturo Luciani on an elementary textbook entitled Orpheus. He was elected to the Royal Academy of Italy in 1932.

In December 1925, Respighi arrived in New York City for his first performances in the United States. His first public performance was the solo part for the premiere of his piano concerto, Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode (1925), at Carnegie Hall on 31 December. The concert was a success.[12]

Respighi's mature concertante works, the Concerto Gregoriano for Violin and Orchestra (1921), the Concerto in Modo Misolidio for Piano and Orchestra (Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode; 1925), the Poema Autunnale for Violin and Orchestra (Autumnal Poem; 1925), a Toccata for Piano and Orchestra (1928), and the Concerto à Cinque for Oboe, Trumpet, Violin, Bass, Piano and Strings (1933) were all performed shortly after completion, and were variously received. The Concerto Gregoriano and Concerto in Modo Misolidio have proven to be the most enduringly popular.

External video
  You may listen to Ottorino Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3 as conducted by Ronald Braunstein with his Me2/Orchestra in 2014 here on

Respighi's masterpieces for smaller forces include the Sonata in B minor (1917) for Violin and Piano, which is frequently performed and recorded, and the Quartetto Dorico (1923), a string quartet written in the Doric mode.

Although Respighi was one of the leading members of the Generazione dell'Ottanta (Generation of the 1880s), along with Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero, and Ildebrando Pizzetti, who were known primarily as composers of instrumental and orchestral music, he frequently composed for vocal forces and completed nine operas whose composition spanned his entire career. Notable works for voice and piano include a series of art songs (Storia Breve (1904), Luce (1906), Nebbie (1906), Nevicata (1906) to texts by Ada Negri), Deità Silvane (1917; voice and orchestral version 1926), and three Cantatas setting texts by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Aretusa (1911), Il Tramonto (The Sunset) (1914), and La Sensitiva (1914). The Lauda per la Natività del Signore (1928–30) and Il Tramonto are performed relatively frequently.

Respighi's operas fall broadly into three groups – the dramatic-tragic operas Semirama (1910), Marie Victoire (1912–14), La Campana Sommersa (1923–27), Maria Egiziaca (1928), La Fiamma (1931–34), and Lucrezia (completed Elsa Respighi, 1936), and the lighter works, Re Enzo (1905), Belfagor (1919–22), La Bella Dormente nel Bosco (Sleeping Beauty, 1916/1933). Respighi's operas after Marie Victoire were all set to libretti by his close collaborator, Claudio Guastalla. Although La Fiamma is Respighi's most frequently performed opera, La Campana Sommersa and Maria Egiziaca are his operatic masterpieces, written when he was at the height of his creative powers, and both Respighi and his wife Elsa considered La Campana Sommersa to be his finest work.

Aside from pastiches and the re-imagined/arrangement, La Boutique Fantasque (1918, on themes by Rossini), Respighi completed only two ballets, the Ballata delle Gnomidi (Gnomes' Ball, 1920) and Belkis, Regina di Saba (Belkis, Queen of Sheba, 1932, also to a libretto by Guastalla).

A visit to Brazil resulted in the composition Impressioni Brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions). He had intended to write a sequence of five pieces, but by 1928 he had completed only three, and decided to present what he had. Its first performance was in 1928 in Rio de Janeiro. The first piece, "Tropical Night", is a nocturne with fragments of dance rhythms suggested by the sensuous textures. The second piece is a sinister picture of a snake research institute, Instituto Butantan, that Respighi visited in São Paulo, with hints of birdsong (as in Pines of Rome). The final movement is a vigorous and colorful Brazilian dance.

On the ship back home from Brazil, Respighi met by chance with Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. During their long conversation, Fermi tried to get Respighi to explain music in terms of physics, which Respighi was unable to do. They remained close friends until Respighi's death.[13]

In 1928, Respighi completed his third Roman tone poem, Roman Festivals, in nine days. The piece premiered in 1929 at Carnegie Hall in New York City with Arturo Toscanini conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1929.[14] Toscanini recorded it twice for RCA Victor, first with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1942 and then with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1949. Respighi's music had considerable success in the US; his Toccata for piano and orchestra was premiered, with Respighi as soloist, under Willem Mengelberg with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in November 1928, and his Metamorphoseon was a commission for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Apolitical in nature, Respighi attempted to steer a neutral course once Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922. His established international fame allowed him some level of freedom, but at the same time encouraged the regime to exploit his music for political purposes. Respighi vouched for more outspoken critics such as Toscanini, allowing them to continue to work under the regime.[15]

Tomb of Respighi at Certosa di Bologna, Italy

Respighi was an enthusiastic scholar of Italian music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. He published editions of the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi, and of Benedetto Marcello's Didone. His work in this area influenced his later compositions and led to a number of works based on early music, notably his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances and the Suite Gli uccelli (The Birds). In his Neoclassical works, Respighi generally kept clear of the musical idiom of the classical period, preferring to combine pre-classical melodic styles and musical forms (like dance suites) with typical late-19th-century romantic harmonies and textures.

He continued to compose and tour until January 1936, when his health deteriorated. He died of endocarditis on 18 April that year, at the age of 56. A year after his burial, his remains were moved to his birthplace, Bologna, and reinterred at the city's expense at the Certosa di Bologna. Inscribed on his tomb are his name and crosses; dates of birth and death are missing.


Respighi, 1935



  • La Boutique fantasque (1918), borrows tunes from the 19th-century Italian composer Rossini. Premiered in London on 5 June 1919.
  • Sèvres de la vieille France (1920), transcription of 17th- to 18th-century French music
  • La Pentola magica (1920), based on popular Russian themes
  • Scherzo Veneziano (Le astuzie di Columbina) (1920)
  • Belkis, Regina di Saba (1932)


Use of the Phrygian mode on A in Respighi's Trittico Botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych, 1927).[16]  Play 

External audio
  You may listen to Respighi's orchestral transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 with Pierre Monteaux conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1949 here on


  • Nebbie (1906), voice and piano
  • Stornellatrice (1906), voice and piano
  • Cinque canti all'antica (1906), voice and piano
  • Il Lamento di Arianna (1908), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra[25]
  • Aretusa (text by Shelley) (1911), cantata for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • Tre Liriche (1913), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (Notte, Nebbie, Pioggia)[24]
  • La Sensitiva (The Sensitive Plant, text by Shelley) (1914), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • Il Tramonto (The sunset, text by Shelley) (1914), for mezzo-soprano and string quartet (or string orchestra)
  • Cinque liriche (1917), voice and piano
  • Quattro liriche (Gabriele D'Annunzio) (1920), voice and piano
  • La Primavera (The Spring, texts by Constant Zarian) (1922) lyric poem for soli, chorus and orchestra
  • Deità silvane (Woodland Deities, texts by Antonio Rubino) (1925), song-cycle for soprano and small orchestra
  • Lauda per la Natività del Signore (Laud to the Nativity, text attributed to Jacopone da Todi) (1930), a cantata for three soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor), mixed chorus (including substantial sections for 8-part mixed and TTBB male chorus), and chamber ensemble (woodwinds and piano 4-hands)


  • String Quartet in D major in one movement (undated)
  • String Quartet No. 1 in D major (1892–98)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in B-flat major (1898)
  • String Quartet in D major (1907)
  • String Quartet in D minor (1909) subtitled by composer "Ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst"
  • Quartetto Dorico or Doric String Quartet (1924)
  • Tre Preludi sopra melodie gregoriane, for piano (1921)
  • Violin Sonata in D minor (1897)
  • Violin Sonata in B minor (1917)
  • Piano Sonata in F minor
  • Variazioni, for guitar
  • Double Quartet in D minor (1901)
  • Piano Quintet in F minor (1902)
  • Six Pieces for Violin and Piano (1901–06)
  • Quartet in D major for 4 Viols (1906)
  • Huntingtower: Ballad for Band (1932)
  • String Quintet for 2 Violins, 1 Viola & 2 Violoncellos in G minor (1901, incomplete)

Biographical sourcesEdit

  • Respighi, Elsa (1955) Fifty Years of a Life in Music
  • Respighi, Elsa (1962) Ottorino Respighi, London: Ricordi
  • Nupen, Christopher (director) (1983) Ottorino Respighi: A Dream of Italy, Allegro Films
  • Cantù, Alberto (1985) Respighi Compositore, Edizioni EDA, Torino
  • Barrow, Lee G (2004) Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936): An Annotated Bibliography, Scarecrow Press
  • Viagrande, Riccardo, La generazione dell'Ottanta, Casa Musicale Eco, Monza, 2007
  • Daniele Gambaro, Ottorino Respighi. Un'idea di modernità nel Novecento, pp. XII+246, illustrato con esempi musicali, novembre 2011, Zecchini Editore, ISBN 978-88-6540-017-3


  1. ^ "Respighi, Ottorino". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  2. ^ "Respighi". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  3. ^ Respighi 1962, p. 7.
  4. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:02:05–00:02:35
  5. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:02:36–00:02:54
  6. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:11:55–00:12:10
  7. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:03:28–00:03:49
  8. ^ Respighi 1962, p. 25.
  9. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:05:40–00:06:11
  10. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:17:58–00:18:31
  11. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:12:10–00:12:50
  12. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:42:32–00:42:47
  13. ^ Spencer M. Di Scala, Ph.D., President of the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, in his introduction to a Christmas concert performed by the Italian Music Chorus of the Dante Alighieri Society at the Dante Alighieri Society headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, on December 6, 2009, which included Respighi's Lauda per la Natività del Signore.
  14. ^ Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi at 00:36:05–00:36:20
  15. ^ Liner notes from RCA Toscanini Edition CD Vol 32 (1990)
  16. ^ Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice: Volume II, p. 244. Eighth Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
  17. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Aria per archi, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2010
  18. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Leggenda for Violin and Orchestra, critical edition by Roberto Diem Tigani, Nuova Edizione, Roma, 2010, ISMN 979-0-705044-08-9 (full score), ISMN 979-0-705044-09-6 (parts)
  19. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Suite per archi, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2010
  20. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Humoreske for violin and orchestra, critical edition by Roberto Diem Tigani, Nuova Edizione, Roma, 2010, ISMN 979-0-705044-06-5 (full score), ISMN 979-0-705044-07-2 (parts)
  21. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Concerto per Violino (in La Maggiore), completed by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2009
  22. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Serenata per piccola orchestra, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2012
  23. ^ Ottorino Respighi, Suite in Sol Maggiore, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2011
  24. ^ a b Ottorino Respighi, Tre Liriche, orchestration completed by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2013
  25. ^ Claudio Monteverdi, orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi, Il Lamento di Arianna, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2012


  • Respighi, Elsa (1962). Ottorino Respighi. Ricordi.


External linksEdit