Roman Festivals (Respighi)

Roman Festivals (Italian: Feste romane) is a symphonic poem written in 1928[1] by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. It is the third orchestral work in his "Roman trilogy", preceded by Fountains of Rome (1916) and Pines of Rome (1924). Each of the four movements depicts a scene of celebration from ancient or modern Rome. It is the longest and most demanding of the trilogy,[2] and is less often programmed than its companion pieces. Its premiere was performed by the New York Philharmonic with conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1929.


The first movement, "Circus Games" ("Circenses"), depicts the ancient contests in which gladiators battled to the death, with the sound of trumpet fanfares. Strings and woodwinds suggest the plainchant of the first Christian martyrs which are heard against the snarls of the beasts against which they are pitted. The movement ends with violent orchestral chords, complete with organ pedal, as the martyrs succumb.

Next, the Jubilee ("Giubileo"), portrays the every-fiftieth-year festival in the Papal tradition (see Christian Jubilee). Respighi quotes the German Easter hymn, Christ ist erstanden. Pilgrims approaching Rome catch a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background.

The third movement, "Harvest of October" ("L'Ottobrata"), represents the harvest and hunt festival in Rome. The French horn solo celebrates the harvest as bells and a mandolin portray love serenades.

The final movement, "Epiphany" ("La Befana"), takes place in the Piazza Navona. Trumpets sound again and create a festive clamour of Roman songs and dances, including a barrel organ and a drunken reveler depicted by a solo tenor trombone.


Feste romane is scored for the following large orchestra, including some unusual instruments intended to suggest music of earlier times:[3][4]

1 Respighi noted that the Buccine may be replaced by trumpets, a substitution which most modern orchestras make.[2]

Performance historyEdit

Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic premiered the music in Carnegie Hall on 21 February 1929.[2] Toscanini recorded it with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Academy of Music in 1942 for RCA Victor. He recorded it again with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in 1949, again for RCA. Both recordings were issued on LP and CD. Indeed, the 1949 performance pushed the very limits of the recording equipment of the time as Toscanini insisted the engineers capture all of the dynamics of the music, especially in "Circus Games" and "Epiphany".

The piece was first performed in Italy at the Augusteo in Rome on 17 March 1929, by the Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia under Bernardino Molinari.[5]


This work was transcribed (in the original key) for the United States Marine Band by Don Patterson in 2010. This transcription was recorded on the CD Feste, conducted by Michael J. Colburn.


  • The movement "Circenses" was played on BBC Radio 4 Educational Radio series in the 1980s, Roman Britain during an introduction.
  • The movement "Circenses" was used in the 1947 American film Fireworks.
  • The movement "Circenses" appeared in Sydney New Year's Eve in 2003/2004.


  1. ^ "Oxford Dictionary of Music". Retrieved 7 July 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c Freed, Richard. "Program notes to Feste romane". Kennedy Center. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Rodman, Michael. "Feste romane (Roman Festivals), symphonic poem, P.157".
  4. ^ Mangum, John. "Feste romane".
  5. ^ Concert program from Italian premiere.

External linksEdit