1924: Respighi: Pines of Rome, age 45

Mr. Peabody Says:

Reiner’s recording is legendary, The music is supposed to shake an auditorium, so it’s a fine piece for checking out a top audio system. Sinopoli’s recording for me is neck and neck with Reiner’s, and there is a bonus. He recording gives us the whole Roman Trilogy, and the score is wonderful to see what is really going on.

Giuseppe Sinopoli /New York Philharmonic Orchestra

  1. 16:21 Pines of the Villa Borghese 2:49
  2. 19:10 The Pines Near a Catacomb 6:50
  3. 26:20 The Pines of the Janiculum 7:10
  4. 33:30 The Pines of the Appian Way 6:12 (End: 39:42)

Total length: 23:21

Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra

This is a “Living Stereo” recording from 1959 and 1920, and the sound is amazing.

  1. 41:14 Pines of the Villa Borghese 2:44
  2. 43: 58 The Pines Near a Catacomb 6:51
  3. 50:49 The Pines of the Janiculum 6:23
  4. 57:12 The Pines of the57:12 Appian Way 5:13 (End: 102:25)

Total length: 21:11

Instruments:

  • three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets in Bb and A, bass clarinet in Bb and A, two bassoons, contrabassoon
  • four horns in F and E, three trumpets in Bb, two tenor trombones, bass trombone, contrabass trombone, six buccine in Bb (two sopranos, two tenors, two basses; usually played on flugelhorns and saxhorns)
  • timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, two small cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, ratchet, tambourine, glockenspiel
  • organ, piano, celesta; harp
  • strings.
  • gramophone

I. Pines of the Villa Borghese

This movement portrays children playing by the pine trees in the Villa Borghese gardens, dancing the Italian equivalent of the nursery rhyme “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” and “mimicking marching soldiers and battles; twittering and shrieking like swallows”. The Villa Borghese, a villa located within the grounds, is a monument to the Borghese family, who dominated the city in the early seventeenth century.

II. The Pines Near a Catacomb

In the second movement, the children suddenly disappear and shadows of pine trees that overhang the entrance of a Roman catacomb dominates. It is a majestic dirge, conjuring up the picture of a solitary chapel in the deserted Campagna; open land, with a few pine trees silhouetted against the sky. A hymn is heard, the sound rising and sinking again into some sort of catacomb, the cavern in which the dead are immured. An offstage trumpet plays the hymn. Lower orchestral instruments, plus the organ pedal at 16′ and 32′ pitch, suggest the subterranean nature of the catacombs, while the trombones and horns represent priests chanting.

III. The Pines of the Janiculum

The third is a nocturne set on Janiculum hill. The full moon shines on the pines that grow on the hill of the temple of Janus, the double-faced god of doors and gates and of the new year. Respighi took the opportunity to have the sound of a nightingale recorded onto a phonograph and requested in the score that it be played at the movement’s ending, the first such instance in music. The original score also mentions a specific recording that references a Brunswick Panatrope record player. According to author Martin Brody, the nightingale was recorded in the yard of the McKim Building of the American Academy in Rome situated on Janiculum hill.

IV. The Pines of the Appian Way

Respighi recalls the past glories of the Roman empire in a representation of dawn on the great military road leading into Rome. The final movement portrays pine trees along the Appian Way in the misty dawn, as a triumphant legion advances along the road in the brilliance of the newly-rising sun. Respighi wanted the ground to tremble under the footsteps of his army and he instructs the organ to play bottom Bb on the 8 foot, 16 foot and 32 foot organ pedals. The score calls for six buccine – ancient circular trumpets that are usually represented by modern flugelhorns, and which are sometimes partially played offstage. Trumpets peal and the consular army rises in triumph to the Capitoline Hill.

Background:

Pines of Rome is the second of Respighi’s trilogy of tone poems based on the city, along with Fountains of Rome (1917) and Roman Festivals (1928). It premiered on 14 December 1924 in Rome. There are no breaks between the movements other than the briefest of pauses, so without knowing the music you not hear where each movement stops.

Similar to that of a symphony, the piece is a suite of four movements, each depicting pine trees located in different areas in the city of Rome at different times of the day. Respighi wrote a short description of each movement.

Most recorded:

Pines of Rome is easily the most prolifically recorded of all Respighi’s works, frequently released as part of his trilogy of Roman-inspired works, but just as often not. As of 2018, more than 100 recordings of the piece are currently available on physical media alone.

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