1928: Respighi: Roman Festivals: age 49

Mr. Peabody Says:

This is yet another composition that could be right out of Star Wars. It’s striking to hear music written in the first quarter of the 20th century that would sound great in a movie written right now. This is the least favorite of the Roman Trilogy, but it is by far my favorite. The contrasts and colors are simply amazing.

Giuseppe Sinopoli/ New York Philharmonic Orchestra

Total time: 25:35


  • 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in Bb and A,
    piccolo clarinet in D, bass clarinet in Bb and A, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon
  • 4 horns in F, 4 trumpets in Bb and A, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, bass tuba, 3 soprano buccine in Bb
  • timpani, bells, glockenspiel, cymbals, bass drum with cymbals, field drum, snare drum, ratchet, sleigh bells, tambourine, tam-tam, triangle, high and low wood blocks (horse hooves), xylophone
  • piano (2 and 4 hands), organ
  • mandolin
  • strings

The Buccine may be replaced by trumpets, a substitution which most modern orchestras make.


His conducting was controversial, with some disliking  his interpretations but others wildly enthusiastic about those same interpretations.

Roman trilogy:

This is the third orchestral work in his “Roman trilogy”, preceded by Fountains of Rome (1916) and Pines of Rome (1924).

Roman Festivals:

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, and is less often programmed than its companion pieces. Its premiere was performed by the New York Philharmonic with conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1929.

I. Circus Games

The first movement 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.

II. Jubilee

Jubilee portrays the every-fiftieth-year festival in the Papal tradition Respighi quotes the German Easter hymn, “Christ Is Risen”. Pilgrims approaching Rome catch a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background.

III. Harvest of October

The third movement represents the harvest and hunt festival in Rome. The French horn solo celebrates the harvest as bells and a mandolin portray love serenades.

IV. Epiphany

The final movement 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.

Performance history:

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, and that is remarkable because it was performed first in the US. Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic premiered the music in Carnegie Hall on 21 February 1929.

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”.

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