RESPIGHI's LEGACY AS AT 75 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH IN APRIL
Respighi died 75 years ago, on 18 April 1936, in Rome. For decades
after his death, his music was largely ignored and with the
exception of his Roman Trilogy: Fountains of Rome, Pines
of Rome and Roman Festivals,
plus one or two other works.
Very few recordings of the multitude of these other works, in
all musical genres, appeared until the last two decades of the
century. One of the composer’s most ardent and
consistent champions is the composer, and conductor Adriano
who has recorded many of Respighi’s works mainly for the Marco
Polo recording company. Adriano was also President of the now,
alas, defunct Respighi Society.
'Adriano, portrait by Dan Oria (2011)'
MusicWeb International asked him to survey Respighi’s legacy
as at April 2011.
We asked him:
1) After all this time do you think erroneous associations
of Respighi with the Italian fascist movement continues to impede
wider recognition of his true worth as a composer in the context
of Italian music as a whole?
There are still musicologists today who, like parrots, repeat
without really researching what their earlier colleagues had
previously written. This Fascist business always sounds spicy,
especially as far as Respighi’s totally unfounded association
with Fascism is concerned. It seems as though those writers
could not find anything more interesting to say about Respighi.
Funnily enough, Richard Strauss, who sympathized with Hitler
and had glorified his Olympic games of 1936 with a pompous opening
Hymn, seems to be treated better by musicologists. And, contrary
to his fellow composers (Pizzetti for one) Respighi did not
dedicate any of his compositions to Mussolini.
Just a couple of months ago, I had to write a critical letter
to a renowned musicologist, who had contributed to the program
of Berlin’s 2010 production of Respighi’s opera Marie Victoire,
Such a shame that he could not find more constructive things
to say about Respighi than to rake up that worn-out Fascist
theme again. He even went on to quote that absurd assertion
that Respighi was childish, by thoughtlessly repeating that
old Grove Dictionary of Music text by a contributor who at that
time was so ignorant of Respighi’s real life and character –
which I had also studied over many years by reading an enormous
amount of documents from his private correspondence and with
Elsa Respighi’s personal collaboration for which I will be eternally
I think my own arguments about Respighi and Fascism, which I
had published in January 2000 in connection with a silly article
in the BBC Music Magazine, are so far the most plausible
and researched ones in defence of the composer, who, incidentally,
abhorred any form of politics.
2) Could it be that Italian operatic music tends to drown
out the voices of Italian composers of non-operatic music? -
Even though Respighi wrote so many operas himself; operas which
too often have tended to be denigrated: some commentators have
even suggested, for instance that his operas are strong on orchestration
but the vocal parts are too weak. Maybe you might like to refute
this and other criticisms of his operas?
Those writers who say that Respighi’s operas are only strong
on orchestration have no idea! They surely must be ignorant
of the fact that, in comparison with Verdi and Puccini, Respighi
wrote some 80 songs with piano and a half dozen cantatas; and
that he had studied Monteverdi’s operas! No other Italian composer
was as highly cultured as Respighi. He even wrote an opera from
a French libretto and was able to write in different musical
styles – even in Neo-Baroque – and he was also an expert in
Medieval music. Furthermore, Respighi spoke not only one, but
two or more foreign languages more than Verdi or Puccini.
The problem with Respighi’s operas is that, like so many others,
they are not considered to be ‘mainstream’; therefore singers
and conductors are averse to spending a lot of time and energy
studying them. It’s so much more convenient to concentrate endlessly
on the usual repertoire that allows agents and opera managers
to make money that much easier. Furthermore, Respighi’s operas
require very talented singers and the chorus parts (especially
those of La Fiamma) are extremely demanding. And, in
any case, Respighi’s La Fiamma, and his works like La
campana sommersa and Semirâma are masterworks; and
they have libretti that are not at all silly or boring.
3) Could it be that the Bologna/Rome rift might still be
having an adverse affect on Respighi’s reputation?
This rift has been long since forgotten and has no influence
at all on Respighi’s tremendous worldwide reputation. Yet, musical
life in Italy has become totally perverse and politically-linked
during these last years that even world-known Italian stars
have decided not to honour their country with their presence
4) Can you see evidence of new and upcoming conductors taking
up Respighi’s cause?
There is no need to take up Respighi’s cause any more, since
he is loved, performed and recorded everywhere. Some conductors
of the newer generation try, unfortunately, with questionable
promotional tricks to make themselves important by using or
even abusing Respighi’s name. I am thinking of a recent case
in the USA.
5) Would you like to nominate some Respighi recordings that
have appeared over the last ten years or so that have impressed
Adriano gave a very full reply to this question and we are
reproducing it below as Appendix 1, below
6) Looking forward to the centenary of Respighi’s death in
2036, would you care to prophesy how his reputation might stand
I am no prophet, but I am sure, that his most popular works
will remain constantly in the repertoire because Respighi’s
music is so marvellous to listen to, and wonderful to play.
The works are perfect vehicles for good conductors and good
orchestras. Nobody asks whether Richard Strauss’s tone poems
will survive or not! But, considering today’s music industry
and, increasingly, mankind’s intellectual and cultural degeneration,
I am concerned that even before the year 2036, there could be
less than pleasant surprises in all facets of art.
7) If we were to ask you, looking further forward into the
future, which of his works will stand the test of time, which
ones would they be? Would you like to nominate about ten, please?
In answer, I would mention my 10 personally favorite works by
Respighi, which I have stored in my iPod. I would have to take
these along to my desert island, provided there would be electricity
available or enough solar energy.
1) La campana sommersa
3) La primavera
4) La Fiamma
5) Concerto in modo misolidio
6) Concerto gregoriano
7) Il tramonto
8) La sensitiva
9) Quartetto dorico
10) Fontane di Roma
Appendix 1 Adriano’s assessment of recordings of Respighi’s
music as per question 5 above.
Firstly, I must mention an excellent 2003 live recording, on
the Accord label, of a concert performance of Respighi’s ‘key’
opera La campana sommersa by Friedemann Layer, conducting
the Montpellier Orchestra, with Laura Aikin and John Daszak
in the main roles.
Particularly exciting was the 3-CD collection of Respighi’s
complete works for violin and piano, magnificently played by
the German duo Ilona Then-Bergh and Michael Schäfer on the Genuin
label. These performances were produced between 2004 and 2009
and include not only Respighi’s original works, but also his
transcriptions of old Italian violin pieces by Tartini, Locatelli,
Veracini, Porpora, Vivaldi and Valentini. In 2007, the same
label also issued an orchestral CD with the Suite from Belkis,
regina di Saba, coupled with Rimsky’s Sheherazade.
The Italian label, Tactus, issued 4 CDs of chamber music by
Respighi; as well as his original violin and piano and solo
piano or organ works - all between 2001 and 2008. Another Italian
label, Stradivarius, concentrated on Respighi’s songs with piano
accompaniment on 3 separate CDs, issued between 2007 and 2010.
In 2005 and 2006, Exton (Japan) published 2 CDs conducted by
Vladimir Ashkenazy, with the Roman Triptych, the Belfagor
Overture, Church Windows and the Suite from Belkis.
CPO, a German label issued 2 new recordings in 2006 and 2010
with ballets (including the complete Boutique fantasque),
and the cantatas Aretusa and La Sensitiva.
In 2001, Reference Recordings (USA) issued 2 CDs with Pini
di Roma, Ballata delle Gnomidi, Belkis
(Suite) and Etudes-Tableaux (after Rachmaninov). BIS
issued the Roman Triptych conducted by John Neschling in 2010
and Il tramonto coupled with 2 string quartets with the
New Hellenic Quartet in 2006.
Looking at labels that published only a few Respighi CDs in
the last decade: EMI issued Anthony Pappano’s version of the
Roman Triptych, coupled with Il tramonto, RCA
published a recording of Adagio con variazioni with Sol
Gabetta and Decca issued Julia Fischer’s recording of Poema
autunnale, both recordings added these Respighi shorter
pieces as encores of the Elgar Cello concerto and of concert
pieces by Vaughan Williams, Chausson and Suk respectively.
In addition recent recordings have included:-
From DG, in 2004: Metamorfoseon, Rossiniana, Burlesca
and Bach’s Passacaglia with George Hanson conducing the
From Chandos (producing its 18th CD containing music by Respighi):
a 2006 disc with Burlesca; Preludio, corale e fuga; Rossiniana
and Five Etudes-Tableaux, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.
From Ondine in 2010: Concerto in modo misolidio and Fontane
di Roma, conducted by Sakari Oramo.
The Marquis label, in 2009, issued Concerto gregoriano
with soloist José Miguel Cueto, accompanied by the St. Petersburg
The Turkish label Onyx Classics issued the Belkis Suite,
coupled with pieces by Hindemith and Florent Schmitt (2010)
Naxos continues its Respighi series with an excellent recording
of Church Windows, Impressioni brasiliane and
Rossiniana, conducted by JoAnn Falletta (2007). At the
same time they have reissued some of those pioneering Respighi
CDs which I recorded myself on their related Marco Polo label
in the 1990s, such as La Primavera, (a demanding work
- so far I am alone in having recorded it) and some symphonic
pieces which, in the meantime, have been recorded on other labels
by better conductors, better orchestras and with better sonics.
Channel Classics completed its remarkable 3-CD series of Respighi’s
songs with piano in 2006.
My own orchestration of Respighi’s 4-hand piano pieces of 1926.
I was disappointed that I was unable to record this for Marco
Polo. I saw its premiere on the Italian Inedita label in 2007,
on a CD that also included Respighi rarities such as his Humoresque
and Leggenda - all conducted by Roberto Diem Tigani and
his Sassari Symphony Orchestra.
Finally, I am happy to see my own historical documents of Respighi
songs with mezzo-soprano Elsa Respighi and her husband at the
piano reissued on a CD with the 4-hand piano version of Fountains
of Rome - as played by Respighi and Alfredo Casella in 1925
on the Welte Mignon. This is available on the Pierian label.
Besides the above exciting list of about 30 CDs, there are some
historical reissues - like the quite unsurpassable Italian RAI
concert productions of La Fiamma, of 1955 and La campana
sommersa of 1956, both on the GOP label - and some new,
usually noisy brass band arrangement CDs of Pines … and
Festivals … from USA and Britain.
A rather unnecessary flux of new recordings of Antiche danze
ed arie and of the Roman Triptych would enlarge
my list considerably. Looking at these many CD versions (new
and reissued ones) of those popular pieces I just ask myself
why they were produced and who is going to buy them over and
over again – considering today’s low purchasing figures. Just
consider that there are now around 70 recorded versions of Pini
di Roma made since 1929, meaning that every year one new
recording of Pini has been produced, either in the original
or in a brass band version. Some of the very old ones have been
repeatedly reissued, first on LP and then on CD – not to mention
what floats around endlessly on the internet!
Appendix 2 Adriano contributes this useful list of Respighi
Elsa Respighi’s book, Ottorino Respighi, is a 340 page’s
biography, first published in Italian by Ricordi in 1954. Elsa
spent many years of hard work on it. The English version is
but a poor digest, as edited by its translator Gwyn Morris,
and simultaneously translated into both French and German. In
addition to this book, Elsa Respighi also wrote a very valuable
study of Respighi’s stage works and a personal memoir, 50
years of a Life in Music, a major part of which was devoted
to the years she spent with Respighi. This latter book has also
been translated into English and was published by the Edwin
Mellen Press in 1993. Another book, published in English, by
Treves in 1986, in the ‘Portrait of Greatness’ series, is a
generously illustrated biography by Pierluigi Alverà.
As far as books on Respighi still to be translated from the
Italian are concerned, there is a very important 470-page ‘symposium’
book, that has contributions from 13 Italian musicologist. This
book was published in 1985 by ERI (Edizione RAI, Radiotelevisione
Two other important books by Italian musicologists are: a study
with analyses of Respighi’s works by Alberto Cantù (Edizioni
EDA, 1985) and a book on Respighi’s youthful piano compositions
by Potito Pedrarra (Rugginenti, 1995).
Those who may need more bibliographical information on Respighi
should consult an admirably detailed and interesting “Annotated
Bibliography” by Lee G. Barrow, which was published by the Scarecrow
Press in 2004 (250 pages) and also includes a select Discography
and a catalogue of Respighi’s works.
Interviewer: Ian Lace