Ottorino Respighi


Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

RESPIGHI and BBC Music Magazine

BBC Radio 3 celebrated Respighi as Composer of the Month with daily broadcasts from 17-21 January, 2000 (9-10 a.m.) BBC Music Magazine also made Respighi Composer of the Month in their February edition (available from early January 2000). The article by Jeremy Siepmann was gratifyingly sympathetic but The Respighi Society officers, took grave exception to the sensationalistic display headings which once again sought to connect Respighi with Mussolini. They sent letters of protest to the Editor of the Magazine. Copies of this edition (and other back issues) of BBC Music Magazine can be obtained by contacting: BBC Music Magaziine, PO Box 279, Sittingbourne, Kent ME9 8DF, UK (order line: (+44) 01795 414749.e-mail:

A copy of Adriano's letter to the Editor of BBC Music Magazine is reproduced below:-

January 12th 2000

Dear Ms Wallace,

Jeremy Siepmann's article on Respighi in the February edition of BBC Music Magazine was generally sympathetic and useful but the sensationalist display subheadings associating Respighi with Mussolini distort the facts. I must also protest that the Respighi article in the 1980 edition of Grove is not "as good as you'll get".

I was a close friend of Respighi's widow, Elsa, from 1977 until her death in1996. Occasionally, we discussed the composer's attitude to Fascism when false accusations appeared in the media. I was allowed to read the composer's private correspondence and other documents, so I can therefore claim to know the true facts about Respighi and I feel obliged, in Elsa's and Ottorino's memory, to write this letter

There is much evidence to prove that Respighi was not Fascist; on the contrary, he was actually Anti-Fascist. Consider:-

1) Respighi never dedicated any composition to Mussolini, contrary to fellow-composers like Pizzetti, Casella and Malipiero.

2) In 1931, in Bologna, Respighi intervened to save Toscanini from a Fascist mob and railed against the regime for threatening the conductor.

3) Mussolini might have liked Respighi's Roman tone poems but that is surely no reflection on the composer. In any case, the Duce did not commission the works; they were inspired by Respighi's love of Rome and her past glory. Besides, the Roman Trilogy was played more frequently in Anti-Fascist countries at that time.

4) Nothing in Respighi's correspondence suggests any sympathy towards the Italian Fascists or their leader. Respighi was totally apolitical, he even refused to go to the Duce's receptions; he found Mussolini intimidating.

5) Respighi was no opportunist, he did not need to join any party or movement to further his career. His renown in Italy and abroad was great enough.

6) Respighi rued being nominated to membership of the Reale Accademia d'Italia when he realised that he was expected to wear a certain uniform. He only accepted because all his fellow-composers, both Fascists and Anti-Fascists had voted for him but he was not proud of it at all.

7) The final scene of Respighi's opera, Lucrezia, written in 1935-6, when Fascism was at its height, has a courageously hidden Anti-Fascist message. The outcries, "Death to the tyrants, you be leader, Brutus! - Freedom, to Rome!" sound as sincere and intentioned anti-regime - as Verdi's outcries a few decades earlier.

8) In 1942, Elsa Respighi's one-act opera Il dono di Alcesti won first prize of the SIAE (Italian Composer's Copyright Society) competition. Due to the war, however, a performance of the work, scheduled for La Scala, had to be postponed. After the war, an Italian publication proclaimed, "The widow of a Fascist has won first prize". Elsa immediately withdrew her work from publication and performance. For Elsa, the musical world of Italy would never be the same again.

Concerning Mr Siepmann's anecdote about the Respighi's having only borrowed furniture and no carpets in their flat at the Palazzo Borghese, I can tell you that this was not some eccentricity for they had a huge amount of furniture waiting in a storeroom to be used in larger rooms. Photographs prove that the floors were not bare, but full of carpets. It is an Italian custom, however, to put away the carpets in a flat during the summer season. Later on, in their splendid villa, "I Pini", the Respighi's would certainly not have borrowed furniture and it would certainly have been carpeted.

In conclusion, I would make a plea for more serious research, consideration and respect for one of the 20th century's greatest Italian composers.

Adriano, President, The Respighi Society.


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