OTTORINO RESPIGHI was born in Italy on July 9, 1897. As a boy, he took piano and violin lessons from his father, who as a piano teacher. His father made sure that Ottarino received further training in violin, viola, composition, and music studies. Finishing his certificate in violin, he went on to Russia to play in an orchestra which performed operas for the Russian royalty. What a wonderful opportunity for a young musician! What a huge change from his small town of Bologna, Italy to going to beautiful St. Petersburg, the capital of the huge country of Russia. Big changes bring new opportunities, and going to Russia opened the door for his to study composition under the influential composer Rimsky-Korsakov.
Respighi was a music lover, studying the music of the centuries before him, and clearly influenced by it. He is known as a composer, conductor, and musicologist which is just a fancy word to say that he seriously studied music.
Respighi (“Res-pee-ghee”) is known for these pieces: The Birds, The Pines of Rome, The Fountains of Rome, and his Ancient Airs and Dances. Clearly he loved Rome, as you can see it in his expressing his affection for it in his music. Have you ever drawn a picture of a favorite place or made up a song about it? If your inspiration for the music was something other than another piece of music, then your composition would be called a “tone poem.” Then you would be like Respighi!
Have you ever stopped and listened to the birds out in your yard or local part? Really listened and picked out their individual voices? Many composers have incorporated bird sounds in their pieces, and we’ll be listening to some of them in the future. Respighi, with his collection of pieces entitled, “The Birds,” he features a different bird per piece. Using the various instruments of the woodwind family, he creates the different sounds.
The dove, the clucking hen, the quiet nightingale, and even a cuckoo, which has a call much like the European cuckoo clocks which you may have heard. Each piece of the suite represents a different bird, then the final piece has all the birds joining in together! We’ve talked before about how composers will borrow musical ideas from one another, then create their own new piece from them? This is exactly what Respighi did, borrowing from various Baroque composers.
The Birds, performed here by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Louis Lane, conductor.
All of Respighi’s music makes me want to dance! He has just a joy and exuberance which he infuses.