Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi

Respighi, Ottorino, 1879-1936, Italian composer, studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and Max Bruch. He was director (1924-25) of the Conservatory of St. Cecilia, Rome, afterward teaching advanced composition there until his death. Among his romantic symphonic poems are The Fountains of Rome (1917), The Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1929), which evoke Italian scenes and show him a master of orchestration. He wrote other orchestral works, chamber music, piano pieces, and operas, including Belfagor (1923; a comic opera), The Sunken Bell (1927; based on Hauptmann's Die versunkene Glocke), The Flame (1934), and the posthumously produced Lucrezia (1937), which was finished by his wife, Elsa.

See biography by E. Respighi (tr. 1962).

For the astronomer, see Lorenzo Respighi (1824—1889). For the crater named after Lorenzo Respighi, see Respighi (crater).

Ottorino Respighi (July 9, 1879 - April 18, 1936) was an Italian composer, musicologist and conductor. He is best known for his orchestral Roman trilogy: Fontane di Roma - "Fountains of Rome"; Pini di Roma - "Pines of Rome"; and Feste Romane - "Roman Festivals". His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to also compose pieces based on the music of this period.

Born in Bologna, he studied composition with Giuseppe Martucci, and briefly with Max Bruch and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Principally a violinist until 1908, he then turned primarily to composition. He lived in Rome from 1913.


Ottorino Respighi was born in Bologna, Italy. He was taught piano and violin by his father, who was a local piano teacher. He continued studying violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, composition with Giuseppe Martucci, and historical studies with Luigi Torchi, a scholar of early music. In 1900, Respighi went to Russia to be principal violist in the orchestra of the Russian Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg during its season of Italian opera; while there he studied composition for five months with Rimsky-Korsakov. He also had composition lessons with Max Bruch in 1902 in Berlin. Until 1908 his principal activity was as first violin in the Mugellini Quintet, before turning his attention entirely to composition.

Respighi moved to Rome in 1913 and lived there for the rest of his life, after being appointed a teacher of composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. He married a former pupil, singer Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo, in 1919. From 1923 to 1926 he was director of the Conservatorio. In 1925 he collaborated with Sebastiano Arturo Luciani on an elementary textbook entitled Orpheus.

Respighi maintained an uneasy relationship with Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party during his later years. He vouched for more outspoken critics such as Arturo Toscanini, allowing them to continue to work under the regime. Feste Romane, the third part of his Roman trilogy, was premiered by Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1929; Toscanini recorded the music twice for RCA Victor, first with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1942 and then with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1949, and RCA released both versions, first on LP and then CD. Respighi's music had considerable success in the USA: the Toccata for piano and orchestra was premiered (with Respighi as soloist) under Willem Mengelberg with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in November 1928, and the large-scale theme and variations entitled Metamorphoseon was a commission for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In his role as musicologist, Respighi was also an enthusiastic scholar of Italian music of the 16th-18th centuries. He published editions of the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi, and of Benedetto Marcello's Didone. Because of his devotion to these older figures and their styles of composing, it is tempting to see him as a typical exponent of Neo-classicism. In fact, Neo-Renaissance or Neo-Baroque would probably more accurately describe his compositions that are based on earlier work. Respighi generally kept clear of the musical idiom of the classical period, unlike most neo-classical composers. He preferred combining pre-classical melodic styles and musical forms (like dance suites) with typical late 19th century romantic harmonies and textures.

He died in his Roman villa named "I Pini". A year after his burial, his remains were moved to his birthplace Bologna and reinterred at the city's expense.




  • La Boutique fantasque (1918), which borrows tunes from the 19th century composer Rossini. This had its premiere in London on 5 June, 1919.
  • Belkis, Regina di Saba (1930), his last work for ballet
  • Le astuzie de Columbina
  • Sevres de la vieille France
  • La Pentola magica


  • The Roman trilogy (three symphonic poems with a Roman theme)
  • Brazilian Impressions (1928)
  • Ancient Airs and Dances
  • Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows) (1925), based on Tre Preludi e sopra gregoriane for piano (1919)
  • Gli Uccelli (The Birds) (1927), based on Baroque pieces imitating birds
  • Metamorphoseon Modi XII: Tema e Variazioni (1930)
  • Trittico Botticelliano
  • Suite in E major
  • Sinfonia Drammatica
  • Burlesca
  • Symphonic Variations
  • Carnival Overture
  • Rossiniana: Suite for Orchestra
  • Ballata delle Gnomidi (Dance of the Gnomes), based on a poem by Claudio Clausetti


  • Piano
    • Piano Concerto in A minor (1902)
    • Fantasia Slava (1903)
    • Concerto in modo misolidio (Concerto in the Mixolydian mode) (1925)
    • Toccata for Piano and Orchestra (1928)
  • Violin
    • Violin Concerto in A minor ("Concerto all'antica") (1908)
    • Concerto Gregoriano (1921)
    • Poema Autunnale (Autumn Poem) (1920-5)
  • Adagio con variazioni (1920), for cello and orchestra
  • Concerto a cinque (Concerto for Five) (1933), for oboe, trumpet, piano, viola d'amore, double-bass, and strings


  • Lauda per la Natività del Signore (Laud to the Nativity) (1930), a cantata for three soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor), chorus (including substantial sections for 8-part mixed chorus and TTBB male chorus), and chamber ensemble (woodwinds and piano)
  • Aretusa, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • La Sensitiva, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • Il Tramonto, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet (or string orchestra)


  • String Quartets
    • String Quartet in D Major in one movement (undated)
    • String Quartet No.1 in D Major (1892-98)
    • String Quartet No.2 in B flat Major (1898)
    • String Quartet in D Major [1907)
    • String Quartet in D minor (1909) subtitled by composer "Ernst is das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst"
    • Quartetto Dorico or Doric String Quartet (1924)
  • Tre Preludi e sopra gregoriane, for piano
  • Violin Sonata in B minor
  • Variazioni, for guitar
  • Double Quartet in D minor (1901)
  • Piano Quintet in F minor (1902)
  • Six Pieces for Violin & Piano (1901-06)
  • Quartet in D Major for 4 Viols (1906)
  • Several instrumental sonatas
  • String Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas & Violoncello (undated)

Note: The bulk of the above compositions have not been published and are in manuscript at the conservatories in Bologna and Rome. Three String Quartets (1907, 1909 & 1924) and the Piano Quintet have been published.

Selected Recordings

Note: The Roman Trilogy is one of the most ubiquitous works in the catalogue, and has been recorded by all the major world ensembles under many prominent conductors. The recording of the first two with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the most respected in the catalogue and features prominently in recommended listings in such publications as the Good CD Guide and the Penguin Guide to CDs.

Biographical Sources

  • Respighi, Elsa (1955) Fifty Years of a Life in Music
  • Respighi, Elsa (1962) Ottorino Respighi, London: Ricordi
  • Nupen, Christopher (director) (1983) Ottorino Respighi: A Dream of Italy, Allegro Films
  • Barrow, Lee G (2004) "Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936): An Annotated Bibliography, Scarecrow Press


External links

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