The Pines of Rome

The Pines of Rome: Music of Time & Place
March 19, 2016

6:30 p.m. – Know the Score | 7:30 p.m. – Concert
Bill Heard Theatre, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts

Higdon: blue cathedral
Respighi: Fountains of Rome
Bartok: Hungarian Sketches
Respighi: Pines of Rome

No one makes an orchestra sound more glorious than Ottorino Respighi.  No music evokes time and place like the music on this concert, from a simple Hungarian to the majesty of a Roman legion marching down the ancient Appian Way.

blue cathedral – Jennifer Higdon

Born December 31, 1962, in Brooklyn New York

This work was premiered in March 1, 2000, by the Curtis Institute of Music Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano. It is scored for piccolo, two flutes, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, piano, celesta, timpani, percussion, and strings. However, numerous percussion instruments are played by many non-percussionist members of the orchestra.

Jennifer Higdon represents two diverse streams of music seldom heard in the concert hall. First, she is a woman and, even in today’s society of inclusion, few women composers are represented on orchestra programs. Her other distinction is that her music is newly composed and, therefore, not yet among the ‘Top Forty’ pieces that make up the traditional canon from which most orchestra programs are drawn. Of course, these standard works are all from the usual roster of dead, white, European or European-trained, male composers.

Greatness is often achieved by young composers, but finding an original musical voice and garnering recognition usually takes years. Because of her undeniable talent and vision, Higdon has been the recipient of great adulation in the musical world. She was nominated for three Grammy® Awards in 2005 resulting from her fruitful collaboration with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and conductor Robert Spano. By her early forties, Higdon’s works have been performed by ensembles throughout the world.

blue cathedral (Higdon’s lower-case) resulted from a 1999 commission from the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia to commemorate their seventy-fifth anniversary. However, the work’s emotional roots are deeper and much more personal. Higdon described its meaning in conjunction with its premiere in March, 2000:

“Blue…like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. In a school where talent and ability are not a question, the sky is the limit. Cathedrals…a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression…serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth. In so many ways, Curtis fits this description perfectly; it is a house of knowledge – a place to reach towards that beautiful expression of the soul which comes through music. Coming to the writing of this piece at a unique juncture in my life, I found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make, especially at Curtis, where the pursuit of “the singing soul” is what music and life are all about. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the whole of the group…our journeys and the places our souls carry us.”

She describes her vision of the work,

“When I began blue cathedral, it was the one-year anniversary of my (younger) brother’s death, so I was pondering a lot of things about the journey we make after death…I was imagining a traveler on a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky (therefore making it a blue color)

 …I wanted the music to sound like it was progressing into this constantly opening space, feeling more and more celebratory

 …As the journey progresses, the individual would float higher and higher above the floor, soaring towards an expanding ceiling where the heart would feel free and joyful.”

Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) – Ottorino Respighi

Born July 9, 1879, in Bologna, Italy – Died April 18, 1936, in Rome, Italy

The world premiere of this work was given by conductor Antonio Guarnieri in the Teatro Augusteo in Rome on March 11, 1917. It is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, organ, celesta, two harps, and strings. 

Though he later appeared in public, both as a conductor and a pianist, Respighi began his career as a violinist shortly after he graduated from the Liceo Musicale Rossini in Bologna in 1901. Around 1905 Respighi turned his attention to the historic viola d’amore and he became quite adept at the performance of early Italian scores for the instrument. In time his interest was extended to the arrangement of a considerable amount of Renaissance and early Baroque music. He transcribed Frescobaldi’s Toccatas and Fugues for piano and created a modern edition of Monteverdi’s Lamento di Arianna. He made orchestral arrangements of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major, Passacaglia in C Minor, and three of his chorales. The year before he died, Respighi edited and orchestrated Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Respighi was not content merely to rearrange and transcribe old music. However, many of his mature works employ the traditional church modes. Two of his most successful efforts were his twin suites of Ancient Airs and Dances. His trilogy Fountains of RomePines of Rome, and Roman Festivals, original works not based in antiquity, are probably his most popular pieces, holding important positions in the concert repertoire to this day.

Shortly after Respighi moved to Rome in 1913 and became a professor at the Santa Cecilia Academy, he became acquainted with the city’s concert life. He got to know the capabilities of the Roman orchestras and resolved to write a work depicting certain aspects of the city. Roman Festivals was the first of the three tone poems.

Respighi described the piece in detail:

“In this symphonic poem the composer has endeavored to give expression to the sentiments and visions suggested to him by four of Rome’s fountains contemplated at the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or in which their beauty appears most impressive to the observer.

“The first part of the poem, inspired by the fountain of Valle Giulia, depicts a pastoral landscape: droves of cattle pass and disappear in the fresh damp mists of a Roman dawn.

 A sudden loud and insistent blast of horns above the whole orchestra introduces the second part, The Triton Fountain.

 It is like a joyous call, summoning troops of naiads and tritons, who come running up, pursuing each other and mingling in a frenzied dance between the jets of water.

“Next there appears a solemn theme borne on the undulations of the orchestra. It is the fountain of Trevi at mid-day. The solemn theme, passing from the woodwind to the brass instruments, assumes a triumphal character. Trumpets peal: across the radiant surface of the water there passes Neptune’s chariot drawn by sea-horses, and followed by a train of sirens and tritons.

 The procession then vanishes while faint trumpet blasts resound in the distance. The fourth part, The Villa Medici Fountain, is announced by a sad theme which rises above a subdued warbling.

 It is the nostalgic hour of sunset. The air is full of the sound of tolling bells, birds twittering, leaves rustling.

 Then all dies peacefully into the silence of the night.”


Hungarian Sketches, Sz. 97 – Béla Bartók

Born March 25, 1881, Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary
Died September 26, 1945, New York, New York

Four movements of this work were premiered on January 24, 1932, in Budapest, Hungary, by the Budapest Concert Orchestra conducted by Massimo Freccia. The first complete performance was on November 26, 1934, in Budapest by the Philharmonic Society Orchestra conducted by Heinrich Laber. It is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.

Hungarian composer Béla Bartók had a dedication to music that rivals that of any composer. He had a burning interest in the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and the other countries of Eastern Europe. The area was so rich with folk music that Bartók felt the need to collect and codify it, so he set out in the early years of the twentieth century with a wax cylinder recorder to visit some of the world’s most remote villages. His recordings are still valuable to researchers today, as many of the traditions recorded therein have been lost to modern ideas of progress.

In his concert music, Bartók’s dedication reaches a new level. He believed that one of the prime indicators of musical worth is its structure, so he filled his works with structural elements that continue to amaze researchers. Many of his works reflect mathematical principles. For instance, Bartók often used the Golden Ratio of 1.618, a phenomenon that occurs in nature, but was also used by the ancient Greeks as an important element of design. In his music, major events – changes of keys, dynamics, or formal sections – often occur 61.8% of the way through a work. This often goes much further with the same ratio occurring within the resulting sections. Much has been written of these relationships for those who wish to pursue the fascinating subject even further.

Bartók’s output is vast and varied. He composed stage works, including the psychological opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin. For the piano, his own instrument, he composed three concerti and numerous solo works, including the multi-volume educational series entitled Mikrokosmos. There are numerous chamber works (his six string quartets are the most significant since Beethoven) and pieces for orchestra, culminating in the famous Concerto for Orchestra composed on his deathbed during the final stages of leukemia.

The early 1930s found Bartók with little money and few prospects. His ultramodern musical style, although it seems tame nowadays, was too new for many orchestras who feared lower ticket sales if new music was programmed. The composer had a real dilemma – how could he make a living with no demand for new works? Bartók’s solution was ingenious; he would orchestrate his earlier piano works. Since the musical style of these works was less modern and relied more on the folk music he had collected, the orchestrations would be able to get performances and radio broadcasts.

Bartók’s Hungarian Sketches is one of the pieces drawn this early body of work. There are five movements loosely adapted from four works dating from 1908-1911. The first piece, “Evening in Transylvania,” was originally No. 5 from the Ten Easy Pieces of 1908. It opens with an evocative clarinet solo, followed by a passage for flute.

Oboe and piccolo take over these themes. The piece concludes with the woodwinds and string chords.

The next movement, “Bear Dance,” also comes from the same volume of piano pieces. A forceful bass ostinato supports a folk dance theme in the woodwinds.

Serving as the placid center of the work, the movement simply entitled “Melody” comes from the Four Dirges, op 9a. Strings play a lovely pentatonic melody at the outset, which soon passes to the clarinet and oboe.

The movement builds to a climax, but ends quietly with a mysterious flute melody.

“A Bit Tipsy” comes from Three Burlesques, op. 8c, composed in 1911. It is a depiction of a staggering drunk person, complete with burp-like interjections from the tuba.

The finale, “Ürög Swineherd’s Dance,” is from For Children, vol. 2, No. 40. Listen for the lively woodwinds and the unexpected imitation of a bagpipe.


Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) – Ottorino Respighi

Born July 9, 1879, in Bologna, Italy – Died April 18, 1936, in Rome, Italy

The world premiere of this work was given by conductor Bernardino Molinari in the Teatro Augusteo in Rome on December 14, 1924. It is scored for piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, four trombones, timpani, percussion, piano, organ, celesta, harp, and strings. Six offstage brass players (bugles are suggested) and a recording of a nightingale song are also required.

A sequel to Fountains of Rome (1917), Pines of Rome is a magnificent exercise in colorful orchestration that represents four arboreal scenes in the city of Rome. The majestic trees are treated as ancient, silent witnesses to the scenes, activities, and states of mind depicted in the four connected movements.   The musical depictions in this work are uncanny – from the boisterous play of children singing an Italian nursery song in the first movement to the stirring majesty of a ghostly procession of Roman legionnaires in the finale. Between the outer movements, we hear the muffled sounds of clandestine Christian chant in an illegal worship service in Rome’s catacombs and a depiction of a tranquil nocturnal scene as a nightingale sings at the Janiculum.

The composer provided the following outline in the published score:

Pines of the Villa Borghese. Children are at play in the pine groves of Villa Borghese. They dance round in circles; they play at soldiers, marching and fighting; they are wrought up by their own cries like swallows at evening; they rush about.

Suddenly the scene changes.
Pines near a Catacomb. We see the shades of pine trees fringing the entrance to a catacomb. From the depth rises the sound of mournful psalms,

…floating through the air like a solemn hymn, and gradually and mysteriously dispersing.

Pines of the Janiculum. A shudder runs through the air:

…the pine trees of the Janiculum stand distinctly outlined in the clear light of a full moon.

A nightingale sings.

Pines of the Appian Way. Misty dawn on the Appian Way: solitary pine trees guarding the magic   landscape; the muffled, ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps.

The poet has a fantastic vision of bygone glories: trumpets sound, and, in the brilliance of the newly risen sun, a consular army bursts forth towards the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.


©2011 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin

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