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Biography of

Ottorino Respighi

9 jul 1879 (Bologna) - 18 apr 1936 (Rome)
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Elsa and Ottorino Respighi in the 1920s

Ottorino Respighi (Italian pronunciation: [ot:o'rino rez'pi:gi]; July 9, 1879, Bologna - 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 Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Many sources indicate that he also studied briefly with Max Bruch, but in her biography of the composer, Respighi's wife asserts that this is not the case.[1] 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. A year after receiving his diploma in violin in 1899, 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 then returned to Bologna, where he earned a second degree in composition. Until 1908 his principal activity was as first violin in the Mugellini Quintet. In 1908-09 he spent some time performing in Germany before finally returning to Italy and turning his attention entirely to composition.

Upon being appointed a teacher of composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in 1913, Respighi moved to Rome and lived there for the rest of his life. In 1919 he married a former pupil, singer Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo. From 1923 to 1926 he was director of the Conservatorio. In 1925 he collaborated with Sebastiano Arturo Luciani on an elementary textbook entitled Orpheus. He was elected to the Royal Academy of Italy in 1932.

A visit to Brazil resulted in the composition Brazilian Impressions. Initially he intended to have a sequence of five pieces, but by 1928 he had completed only three, and decided to present what he had. Its first performance was in 1928 in Rio de Janeiro. The first piece is a nocturne, "Tropical Night", with fragments of dance rhythms suggested by the sensuous textures. The second piece is a sinister picture of a snake research institute, Instituto Butantan, that Respighi visited in São Paulo, with hints of birdsong (as in The Pines of Rome). The final movement is a vigorous and colorful Brazilian dance.

On the ship back home from Rio de Janeiro, Respighi met up by chance with Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. During their long conversation Fermi tried to get Respighi to explain music in terms of physics, which Respighi was unable to do. Nonetheless, they remained close friends until Respighi's death in 1936.[2]

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.[3] 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 continued to compose and tour until January 1936, after which he became increasingly ill. A cardiac infection led to his death by heart failure on April 18 of that year at the age of 56. 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. Premiered in London on June 5, 1919.
  • Sèvres de la vieille France (1920)
  • La Pentola magica (1920)
  • Le astuzie de Columbina (1920)
  • Belkis, Regina di Saba (1930), his last work for ballet


  • Symphonic Variations (1900)
  • Preludio, corale e fuga (1901)
  • Suite in E major (Sinfonia) (1901 rev. 1903)
  • Burlesca (1906)
  • Ouverture carnevalesca (1913)
  • Sinfonia Drammatica (1913–14)
  • The Roman trilogy (three symphonic poems evoking Roman places and times of day)
  • Ancient Airs and Dances
  • Ballata delle Gnomidi (Dance of the Gnomes) (1920), based on a poem by Claudio Clausetti
  • Rossiniana (1925) - free transcriptions from Rossini's Les petits riens
  • Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows) (1925), four movements of which three are based on Tre Preludi sopra melodie gregoriane for piano (1919)
  • Gli Uccelli (The Birds) (1927), based on Baroque pieces imitating birds. It comprises Introduzione (Bernardo Pasquini), La Colomba (Jacques de Callot), La Gallina (Rameau), L'Usignolo (anonymous English composer of the seventeenth century) and Il Cucu (Pasquini)
  • Trittico Botticelliano (1927)
  • Brazilian Impressions (1928)
  • Metamorphoseon Modi XII: Tema e Variazioni (1930)


  • 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
    • Concerto per Violino (in A major) (1903) - completed by Salvatore Di Vittorio (2009)
    • Concerto all'antica (1908)
    • Concerto Gregoriano (1921)
    • Poema Autunnale (Autumn Poem) (1920-5)
  • Suite in G major for organ and string orchestra (1905)
  • 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


  • Christus (text by Respighi) (1898–99), Biblical cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra
  • Nebbie (1906), voice and piano
  • Stornellatrice (1906?), voice and piano
  • Cinque canti all'antica (1906), voice and piano
  • Aretusa (text by Shelley) (1910–11), cantata for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • La Sensitiva (The Sensitive Plant, text by Shelley) (1914), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • Il Tramonto (The sunset, text by Shelley) (1914), for mezzo-soprano and string quartet (or string orchestra)
  • Dietà silvane (Woodland Deities, texts by Antonio Rubino) (1917), song-cycle for soprano and small orchestra
  • Cinque liriche (1917), voice and piano
  • Quattro liriche (Gabriele d'Annunzio) (1920), voice and piano
  • La Primavera (The Spring, texts by Constant Zarian) (1922) lyric poem for soli, chorus and orchestra
  • Lauda per la Natività del Signore (Laud to the Nativity, text attributed to Jacopone da Todi) (1930), a cantata for three soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor), mixed chorus (including substantial sections for 8-part mixed and TTBB male chorus), and chamber ensemble (woodwinds and piano 4-hands)


  • 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 sopra melodie gregoriane, for piano (1921)
  • Violin Sonata in B minor
  • Piano Sonata in F minor
  • Variazioni, for guitar
  • Double Quartet in D minor (1901)
  • Piano Quintet in F minor (1902)
  • Six Pieces for Violin and Piano (1901–06)
  • Quartet in D major for 4 Viols (1906)
  • Huntingtower: Ballad for Band (1932)
  • Several instrumental sonatas
  • String Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas & Violoncello (undated)
  • Organworks

Note: The bulk of these chamber compositions have not been published and are in manuscript at the conservatories in Bologna and Rome. Three string quartets (1907, 1909 and 1924), the Huntingtower Ballad, and the Piano Quintet have been published.


Note: The three works of the Roman Trilogy are among the most ubiquitous works in the catalogue, and have 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. James Levine conducted the CSO's recording of Pines of Rome which appeared in Disney's Fantasia 2000 movie.

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
  • Viagrande, Riccardo, La generazione dell'Ottanta, Casa Musicale Eco, Monza, 2007


  1. ^ Elsa Respighi, Ottorino Respighi, London, Ricordi, p. 25
  2. ^ Spencer M. Di Scala, Ph.D., President of the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, in his introduction to a Christmas concert performed by the Italian Music Chorus of the Dante Alighieri Society at the Dante Alighieri Society headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, on December 6, 2009, which included Respighi's Lauda per la Natività del Signore.
  3. ^ Liner notes from RCA Toscanini Edition CD Vol 32 (1990)

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ottorino Respighi. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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