Ottorino Respighi was an Italian composer born in Bologna. Respighi’s father was a piano teacher and provided his child with initial music lessons. Respighi eventually attended the Bologna Conservatory, from which he obtained a diploma in violin in 1899. A year later he went to St. Petersburg to become the principal violist at the Russian Imperial Theater. While he was there, he met Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and studied with him orchestration. This led Respighi to return to his hometown to study composition. He acquired his second diploma from the conservatory in Bologna, this time in composition. In 1913 Respighi became Professor of Composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He held the position until his death in 1936.
Respighi’s Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) was composed in 1924 and is the second of his “Roman Trilogy” (a series of three tone poems about various Roman topics; the other two are Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) written in 1916 and Feste romane (Roman Festival), in 1928). The tone poem premiered in Rome on December 14, 1924. It is a symphonic work depicting pine trees at four different locations in Rome. The composition comprises four movements, performed without interruption. The first movement, titled “Pines of the Villa Borghese,” illustrates playful children around the pine trees at the Villa Borghese. The second movement, “The Pines near a Catacomb,” creates an atmosphere one might experience when he visits the ancient cemetery/graveyard. Here the melodic themes mimic religious hymns, producing austere sonority. Respighi carries the solemn mood of the second movement into the third, which is titled “Pines of the Janiculum” (Janiculum is a hill in western Rome). The movement portrays the pines at the Janiculum hill at night. Towards the end a recorded sound of nightingale’s warbling appears, announcing the end of the night as well as bringing in a peaceful moment. Incidentally, this is the first instance in the history of music where the usage of a pre-recorded sound is called for in a concert piece. The last movement, “The Pines of the Appian Way,” is about one of the most important ancient Roman roads. It looks back at the glorious days of the Roman Empire with the victorious army marching back into Rome.
Pini di Roma is written for a large orchestra. It is scored for three flutes (the third, doubling piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and a variety of percussion instruments, harp, piano, celesta, organ, and strings. The piece also calls for six buccines, ancient Roman army brass instruments that can be substituted today by trumpets and trombones, and the above-mentioned pre-recorded sound of nightingale’s song.