RESPIGHI: Suite in E major / Symphonic Variations / Burlesca
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Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Suite in E major Variazioni sinfoniche Preludio, corale e fuga
Listening to the early orchestral works of Respighi allrecorded here for the first time, one would neversuppose the composer to have been Italian. They belongto the earlier period of Respighi's career, before thewater-shed of his development, which, in his ownjudgement, came at the age of 37, in 1916, the year ofFontane di Roma. If Respighi had lived no longer thanthis, posterity would have seen him as a very talentedBologna composer, a former pupil of the violinistFederico Sarti, of Luigi Torchi and, for composition, ofGiuseppe Martucci, with a predilection for a form ofmusic largely neglected at that time in Italy: thesymphonic. Bologna was, in fact, the centre of Germanorientedtendencies, and the whole musical atmosphereof the place, where Respighi, like Toscanini, served asorchestral players, exercised an influence on thecomposer that deserves further detailed treatment.
Respighi had first studied German and Frenchcomposers even more seriously than he had the Italianmasters, writing music that contains more or less overttributes to the former, in, for example, sonatas, quartets,orchestral suites and songs. These works he eventuallyput on one side, but never destroyed, although very fewwere published in his life-time.
Another very important influence on Respighi'searly symphonic work came from the Russian school. In1900-1 and 1902 he accepted a contract from theImperial Theatres of St Petersburg and the Bolshoy inMoscow as a viola-player for two seasons of Italianopera. This brought him an introduction to Rimsky-Korsakov, who immediately recognised his talent andgave him lessons over a period of five months. Inbetween his two stays in Russia, Respighi took acomposer's diploma at the Conservatory of Bolognawith his Preludio, corale e fuga, his second work for alarge symphony orchestra. Other important events inRespighi's early career include the two periods he spentin Berlin, in 1902 as an occasional and somewhatdissatisfied pupil of Max Bruch and in 1908 as a pianocoach in the singing-class of Etelka Gardini Gerster. In1913 he was appointed professor of composition at theLiceo di Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he remained untilhis death in 1936.
Respighi had his Symphonic Variations performedfor the first time at the Bologna Conservatory on 24thJune 1900 and took the score with him to Russia, whereRimsky-Korsakov was favourably impressed by thework. Still neo-classical in form, the work gives theimpression of a tribute to the romanticism of CesarFranck and Brahms. It consists of a series ofpassacaglia-like variations, preceded by an introductionand the actual passacaglia theme in D minor,transformed, in various episodes, into a march, anadagio and a scherzo. The climax comes in a fugue,introduced by the organ, leading to a triumphantrestatement of the theme in D major. Already Respighishows a masterly command of writing for brass. Theorchestration includes a cor anglais, two harps andorgan, with timpani, the only percussion instrumentused. The Variazioni sinfoniche is still a long way fromthe Metamorfoseon of 1930, but shows the composer'searly interest in variation form.
The Preludio, corale e fuga is conceived on a largerscale and is double the length, although in a similarstyle. It was orchestrated in Russia and is dated March1901. It is possible that Rimsky-Korsakov himselfsupervised the work, although this is not apparent fromthe music, which, in any case, was presumably sketchedout before Respighi went to Russia. This time there is atouch of Saint-Sa?½ns, with a clear initial reference to theOrgan Symphony, while we may suspect the ending as apossible reference to Strauss's tone-poem Also sprachZarathustra. The scoring is for a similar orchestra to thatused in the Variazioni sinfoniche, without the organ, butwith percussion. Unlike Cesar Franck's work of thesame title, Respighi's work amalgamates the threemusical forms into one piece, which develops in a cyclicand almost symphonic way. The Corale is dominant andsubject to development from its original form to a lyricalepisode with violin solo, to re-appear in the final section.
The Preludio is built up into a series of chords that formthe basis of the Corale itself, followed by the actualtheme, with its reminiscence of Saint-Sa?½ns, but this lasthas also a scherzo-like function in the central episode,serving eventually as a development of the Fuga.
Martucci was sufficiently impressed to declare Respighinot a pupil but already a master.
Manuscript versions of the Suite in E major survivefrom 1901 and 1903. Of the former there is no record ofperformance, while the Adagio of the second versionwas given on 23rd May 1907 under the direction ofPietro Cimini. It seems probable that the second versionwas at some point played in its entirety, since theoriginal orchestral material contains markings andcorrections by the musicians. The first version of theSuite has in brackets the additional title Sinfonia, adescription perhaps rejected for reasons of modesty,since Respighi's only work of this kind is the Sinfoniadrammatica of 1914. It is tempting to retain the title'Symphony' for the second version, in the orchestralmaterial of which (and not in the score) someinappropriate movement titles appear - I. Nella foresta,II. Visione, III. Danza and IV. Eroica. The work may beseen as a particularly elaborate example of thesymphony, with appropriate movement keyrelationships of E major, D flat major, B minor / B majorand E major. It is in fact only the second movement thatis characteristic of a traditional suite, an arrangement, inthe same key, of a love-duet from the first act of theopera Semir?óma, a work that Respighi withdrew after itsfirst performance. Some more music of Semir?óma canbe heard in this Suite. There is considerable musicalinterest in the scherzo, with its trio of Russian character,while the first and last movements are clearly linked tothe music of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and, evenmore, to that of Dvofiak. Nevertheless, whatever his debtto these composers, Respighi uses a more advancedtechnique of development. Apart from a short excursioninto the pathetic before the affirmation of the march inthe finale, the work is optimistic.
The period of three years between the Suite andBurlesca saw the composition of two more suites, bothfor string orchestra, one with organ and the other withsolo flute, and the comic opera Re Enzo. The stylisticdifferences between these works and Burlesca areobvious and it is tempting to regard the latter work as thebeginning of Respighi's impressionism. It had itspremi?¿re in Bologna in May 1906. Contrasting elementsin the form of scherzoso interventions, which Respighiintended as justification of the title, serve this purpose,while sustaining the development of the lyrical maintheme. Allusions to other composers may be fewer, butthere is already a tendency towards the symphonicpoem, with suggestions of the sounds of water to beheard later in Fontane di Roma and passagesanticipating the comic mood of Belfagor. The work isscored without trombones, but with four French hornsand double wind, and delicate writing for celesta andharp.
In 1913 Respighi appeared as a conductor of hisown works in ten different Italian cities. In the same yearhe started work on the Sinfonia drammatica and his thirdopera Marie-Victoire. Ouverture carnevalesca was firstperformed under the direction of the composer inBologna on 19th April of the same year. This work is inform the most Italian of Respighi's early orchestralcompositions, using as it does the Saltarello, althoughthe secondary theme has a Russian touch. The work isscored for large orchestra, with tuba, glockenspiel anddrums. In spite of its rather dense harmonic structure,the instrumentation neve