OTTORINO RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
The Pines of Rome (1924)
The Pines of Rome
is part of the so-called "Roman Trilogy" of tone poems celebrating the Italian capital (the others being The Fountains of Rome
and Roman Festivals
), composed by Ottorino Respighi between 1917 and 1928. The composer said that his intention wasn't so much to be directly descriptive in these works, but rather to show a "transfigured truth converted into sound." Still, he provided comments for each of the four parts that take the listener to pine groves in and around Rome: "Pines of the Villa Borghese," the splendid estate of the illustrious Renaissance family, depicts children playing a sort of "Ring Around the Rosey" ("in the pine groves of what are now public gardens, [they] play at soldiers, marching and fighting, twittering and shrieking like swallows, they come and go in swarms, and suddenly the scene changes"); "Pines Near a Catacomb" ("shadows of the pine trees fringing the entrance to a catacomb. From the depths rises a mournful chant that reechoes solemnly, sonorously, like a hymn, and then dies away mysteriously"); "Pines of the Janiculum" is a nocturne that features the haunting song of a real nightingale captured on record ("moonlight enfolds the pines on Janiculum Hill with mystery"); and the thunderous "Pines of the Appian Way" ("The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. The muffled, ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps...visions of past glories; trumpets blaze, and the army of the Consul advances brilliantly in the grandeur of a newly risen sun, a consular army bursts forth towards the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph to the Capitoline Hill."). Premiered in the United States by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1926, this sumptuous score shows Respighi as a consummate orchestrator whose palette of colors shimmers with the Italian sun and glows darkly at twilight.
One of the most charming aspects of The Pines of Rome (1924) is a first in concert music — the sound of a real nightingale in song, heard on a recording, during the third movement, "Pines of the Janiculum." But the Romantic idea that Respighi might have gone out into the pines of Janiculum Hill with a tape recorder is the stuff of legends and wishful thinking
The playing of the nightingale recording falls to the percussion section of the orchestra, because Respighi itemized it in the list of percussion instruments required for performance and placed it on the percussion line in his score as "Grf" (Ital. Gramofone) says Principal Percussionist of the Philharmonic Christopher Lamb. Not only that, but the composer indicated a specific recording, No. R-6105, "Il canto del usignolo," from the Italian catalog of the Concert Record Gramophone Company. It's a 2-sided 78 rpm record from 1910 and 1913.
Before Chris came to the Philharmonic, Record No. R-6105 was, indeed, played on a gramophone (i.e., what people of a certain age call a "record player"), and usually the personnel manager "dropped the needle." But over time Chris has seen the technology change. When he began his tenure at the orchestra, the nightingale was heard on reel to reel tape, and now her song is on a CD-both of which he has to "switch on." (But in case of technical difficulties, says Chris jestingly, he is prepared to take on the role of the nightingale and whistle her song.) The Philharmonic's Principal Librarian Larry Tarlow also has a copy of the nightingale song-just in case-on a cassette, and another on his computer.
An interesting historical note comes from an article in the Music Trade Review of July 17, 1926, which describes a then-state-of-the-art gramophone's role in a New York Philharmonic performance of The Pines of Rome on July 7 at the stadium of City College. The headline and subhead proclaim: "Brunswick Panatrope as Symphony Orchestra Soloist/ Instrument Appears in New and Important Role With Philharmonic Orchestra in New York." It continues:
"The use of a Brunswick Panatrope [i.e., a particular model of Brunswick record player] as a solo instrument in conjunction with a full symphony orchestra is one of the latest achievements of this instrument...The Panatrope was featured in the third part of Respighi's "Pines of Rome," this section of the score being called "Pines of the Janiculum." This symphonic poem was produced for the first time in Europe a few seasons ago, and the "song of the nightingale" of the third movement was reproduced from a specially made Italian phonograph record of a live nightingale in song.
The Philharmonic's Archivist/Historian Barbara Haws reports that the same record and record player were also used at a performance of The Pines by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Carnegie Hall on January 14, 1926, under the direction of Arturo Toscanini.
But what is most astonishing in all this: the recording of the nightingale used by the Philharmonic-the full minute of its song-whether phonograph record, tape, or CD- has always been taken from the same acoustical recording laid down way back in the early 20th century, when The Pines was first premiered. Larry says that "the recording is always-always-the same nightingale call, and it is provided by the publisher or agent when the music is hired. The music for this work is protected by copyright and is not available for sale."
Many thanks to Carlos Pena of the University of Pittsburgh Music Library and Timothy Williams of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for their excellent detective work in this musical mystery. Thanks also to Christopher Lamb, Lawrence Tarlow, and Barbara Haws of the Philharmonic.