The Fountains of Rome
Length: c. 17 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (chimes, cymbals, orchestra bells, suspended cymbals, triangle), 2 harps, piano, celesta, organ, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: August 21, 1925, Rudolph Ganz conducting
Respighi managed to get a couple of operas staged in his native Bologna by the time he was 31 years old, but work as an orchestral musician (violin and viola), teacher, piano accompanist, and arranger of Baroque music sustained his peripatetic career in its early years. A move to Rome in 1913 as professor of composition at the Liceo Musicale of Santa Cecilia proved decisive, since Rome was then the center of orchestral life in Italy. In 1916 he completed The Fountains of Rome, a four-part symphonic tone poem that gradually became a huge success, making Respighi famous and wealthy.
In 1919 the Liceo became the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, and in 1923 Respighi was appointed its director. He held that administrative post only three years, during which he composed The Pines of Rome, a sequel to The Fountains and even more lucrative for Respighi. Its success, following its premiere in December 1924, enabled Respighi to quit as director of the Conservatory in 1926, although he continued the teaching he loved, as an advanced composition professor, there until 1935.
The great popularity of this music is not hard to understand. It is brilliantly evocative, well-crafted, and emotionally sincere musical pageantry.
There are four fountains, each depicted at a different time of day. The Valle Giulia was in a still somewhat rural scene when Respighi wrote this slowly awakening dawn music, the oboes and English horn suggesting passing cattle. It is a bright and active morning for Bernini’s magnificently sculpted Triton Fountain, inspired by Ovid’s tale of the sea god blowing a shell horn to end a great flood. Respighi depicts the majestic Trevi Fountain at full noon, the sun blazing with brass over the strings’ swirling waters as Neptune rides the waves. The work closes as softly as it began, for it is evening at the simple fountain of the Villa Medici in the finale, with the orchestration suggesting birdsongs and breezes and stars beginning to twinkle.
The first section of Pines – all four are played without a break – is a short prelude depicting children at play in the pine grove of the Villa Borghese, their dances and games raucously projected through quick brass and woodwind exchanges. “Pines Near a Catacomb” presents a serene, even somber scene, with muted strings supporting an orchestral chant which “re-echoes solemnly, sonorously, like a hymn” rising from the catacomb, in the composer’s words. “The Pines of the Janiculum” is night music in which a solo clarinet sings plaintively, introducing the actual song of a nightingale (Respighi even specified the recording to be used) over tremolo strings. “The Pines of the Appian Way” suggests morning dawning over the march of imperial Roman glory in trumpet-driven triumph.
— John Henken