Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi (/rɛˈspɡi/ reh-SPEE-ghee,[1] also US: /rəˈ-/ rə-,[2] Italian: [ottoˈriːno reˈspiːɡi]; 9 July 1879  18 April 1936) was an Italian violinist, composer and musicologist, best known for his trilogy of orchestral tone poems: Fountains of Rome (1916), Pines of Rome (1924), and Roman Festivals (1928). His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods. He also wrote several operas, the most famous being La fiamma.


Early life

Ottorino Respighi was born on 9 July 1879 at 8 Via Guido Reni, an apartment building to the side of Palazzo Fantuzzi in Bologna, Italy. He was the youngest child of Giuseppe and Ersilia (née Putti) Respighi. His brother Alberto died at age nine, and he had a sister, Amelia.[3]

The Respighis were a musical family.[4] Giuseppe was a piano teacher who encouraged his son's musical inclinations and taught him basic piano and violin at an early age. Not long into his violin lessons, however, Respighi suddenly quit after his teacher whacked him on the hand with a ruler when he had played a passage incorrectly. He resumed lessons several weeks later with a more patient teacher.[5] His piano skills, too, were a hit-and-miss affair initially, but his father arrived home one day surprised to find his son performing the Symphonic Studies by Robert Schumann. Respighi had learned to play the piece in secret.[6]

Bologna and St. Petersburg, 1890–1913

Respighi was schooled at Ginnasio Guinizelli for two years.[7] In 1892, he enrolled at Liceo Musicale where he studied the violin and viola with Federico Sarti for seven years.[8] Among his earliest completed and dated compositions were Piccola Ouverture and Preludio for orchestra.[9] Four years into his course, Respighi also took composition with Giuseppe Martucci and music history with Luigi Torchi. He received a diploma for the violin in 1899, and finished his studies in 1901 with a course in advanced composition.[9] By this time, he had developed an interest in languages as demonstrated by his large book collection that contained atlases and dictionaries.[10]

In 1900, Respighi accepted the role of principal violist in the orchestra of the Russian Imperial Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia during its season of Italian opera. During his visit he met with Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose orchestrations he greatly admired, and studied orchestration and composition with him.[11] Respighi studied orchestration with the composer for five months.

After a period in Germany in 1902, Respighi returned to Bologna to continue his studies in composition, which earned him a second diploma. From 1903 to 1908, his principal activity was first violinist in the Mugellini Quintet, a touring five-piece founded by composer Bruno Mugellini.

In 1909, Respighi's second opera Semirâma premiered, and was a considerable success. However, he fell asleep during the post-performance banquet from exhaustion of writing out the orchestral parts; his inconsistent sleeping patterns may have been caused by narcolepsy.[12]

Rome, 1913–1936

In 1913, Respighi left the Mugellini Quintet and settled in Rome. He then spent some time performing in Germany before returning to Italy and turning his attention primarily to composition. Although many sources indicate he studied briefly with Max Bruch during his time in Germany, his wife Elsa Respighi later asserted that this was not the case.[13] In 1913, he was appointed professor of composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, a position he held for the rest of his life.

Following Italy's entry into World War I in 1915, Respighi's position as Professor of the Liceo Musicale allowed him to avoid military service.[14] After travelling to more peaceful surroundings for the summer, Respighi returned to Rome to continue teaching. One of his new students in his fugue and composition classes was Elsa Olivieri Sangiacomo; the two started a relationship and Elsa, at fourteen years his junior, married the composer in 1919.[15][16] In 1921, the couple relocated to a flat in Rome.[17]

A turning point in Respighi's career arrived in March 1917 with the premiere of Fountains of Rome, his first of three orchestral tone poems inspired by Rome. The piece depicts four of the city's fountains at different times of the day. Respighi was disappointed with the reception it gained at the premiere and deemed the work failure, which fuelled his effort to start on a follow-up.[18] Nevertheless, Fountains of Rome earned Respighi greater recognition after he allowed Arturo Toscanini to conduct the piece for a series of concerts in Milan in February 1918. Its success led Respighi to have it published soon after.[19]

Apolitical in nature, Respighi attempted to steer a neutral course once Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922. His established international fame allowed him some level of freedom, but at the same time encouraged the regime to exploit his music for political purposes. Respighi vouched for more outspoken critics such as Toscanini, allowing them to continue to work under the regime.[20]

In 1923, Respighi became the first director of the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. He resigned from the position in 1925 to focus on composition. 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.

In December 1925, Respighi arrived in New York City for his first performances in the United States. His first public performance was the solo part for the premiere of his piano concerto, Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode (1925), at Carnegie Hall on 31 December. The concert was a success.[21]

In May 1927, Respighi and his wife travelled to Brazil to engage in a concert series of his own music in Rio de Janeiro. The musical style and local custom inspired Respighi, who told the press of his intention to return in the following year with a five-part orchestral suite based on his visit. Respighi did return to Rio, in June 1928, but the composition was finalised in the form of an orchestral work in three movements entitled Impressioni Brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions).[22] On the ship back home from Brazil, Respighi met by chance with Italian physicist Enrico Fermi who tried to get Respighi to explain music in terms of physics, which Respighi was unable to do. They remained close friends.[23]

In 1928, Respighi completed his third Roman tone poem, Roman Festivals, in nine days. The piece premiered in 1929 at Carnegie Hall in New York City with Arturo Toscanini conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1929.[24] Toscanini recorded it twice for RCA Victor, first with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1942 and then with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1949. Respighi's music had considerable success in the US; his 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 his Metamorphoseon was a commission for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1932, the Fascist government honoured Respighi with a membership to the Reale Accademia d'Italia, one of the highest honours awarded to the best of Italian science and culture.[25]

Respighi was an enthusiastic scholar of Italian music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. He published editions of the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi, and of Benedetto Marcello's Didone. His work in this area influenced his later compositions and led to a number of works based on early music, notably his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances and the Suite Gli uccelli (The Birds). In his Neoclassical works, Respighi generally kept clear of the musical idiom of the classical period, preferring to combine pre-classical melodic styles and musical forms (like dance suites) with typical late-19th-century romantic harmonies and textures.


Respighi continued to compose and tour until January 1936, when his health deteriorated. On 18 April in Rome, at age 56, he died of blood poisoning complicated by weakness of the heart from endocarditis and had received three blood transfusions. He died with his wife Elsa and friends around him.[26] A year after his burial, his remains were moved to Bologna and reinterred at the Certosa di Bologna. Inscribed on his tomb are his name and crosses; dates of birth and death are missing.




  • La Boutique fantasque (1918), borrows tunes from the 19th-century Italian composer Rossini. Premiered in London on 5 June 1919.
  • Sèvres de la vieille France (1920), transcription of 17th- to 18th-century French music
  • La Pentola magica (1920), based on popular Russian themes
  • Scherzo Veneziano (Le astuzie di Columbina) (1920)
  • Belkis, Regina di Saba (1932)


External audio
You may listen to Respighi's orchestral transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 with Pierre Monteaux conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1949 here on


  • Nebbie (1906), voice and piano
  • Stornellatrice (1906), voice and piano
  • Cinque canti all'antica (1906), voice and piano
  • Il Lamento di Arianna (1908), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra[36]
  • Aretusa (text by Shelley) (1911), cantata for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
  • Tre Liriche (1913), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (Notte, Nebbie, Pioggia)[35]
  • 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)
  • 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
  • Deità silvane (Woodland Deities, texts by Antonio Rubino) (1925), song-cycle for soprano and small 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 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 ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst"
  • Quartetto Dorico or Doric String Quartet (1924)
  • Tre Preludi sopra melodie gregoriane, for piano (1921)
  • Violin Sonata in D minor (1897)
  • Violin Sonata in B minor (1917)
  • 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)
  • String Quintet for 2 Violins, 1 Viola & 2 Violoncellos in G minor (1901, incomplete)

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
  • Cantù, Alberto (1985) Respighi Compositore, Edizioni EDA, Torino
  • Barrow, Lee G (2004) Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936): An Annotated Bibliography, Scarecrow Press
  • Viagrande, Riccardo, La generazione dell'Ottanta, Casa Musicale Eco, Monza, 2007
  • Daniele Gambaro, Ottorino Respighi. Un'idea di modernità nel Novecento, pp. XII+246, illustrato con esempi musicali, novembre 2011, Zecchini Editore, ISBN 978-88-6540-017-3


  1. {{Cite Oxford Dictionaries|Respighi, Ottorino|accessdate=6 July 2019}}
  2. "Respighi". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  3. Webb 2019, pp. 2–3.
  4. Respighi 1962, p. 7.
  5. Composer of the Week 2014, 2:05–2:35.
  6. Composer of the Week 2014, 2:36–2:54.
  7. Webb 2019, p. 4.
  8. Webb 2019, pp. 6–7.
  9. Webb 2019, p. 7.
  10. Composer of the Week 2014, 11:55–12:10.
  11. Composer of the Week 2014, 3:28–3:49.
  12. Composer of the Week 2014, 5:40–6:11.
  13. Respighi 1962, p. 25.
  14. Webb 2019, p. 60.
  15. Webb 2019, p. 61.
  16. Composer of the Week 2014, 17:58–18:31.
  17. Composer of the Week 2014, 12:10–12:50.
  18. Webb 2019, pp. 69–70.
  19. Webb 2019, p. 74–75.
  20. Liner notes from RCA Toscanini Edition CD Vol 32 (1990)
  21. Composer of the Week 2014, 42:32–42:47.
  23. 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.
  24. Composer of the Week 2014, 36:05–36:20.
  25. DK 2012, p. 244.
  26. "Italian opera composer is dead in Rome". The Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin. 18 April 1936. p. 17. Retrieved 25 July 2019 via
  27. Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice: Volume II, p. 244. Eighth Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
  28. Ottorino Respighi, Aria per archi, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2010
  29. Ottorino Respighi, Leggenda for Violin and Orchestra, critical edition by Roberto Diem Tigani, Nuova Edizione, Roma, 2010, ISMN 979-0-705044-08-9 (full score), ISMN 979-0-705044-09-6 (parts)
  30. Ottorino Respighi, Suite per archi, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2010
  31. Ottorino Respighi, Humoreske for violin and orchestra, critical edition by Roberto Diem Tigani, Nuova Edizione, Roma, 2010, ISMN 979-0-705044-06-5 (full score), ISMN 979-0-705044-07-2 (parts)
  32. Ottorino Respighi, Concerto per Violino (in La Maggiore), completed by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2009
  33. Ottorino Respighi, Serenata per piccola orchestra, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2012
  34. Ottorino Respighi, Suite in Sol Maggiore, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2011
  35. Ottorino Respighi, Tre Liriche, orchestration completed by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2013
  36. Claudio Monteverdi, orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi, Il Lamento di Arianna, critical edition by Salvatore Di Vittorio, Edizioni Panastudio, Palermo, 2012


  • DK (2012). The Complete Classical Music Guide. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. ISBN 978-1-409-37596-8.
  • Respighi, Elsa (1962). Ottorino Respighi. Ricordi.
  • Webb, Michael (2019). Ottorino Respighi: His Life and Times. Troubador Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-789-01895-0.
  • Macleod, Donald (30 May 2014). "Composer of the Week – Ottorino Respighi" (Podcast). BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
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