Thursday, January 30, 2014

Respighi - Ancient Airs And Dances Suite No. 1

The Russian composer and teacher Rimsky-Korsakov had an unlikely pupil in Ottorino Respighi, who studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov for five months when he was in Russia serving as the principle violist in the opera orchestra at St. Petersburg. Respighi's works for orchestra show his skill and knowledge of the instruments and a real feel for orchestral color, no doubt enhanced by his studies with Rimsky-Korsakov. Respighi also studied historical music while a student in Italy, as well as the violin. He toured as a performer for a few years as a violinist but soon devoted his career to composition and conducting.

Respighi's first compositions were tone poems as well as operas, modern works that showed the influence of Wagner and Debussy. But Respighi never forgot his studies of historical music, and in 1917 he orchestrated his first Suite of Ancient Airs And Dances. He arranged his suite from collections of Italian lute music that had been printed in the 1880's by Italian musicologists. Respighi uses a modest sized orchestra but to full effect. He arranged very old music in the modern clothes of the 20th century orchestra. The first suite has 4 movements:

I. Balletto detto “Il Conte Orlando" - The original lute piece this movement was was written by Simone Molinaro (c. 1565 – 1615) , a late Renaissance composer, and published in 1599.  The opening begins quietly but grows in volume and weight. A contrasting middle section is in the minor and is of a more somber mood, but the opening music is repeated and brings the dance to a close. It is written for oboes, harpsichord and strings.

II. Gagliarda - This dance is also known as a Galliard. It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoon and horns as well as cor anglaise, harp, harpsichord and strings. It was composed by Vincenzo Galilei (c. 1520-1591), who was the father of Galileo Galilie, the famous astronomer and early scientist. The music has a stronger rhythm, and in its day the gagliarda was considered a lewd dance by many because it was a dance full of leaps and exagerated movements. The rhythmic opening is tempered by a middle section that is slightly subdued in tone but still very rhythmic. The music is repeated, and the dance ends.

III. Villanella - This sad and delicate dance is scored for flute, oboe, harp and strings. The original composer is unknown.

IV.Passo mezzo e mascherada - Respighi uses two anonymous tunes in the final movement of the suite. The meaning of the title pazzo mezzo is not known but it may refer to the type of steps found in the original dance. The mascherada is a villanella like the third movement but not as sorrowful. Mascheradas were played at carnival or masked balls. The mascherada is interrupted by the pazzo mezzo until it finally takes over and has the last word.  The final movement is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, one trumpet, harp, harpsichord and strings.

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