Respighi is our tour guide as we explore 4 different scenes in Rome inspired by their iconic Stone pine trees. John Banther and Evan Keely explore his cutting-edge use of technology, how he uses ancient musical references, how he achieves some of these unique timbres, and more!

Show Notes

Show Notes

See beautiful pictures of these Stone pine filled scenes of Rome that inspired the music here!

A rare performance using the actual record player and bird song as listed in the score

Although I looked everywhere, I didn't find this performance until after we recorded the episode. Note the large horn/cone that amplifies the sound without using electricity, this is also very similar to how brass instruments produce sound. 

If you don't have a way to play the songs of a Nightingale through a recording (or just want to have fun), you can always use a manual bird call



John: I'm John Banther, and this is Classical Breakdown. From WETA Classical in Washington, we are your guide to classical music. In this episode, I'm joined by WETA Classical's Evan Keeley, and we are going on an action- packed tour of Rome with Ottorino Respighi's tone poem, the Pines of Rome. It's a short work, but it's filled with musical references, old and new, while also being one of the first works to use recording technology in a performance. Stay with us as we explore the music, four different scenes of Rome, and how Respighi combines the past, present, and future.

This work, Evan, is definitely a favorite one from my youth. I remember hearing it for the first time and just being struck by the tambur, and the color of Ottorino Respighi's music. It can be so bright in effervescent.


Evan: This orchestration and his command of melody, the way he uses his thematic material, it's just this amazing colorful and thrilling experience to listen to this music.


John: And we are going to experience that and more as we go on a little tour of Rome with this piece. It's the second of three tone poems that Respighi wrote about Rome. This one specifically about four different places in Rome with their iconic pine trees. And don't worry, we'll put pictures of these pine- filled scenes on the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org for you to check out after the episode. And this piece, Evan, it flows all together as one, but it can be broken up into four movements or sections, or maybe scenes.


Evan: Yeah, it's a single movement piece, but the four distinct sections, you really hear them. There's no pause in between the different sections. So to call them movements, I think is a little misleading. But you really hear where they begin and end, and there's a very deliberate contrast, which is part of what makes the piece exciting. It's an almost jarring change of scenery in some of these transitions.


John: Jarring, I think that's a good description that we'll find here as we explore the music. The first one here, this first pine scene, it's I Pini di Villa Borghese, the Pines of the Villa Borghese. And Respighi actually wrote descriptions for each of these, and the first one he wrote, " children are at play in the pine groves of the Villa Borghese, dancing the Italian equivalent of Ring Around a Rosie. They mimic marching soldiers and battles. They twitter and shriek like swallows at evening, coming and going in swarms. Suddenly, the scene changes." This is such a depiction, isn't it, Evan, what he writes here? And then these childlike squeals, chasing, and teasing. It's really just what he says.


Evan: It's a really raucous quality to this opening. We're really invited into it, an almost chaotic scene. There's an, even for me... I don't think sinister is the right word, but there's such a frenetic energy to this opening of these children running around in this very ancient place. And you have this meeting of past, present, and future with the architecture of the Villa Borghese, and these pine trees that have been standing for such a long time. And of course, the children represent the future and how all of those things are coming together in one way that's, in this particular scene, this opening scene of this tour of Rome, has this really passionate and sparkling energy.


John: And just after a few seconds of an introduction, there is this theme that gets passed around for this quite short movement. It's less than three minutes. But it sounds itself like a kind of childlike tease or taunt or something, and it's actually that equivalent he's talking about, the Italian Ring around a Rosie. It's called Madama Dore or Madame Golden, and I think it matches up quite nicely. I started laughing when I played this back to back with the actual music.


Evan: It's really remarkable to listen to that very sort of pleasant and innocuous rendition of that old tune and then hear Respighi's take on it with that, like I was saying, frenetic energy, the way he infuses that childlike wonder with such power with this huge orchestra, and yet it still has that childlike innocence. Apparently Respighi got this tune when he asked his wife, Elsa, to sing some of these melodies, songs from her own childhood, and she may not have known until she heard the rehearsal of the piece that, " oh, that's why he wanted me to do that." So there's a personal connection for Respighi as well.


John: I can only imagine the feeling of, yeah, you sang this tune to him, I don't know, months ago or something, and then you're at the rehearsal and you hear this little tune from your childhood, and I guess you make the connection then. But that's so much fun. And this is short. This is less than three minutes, but it feels longer than that. Part of that is because the music is very bright, it's fatiguing. This isn't something you listen to for a long time. And in a way it reminds me, Evan, as I was really kind of listening and thinking about this, it reminds me of being in recess again at school. It feels like you have all the time in the world, you conquer the jungle gym, you capture the flag, I don't know, the swings, tag, or whatever. It feels like you have forever, but then you're an adult and you realize it's like 20 minutes or something.


Evan: Yeah, and I can't help but imagine that Respighi's first hearers of this piece, sitting in the audience, a lot of them probably recognized this tune and there's a sense of like, " oh yes, that's my childhood too." And even those of us that didn't grow up with that tune can feel that same youthful energy like you were just describing, John.


John: And the bright sound and tambur, it comes from, well, brighter sounding instruments like muted trumpets. That mute gives it a kind of metallic sound, flutter tongue in the brass when you're rolling your tongue, like rolling your Rs while you're playing. It makes that letter sound, (inaudible) . But also things like in the percussion, the ratchet, which is really kind of just a noise machine in addition to triangle and glockenspiel.


Evan: Yeah, it's among the many interesting percussion instruments that Respighi includes in the orchestration of this piece. And yeah, you twirl it around and it makes that clicking sound, and Respighi, of course, such a master of orchestration, such a creative spirit in terms of how he was able to create these amazing sound palettes. And the Pini di Roma is a particularly powerful example of his skill.


John: I've never been playing a concert or a rehearsal or anything and heard someone or a section playing something and felt like they were antagonizing or teasing me. But in the middle of this movement, there's this moment when the line goes from oboe to violins. We get this counter line with the horns, bassoon, clarinet, pizzicato, and a cello. It's a whole gang of kids or instruments that, I don't know, this feels like such teasing.


Evan: It's a sense almost of competition among the different instruments in the orchestra, in this section.


John: I've also been thinking about different ways to listen to this using your imagination, the scenes, the pines, et cetera. There's this really fast ascending line in the violins and it goes into the flutes and it gets higher and higher. And the way he does it, it sounds like a group of kids running around and then going further into the distance. But it all has to come to an end eventually. We speed up, it gets faster and faster, it's more chaotic. And then we have these trumpets calling out, and now I'm hearing these, Evan, as the adults, the " dunnnn," really just yelling for everyone to come inside.


Evan: Yep. " Time to come in."


John: Time again, time again. And then they yell. And then just as quickly as these children arrived, they're gone. I love that.


Evan: Very abrupt ending in a way that really commands your attention.


John: It shows... Well, one, it's almost a relief. The noise as the whole noise floor drops and it's suddenly silent and yeah, it's that sudden contrast. So what are these pines? Because Evan, I have some pine trees near me too. How are these special?


Evan: Well, these are pine trees that are different from ones you'd find in North America. They're native to the Mediterranean. The stone pine looks kind of like a bonsai tree, just to give a rough idea. They don't have a lot of branches until you get towards the top. There's a crown. There's kind of this otherworldly beauty to the stone pine. They were planted during the days of the Roman Republic, and the Italians, I think, are quite proud of these beautiful trees, for good reason.


John: And looking at pictures, you see how there is a kind of beauty to the barrenness of the bottom part of it, and coming out of stones or near these buildings, I can see why they're so proud of them.


Evan: These trees have been around for millennia, like I said, since the days of ancient Rome. They're sentinels standing and watching through the course of history, like they're stewards of the land. They're coming before us and living beyond us. And if we're listening to the sounds of these scenes, it's like the pines are telling us the stories that they've heard through music. Respighi could have written a piece entitled Roman Scenes, and he could have had these four scenes about Rome. It would've been a very interesting piece. But it's interesting that instead, the four musical portraits are hued together by the pines. There's this stream running through these four very different sections, and that the pines are the thing that binds them all together.


John: I love that. And the second one is Pini Presso Una Catacomba, Pines Near a Catacomb. Respighi wrote about this, " we see the shadows of the pines, which overhang the entrance of a catacomb. From the depths rises a chant, which echoes solemnly like a hymn and is then mysteriously silenced."


Evan: So a huge contrast from what we were just experiencing with these noisy children running around. Suddenly there's this stillness, and you can almost see these worshipers in the catacombs sitting contemplatively in a worship service. Maybe there's candles or incense, and there's a physical stillness and quietness and contemplation that we are suddenly thrown into in a way that I find almost breathtaking.


John: And Respighi is able to accomplish this in the music by using muted strings. In the beginning, they have this little hard rubber kind of piece they put over the bridge where the strings are held up off of the instrument. It kind of dulls it a little bit. And also, the bases are not playing one note as a section, but rather, three. We have divisi, or division, here. This gives a fuller and different kind of sound than when each section is playing a single note together.

This chant arises from this sound first in the muted horns. And we're going to hear this motif a lot in this movement, and it comes from the medieval plain chant style. You hear this kind of old sound to it. Characteristics of that would be unmetered, meaning the rhythms aren't written out precisely or monophonic, meaning it's just a single line with no accompaniments, although we do have a kind of drone here. And this chant specifically comes from the Kyrie ad Libitum of the Clemens Rector. Now, I'm not an old music specialist. I can't really go into it much beyond that, but I love how he uses things from the past, Respighi.


Evan: Respighi is a musicologist as well as a composer, and he's very interested in the relationship between past, present, and future. Pini di Roma is a fantastic example of the way he's able to integrate this. You have this sense of you're there on the streets of Rome or you're wandering around in the Roman countryside, these pines are standing over you, they've been there for generations, standing there as a testament to the past, and yet life is happening in the here and now you're experiencing it in the here and now. And you see the children running around, you're thinking about the future.

Respighi's relationship with music is very much like that, and he was constantly drawing from music of the past, but not just sort of quoting it or emulating it in a rote manner, but really trying to rediscover, how is this music from previous generations still relevant today and how can it inform us as we go into the future together? Pini di Roma, it sounds to me like a work from the 1920s, even though it has these very deliberate evocations of the past. You have these parallel fifths in this chant section here, evoking the ancient catacombs, a very medieval sound, and yet it also sounds modern and it even sounds kind of futuristic. Here we are a century after this piece was written and it still sounds fresh, and it still sounds relevant to our own lives.


John: That is just wonderful to hear about Respighi, and it's what makes his music just the more pleasing or more fascinating or interesting, the more you get into it, because it's easy to write off some of these as, " oh yeah, they're nice little tone poems. They're not that long. They're not like some huge long thing by Richard Strauss," for instance. But no, there's a ton of things happening here and a ton of, like you say, musicology, things from the past and not just bringing it in for whatever sake, but really doing something with it.


Evan: And there's a denseness to this work in particular that there's a lot going on, and yet it doesn't feel overwhelming or like you're being sort of browbeaten by somebody who's much smarter than you. You're being invited into this world of these rich sounds and colors and excitement, and these wild contrasts in a way that I find really inviting.


John: Yeah, and these moments in concert, in this bit here with the catacombs, they're so soft and they're so still. There's a real stillness in a couple of moments here in the whole Pines of Rome. And if you ever get a chance to go into catacombs or take tours, I highly recommend it. Well, it's a lot of fun.

Another chant. Now, this one is much more distant. This is a trumpet solo accompanied by upper strings, and it's distant because, well, the trumpet player is playing off- stage. Not an uncommon composing device in the 19th and 20th centuries. Sometimes they are actually just off- stage with the door cracked to sound very distant. Sometimes they are in a different part of the hall, like in the back or somewhere higher up. It really depends on the players and the traditions of the orchestra, and the space.

But I guess, how do you play then? How do you stay in time with an ensemble if you're offstage, and the strings are continuing to play different rhythms? Well, it's very common to have a TV offstage with an internal feed. Most big concert halls have a camera located somewhere at the back of the stage above the percussion section, pointed right at the conductor. And this feed can be brought to a TV pretty much anywhere in the hall, and you can just follow along with the conductor. You just have to play a little bit more on top of the beat because there's latency, you're further away, the video feed.

But that's another part that when you go to hear this in performance, hopefully, another bit of artistic license or different ways of doing it. And this chant is based on, I guess (inaudible) from the Roman Catholic Libert Ozwalius, if I can say that correctly. And this is a tune we definitely want to kind hold onto as well. The strings return with that stern character of chanting, and then we get trombones, Evan. I would almost think we'd hear trombones first, because that is an instrument that was used in a lot of sacred music and in a sacred way in centuries past. But I guess it's Respighi subverting or expectations, or doing something old, but not exactly how we expect.


Evan: Yeah, I really like what you're saying, John, about this trombone as an instrument that has this solemnity to it. I think about a composer like Claudio Monteverdi, with whom of course Respighi was very familiar, the Sackbut. You think of a piece like the Vespers of 1610 and that sort of stern sound that you get from that kind of instrument. And it really is used very effectively here. You think of a composer like Mozart, for instance, using the trombone rather sparingly, usually to evoke some great solemnity. So there's a long history of that. Respighi, I think, was quite familiar with it. And one of the things I find so effective about how he uses it here is that this sort of stacking with the strings, you have these fifths and the adding higher and higher strings with each phrase, just that bare sound of the parallel fifths.

You hear this parallel fifth sound like any movie that takes place in the Middle Ages. It's kind of a cliche, and Respighi really avoids that trite quality with this, and have the trombones and toning this solemn chant kind of melody with the strings stacking higher and higher. This richer and richer, and fuller and fuller sound is very, very dramatic. Just kind of sweeps you along at this sense of this almost ecstatic feeling of worship and of people... You think of the catacombs in that tragic history of persecution and struggle, and how that's being evoked so powerfully in this music.


John: Yeah, it sounds like we're getting glimpses of scenes at the same time over the centuries as the music folds in and out of itself. And as it starts to die back down, I love how the horns kind of give out fragments. Not like dying breaths, but little dying gasps or whatever of public chants.


Evan: It's like an echo or a memory almost at that... Yeah.


John: A memory. I like that. And this, it comes back down and it decays, and then it brings us into the next scene. And we'll get into that right after this.

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So far, Evan, we've had children playing in the pine groves at that villa. We were in the catacombs later in the day under the shadow of the pines. Now we go to the evening with Respighi's description of this, I Pini Del Gianicolo, the Pines of the Janiculum. He writes, " there is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Janiculum's Hill. A nightingale sings." It's also a very brief description compared to the other ones.


Evan: Right, and this is also an interesting thing to think about. The Janiculum is a shrine or of temple in Roman times to Janus or Janus, depending on how you want to pronounce it. He was this deity who had two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward. And he is the divinity for whom the month of January is named. January is the end of the year, the end of an old year, and the beginning of a new one. So here again, Respighi is very deliberately looking backward and forward at the same time.


John: And this Janiculum, it's on a hill, so it has a good view in the city of bell towers, domes, a church, different kind of sacred places, a shrine. And one of the most striking things is this beautiful clarinet solo that's written come in sogno, as if in a dream. And it's even softer on the second entrance. And this is a moment I was talking about with the stillness that Respighi brings to this music.


Evan: And John, I'm glad you mentioned the time of day, which is actually a very important part of this whole piece. And we're starting off in the morning and then we go through the afternoon, and here now we're in the evening and he's writing a nocturn to give us that time of day and that sense of growing tranquility. We've had this frantic play at the beginning. We have this very solemn time of prayer and reflection in the catacombs. And now we're in this different kind of a mind space of a gentleness. And as you said, this clarinet solo, it's just so beguiling and seductive, and there's a sweetness to it.


John: And when I listen to this, I get the impression that this is a place we know very well. It's somewhere we walk through maybe every day to get to one place or the other. But now at nighttime, it's taken on a different hue, a different perspective. It's dreamlike, and then we get little lines and ideas introduced that make it feel like a sudden change. It's almost a little sinister. You think of Disney- esque plants growing out and maybe touching you, and then you look around and it's not there, or something like that. I don't know. I get a very creepy but safe creepy vibe as well.


Evan: Yeah, there's a kind of wistfulness in this dream, maybe some uncertainty. What are we dreaming about? Are we pining for something? No pun intended. Or maybe there should be a pun. Are we yearning for something in this dream?


John: What are the pine trees? What are they dreaming? Is this their dream, maybe?


Evan: For their generations of watching over human activity, what are their dreams about?


John: And the clarinet, it returns, has this beautiful moment alone. And then we get to a point where... Well, this is... As we're talking about Respighi kind of looking to the past, but being adventurous and changing things, he gets very adventurous, I think, as we look at this, because we hear birds now. There's birds for the last minute of this piece. And it's like, how do you mimic bird song in 1924? Today we use recordings or an instrument that can mimic this. But back in the day, what did Respighi do before commonplace electronic sound systems?

So Respighi wrote this nightingale bird song to be specifically played on, and he included it on the instrument list, a Brunswick Panatrope record player. And this is not like the record player you think of today. It wasn't electric. Rather, it had a kind of wound up spring motor for the energy. There wasn't an electrically powered speaker either, so it would be naturally amplified using a horn in a cabinet of the record player. And that's how brass instruments work. You buzz in the mouthpiece, you make the note, and then the horn-


Evan: And then the horn amplifies the sound that vibrates through the cone of the horn.


John: Yeah. So this is a real early example of technology in music, because this is a new thing. He wanted a specific record. There would have to be someone in charge of this thing. And it's the first ever commercial recording of a bird that he calls for. He writes on the actual disc number and everything, in the score.


Evan: Yeah, we radio nerds really know all about a catalog number and so forth. And this is exactly what you see in the orchestral score of this piece.


John: And of course, if it exists online, I'm going to find it. So actually, I have that specific recording from 1913 that Respighi would've used, and it's several minutes long, but we'll just hear a second here. Now, there's a lot of surface noise there. I tried to pick a quieter section. Some parts are super loud. I think it would've sounded better in his day. I think that surface noise wouldn't have been as loud as the other instruments or the bird. I think the bird would've sang out a little bit on top of that. But that's what he would've used, originally.


Evan: What a thrill for an audience in 1924 to have this phonograph as an orchestral instrument. This was a new technology, some people had them in their homes at that point, but it was still in its infancy. And the idea that this sound world could be a part of a concert hall experience was really a bold innovation.


John: So the other way to do this without a recording is using an actual bird call, which a percussionist would use. It's a super interesting thing. I'll put a video on the show notes page because it looks like an old film canister with a little metal pipe. You pour water into it. It's very weird. I love it. I'll put a video on the show notes page about that.


Evan: You're basically blowing into a little metal canister and the bubbles in the water and the air makes this chirping sound, and it does sound like a bird.


John: And that brings us to the fourth and final pine- filled scene here. I Pini Della Via Appia, the Pines of the Appian Way. And what did Respighi write about this one, Evan?


Evan: " Misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of unending steps. The poet has a fantastic vision of past glories. Trumpets blare and the army of the console bursts forth in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the sacred way, mounting in the triumph of the Capitaline Hill."

So this is a evocation of ancient Rome and the glory that was Rome, to use the poet's phrase. The Appian Way, a highway built in Roman times, the fragments of it that still remain to this day really a monument to the skill of Roman engineers. And this sense of the glory of the past and how it continues to inform the present and inspire the future is really a powerful element of this final section of the piece.


John: And it begins so soft. It's almost hard to depict here because the first half of this movement is so soft, but we've got the steady stream of eighth notes, there is downbeats in the timpani, and then piano, cello, and the bases. These are those footsteps in the distance. And then we get little things like a base clarinet, maybe sounds like a snake slithering across the path. And then, pretty soon in the beginning, we get a moment in the clarinets, a little type of fanfare. And this is the beginning of a long and triumphant line that will be realized later on.


Evan: Like you said, John, there's this sense of approaching. There's something coming from the distance, we hear fragments of it, and then it becomes more and more distinct as this triumphant army comes closer and closer to us.


John: And then we get an instrument that we haven't heard yet. And in fact, it is the biggest one on stage by a mile. And it's something... It's really hard to hear sometimes in a recording... And that's the organ, literally making a foundational low rumble, as in the score it says, " play a B flat. As a drone, you just hold it out on eight foot, 16 foot, and 32 foot pipes." And this is what makes the live experience so special too, being in the room. Unfortunately, you've really got to be in the room with that organ.


Evan: And you really feel it when you're in the room, the vibration of the 32- foot pipe. So these eight foot, 16 foot, 32 foot pipes, we're talking about organs. What we're hearing is different octaves. So with the eight foot, it's the unison. The 16 foot is an octave lower. The 32 foot pipe is two octaves lower. So you have this really deep rumble that the pitch is very low, the vibrations are very slow. You can really feel them in your body when you're in the room.


John: It's not the lowest note you can play on tuba, but it's like the foundational note that the whole instrument's based off of. We're in the basement here with the organ. Another instrument that Respighi brings in is one that kind of doesn't really exist. He calls for buisine. Buisine is a kind of ancient Roman war trumpet. And actually super long ago, years ago, I saw this instrument on some YouTube videos. I was obsessed. And then I forgot about it and I couldn't remember the name. And then with this piece, I remembered it's buisine, and it is so fascinating. I'm going to put video on the show notes page. And he doesn't ask for one, two , three, or four, but actually six of these things.


Evan: Six buisines.


John: Six.


Evan: How the heck did he even think of this, John, this instrument from thousands of years ago? It blows my mind.


John: So I guess the question is, well, what do orchestras do? I mean, we don't really have a lot of ancient war Roman horns lying around.


Evan: You probably didn't know a lot of buisine players in music school.


John: No, no, no. So this is really entirely dependent on the orchestra, the players, their traditions, even also their concert hall. It is very common. You hear this just simply played on trumpet, like the same trumpet you usually see on stage in the orchestra. Respighi wrote that flugelhorn was an acceptable substitute. Now, flugelhorn looks like a trumpet. It's played by a trumpet player. It's a little bit bigger, as you'll see on a picture. It's conical shaped, which gives it that warm tone compared to the cylindrically shaped trumpet. But the problem is with the flugelhorn, you cannot punch through like trumpet at these extraordinary volumes. So you often just see it on trumpet. And actually, it's often split between four trumpets and two trombones. So either way, the six extra brass really elevates the whole thing. And they don't start super loud.


Evan: Right. Like we were saying earlier, the army is slowly approaching. There's a sense of distance and then this approaching, this growing sound as things draw nearer to us. And yeah, this layering. I was talking earlier about the layering of the strings in the catacomb scene, and he had this layering of brass, and he brings in these strange instruments. I'm not even sure what happened in the 1924 premiere. And like you said, John, orchestras have to be creative about how they actually perform this. But no matter how you do it, it's going to have just this greater quantity of sound. And there's a lot of very impressive things that can happen in a live performance.


John: And basically at this point, we become passengers to the music. We are not in control of anything as this gets bigger, legions of army, I don't know, all those Roman flags and stuff passing by. Very nationalist amidst these beautiful stone pines. And one of the rhythms that you're hearing over and over again, which gives this a distinct sound are, he's putting five eighth notes within two beats. Now, normally you have four eighth notes within two beats. So with five in the same time span, it gives momentum. You're not tripping forward, but you're kind of falling forward, I guess, into that downbeat. And it kind of happens again and again with just building up.


Evan: So here we have the number five, a little more unusual in music, one, two, three, four, five, one, two, three, four, five. And it kind of keeps us off balance a little bit, but it also gives the music a drive, a kind of relentlessness that blends excitement to it.


John: And what a journey and tour of Rome. We basically went through a full day, the children playing, into the evening ending with that glorious dawn there. Really takes you through a full day in Rome. And I never really thought about it like that before. As in, going through a day of scenes.


Evan: And again, Respighi's relationship with time, past, present, and future. We have the past, present, and future of a single day. And what takes us through that single day is this view of the past, present, and future. The very distant past, the ancient past, the present moment that we're in, and then thinking about the future with the children and so forth, or the army marching. Where was the Italian nation marching in the 1920s? It's frightening to think about that. I don't think that's what Respighi was trying to invoke, but the sense of pride in history, the sense of an identity as a people, and where that can take us. Someplace glorious, someplace horrible. We don't know. There's this unanswered question.

So Respighi's relationship with time keeps us guessing and wondering, and keeps us engaged about how past, present, and future bring us all together into that present moment of expectation.


John: And Elsa, Respighi's wife, later said this, and I just love this for Respighi. She said, " the day before the final rehearsal, Respighi confessed to me that the crescendo..." The getting louder section... " Of I Pini Della Via Appia, had impressed him in such a way that he felt an I don't know what in the pit of his stomach. This was the first time that I heard him say that a work of his had turned out as he had planned it." And you know too, Evan, from composing, when you write something and you hear it played, sometimes it's like, " oh, that's not what I wanted." But sometimes...


Evan: Sometimes. And Respighi had this moment of like, " yeah, that's exactly what I wanted." What a thrill.


John: And just imagine having this written about your own city. I mean, what would our pines be here in Washington? I thought of a couple of different things, but I think cherry blossoms is a pretty obvious one. I can think of different depictions of cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin, the Mall, neighborhoods, quaint neighborhoods and so on. I mean, if you have ideas, send them in and maybe we'll read them on a future episode.

Well, thank you so much, Evan, for joining me and talking all about this. I've learned so much more than I knew before about this piece, and I appreciate it in a whole new way.


Evan: Respighi was always thinking about past, present, and future, and here we are, a hundred years, almost the day after the first performance of Pini di Roma. As I was saying earlier, John, still relevant to us, still exciting for us in our time. And how will the future look at this piece and hear this music? Interesting to think about.


John: Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown, Your Guide to Classical Music. For more information on this episode, visit the show notes page at You can send me comments and episode ideas to classicalbreakdown@ weta. org. And if you enjoyed this episode, leave a review in your podcast app. I'm John Banther, thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown from WETA Classical.