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Hidden treasures - Ottorino Respighi - Gli uccelli (1928) - II. The dove

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Published on May 7, 2011

History (based on the Grove Dictionary of Music): While primarily remembered today for his trio of tone poems in praise of Rome's fountains, pines and holidays, Ottorino Respighi's (1879-1936) career was initially built upon transcriptions of early music. Beginning with the Suite in G, a tribute to late Baroque styles, and the long-winded Concerto all'antica (1908), this attraction to the then virtually unknown world of early music would serve as a constant source of inspiration for the composer (though not all of Respighi's attempts at neobaroque were met with praise: in particular, the adaptation of Monteverdi's "Orfeo" (1934) has been condemned as "an opulent vulgarization of... the original"). However, most of his efforts are justly highly regarded, particularly the winsome "Gli uccelli" or, simply, "The Birds" (1928), an adaptation of keyboard pieces by several XVIII century composers which serves as a culmination of the composer's ingenuity, virtually becoming as a transcription of various bird-calls.

Music: "The Birds" is a most charming adaptation of its source material, presenting the listener with a delightful gallery of the traditional avian symbols: the Hen, the Nightingale and the Cuckoo. However, the highlight of the work, at least for me, comes in the form of a most elegant andante which symbolizes the Dove, an untraditional image in music, which is a luminous display for the whole orchestra. On a curious note, the choice of instruments is strikingly similar to the later tragic Villanella, Volume I of the "Ancient dances". Still, the effect is markedly different. The A section begins dreamily with the oboe stating the main theme, a melancholic melody suggesting at once regret and bliss, which is heard over a sparse accompaniment of a lovely harp bass line, overlapping gusts from the second violins/violas/cellos, a superb sequence of "cooing" staccatos in the first violins and, finally, flute passages which effectively continue the main theme (0:35, 1:00). A full repeat follows (1:04), Respighi gracefully elaborating the harp line echoed by the second violins/violas and also creating a symphonic effect in the strings' unified rises (1:25 & 1:55). The image behind the music is, perhaps, that of a flock of doves, gently cooing in a deserted sunny square. The brief B section highlights a fresh sequence of cooing quintuplets in the violins/violas, stated over a bass line from the harp/cello (2:06). The section is resolved by a simple but tremendously affecting descending line running from the oboe to the flute/first violins to the cellos and, finally, clarinet/harp/bass (2:26). The second "cooing" motive is transported to the repeat of the A section by the flute (2:43), while the main theme is initially passed to the violins, the remaining strings stating complementary short phrases. However, the return of the oboe leads to a gratifying duet between the latter and the strings, amounting to a fantasy on the main theme (2:53). The "cooing" motive will remain until the final section of the andante (4:12) in the flute/clarinets, constantly exchanged between the instruments (2:53, 3:06, 3:24 etc.). As for the main theme, in the final part of the movement it is stated as a remarkable duet between the violins/clarinet. First, the violins state in properly melodramatic fashion the opening melody (3:13), gently echoed by the lines of the other strings. The next line is transferred to the clarinet (3:36) which states it over the long sighs of the violins/violas. Ultimately, however, the two versions of the main theme are combined into a luminous duettino (4:12), the "cooing" motive now going between the remaining violins and the clarinet/cellos, while the flute/viola adopt a basic bass line. The final allegro codetta which resolves the whole movement features a gradual rise of the cooing motive and, ultimately, a swift glissando from the harp, as if to suggest that the flock has been surprised by an unwanted visitor and quickly flies away (4:42). Their figures melting into the distance brings a close to this perfectly serene movement.

Score: http://imslp.eu/linkhandler.php?path=... (p. 11-22).

Recording: The 1987 Philips recording includes, alongside "The Birds", Respighi's "La boutique fantastique" and Volume 3 of "The ancient dances and songs", and all are played with clarity and freshness by the Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields under the estimable Neville Marriner. On a side note, this is actually the second version of "The Birds" that Marriner recorded with the ensemble, as a 1976 recording appears on many of EMI's issues. It is overall faster, though just as enjoyable, and, indeed, is hailed as a classic account.

Hope you'll enjoy =).

  • Category

  • License

    • Standard YouTube License
  • Song

  • Artist

    • Academy of St. Martin in the Fields [Orchestra], Sir Neville Mar
  • Licensed by

    • UMG (on behalf of Philips Classics)

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