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EDITORIAL Ottorino Respighi
The death of Ottorino Respighi is a genuine loss to .European music, and I take this opportunity of endorsing Mr. Gordon-Brawn's suggestion to the recording companies last month that we should be given a chance to become familiar with Respighi's chamber music and lovely songs. The Fountains i f Rome and the Pines of Rome are extremely effective pieces of sensuous programme music, and unlike so much programme music they do not succeed in obliterating the scenes and moods they set out to evoke. They have both been well recorded by Columbia and H.M.V., and both make a ready appeal. In the latter the H.M.V. record of a nightingale singing is used as an instrument of the orchestra. Then there is the Trittico Botticelliano which was done by Decca, an agreeable piece of music rather in the mood of a Morris Wallpaper. Respighi's arrangement of Rossini's music for the ballet La Boutique Fantasque is the best known of his orchestral works, and has been one of the most popular of recordings ever since pre-electric days. The best of them is the performance under Goossens by the Covent Garden Opera Orchestra on an H.M.V. plum, the brio and verve of which make i t an outs tanding disc. Recently Columbia gave us a recording of the pretty-pretty Gli Uccelli and an extract from the Feste Romane. In fact, Respighi's orchestral work has received generous treatment from the gramophone. Mr. Gordon-Brown, however, is right in insisting that Respighi's importance as a composer depends on his chamber music and songs which, so far as I know, are unrepresented in the record catalogues.
I met Respighi in Capri in the summer of 19 I 8 or 1919, and, as I remember, he lived in the small cottage at Anacapri in which four or five years earlier I had written most of the second volume of Sinister Street. He was an extremely modest little man and not apparently in the beot of health even then. Like so many artists in every medium at that date he seemed perplexed about the immediate future for his art. We hear a great deal about the disastrous effect of the war on the artists of the younger generation, but the European artists who suffered most heavily were those born early enough to have achieved a measure
Respighi did not strike me as a modernist, and I have always fancied that his orchestral works were composed in a brave attempt to keep up with the bewilderingly rapid changes in public taste which marked the immediate post-war period. He considered himself first and foremost a writer of songs, and I remember he asked me to send him a copy of my poems in the hope of finding something suitable for his music. I could not get hold of a copy of them at the time, and when a couple of years later I came across one, the indolence, which always overtakes me when I have to contemplate sending off even the smallest parcel prevented my gathering together sufficient strength of mind to send the volume to him. Respighi's modest and retiring personality was outshone by two other Italian composers who were then in Capri-Casella and Malipiero. Casella joined to a distinguished appearance an impressive manner of enunciating his musical theories, but what will always remain clearest in my recollection of him at that t ime was his exquisite playing of Chopin's music, and modernist as he was I have heard him excelled by no pianist of our period as an interpreter of Chopin. Malipiero had an equally distinguished personality, but although he too was a modernist of modernists he seemed as remote from the present as one of his own patrician ancestors of mediceval Venice.
I greatly hope that the recording companies win do something to make Respighi's chamber music better known in this country. At this moment, when so much prejudice has been and is still being created against Italy by our irresponsible sanctionist press, even so slight a gesture of amity as would be implied by a tribute to an Italian composer 'who has done a great deal for music would have its value in bringing together once again two nations whose traditional friendship had been uninterrupted before the balloonheaded enthusiasts of Geneva allowed themselves to be carried away by their own gaseous aspirations from the realities of the past, the present, and the future. When so recently as 1899 Great Britain embarked upon what was considered by almost the whole of the civilized world as a cynical war of aggression in South Africa anel was being accused of vile barbarities against the Boers, the Italian press was almost the only press in Europe which gave Great Britain a fair deal. I do not propose to comment here upon the rights or wrongs of the Italian case against Abyssinia, but whatever they may bc there is no excuse for the foul flood of calumny which an interested propaganda has poured out against a great and glorious nation.