Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pines of Rome

Pines have a special place in my memory. While I am a native New Orleanian, my father's family was from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We spent our weekends in the pines, along the railroad tracks picking blackberries, or on the sandy beaches in the shallow waters of the Mississippi Sound. I remember holding the lantern in one hand and my dad's hand in the other and shuffling my feet just right so the sting rays wouldn't get me and so I wouldn't scare off the flounders he was gigging; or being up in the predawn, with my mom & grandmother preparing for a morning of crabbing on the seawall, with crabs for dinner and sugared blackberries and cream for dessert. After dessert we'd go out in the clearing on the edge of the pine trees and marvel at the night sky and the Milky Way and the fire flys and the satelites which were always called Sputnik even though Sputnik had been out of the sky for years before I was born. New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast has had a link to Space Manufacturing. People know about Houston & Florida but forget about the other space worker bees in on the Gulf Coast at Michoud & Stennis. After Hurricane Camille there were many large, 3 to 4 feet in diameter, trees down on my grandparent's land and the surrounding land. These were eventually harvested by loggers and helped pay recovery costs for my grandparents and others after the storm. But not right away, we had almost a year of being able to play in the downed trees. Trees that were formerly just rough bark with unreachable tops were suddenly our own jumbled world of pine & oak pickup sticks, our play ground. We could walk the trunks like bridges and jump from tree to tree. It was like being in the tree tops. And the resinous pine sap smell was stronger than ever. We always went home sticky, exhausted, exhilarated.

Featured in Walt Disney's Fantasia 2000, the Pines of Rome is beautiful and haunting and written by Italian Ottorino Respighi. Today is his birthday. It was only on future research that I discovered that the Pines of Rome is actually part of Respighi's Roman Trilogy, three symphonic poems evoking Roman places and times of day. The first in the orchestral trilogy is the Fountains of Rome, the second is the Pines of Rome and the third is Roman Festivals.

Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) (1915-1916)
Taken from Wikipedia with slight modifications
The first movement, "La fontana di Valle Giulia all'Alba" , shows this fountain at daybreak in a pastoral landscape, in which cattle pass during the morning. The fountain is not actually in Rome but in the countryside surrounding it. In the second movement - "La fontana del Tritone al mattino" - Naiads and Tritons dancing in the morning light, as figures of the Bernini fountain are seen nearby. Gods and goddesses using conch shells are portrayed by the French horn. The third introduces "La fontana di Trevi al meriggio" and is ushered in by a triumph giving news of a recent victory by the god Neptune shining in the noon light. The final movement, "La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto", gives a much more melancholic atmosphere, as the brilliance of the sun fades.

Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) (1923-1924)
Taken from Wikipedia with slight modifications
Each movement portrays the location of pine trees in the city during different parts of the day. The first movement, called "I pini di Villa Borghese", portrays children marching and playing in the pine groves of the Borghese gardens. The second movement, "Pini presso una catacomba" has a more melancholic tune, representing pine trees close to a catacomb in Campagna. The third part, a nocturne, "I pini del Gianicolo", is set at night, near a temple of the Roman god Janus on the Janiculum hill. Double-faced gods open large doors and gates, marking the beginning of a new year. A nightingale is heard, giving Respighi the opportunity to include real life bird sounds in his work, a feat unachieved before (the score mentions a specific recording that can be played on a phonograph: the Brunswick Panatrope). The final movement, "I pini della Via Appia", portrays pine trees along the great Appian Way. Misty dawn: a legion advances along the Via Appia in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun. The grounds trembles under the footsteps of his army and the consular army rises in triumph to the Capitoline Hill. I could link you to pictures on the web but think its better if you listen and let the music paint pictures for you.

Feste Romane (Roman Festivals) (1928)
Taken from Wikipedia with slight modifications
This is the longest of the trilogy and depicts scenes from Ancient Rome of the Roman Empire. It is also the least known of the three. Within the first movement called Circenses or Circuses, the music presents the theme of an ancient contest in which gladiators battle to the death. Next, the Gubileo, or Jubilee, portrays the fiftieth year of festivals in Roman tradition. Pilgrims approach Rome catching a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background. L’Ottobrata, or the Harvest of October, represents the harvest and hunt in Rome. The final movement, called La Befana, or the Epiphany, takes place in the Piazza Navona and depicts Roman songs and dances, including a drunken reveler.

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