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ClassicsOnline Home » RESPIGHI: Aretusa / La Sensitiva / Il Tramonto
Cantatas and Gabriele d'Annunzio Song Cycle
settings of poems by Shelley and Gabriele d'Annunzio are Respighi's finest
vocal compositions, using texts by his favourite poets. Il tramonto has enjoyed
reasonable exposure, but the other two works of the Shelley trilogy have been
largely neglected. Aretusa belongs to the composer's period of development in
his native Bologna, while La sensitiva and Il tramonto are from his Roman
period, shortly before the composition of Fontane di Roma in 1916. This is
still not the period of Respighi's characteristic use of church modes and these
works have as their precursors the envois sent from Rome by Debussy and the
early cantatas of Ravel, or his teacher Martucci's La Canzone dei Ricordi of
1886. Martucci had taught Respighi during his last year at the Conservatory and
his romantic-classical musical style exercised an enormous influence on his
young pupil. Respighi was further inspired by the vocal artistry of a close
friend, the mezzo-soprano Chiarina Fino Savio. Many of his earlier songs were
written for this singer, a rôle later taken by the composer's wife Eisa, whose
voice was similar in tessitura, if not as highly professional as Fino-Savio's.
interest in the cantata for female voice covers a period of some 28 years,
starting from an adaptation of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna and continuing
until his last completed work, a reconstruction of Marcello's Didone. His own
original form of cantata, which, following Martucci, he called "poemetto
lirico", may be considered a new pseudo-operatic form of symphonic poem.
It retains, nevertheless, traditional recitatives, ariosi and instrumental
interludes as structural elements. In addition to typical Respighian archaisms,
the influence of Wagnerian chromaticism, French impressionism and Puccinian
lyricism are amalgamated idiosyncratically and sensitively. Il tramonto is
scored for strings only, while Aretusa and La sensitiva require a normal
symphony orchestra, without trumpets and trombones, but with a harp and reduced
percussion. La sensitiva uses in addition a cor anglais, timpani and a third
composed during one week in the summer of 1910 and orchestrated early in 1911,
Aretusa is a short but very demanding work. It was first performed at the
Teatro Comuale in Bologna on 17th March 1911 under the direction of Guido Carlo
Visconti di Modrone. A few months earlier Respighi's monumental opera Semirâma
had been staged in the same theatre with considerable success.
poem tells the story of the water-nymph Arethusa, who is pursued by the
river-god Alpheus, but escapes with the help of Ocean, through the waters, to
rise again in Sicily, their waters mingling. The work is a precursor of the
Fontane di Roma, with the orchestral interlude in which Ocean shelters the
fleeing Arethusa becoming the source of the climax of Fontana di Trevi. There
is less of tragedy in Arethusa than in the other two Shelley settings, partly
scherzo and partly dramatic ballad.
sensitiva was written in 1914 and 1915 and was first performed in Prague on
29th January 1922 by Eisa Respighi and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under
Vaclav Tálich. Shelley's poem, written a hundred years earlier, describes the
life of a sensitive plant, mimosa, through the seasons of the year. She cannot
show her feelings with brightly-coloured blossoms and when the owner of the
garden dies, she suffers and finally dies.
the heart of this work is an extremely beautiful and syncopated theme, at first
appearing together with the vocal line and then becoming an ecstatic central
orchestral interlude in G sharp minor, almost repeated, but in the key of E
minor, in the finale. The earlier Ocean interlude in Aretusa is in comparison
merely episodic and not as dramatically essential as the interlude in La
sensitiva, where the orchestra has the final function of expressing what cannot
be said in words. Respighi makes use of "lontano" effects with his
third flute, behind the orchestra, a nightingale, a foretaste of the effect to
be used in Pini di Roma, but with the help of the bird's song played on a
gramophone recording. La sensitiva is economical in its use of thematic
material and suggests in its evocation of nature the music of Frederick Delius.
and words are perfectly matched in Respighi's setting of Shelley's poem The
Sunset. The work was written in 1914 and given its first performance in May the
following year in Rome, at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, with its dedicatee
Chiarina Fino Savio as soloist. The poem, the text for Respighi's Liebestod,
tells of the death of two lovers, the young man suddenly in youth, and the
woman after year's of patient resignation to her sadness. The composer was deeply
moved by the poem and decided to use in his musical setting a chamber ensemble,
to provide a feeling of greater intimacy. The current string orchestra version,
available from the publisher, is nothing more than the original string quartet
version with a separate double-bass part. It is thought that Respighi approved
of this orchestral version, but one is bound to wonder why he never revised the
scoring, Schoenberg did with his Verklärte Nacht or Berg with his Lyrische
Suite. The conductor of the version now recorded has made some changes in the
scoring to suit a larger string ensemble, varying the texture.
music of Il tramonto shows Respighi a turning-point in his career as a
composer, writing with an intensity only equalled in his opera Lucrezia in 1936.
The music here loses much of its formal aspect, with a highly emotive vocal
part that makes instinctive use of the declamatory in its depth of feeling.
liriche dal Poema paradisaco di Gabriele d'Annunzio
was on the one hand fascinated by Shelley's delicate and androgynous world of
the previous century and on the other attracted by the work of the contemporary
Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, whose style is in some respects similar, even
if more decadent. He set the four poems of d'Annunzio for voice and piano
during a summer holiday in Anacapri in 1920, to the poet's enthusiastic
approval. The cycle reveals an unexpectedly oppressive, even sinister facet to
the composer's character, with music that is mysterious and more enigmatic than
morbid. The present orchestrated version is intended to make the work available
to a wider audience, with strict respect for Respighi's style of orchestration,
limited to strings, harp, piano, celesta and harpsichord.
poems move within astate of dreaming and a world of desolation and death. The
first, with a metre of 11/8, is the story of a dream, the second a melancholy
reverie, with elements of morbid shivering, the third, over a heart-beat
ostinato, deals with horror and abandon and the fourth recalls a hopeless love.
In this last song Respighi quotes an aria from Cesti's Orontea, while the
musical texture of the first two is mainly impressionistic. La sera, with its
accompanying ostinato, is as thrilling and sinister as Respighi's famous
Nebbie. The vocal part, as in the cantatas, consists of ariosi and recitatives,
in a style that proclaims him a master of Italian song.
catalogue of Respighi's music includes five more d'Annunzio and three Shelley
settings for voice and piano, the latter, as with the cantatas, in the
excellent Italian version of Roberto Ascoli.
arose / From her couch of snows / In the Acroceraunian mountains,- / From cloud
and from crag, / With many a jag, / Shepherding her bright fountains. / She
leapt down the rocks, / With her rainbow locks / Streaming among the streams;-
/ Her steps paved with green / The downward ravine / Which slopes to the
western gleams; / and gliding and springing / She went, ever singing, / In
murmurs as soft as sleep; / The Earth seemed to love her, / And Heaven smiled
above her, / As she lingered towards the deep.
Alpheus bold, / On his glacier cold, / With his trident the mountains strook; /
And opened a chasm / In the rocks - with the spasm / All Erymanthus shook. /
And the black south wind / It unsealed behind / The urns of the silent snow, /
And earthquake and thunder / Did rend in sunder / The bars of the springs
below. / And the beard and the hair / Of the River-god were / Seen through the
torrent's sweep, / As he followed the light / Of the fleet nymph's flight / To
the brink ofthe Dorian deep.
save me! Oh, guide me! / And bid the deep hide me, / For he grasps me now by
the hair!' / The loud Ocean heard, / To its blue depth stirred, / And divided
at her prayer; / And under the water / The Earth's white daughter / Fled like a
sunny beam; / Behind her descended / Her billows, unblended / With the brackish
Dorian stream:- / Like a gloomy stain / On the emerald main / Alpheus rushed
behind,- / As an eagle pursuing / A dove to its ruin / Down the streams of the
the bowers / Where the Ocean Powers / Sit on their pearled thrones; / Through
the coral woods / Of the weltering floods, / Over heaps of unvalued stones; /
Through the dim beams / Which amid the streams / Weave a network of coloured
light; / And under the caves, / Where the shadowy waves / Are as green as the
forest's night:- / Outspeeding the shark, / And the sword-fish dark, / Under
the Ocean's foam, / And up through the rifts / Of the mountain clifts / They
passed to their Dorian home.
now from their fountains / In Enna's mountains, / Down one vale where the
morning baks, / Like friends once parted / Grown single-hearted, / They ply their
sunrise they leap / From their cradles steep / In the cave of the shelving
hili; / At noontide they flow / Through the woods below / And the
meadows of asphodel; / And at night they sleep / In the rocking deep / Beneath
the Ortygian shore;- / Like spirits that lie / In the azure sky / When
they love but live no more.
SENSITIVE PLANT (La sensitiva)
Sensitive Plant in a garden grew, / And the young winds fed it with
silver dew, / And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light, / And
closed them beneath the kisses of Night.
the Spring arose on the garden fair, / Like the spirit of Love feit
everywhere; / And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast / Rose from the
dreams ofits wintry rest.
none ever trembled and panted with bliss / In the garden, the field, or the
wilderness, / Like a doe in the noontide with love's sweet want, / As
the companionless Sensitive Plant.
snowdrop, and then the violet, / Arose from the ground with warm rain
wet, / And their breath was mixed with fresh odour, sent / From
the turf, like the voice and the instrument.
the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall, / And narcissi, the fairest
among them all, / Who gaze on their eyes in the stream's recess, / Till
they die of their own dear loveliness;
the rose like a nymph to the bath addressed, / Which unveiled the depth of her
glowing breast, / Till, fold after fold, to the fainting air / The
soul of her beauty and love lay bare:
the jessamine faint, and the sweet tuberose, / The sweetest flower for scent
that blows; / And all rare blossoms from every clime / Grew in that garden in
the Sensitive Plant which could give small fruit / Of the love which it feit
from the leaf to the root, / Received more than all, it love more than ever, /
Where none wanted but it, would belong to the giver
the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower; / Radiance and odour are not its
dower; / It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full, / It desires what it
has not, the Beautiful!
when evening descended from Heaven above, / And the Earth was all rest, and the
air was all love, / And delight, though less bright, was far more deep / And
the day's veil fell from the world of sleep,
overhead the sweet nightingale / Ever sang more sweet as the day might fail, /
And snatches of its Elysian chant / Were mixed with the dreams of the Sensitive
Sensitive Plant was the earliest / Up gathered into the bosom ofrest.
was a Power in this sweet place, / An Eve in this Eden; a ruling Grace / Which
to the flowers, did they waken or dream, / Was as God is to the Starry scheme.
step seemed to pity the grass it pressed; / You might hear by the heaving of
her breast, / That the coming and going ofthe wind / Brought pleasure there and
left passion behind.
wherever her aëry footstep trod, / Her trailing hair from the grassy sod /
light vestige, with shadowy sweep, / Like a sunny storm o'er the dark green
sprinkling bright water from the stream / On those that were faint with the
sunny beam; / And out of the cups of the heavy flowers / She emptied the rain
of the thunder-showers.
fairest creature from earliest Spring / Thus moved through the garden
ministering / All the sweet season of Summertide, / And ere the first leaf
looked brown-she died!
days the flowers of the garden fair, / Like stars when the moon is awakened,
on the fourth, the Sensitive Plant / Feit the sound of the funeral chant, / And
steps ofthe bearers, heavy and slow, / And the sobs ofthe moumers, deep and
weary sound and the heavy breath, / And the silent motions ofpassing death, /
And the smell, cold, oppressive, and dank, / Sent through the pores of the
dark grass, and the flowers among the grass, / Were bright with tears as the
crowd did pass; / From their sighs the wind caught a mournful tone, / And sate
in the pines, and gave groan for groan.
garden, once fair, became cold and foul, / Like the corpse of her who had been
Summer into the Autumn flowed.
rose-leaves, like flakes of crimson snow, / Paved the turf and the moss below.
/ The lilies were drooping, and white, and wan, / Like the head and the skin of
a dying man.
water-blooms under the rivulet / Fell from the stalks on which they were set; /
And the eddies drove them here and there, / As the winds did those of the upper
the rain came down, and the broken stalks / Were bent and tangled across the
walks; / And the leafless network of parasite bowers / Massed into ruin; and
all sweet flowers.
Sensitive Plant, like one forbid, / Wept, and the tears within each lid / Of
its folded leaves, which together grew, / Were changed to ablight of frozen
glue, / For Winter came: the wind was his whip: / One choppy finger was on his
lip: / He came, fiercely driven, in his chariot-throng / By the tenfold blasts
of the Arctic zone.
northern whirlwind, wandering about / Like a wolf that had smelt a dead child
out, Shook the boughs thus laden, and heavy, and stiff, And snapped them off
with his rigid griff.
Winter had gone and Spring came back / The Sensitive Plant was a leafless wreck
SUNSET (Il Tramonto)
late was one within whose subtle being, / As light and wind within some
delicate cloud / That fades amid the blue noon's buming sky, / Genius and death
contended. None rnay know / The sweetness of the joy which made his breath /
Fail, Iike the trances of the summer air, / When, with the Lady of his love,
who then / First knew the unreserve of mingled being, / He walked along the
pathway of a field / Which to the east a hoar wood shadowed o'er, / But to the
west was open to the sky. / There now the sun had sunk, but lines of gold /
Hung on the ashen clouds, and on the points / Of the far level grass and
nodding flowers / And the old dandelion's hoary beard, / And, mingled with the
shades of twilight, lay / On the brown massy woods-and in the east / The broad
and buming moon lingeringly rose / Between the black trunks of the crowed
trees, / While the faint stars were gathering overhead.- / 'Is it not strange,
Isabel,' said the youth, / 'I never saw the sun? We will walk here / To-morrow;
thou shalt look on it with me.'
night the youth and lady mingled lay / In love and sleep-but when the moming
came / The lady found her lover dead and cold, / Let none believe that God in
mercy gave / That stroke. The lady died not, nor grew wild, / But year by year
lived on-in truth I think / Her gentleness and patience and sas smiles, / And
that she did not die, but lived to tend / Her aged father, were a kind of
madness, / If madness 'tis to be unlike the world. / For but to see her were to
read the tale / Woven by some subtlest bard, to make hard hearts / Dissolve
away in wisdom-working grief;- / Her eyes were black and lustreless and wan: /
Her eyelashes were worn away with tears, / Her lips and cheeks were like things
dead-so pale; / Her hands were thin, and through their wandering veins / And
weak articulations might be seen / Day's ruddy light. The tomb of thy dead self
/ Which one vexed ghost inhabits, night and day, / Is all, lost child, that now
remains of thee!
of more than earth can give, / Passionless calm and silence unreproved, /
Whether the dead find, oh, not sleep! But rest, / And are the uncomplaining
things they seem, / Or live, or drop in the deep sea of Love; / Oh, that like
thine, mine epitaph were-Peace!' / This was the only moan she ever made.
Songs from the Poema paradisiaco of Gabriele d'Annunzio
Dream (Un sogno)
do not hear my footsteps in the silent alley to which my dream leads me. The
time is quite and shining; the sky pearl-like. Unmoving and without crying the
cypress-trees by the graves reach up with their dark tops. They are very sad.
This place is unknown to me and almost formless. A most ancient mystery
pervades this silent alley I pass through, while my thoughts are lost. I do not
hear my footsteps: like a shadow I am, and my pain is like a shadow.
My whole life is like an uncertain, indistinct inexpressible shadow.
Naiad (La Najade)
shady forest is alive with softly trembling water, spreading in outward
ripples, now veiling her mysteries, now shivering through her clear veins. On
the wedding-bed Selene, the Moon, once found again the imprint of bodies, still
intact and bound together by love's pleasures. But Selene and that silver
ground is dead, and the love-beds remain abandoned. In the complete nocturnal
peace, the water is silent, but for the sound of an urn, submerged by an
Evening (La sera)
here, I beg you. Do not arise. Do you need some light? No. Let this dream still
go on. Please stay. Light, like a dagger, may wound us. This day has been
much too long and already I think of his return with fear. Light is like a dagger.
You too, you hate it? By day, your eyes are tired. It seems you can scarcely
lift those grieving lids, and nothing is sadder than the eye-lashes' shadows on
your cheeks, while your mouth smiles no more.
an ancient air (Sopra un'aria antica)
Listen: our words, do they not rise from
that ancient air? I have found you again now, dear friend. You see the sun
again and talk to me. You said those words, do you not hear? But who was aware
of them? Your tunes arise from a wooden hollow, loosed by the wind. "I
read in your heart that you do not love me. You think it is the last
time", you said. I can see a mouth grown sad. "Before you abandon me,
your wish may be fulfilled that in your heart I will be missed. Do you not
forgive me, if the temples you kiss have some white hairs?" I looked and
saw the pale neck marked by age and said: "Hush, I do love you". Your
beautiful eyes were full of tears under my kisses. "You deceive me",
you said, and kissed my hands. "What does it matter? I know you deceive
me; tomorrow you may love me while you are already dead". The canopy of
the bed was deep and the bed itself dark and deep as a grave. The unveiled body
looked almost impure. From the open balcony I saw a distant summer landscape
with an unsteady river between burning, vermilion rocks. Perfumes of remote
gardens, with sturdy women singing among their lascivious flowers, were carried
over by the wind.
Subrata was born in the Netherlands of an Indonesian father and an Austrian
mother. She was educated in Switzerland, studying at the Zurich Conservatory
under Rudolf Hartmann and Peter Rasky, and later joined the Zurich
InternationalOpera Studio. Faridah Subrata began her professional career while
still a student, achieving considerable success in Schwetzingen in a production
of Scarlatti's II Trionfo dell'Onore, which was widely broadcast. In 1987 she
won First Prize in the Verviers International Opera Competition and has
appeared in major opera houses throughout Europe as well as on European
television. A lyric mezzo-soprano, her repertoire ranges from the Baroque, in
particular the alto solos in the Bach Passions and Masses, to Lieder, oratorio
and stage roles that include Rossini's La Cenerentola, Cherubino and Orlovsky,
as well as first performances of a number of contemporary works.
Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic
ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was
František Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the direction
of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. The orchestra has made many
recordings for the Naxos label ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to
more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten and Prokofiev. For
Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and
other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and
Adriano began his artistic activities in the domains of the theatre and the
graphic arts. In music he is largely self-taught. When he was in his twenties,
he was urged by conductors such as Joseph Keilberth and Ernest Ansermet, who
recognized his gifts, to embrace a conducting career. Instead he became a
composer of stage, film and chamber music and also a record producer for his
own gramophone label, Adriano Records. In the late 1970s he established himself
as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi, organizing a comprehensive exhibition at
the 1979 Lucerne Music Festival and publishing a discography. For the past six
years Adriano has worked as an Italian and French language coach, teacher and
stage assistant at the Zürich Opera House and its International Opera Studio.
numerous efforts to promote little known music include an old Italian
translation of Telernann's opera Pimpinone, which was given its first
performance in Italy in 1987. For a production of Galuppi's II filosofo di
campagna at the Stuttgart Music Festival in 1988, he conceived a theatrical
prologue in which he himself appeared as an actor.
is now a regular guest of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava),
mainly contributing to a classic film music series for Marco Polo Records, in
which it is planned to include recordings of more than a dozen scores by
composers such as Honegger, Ibert, Bliss, Khatchaturian, Waxman and others.
Adriano's Respighi commitment for this label will include important first
recordings of youthful and later works.
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RESPIGHI: Aretusa / La Sensitiva / Il Tramonto