Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1
For Symphonic Winds (15:00)
I. Balletto detto “Il conte Orlando,” Simone Molinaro (1599)
II. Gagliarda, Vincenzo Galilei (1520-1591)
III. Villanella, Anonymous
IV. Passo Mezzo E Mascherada, Anonymous
Composed by Ottorino Respighi (1917)
Transcribed by William V. Johnson (2015)
Ottorino Respighi (1879 -1936) was one of the most imaginative orchestrators of the first part of the twentieth century. While most of his musical studies were undertaken in Italy, he spent two crucial years in Russia where he took lessons in orchestration with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He developed a masterful technique in the use of instrumental color and sonority, firmly rooted in the late-Romantic tradition. He maintained this style with only marginal influence from the revolutionary changes in music that occurred during his lifetime. He is best known for his three Roman orchestral tone poems: “Fountains of Rome,” “Pines of Rome,” and “Roman Festivals.”
Respighi was also a scholar of early music, editing the works of Claudio Monteverdi and Tomaso Antonio Vitali, as well as transcribing works by many Renaissance and early Baroque composers. He also delighted in arranging obscure early music for modern performance. His three suites of “Ancient Airs and Dances” are based on Italian and French lute music mostly from the early seventeenth century to accompany dancers and singers.
Suite No. 1 opens with the Balletto detto “Il Conte Orlando,” published in 1599 by composer Simone Molinaro (c. 1570-1633). The first section grows from a gentle opening to a stirring climax. A quieter interlude based on the same theme follows, then the opening panel is repeated.
Vincenzo Galilei (c. 1520-1591) composed the following “Gagliarda.” An amateur composer and lute player, he is best known as the father of Galileo, the pioneering astronomer and physicist. This type of dance, also known as a galliard, was executed with exaggerated leaps. This is a bold, strongly accented number with richer scoring than the preceding Balletto. Respighi uses a sweet anonymous Italian tune as the contrasting middle section.
The composer of the third section, “Villanella,” is unknown. A villanella was a street song, derived from an earlier Spanish vocal form that came to popularity in Naples. It flourished side-by-side with, and in contrast to, the more refined madrigal.
The finale, “Passo mezzo e mascherada,” provides both a dance and an air. It combines two contrasting forms through a pair of anonymous melodies. The name of the opening, fast-paced passo mezzo, remains obscure. It might mean step-and-a-half, referring to the pattern of the dance it accompanied. Respighi alternates it with a mascherada, a type of villanella designed to be sung and played at a masked ball or by street players during Carnival season. It often contained an element of caricature. This flowing, melodic mascherada/villanella isn’t as gloomy as the one heard in the third movement. The passo mezzo keeps interrupting it, gleefully and vivaciously. Eventually, the passo mezzo carries the day.
This arrangement for symphonic winds is designed to provide an additional setting of Respighi’s magnificent orchestral work that captures the spirit of the Renaissance era that employed such instruments as the lute, shawm, dulcian, sackbut, trumpet, recorder, crumhorn, cornetto, and serpent, as well as the rich, colorful sounds of the late Romantic Orchestra and its huge array of modern wind, string, and percussion instruments.