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Michiana Symphony Orchestra Concert
April 27, 1991

Britten: An American Overture | Respighi: Pini di Roma

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
An American Overture (1941)

In 1939, the 25-year-old Benjamin Britten sailed to America, in his words "a discouraged young composer - muddled, fed-up, and looking for work, longing to be used."  Despite his intent to permanently leave England and his avowed pacifism, the intensifying of the Battle of Britain, homesickness, and a growing feeling of where he should be all motivated him to return to his homeland in 1942.

Britten's American experience served as a crucial pivotal point in the composer's development.  During this period his works were performed and acclaimed by prominent orchestras and conductors, he received important commissions to write new music, he was made to feel at home as an artist.  Most of all he found his place - both in the direction his future composition would take and where he would make his home.  He later said of his native land: "I am firmly rooted in this glorious country.  And I proved this to myself when I once tried to live somewhere else."

The overture heard on tonight's concert was composed in response toa request by conductor Artur Rodzinski of the Cleveland Orchestra for an orchestral showpiece.  Probably written in the fall of 1941, the not only went unperformed but was actually lost for more than three decades.  In fact, when the score was discovered in New York shortly before Britten's death, the composer denied that he had anything to do with it.  However, when he was shown a photocopy of the manuscript and recognizing his own handwritten notation, he acknowledged that he must have written it.

Originally entitled An Occasional Overture, the publishers gave the piece its present title to distinguish it from another work of the same name published in 1946.  An American Overture finally received its first performance in 1983 in England.  The construction of the piece is in three sections (slow-fast-slow), showing off the orchestra through the use of contrasting string and wind choirs - with plenty of percussion.

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Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome)

I.  I pini di Villa Borghese
II.  Pini presso una Catacomba
III. I pini del Gianicolo
IV.  I pini della Via Appia
Italian comoser Ottorino Respighi, representative of the non-French impressionists, is known for his lyricism, rich orchestral sonorities, brilliant colors, touches of exoticism, and a respect for and love of things past.  Pini di Roma is the second of his trilogy of symphonic poems devoted to impressions of the Eternal City.

For several years the ideas for this work, inspired by visual sensations of the Roman landscape past and present, had been accumulating in the composer's mind.  By 1923 the four scenes had reached the definitive stage which for Resphigi always preceded the routine work of actually scoring the piece.

At the first performance of the work in December of 1924, the opening section was greeted with boos and hisses of protest, but the sudden pianissimo of the second part, the lush beauty of the third, and the grandeur of the final section evoked an enthusiasm for the piece that continues unabated.

Respighi wrote of the piece that he "uses nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and visions.  The century-old trees which dominate so characteristically the Roman landscape become testimony for the principal events in Roman life."  Pini di Roma is made up of four connecting parts.  Following is the composer's description as printed in the score:

I.  The Pines of Villa Borghese
Children are at play in the pine groves of Villa Borghese; they dance round in circles.  They play at soldiers, marching and fighting, they are wrought up by their own cries like swallows at evening, they come and go in swarms.  Suddenly the scene changes and --

II.  The Pine-trees Near a Catacomb
-- we see the shades of the pine-trees fringing the entrance to a catacomb.  From the depth rises the sound of a mournful chant, floating through the air like a solemn hymn, and gradually and mysteriously dispersing.

III.  The Pine-trees of the Janiculum
There is a thrill in the air: the pine trees of the Janiculum stand distinctly outlined in the clear light of the full moon.  A nightingale is singing.

IV.  The Pine-trees of the Appian Way
Misty dawn on the Appian way: solitary pine-trees guarding the magic landscape; the muffled, ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps.  The poet has a fantastic vision of bygone glories: trumpets sound and, in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun a consular army bursts forth towards the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1991.
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