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Roman Festivals(Respighi)

Roman Festivals (Italian: Feste Romane) is a symphonic poem written in 1928[1] by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. It is the third orchestral work in his “Roman trilogy”, preceded by Fountains of Rome (1916) and Pines of Rome (1924). Each of the four movements depict a scene of celebration from ancient or modern Rome. It is the longest and most demanding of the trilogy,[2] and thus it is less-often programmed than its companion pieces. Its premiere was performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1929.


The first movement, Circuses (Circenses), depicts the ancient contest in which gladiators battled to the death, with the sound of trumpet fanfares. Strings and woodwinds suggest the plainchant of the first Christian martyrs which are heard against the snarls of the beasts against which they are pitted. The movement ends with violent orchestral chords, complete with organ pedal, as the martyrs succumb.

Next, the Jubilee (Giubileo), portrays the every-fiftieth-year festival in the Papal tradition (see Christian Jubilee). Pilgrims approaching Rome catch a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background.

The third movement, Harvest of October (L’Ottobrata), represents the harvest and hunt in Rome. The French horn solo celebrates the harvest as bells and a mandolin portray love serenades.

The final movement, Epiphany (La Befana), takes place in the Piazza Navona. Trumpets sound again and create a festive clamour of Roman songs and dances, including a barrel organ and a drunken reveler depicted by a solo tenor trombone.


Feste Romane is scored for the following large orchestra, including some unusual instruments intended to suggest music of earlier times:[3][4]

1 Respighi noted that the Buccine may be replaced by trumpets, a substitution which most modern orchestras make.[2]

Performance HistoryEdit

Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the music in Carnegie Hall in 1929.[2]Toscanini recorded it with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Academy of Music in 1942 for RCA Victor. He recorded it again with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in 1949, again for RCA. Both recordings were issued on LP and CD. Indeed, the 1949 performance pushed the very limits of the recording equipment of the time as Toscanini insisted the engineers capture all of the dynamics of the music, especially in Circuses and Epiphany.

The piece was first performed in Italy at the Augusteo in Rome on 17 March 1929, by the Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia under Bernardino Molinari.[5]


This work was transcribed (in the original key) for the United States Marine Band by Don Patterson in 2010. This transcription was recorded on the CD Feste, conducted by Michael J. Colburn.


  • The movement Circenses is played on BBC Radio 4 Educational Radio series in the 1980s, Roman Britainduring an Introduction.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Music Retrieved 6 July 2015.Missing or empty |title=(help)
  2. ^ a b c Freed, Richard (Sep 2003). “Program notes to Feste Romane”.
  3. ^ Rodman, Michael. “Feste romane (Roman Festivals), symphonic poem, P.157”.
  4. ^ Mangum, John. “Feste Romane”.
  5. ^ “Program from concert premiere”. Mar 1929. Missing or empty |url= (help)

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