From Botticelli to Respighi

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Italian painter Sandro Botticelli, nicknamed the "Little Barrel", succeeded in making a splash with his paintings in the second half of the fifteenth century and when he was only twenty-five. He made his work “Madonna del Magnificat”, which is now in the Louvre Museum, famous at that time, and it was one of his first paintings.

Madonna del Magnificat - Sandro Botticelli

As can be understood from this work, Madonna was depicted with elegant lines and supported Botticelli's passion for beauty. Little Barrel's perception of elegance was highly developed and it was very important for him to present his works within this framework. In addition to his pioneering role in the development and progress of Renaissance painting, his extreme love of beauty was at a level that left others in awe. So much so for Ottorino Respighi, who was inspired by his works hundreds of years later.

Ottorino Respighi

As a composer born in nineteenth-century Bologna, Respighi was at the forefront of his poetry in his works. He later moved to Rome and was inevitably associated with Rome with the "Fountains of Rome", "Pines of Rome", and "Roman Festivals" trilogy. However, Botticelli's works, which he met at an art gallery in Vienna, took him to completely different places. Three paintings in this gallery impressed him: La Primavera (Spring), L'Adorazione dei Magi (Adoration of the Magi) and La Nascita di Venere (Birth of Venus). These Botticelli works had nothing in common. Of course, we cannot say that it was exactly that for Respighi. The composer's poetic style was based on contrasts. In fact, what he was looking for to create a dynamic work was to get the maximum effect in the unity of opposite subjects.

On the one hand, Sandro Botticelli, whose beauty and grace are at the center of his works and the owner of the paintings full of stories, on the other hand, Ottorino Respighi, who presents his flamboyant and poetic tones to the world, inspired by Italian art and history. The resulting combination is a feast for all senses. This three-part symphony named “Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Paintings)” composed by Respighi in 1927 became the meeting point of the two artists.

The first part of the symphony, La Primavera, as the name suggests, describes nature in spring; Bird chirping, other sounds in nature and ancient dance rhythm emerged as a pastoral. The female figure in the painting is paired with spring; it blossomed and merged with the nature around it. The bassoon in the opening part and the dance melody that continues after it tries to make you feel the enthusiasm of spring. This dance melody also represents the festivities of the Renaissance period. Respighi wanted to show his interest in Italian history here. 

La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

The second part, L'Adorazione dei Magi, arising from the other Botticelli painting, is considered very important indeed. The reason for this is that this section contains melodies inspired by old church modes and Gregorian chants. In this context, this work evokes an air of medieval devotion. Rather than the enthusiasm of the first episode, L'Adorazione dei Magi features sad and mysterious textures as well as colorful musical textures.

L'Adorazione dei Magi by Sandro Botticelli

The final episode, La Nascita di Venere, is an auditory impression of the goddess carried on a giant oyster shell in the painting. The sea blown by the wind creates a rhythmic design. The splashing and bright sounds aim to gradually merge and arrive at birth, providing a backdrop for the sensual melody of the birth of Venus. This part of the work ends with the departure of the goddess, representing the gentle movements of the slowly receding waves. 

La Nascita di Venere by Sandro Botticelli

Ottorino Repighi, with his work Trittico Botticelliano, remained faithful to the form of 19th and 20th century music, but at the same time, he succeeded in making music of a period by referring to the past. And, of course, it has made an important contribution to strengthening the inter-arts context.


REFERENCES

May 11, 2005. Ottorino Respighi's 'Botticelli Triptych'. www.npr.org

Trittico botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych)-Ottorino Respighi, New York Philharmonic, https://nyphil.org/~/media/pdfs/program-notes/1920/Respighi-Trittico-botticelliano.ashx

OTTORINO RESPIGHI — Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures), Charleston Symphony, https://charlestonsymphony.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/MW2-Pictures-at-an-Exhibition-copy.pdf

Genty, G., Houssais, L., Jouve, S., Thiebaut, P., Vergne, F., 2013. L'ABCdaire du Symbolisme et de L'Art Nouveau. page 39

1 Review

  1. Listening the 'Trittico Botticelliano” while reading this article was nothing less then a journey.

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