The Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is probably best known for his large-scale symphonic works, in particular the tone poems celebrating the glories of Rome: The Fountains of Rome, The Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals. Respighi was, however, not only a composer but also a respected musicologist and antiquarian. His fascination with the music of the past inspired him to produce music of an entirely different kind of which his three suites of Ancients Airs and Dances are charming – and popular – examples.
Composed between 1917 and 1931 all three collections are a personal and modern take on a range of themes originally written for the lute and harpsichord in the Renaissance and Baroque periods by a number of (now obscure) Italian and French composers. Whilst Respighi scored the first two suites for full orchestra, he arranged his third, and final, collection for strings alone. Reserved and elegant, they beautifully capture the subtlety and brilliance of this very old music in a form pleasing to the modern palate, whilst never tampering with the original harmonies.
The third suite comprises four distinct movements. The opening Italiana (arranged here), marked Andantino, is based on an anonymous Italian popular melody of the late 16th/early 17th century.