Feste Romane (English Roman Festivals) is a work for large symphony orchestra composed in 1928, by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. The piece is a tone poem depicting scenes from Ancient Rome of the Roman Empire. It is now considered a part of the Roman Trilogy of symphonic poems along with Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome), and Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome), which are orchestral pieces set to a specific theme, tale, or setting. This work is the longest and most demanding of the trilogy, thus it is less-often programmed than its companion pieces, and is thus the least known of the three.
Within the first movement called Circenses or Circuses, the music presents the theme of an ancient contest in which gladiators battle to the death, to 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 Giubileo, or Jubilee, portrays the every-fiftieth-year festival in the Papal tradition. Pilgrims approach Rome catching a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background. The third movement, L’Ottobrata or the Harvest of October, represents the harvest and hunt in Rome. The French horn solo celebrates the harvest as bells portray love serenades. The final movement, called La Befana, or the Epiphany, takes place in the Piazza Navona. Trumpets sound again and create a different clamour of Roman songs and dances, including a drunken reveler depicted by a solo tenor trombone.
Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the music in Carnegie Hall in 1929. 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.
- 1. Circenses (Circuses) - c. 4:30
- 2. Giubileo (Jubilee) - c. 7:15
- 3. L’Ottobrata (October Festival) - c. 7:40
- 4. La Befana (The Epiphany) - c. 5:32
Feste Romane is scored for the following large orchestra:
- Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in B-flat and A, piccolo clarinet in D, bass clarinet in B-flat and A, 2 bassoons, and contrabassoon
- Brass: 4 horns in F, 4 trumpets in B-flat and A, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba and 3 Soprano buccine in B-flat1
- Percussion: timpani, bells, glockenspiel, cymbals, bass drum with cymbals, field drum, snare drum, horse hooves, ratchet, sleigh bells, tambourine, tam-tam, triangle, high and low wood blocks, and xylophone
- Keyboard: piano (2 and 4 hands), and organ
- Strings: Mandolin, 1st and 2nd violins, violas, violoncellos, and double basses