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Nationalism, Chauvinism and Racism as Reflected in European Musical Thought and in Compositions from the Interwar Period


Andrzej Tuchowski

This book concerns the ways in which many different types of nationalism, chauvinism and racism penetrated into musical thought in the interwar period, and how the leading artistic personalities of that period reacted to these ideologies. The concept of "nationalism" is understood broadly in this book and covers the entire spectrum of its positive and negative aspects. The topics listed in the book’s title have been discussed on the example of selected four countries, significant with respect to population and territory and representing different social-political systems: Germany (mostly after 1933), Italy, Poland (after 1926) and Great Britain. This selection is also representative of the main ethnic groups in Europe: Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Latin-Romance and Slavic.

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V. The Italian “National Awakening” and Historical-Imperial Nationalism. Art in the Context of the Fascist Myth of Romanità

V. The Italian “National Awakening” and Historical-Imperial Nationalism. Art in the Context of the Fascist Myth of Romanità

In December 1925 Roman Dmowski argued: “If we [Poles] were similar to today’s Italy, if we were so well organised as the fascists and had Mussolini, who is undoubtedly the greatest man in present-day Europe – we would not need anything else…”342 Today Dmowski’s claims may seem outrageous, but from the perspective of that time, Mussolini’s achievements were viewed positively by many people in Europe. From the time of the famous march on Rome, Italy changed significantly, and though the price of political stability and economic progress was the gradual limitation of civil rights and brutal treatment of political opponents – in the international scene the dominant opinion was that expressed by Ray Moseley:

“Mussolini had instituted ambitious public works projects, set up a social security system, drained the Pontine Marshes, preserved the monuments of ancient Rome, and made the trains run on time. He was bringing order and discipline to Italy, compelling his countrymen to abandon their languorous Latin way of life and become part of modern Europe.”343

It is difficult to judge whether Dmowski (who wrote these words in 1925, the time of another political crisis in Poland) was aware that “undoubtedly the greatest man in present-day Europe” was transforming Italy, politically and institutionally, into a totalitarian state. In 1934, when the Nazis introduced a state organisation modelled on the Italian fascists, Dmowski (as we explained before) was critical of this form of government. The Polish press of the 1930s also wrote critically (sometimes even caustically) about the inflated bureaucratic structures of the fascist state responsible for artistic patronage – one might think that “administering art is as important as art itself.” Nevertheless, the prevalent tone in both the nationalist and the government-supported press was favourable toward Italy, its cultural achievements and the traditionally pro-Polish attitudes ←161 | 162→of Italians. This sentiment was reciprocated by the Italian side despite the fact that in the late 1930s, the two countries found themselves in opposite political and military camps.

The history of Polish-Italian relations can indeed serve as a model example of how cultural factors and traditional mutual friendship dominated over short-lived political alliances. In an issue of the Warsaw-based social-literary weekly “Prosto z mostu” published just 10 days before the outbreak of the war, we find an extensive article by Adolf Nowaczyński344, who sums up the Polish-Italian relations to date. The author recalls the memory (still vivid in Italy) of the military actions of Mickiewicz’s famous legion, which fought at the side of Garibaldi, as well as forgotten examples (worthy of a heroic film) of Italian volunteers taking part in the January Uprising of 1863/64 in Poland. He also quotes impressive numbers of translations of works by the greatest Polish writers into Italian, and observes: “When we examine the Italians’ unusual liking for the remote, Hyperborean Poland and Poles in the 19th century (with no parallels among any other nations), there is one field in which our research and explorations yield truly phenomenal results.” That field is that of opera, which, as Nowaczyński explains, was “the most popular, most favourite discipline of the arts, through which the eternal genius of that immortal nation expressed itself just as fully and perfectly as in architecture, the plastic arts and in painting.” Nowaczyński stresses the fundamental importance of the Italian opera for the entire progress of European culture and notes that:

“No European nation’s history has been explored so frequently and constantly as… Polish history. Not only authors of Polish operas, but even Polish playwrights have not explored their own history as often as it was done by the Italian composers, including such world-famous composers as Cherubini, Rossini, Donizetti, Ponchielli, and Verdi!”

Examples from 20th-century history quoted by Nowaczyński are even more telling. In 1916 a group of 70 Italian MPs and senators was the first in Europe to present a resolution demanding the restoration of the Polish state. In 1923 the Italian government was the first to recognise Poland’s eastern borders, and a year later granted Poland the first ‘stabilisation loan’. In 1931 Mussolini spoke enthusiastically about Poland’s achievements. In 1938 Beck, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited Rome, and the following year his Italian counterpart, count Ciano, came to Warsaw. “Can 1940 change all this?” asked Nowaczyński rhetorically.

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Naturally, many more examples could be added to Nowaczyński’s list, and the colourful history of the Polish-Italian friendship deserves a separate monograph. What is interesting for us in the specific context of this book is that this history exemplifies similar parallel developments of nationalisms determined by similar historical conditions (in the case of 19th-century Poland and Italy – the struggle for state independence), lack of mutual conflicts, fascination with cultural and climatic-geographic differences, as well as the idealisation of past successes and of historical forms of statehood. As we know, the political elites of interwar Poland had superpower aspirations and eagerly referred in this context to the historical heritage of the (pre-19th-century) Polish Lithuanian-Commonwealth, which many Poles greeted with undisguised approval. Italy had much greater ambitions in this respect, proportional, one could say, to the ancient legacy which fascists appropriated and turned into their state’s strategic aim (as well as the source of national fame). Fascist Italy was supposed to become not only an heir to the great Roman Empire, but its revived modern equivalent in the contemporary global context. It was the mission of fascism to return to Italy’s imperial roots and link the remote but glorious past to an idealised future in which ethnic nationalism of the italianita type could transform into an imperial romanità. The fascists aimed to kindle national aspirations and convince their compatriots that with such roots (which other contemporary political powers could hardly match), Italy could well regain a place among the world’s greatest empires. The very etymology of the term fascismo, which derives from fascio littorio – a bundle of rods tied around an axe, also used in the national emblem of the fascist state – referred to ancient Roman traditions, as also did the restored Roman salute with the raised, extended right hand, references to Roman eagles, triumphal arches, colonnades and other Roman elements that dominated new Italian architecture and cityscapes, exerting on the mass imagination an impact comparable to that of commercials345

Naturally, the dream of reviving the empire required an enormous civilizational and technical leap, the point of departure for which was the general modernisation of all aspects of life, and especially those that could transform ←163 | 164→the nation’s mentality in the way desired by the now all-powerful state. The corporation system imposed by the regime was to ensure the solidarity of all social groups and eventually impose national homogeneity. As Mussolini himself put it (or the neo-Heglist Giovanni Gentile, fascism’s main ideologist, who inspired Mussolini’s writings):

“for a fascist everything is contained in the state. There is nothing human or spiritual outside the state (…) Fascism is totalitarian in this sense, and the fascist state, as a synthesis and unification of all values, gives meaning to the entire life of the nation…”346

The total submission of all the population to a strictly centralised authority was to facilitate the planned ‘civilizational leap’ and diminish the huge contrast between the well-developed North and the backward South. The regime believed that only military-style organisation could release the enormous energy necessary to achieve the expected transformation. Mussolini had no doubts that a fascist must be a man of action who, moreover, is “aware in a masculine way of the difficulties encountered” and ready “to face them in an equally masculine fashion.” A fascist “scorns comfortable life” since he “views life as a struggle and believes that man must earn a life truly worthy of being a man…”347 Some foreign journalists suggested that this great national effort and the imposition of military discipline on the society carried the danger of making the individual in such a state feel weak, lacking subjectivity, annihilated in fact. But Mussolini, similar to most dictators, liked to draw on military discourse and metaphors, and he had no such fears. For him, each citizen was to the state what a soldier is to the army – and so, the strength and possibilities of each citizen were multiplied, not diminished, by the strength and possibilities of other soldiers in various army units348. Fascist propaganda associated Rome with three main attributes: power, discipline and modernity. It was the all-embracing discipline imposed by Mussolini on his compatriots that was to guarantee national success, improve Italy’s position and be the key to achieving the correct level of modernisation.

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1 Modern Art or Degenerate Art? Modernism and Its National Aspects in Fascist and Nazi Ideologies

Intense modernisation was necessary to transform Italy into a revived Roman Empire, which once was the ancient world’s civilizational avant-garde, astonishing in the scale of its construction works (huge edifices, roads, aqueducts), inventions that were thousands of years ahead of their time (concrete, the steam turbine), traffic organisation and such transport devices as ancient ‘taxis’. The regime’s enthusiasm for modernity also translated into promoting the arts. Mussolini saw himself not only as a patron of the arts and a friend of artists, but actually as ‘one of them’, which he announced with his characteristic directness at the opening of the Gruppo dei Pittori del ’900 graphic arts exhibition in Milan in March 1923, where he felt, he claimed, as “an artist among artists”, because politics is an art; indeed, the highest of all arts, since its material is the hardest to wield and at the same time easiest to shape – “that material is man.”349

This statement, apart from being a metaphor of the fascist ambition to form a ‘new man’, also proves that the Duce – like Hitler – viewed himself as ‘an artistic soul’, though unlike Hitler, who focused on graphic arts and architecture, Mussolini – having made some literary attempts in his youth350 – believed himself to be, first and foremost, a musician. He would play the violin with his son Romano (later known as a fairly good jazz pianist). Raffaello de Rensis even wrote a book entitled Mussolini musicista351, where he extols the Duce’s musical talents like a courtly flatterer, though he modestly admits that he had had, until that moment, no chance to hear Mussolini play. Naturally, Italy’s artistic circles tried to take advantage of both the dictator’s artistic sympathies and of his ←165 | 166→imperial-Roman ambitions, which is well reflected in Pirandello’s telling statement: “We need a Caesar for another Virgil to emerge.”352

The most significant difference between Mussolini’s and Hitler’s attitude to artistic matters lay, however, not just in taste, but in fundamental contrasts between Nazi and fascist totalitarian ideologies. Nazism did not tolerate any modernist stance owing to Hitler’s well-known conservatism, and the dogma of racial motives behind all avant-garde art (a conspiracy against Aryan culture) effectively tied the hands of even those among the Nazis who personally accepted some manifestations of modernism in art. Italian fascism, on the other hand, proudly identified with the achievements of futurism as the much desired affirmation of life and modernisation of the national spirit. The fascists also wished to emphasise the separate cultural identity of their revolution, which drew on hopes and slogans similar to those that lured Russian futurists after the Bolshevik coup. Only a revolutionary society, it was claimed, can accept a revolutionary aesthetic. The paintings and other graphic works by Enrico Prampolini, Fortunato Depero, Ernesto Michahelles (Thayaht), as well as the poetry of Filippo T. Marinetti introduced many people into the world of modern technology, which they viewed as a challenge for ‘the new human’, or rather for the ‘new man’ favoured by the fascists – a warrior and conqueror of nature, who was to become the fundament of the future empire, while women were to return to the role of “Vestals, priestesses of the hearth.”353 The cult of the machine, especially of the aeroplane (a key motif of futurist art)354, very common among young people and encouraged by the authorities, grew partly out of complexes concerning Italy’s backwardness (we the modern fascist state are supporters of modern art), but it also provided a pretext for many iconic types of messages extremely useful from ←166 | 167→the point of view of education and propaganda355. These included the visions of young ‘knights of the sky’ who formed one body and spirit with their steel steeds, as well as the images of machines as a magnification of human power and ability. The innovative so-called ‘graphic syntheses’ worked out by futurists (visually similar structures used to represent different but thematically related shapes) made possible multiply enhanced expression reaching directly the subconscious – which fully agreed with the policy of creating a homo novus356. For, instance, Prampolini’s abstract portrait of Marinetti (1933–34) shows a head in a pilot’s helmet, which can also be interpreted as a combat helmet or a swimming cap. The geometric figures in the painting may suggest parts of an aeroplane, while the irregular shapes in the background are like features of a landscape. The young man is represented here as a conqueror of the air and water, but also as a ‘bird of prey’ that descends on the enemy from above. Another characteristic work, Thayaht’s sculpture Dux (highly regarded by Mussolini) is also a male head in a helmet – this time clearly a military one, but stylised in such a way that it combines ancient Roman, medieval and contemporary features. What particularly inspired the Italian Duce’s imagination was the Latin inscription. The work’s extremely comprehensive message includes, as David Odmond-Smith demonstrates357, not only an iconic vision of military leadership, but also a metaphor of the head of state as the nation’s brain, the mastermind behind all the aspects of its progress.

Though such artistic representations could hardly fail to attract the attention of Nazi leaders in Germany, their forms remained unacceptable for those leaders. Both Thayaht’s Dux and Prampolini’s works were presented in the early spring of 1934 at an exhibition of Italian futurism in Berlin, and they did not inspire the German hosts’ admiration358. Berlin critics admittedly refrained from direct attacks, aware of the importance of the planned alliance with Italy – but the Nazi press did not try to conceal its critical attitude to modernism as such, and in the very same year, at a NSDAP assembly in Nuremberg, Hitler denounced modern art as ‘degenerate’. The Italian futurists represented by Prampolini immediately ←167 | 168→hastened to back up their German colleagues. If the typically German expressionism – a ‘national’ artistic movement, one could say – has virtually been crushed, and its main representatives have been forced to emigrate, then what does national socialism intend to base its aesthetic identity on? – asked Prampolini359. Also Marinetti noted that the Nazis ignored those contexts of modern art that embodied the spirit of modernised nationalism. He expressed his doubts as to whether the Third Reich’s cultural policies allow to classify the Nazi movement as revolutionary360. Of the greatest importance, however, were the statements from Mussolini himself, who not only publicly supported futurism as the aesthetic representation of ‘revolutionary fascist culture’, but also clearly distanced himself from the German Nazis’ racist obsessions as applied to all kinds of avant-garde movements. “The Führer is wrong in describing Italian futurism and its Russian followers as Levantine or even non-Aryan,” said the Duce in one of the interviews in 1934, emphasising that ‘fascist culture’ does not know the notion of degenerate art. He also stated that he had never been able to understand how “a man like Hitler” could allow the German authorities to wage war on expressionism, which was, after all, “the most outstanding manifestation of German art in the 20th century.”361 This was a paradox that he found incomprehensible. After all (as explained above), one of the leading musical expressionists and a bold experimenter looking to the future – Arnold Schönberg – considered himself a German nationalist and a modernist at the same time. As late as 1931 he still enthusiastically emphasised the profound, organic links between his music and ‘the German soil’, as well as German tradition in music362.

Italy was, at that time, evidently still independent of Germany, which manifested itself, for example, in ignoring racial theories (with the possible exception of colonial-type racism directed against people of dark carnation). ←168 | 169→The Nazis’ hostile attitude to expressionism, which outside the Third Reich was viewed as a modernised emanation of the German spirit (while in Germany it was only seen as a subversive, ‘decomposing’ project of the international Jewry) was for Mussolini a strange internal contradiction. In the same 1934, the first tensions between Italy and Germany with regard to racial policies began to appear. When German researchers announced that people living south of the Alps had more ‘Negroid’ than Nordic features, the Duce reacted with evident irritation, and speaking to thousands of enthusiastic followers in Bari, he announced proudly:

“Thirty centuries of history let us view some doctrines as plainly pathetic, when they are taught on the other side of the Alps by those whose ancestors were illiterate while Rome had its Caesar, its Virgil and Augustus…”363

These widely commented statements made by Mussolini in 1934, when the Italian fascists’ cultural policy was still open, and especially the Duce’s ostentatious distancing of himself from Nazi racism – all earned Italy and its leader considerable popularity abroad, especially when the situation of artists in Italy was compared with what was then going on in the Third Reich. And indeed, Italy seems to have been the only dictatorial state in that period in which artistic freedom was not smaller than in democratic countries, while at the same time the artists enjoyed the support of state patronage. Foreign media paid much less attention to the behind-the-scenes rivalry of various coteries supported by prominent fascist officials, and to the universal use of manipulation, such as the staged criticism of ‘unrecommended’ composers. Nevertheless, it was a fact that Luigi Dallapicolla could write his opera Volo di notte (Night Flight, dedicated to the triumphs of aviation) in the twelve-note technique, while interventions of the censors and bans on performances, as painfully experienced for instance by Gian Francesco Malipiero in the case of his opera La favola del figlio cambiato (1934), concerned not so much the technique as the text364. One could say that in strictly musical terms, composers were given free choice, and Mussolini the ‘musicista’ showed equal respect to the futurist avant-garde trends and to all kinds of ‘neo-’ styles, viewing all of them as expression of the broadly conceived ←169 | 170→contemporary national Italian spirit. Festivals of contemporary music were generously subsidised by the state and they presented a wide spectrum of European music, including Bartók, Szymanowski, Hindemith, Berg, and Schönberg, with particular emphasis on the music of Stravinsky, whom Mussolini was widely known to admire. The composer himself (evidently naïve in political matters, though not more than the majority of Europe’s public opinion at that time) fully reciprocated this sentiment, calling the Italian dictator “a great man, saviour of Italy and Europe,” and enthusiastically commenting on his time spent with the Duce, which he counted among the happiest moments in his life365.

A similar though less emotional tone can be found in British press reports from contemporary music festivals held in the early 1930s in Italy. Writing on the World Music Days in Florence in the spring of 1934, Richard Capell noted that while in some countries music is much harmed by the attitudes of politicians and their policies, in Italy it can always count on the authorities’ favour, regardless of the nationality, race, religion or political views of its composers366. Arnold Cooke, in his review of the same ISCM Festival in “The Chesterian”, stressed the encouraging fact that in the times of intensely developing nationalism, a society with such aims and ideas as ISCM is so hospitably hosted by a country to which music owes a great debt, all because of the personal patronage of the Duce367. An anonymous correspondent of “The Musical Times” admired the organisation of the Contemporary Music Festival in Florence (1937, personally attended by Stravinsky), and in particular – the ingenious concept of incorporating the works of a great Venetian from the past, Antonio Vivaldi, in the programme, which he described as “a stroke of genius” on the part of the head of the repertoire committee, Alfredo Casella368. Previously, in a letter to Mussolini (dated 15th September 1928) summing up the ISCM Festival in Siena, the ISCM president Edward J. Dent expressed his admiration not only for the open, liberal atmosphere in Italy, but also for the Italian national spirit in both its traditional and current version; all, naturally, owing to the wise rule of “your Excellency.”369 ←170 | 171→Paeans of praise for fascist Italy as ‘the promised land’ of contemporary art were then published quite commonly throughout Europe, also in the German press (e.g. in Hans Stuckenschmidt’s texts published before 1934, shortly before the ban on his writings). Also in Poland it was stressed that – unlike in Germany – the Italian

“[fascist] party behaves more like a wet nurse than a policeman. It organises exhibitions and concerts for artists, attracts crowds to these events, finds buyers for works of art, and where there are no buyers, offers government commissions to artists. And this would be about all… The fascists leave an aesthetic appraisal of artistic trends to the ultimate critic, which is natural selection that comes with time.”370

It must be stressed, however, that the enthusiasm for the idea of universal modernisation, of changing the image of Italy as one huge museum and kingdom of the opera, as well as longing for Roman greatness and the related imperial ambitions – were not the invention of the fascists. These tendencies had already appeared before the outbreak of World War I and took root in the collective imagination of the generation born in the 1880s. According to Wiarosław Sandelewski, the famous virulent (and rather curious) criticism of Puccini by a leading Italian musicologist, Fausto Torrefranca (1912), resulted from an ill-addressed protest against the absolute reign of the opera in Italian music life, while the crucial forms of modern instrumental music once invented in that country (the concerto, sonata, sinfonia) were given up voluntarily to the French and the Germans371. In the first decade of the 20th century, possibly in relation to Northern Italy’s industrial modernisation, this region saw the rise of the most provocative and ‘noisy’ of the European avant-gardes, represented by the futurists, whose musical visions only came true in the musique concrète of the late 1940s. Even before the fascist era, in the shadow of the Great War, a wave of patriotic enthusiasm swept through Italy, attracting the memory of the national community toward the Latin version of the Blut und Boden ideology, and therefore looking for the roots of its own ‘national revival’ in the glorious past, looking back to ancient Rome.

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2 The Musical Apologies of Rome in the Service of Fascist Imperial-Historical Nationalism

Maurice Halbwachs had already claimed before World War II372 that individual memory is relative and depends on the society which shapes it in accordance with its own current rules. The society makes use of collective memory spanning many generations to build a collective vision of the past that corresponds to current ideological norms. In our specific context, collective memory activated such images of the past that corresponded to the nationalist call for a ‘national revival’ amid the dramatic struggles and the great apocalypse of the Great War. But collective and national memory works in two directions, both backwards and forwards, as Jan Assmann aptly observed373. While reconstructing the past, it also imposes the effects of those reconstructions on the present and the future. In the case of the collective memory of a large community such as an entire nation, such reconstructions are carried out most effectively by the state authorities. It was the key mission of fascist dictatorial rule as well as Mussolini’s personal obsession to project national memory onto the future and bestow a propagandist direction upon this trend.

As we have mentioned, from the moment of seizing power in Italy, Mussolini consistently promoted the mythic romanità374in all spheres of life, from the omnipresence of Roman motifs in urban iconography and the insignia of state authority, to anniversary ceremonies in honour of eminent Roman artists and politicians, to architecture, urban planning (including the demolition of whole quarters of buildings in order to expose monumental Roman ruins), to theatre, film and music375. The artists’ response for the call for works on Roman subjects ←172 | 173→was a whole series of operas by composers of various generations and stylistic preferences, including: Mascagni’s Nero (1935), Malipiero’s Giulio Cesare (1934–1935)376 and Antonio e Cleopatra (1936), Respighi’s Lucrezia (1936) and Ennio Porfino’s Gli Orazi (1941). However, none of these works had such powerful impact on the Italian audience as two compositions on Roman themes (differing in genre and style) which, paradoxically, were written or conceived still before the fascist era. From the point of view of fascist propaganda, the time of composition was irrelevant. What counted was the composers’ fame and, most of all, enormous audience acclaim, which led the fascists to include both in the canon of the officially supported ‘state music’ – as the most desirable sound image of the romanità. These two were: the now almost forgotten and marginalised Inno a Roma (Hymn to Rome, 1919) by Giacomo Puccini, extremely popular in interwar Italy, and Ottorino Respighi’s cycle of spectacular symphonic frescoes known as the Roman Trilogy, inaugurated in 1917 with Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) a 4-movement poem, followed by more musical pictures of the Eternal City: I Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome, 1924) and I Feste di Roma (Roman Festivals, 1929).

Puccini and Respighi were perhaps the two most eminent individuals in Italian music of that period. They differed not only in the generation they represented; Puccini, then at the height of his worldwide fame, whose oeuvre can be described as the ‘swan song’ of the great 300-year period of the Italian operatic tradition – closed an epoch, while Respighi, of Szymanowski’s generation, successfully put into practice the postulates of his contemporaries, ‘restoring’ to Italian music the once lost realm of instrumental music, taken over for centuries by other European nations. Respighi was considered as the great hope of Italian symphonic music, which was expected to win a permanent place in international concert repertoire alongside German, Russian and French works. Though poles apart in age and style, these two artists were clearly identified as national icons, and stole the hearts of the Italian audience in the interwar period as bards of Rome nonpareil. This was naturally noted by the fascist regime, which appropriated both masterful musical incarnations of the officially promoted romanità to such an extent that they were viewed as ‘fascist music’ for a long time afterwards, ←173 | 174→which affected their postwar reception. Sometimes – in blatant defiance of the obvious chronology (the dates of composition of the Hymn to Rome and the first part of the Roman Trilogy) – both composers met with accusations of conformism. However, the international position of Puccini, and soon also of his younger colleague in the early 1920s was so strong and significant that they did not need the support of the regime. It was the regime that needed them, and even more – their music.

2.1 “Salve Roma divina!”: Hymn to Rome by Giacomo Puccini

We usually associate Puccini’s Roman fascinations with the famous Tosca, considered as one of his greatest achievements, an opera written in the late 1890s, in which the Eternal City only served as a colourful historical backdrop for the verist drama of life’s brutal rules. It is a different case with Inno a Roma. In April 1918, the Roman authorities addressed the then well-known poet Fausto Salvatori with a request for an occasional ode commemorating the victories of the Italian army during World War I377. Puccini was soon commissioned to set this text to music. He completed this commission, albeit without much enthusiasm, as evident from his correspondence. The premiere, planned for 21st April 1919, the anniversary of the legendary foundation of Rome, was to be particularly solemn and festive378.

Inno a Roma is a piece in the style of a solemn march, made up of two stanzas separated by a lofty, highly patriotic refrain. The text, inspired by Horace’s Carmen saeculare, is in some sections (such as the famous reference to the “testimony of the sun” in the refrain) merely an Italian rendering of the Latin original. Musically speaking, the work is typical of Puccini’s style with its truly operatic sense of drama, extreme flexibility in the musical expression of textual meanings, and, naturally, the unrivalled simple and highly original melodies, unique to this composer. Both stanzas pulsate with youthful energy that resembles (both in terms of rhythm and melody) one of Rodolfo’s leading motifs from Act One of La bohème, and moves from fanfare-underlined invocations to “divine Rome,” ←174 | 175→“our fortress and pride,” to the description of armed troops stretching as far as the horizon, armour glittering in the sun and the valiant cries of “Sta la Vittoria!” The solar motif, indispensable in the Latin-culture version of the Blut und Boden ideology, here becomes a metaphorical dominant feature of the text. The sun as a witness to both old and recent history of this land lends its glory to Italy and confirms the global uniqueness of Rome. This message is expressed by the refrain, in which, after the final fanfares, the music subsides to a piano dynamic, the punctuated rhythms give way to a mood of solemn concentration, while the inspired song, oscillating around the fifth degree of the scale and combining the qualities of a hymn with the melodiousness of an operatic aria, addresses the “free and joyous” (libero e giocondo) sun rising above the hills: “tu non vedrai nessuna cosa al mondo maggior di Roma!” This conclusion, which stresses the magnitude and magnificence of Rome, is of utmost importance; nothing in the world can compare to Rome. Whether or not this refers to the Eternal City itself or to the entire empire is left to the audience’s interpretation379. Musically the piece contains such melodic Italianisms which, as a timeless quintessence of Italian-ness, were adopted by Benjamin Britten in his Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. They are melodies dominated by progressions based on the intervals of a third, a fourth and steps of a second. It is highly suggestive and has a very strongly impact on the emotions of the audience – at least in Italy. Toward the end of this hymn, the refrain is repeated with full force, as in the Romantic ‘reprise-apotheoses’, while the emotional impact is reinforced by modulating up a fourth.

The British Puccini scholar Julian Budden argues that380 Inno a Roma may have been modelled on two marches, both enjoying huge popularity in their respective countries and belonging to the canon of national cultures: The Strips and Stars Forever by John Philip Sousa (1897), which is the official National March of the United States by an act of the U.S. Congress, and the famous Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 in D Major by Edward Elgar (1901), which from the very start has aroused enthusiasm among a wide British audience. Budden criticises Puccini’s march as definitely inferior to both its Anglo-Saxon prototypes in terms of catchy tunes and refrain, which in the Hymn to Rome, he claims, becomes helplessly suspended on the 5th degree of the scale, negatively affecting the value of beauty in the melody. This opinion, however, may result from the author’s rooting in Anglo-Saxon culture and from his incomprehension of ←175 | 176→Puccini’s task – which was to write a hymn rather than a popular instrumental march. Budden also most likely forgot that Puccini had been part of a rather different type of national musical culture, in which the vocal-operatic tradition reached very high standards. It is an interesting coincidence that the refrain “Sole che sorgi libero e giocondo…” begins identically as the old Polish national anthem God, Thou Who Hast Poland381, in which the 5th degree is also the central (though perhaps not so strongly prominent) pitch. In both cases the ascent to the 8th degree comes with the semantic conclusion – the words “in front of Thy altars we implore, restore freedom to our fatherland” in God, Thou Who Hast Poland (in other periods – a request to bless the country, depending on the political circumstances). In the Hymn to Rome the melody reaches this this top pitch on “tu non vedrai,” and the emphatic repetition of “maggior di Roma!” It is, therefore, a clearly rhetorical device stressing the pride of Rome’s greatness, as well as probably an iconic representation of the sun rising to its summit to testify that indeed, there is nothing more splendid and greater than Rome.

Regardless of the opinions of foreign critics and of Puccini himself, the Hymn to Rome (variously scored and arranged) became in the interwar period Italy’s unofficial national anthem and an indispensable element of all fascist party ceremonies, which compromised the composition as a ‘fascist song’ and a musical symbol of Italy in that era382. However, Puccini’s biographers confirm that he was not interested in politics and rejected the offer of honorary membership of the Fascist Party, but gladly accepted the title of senator of the Italian Kingdom, which he received in recognition of his contributions to national culture. He died several months after this nomination. Shortly before his death, he discussed with Mussolini the project of a national theatre in Viareggio, but there is no evidence ←176 | 177→that such meetings served his own interests, or the promotion of himself and his music.

The death of Italian opera’s last great master was a shock to the Italian musical world, but also for the regime, aware of the fact that – with the demise of this world class artist – the long period of Italian hegemony in opera had come to its close, and the void could hardly be filled by any living musical personality. The state funeral celebrated the artist as one who expressed the spirit of the nation, and initiated with great pomp the cult of the dead Maestro. This did not conflict at all with support for modernist trends in music. The regime embraced modernity, but attached great significance to the cultivation of tradition at the same time383. On 24th August 1930 at Torre del Lago, a Puccini Festival was ceremoniously inaugurated, and the fascist l’Organizzazione Nazionale Dopolavoro (a leisure-organising body, literally ‘after-work’) played a prominent role in the organisation of this event, tellingly advertised as “una festa unicamente popolare.” All this aimed at both general education of the nation and the nationalist propaganda of Italy’s cultural superiority to other nations384. Naturally, Puccini’s music played a key role in the travelling shows and spectacles held in picturesque historical scenery. But, paradoxically, his ‘Paris’ opera La bohème proved more to the regime’s taste than the ‘Roman’ Tosca. This may have to do with the prophetic Act Two of the latter opera – possibly the first such artistic vision of the terrifying brutality and omnipotence of the secret political police, which was of key importance to all 20th-century dictators.

Puccini – well-known as a man of the world – does not seem to have yielded to any form of chauvinist exaltation promoted by fascists and appears not to have reciprocated in any way the ostentatious admiration of the regime. In unofficial conversations at international conferences dedicated to the political context of music in that period one can often hear that his untimely death in ←177 | 178→1924 ‘saved’ the Maestro (known for his skilful care for his own interests) from a compromising flirtation with Mussolini’s regime. Nevertheless, all such claims are just groundless speculations.

2.2 “Tutto che al mondo è civile, grande, augusto, egli è romano ancora!” Ottorino Respighi’s Roman Trilogy and the Nationalist Musical Aesthetics of the Fascist Era

While the Hymn to Rome was marginal to Puccini’s output, Respighi’s Roman Trilogy is undoubtedly one of his greatest and most representative achievements, which overshadowed all his other works, including a large number of operas and ballets. Already in the composer’s lifetime, the compositions forming the cycle broke all records of popularity, receiving thousands of performances in Italy and abroad, which turned Respighi into a true champion and a leading figure in Italian contemporary music. The popularity of the successive parts to the Trilogy soon translated into material prosperity for the composer, while the universal admiration he received, his masterful orchestrations which earned him a place among Europe’s leading orchestral virtuosi, as well as the success with which he applied his skills to promote the artistic vision of the romanità – all brought him the regime’s recognition. As Harvey Sachs aptly observes, Respighi was the only representative of his artistic generation who earned the support of the regime without any efforts on his side, and in fact – without need for such support385. He was also the only one to fulfil the postulates of his generation effectively enough to win the status of Italy’s first great symphonist in a few centuries, whose orchestral skills matched those of the greatest masters of orchestral music – Ravel, Strauss, and Stravinsky.

We should remember that Mussolini provided considerable support for orchestral music386. The reason was not only the national ambition to regain an artistic field of expression once lost to the French and the Germans. The orchestra was for Mussolini a metaphor of a perfect society, an expression of collective discipline and of submitting individuals to totalitarian authority – that of the conductor. Though in the opera – the traditionally Italian genre – organisation and discipline are also necessary, the figure of the conductor is definitely ←178 | 179→overshadowed by the great stars of the stage, whose personalities, whims and other eccentricities make the functioning of absolute leadership, so typical of the orchestra, virtually impossible. What was also important for the new fascist-type nationalism was the need to revise historical stereotypes rooted in 19th-century traditions. This is why in 1931 Italian diplomatic posts received a note from Mussolini, which ordered them to actively promote a modern image of Italy, with particular emphasis on fighting the stereotype of an Italian “tenor with a mandolin.”387

It was undoubtedly Respighi who contributed the most to overcoming this stereotype. Each successive work in the cycle proved highly successful, but the culmination of his career came with Pines of Rome, and in particular – the impressive final march, which could be interpreted as a nostalgic memory of Rome’s former power and a glorious vision of Italy’s contemporary imperial ambitions. The work was received enthusiastically by the Italian public and soon after by concert-goers worldwide. At the same time, as Christoph Flamm points out in his study388, the nationalist Italian critics noted with great satisfaction that Italian national symphonic music had made significant progress. In the context of the success of Pines of Rome, Nino Rossi summed up the orchestral achievements of Malipiero, Pizzetti, Alfano and Respighi, which formed a kind of crescendo leading to the Bolognese composer’s momentous work389. Having traced back this buoyant development, Rossi went into raptures over Respighi’s most recent work, describing it as imbued with healthy power, profoundly Italian and Roman, a confirmation of the old truth that “Tutto che al mondo è civile, grande, augusto, egli è romano ancora!” (“All that is civil, great and august in the world is still Roman!”)390 Rossi’s admiration was echoed by Alberto Gasco, ←179 | 180→a leading ideologist of the national revival among Italian critics, who called the final march of I Pini di via Apia “an orgiastic apotheosis of Rome,” and claimed it made the composer worthy of honorary citizenship of the Eternal City. Gasco noted that the recording of a nightingale’s song played back from a gramophone record toward the end of the 3rd composition of the cycle was, according to some opinions, too realistic, but this possible flaw was quite forgotten while listening to the final march, with its note “di romanità stupenda.”391

The opinion of a critic as influential as Gasco, who had already in 1917 hailed the success of Fountains of Rome as a reflection of “our land, race and today’s passions” (nostra terra, nostra razza e nostri passioni odierni) reflects very well the nationalistic exaltation that accompanied the reception of the Roman Trilogy. Most significant, however, was the view presented in the official fascist magazine L’Arte fascista four years after the success of Pines of Rome. The author of this extensive review, Nicola Melchiorre, discussed the first two parts of the Trilogy composed at that time, praising Respighi for creating his own individual and national style, and in fact presenting him as a model to imitate:

“We can say without exaggeration that Respighi, with his strong personality, is one of the few contemporary artists who, while not losing contact with the cultural achievements of recent European thought, knew how he could employ those achievements to carry out his own personal ideas, which are perfectly in tune with the country’s cultural traditions and respond to the needs of our time.”392

Thanks to Respighi’s symphonic poems, Melchiorre argued, such values as “beauty and purity of form,” clarity of artistic expression, and an attempt to look objectively at the world outside – all attributes of the Italian way of thinking and emotionality – were restored to music. Italians, writes Melchiorre, were never fond of exploring shades of indefinite realities and the irrational depths of human nature. Respighi distances himself from the vagueness of impressionism, though he had learnt much from this trend, as well as from a psychological-subjective type of expressiveness. He rejects all the external, superficial and mechanistic sound experiments, and does not yield to the temptation of a simplistic ←180 | 181→borrowing from the closed chapters of the past, though he does not negate that past – as had sometimes been done by Stravinsky and his followers. Respighi replaced impressionistic vagueness with formal clarity and rationality, as well as distance from tradition – with a modern and creative approach to tradition. In this way, as Melchiorre emphasises, he created an individual style that can at the same time be universally understood, and thus restored to Italian orchestral music the position that it had occupied centuries before, making music reflect present-day life. To sum up, he argues that in his Roman symphonic poems:

“Respighi is a true classic, if by classicism we understand the ability to express one’s own ideas while preserving formal clarity, balance and eurhythmic quality. He rejects all that is superficial and redundant, nor does he elevate to the status of art that matter that is still in the process of fermentation.”393

Melchiorre’s only criticism of Respighi’s two pieces concerned their imperfect internal unity, which means that organic unity is not distinctly audible on the purely musical level. Still, in the last section of his review, the author doubts the legitimacy of such criticism in the context of Italian national traditions:

“Music indeed is a combination of many parts that make up a composition, whose formal unity is desired because it enhances the music. But we all know that this unity is more apparent (apparente) than real, more intentional than natural, more external than internal…”394

Melchiorre does not expand on this subject, but from his frequently emphasised references to the uniqueness of “our national way of thinking (nostro pensiero nazionale)” we can glean that he was distrustful – in a typical Italian and Mediterranean fashion – with regard to the speculative, abstract and autonomous aspects of music composition and understanding. This distrust, combined with the dislike of intellectualism openly declared by the fascists and their glorification of action, vitality, the laws of life, becomes clear why such criticism, which would probably be taken much more seriously on the other side of the Alps, melted in the face of the enthusiastic reception of Respighi’s music by a wide audience. The neo-impressionist illustrative quality and naturalistic tendencies of that music were greeted as an aesthetically legitimate and desirable attempt at an objective representation of the world. It was assumed that they not only ←181 | 182→exhibited a type of unity, but that this unity would be perceived by every person who at least becomes acquainted with the titles of the successive movements of the two poems, with no need for an analysis of their musical contents. Unity of time, of imagined space (though in Pines of Rome unity of time is dubious) – inevitably released a wealth of impressions, memories and emotions related to the city of Rome. In this case, the subject matter itself guarantees unity, more on the level of narration and associations than that of musical form. One can hardly fail to observe that, despite applying the advanced technical tools of the modern symphony orchestra, Respighi’s way of integrating his instrumental symphonic cycle is similar to that used previously by Vivaldi, for instance in his famous Le quattro stagioni. For Vivaldi, the unifying factor was the imitazione della natura resulting from the Renaissance and Baroue artistic apology of the laws of nature, manifesting itself in all latitudes395. Respighi, in his turn, refers to those attributes of the Roman metropolis that are known both to its inhabitants and to Rome’s admirers in the country and worldwide. In this context, the complete agreement between Respighi’s cycle and the canons of “national thinking and feeling” (stressed by Melchiorre and variously confirmed by other reviewers) explains why the Roman Trilogy was hailed as a symbol of the recently accomplished national revival.

2.3 From Rimsky-Korsakov to Giannotto Bastianelli: Transformations in Respighi’s Aesthetic Stance on His Way to the “National Revival”

Let us now trace back the evolution of Respighi’s style against the background of the developing identity of the generation referred to in Italian musicology as the generazione della’ottanta. Early in the 20th century, motivated by similar impulses as the eminent representatives of Young Poland with Karłowicz at the head of this movement, Respighi left Italy to learn from the greatest masters of the symphonic tradition at that time. In Poland this trend was described as “snatching the knowledge from the Germans,” but Respighi started with St. ←182 | 183→Petersburg, where he took, from what we know, several lessons in orchestration from Rimsky-Korsakov himself. Later he travelled to Berlin to study composition with Max Bruch. Understandably as this decision may be from the Polish perspective, it could also come as a surprise. After all, the young Respighi had his great compatriot Giacomo Puccini much closer at hand. The latter’s orchestra – though subordinated to the principles of operatic art – sparkled with all colours and its sound was no less magnificent than that of Wagner or Debussy, a far cry from the stereotypical orchestral accompaniments of earlier Italian operas. Possibly the much overworked Maestro had no time for pupils at the height of his fame, but it is equally probable that for Respighi, Puccini’s music was aesthetically ‘out of the way’, as in fact suggested by the opinions of young Italian composers (surprising to the Polish ears), who claimed that music in their own country was in a state of ‘crisis’, and which was their task to overcome. One reliable exponent of that generation’s aesthetic views was Alfredo Casella, who, like the previously quoted Fausto Torrefranca, viewed verismo in opera as ‘commercial’, not as art396.

In 1910, in obvious imitation of the Russian Five (the Mighty Handful) – Respighi, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Ildebrando Pizetti, Renzo Bossi, and Giannotto Bastianelli (a leading modernist critic) formed the Italian Five (Cinque Italiani), whose aims were similar to other earlier national schools, but significantly modernised397. Similarly the Young Poland aesthetics saw modernisation as an urgent need, and this view was shared by such different personalities ←183 | 184→as Przybyszewski, Karłowicz and Szymanowski, also echoing some statements from members of the Mighty Handful.

The main ideologist and spokesperson for the Cinque Italiani was Bastianelli. His views on Italian opera were not as radical and devastatingly critical as those of Fausto Torrefranca, who – as a Schopenhauer enthusiast – saw instrumental music as a ‘pure art’, elevating it to nearly religious status as a path to spiritual self-knowledge. Bastianelli entered into a polemic with this view. He believed that a real work of art, as an ideal blend of intuition and expression, can be physically expressed by means of any medium. In his opinion, viewing one artistic genre as ‘pure’ and another as automatically ‘impure’ is just a fabricated concept resulting from overestimating the value of intellectual speculations398. Bastianelli highly valued the music of Mascagni (at least the latter’s Cavalleria rusticana), and dedicated one of his books to this verist composer. However, he did share Torrefranca’s view that after 1750, Italian opera had entered a period of decadence. Bastianelli also viewed the majority of early 20th-century European music as overshadowed by decadence, which did not stop him from going into raptures over Scriabin’s late sonatas, the music of R. Strauss and Stravinsky399. According to Bastianelli, what was needed to overcome decadence was “a new diatonic system,” which could serve as an alternative for the “chaotic ocean of post-Wagnerian chromaticisms.” A return to the historical roots of Italian music, to Monteverdi and the Baroque masters, was postulated; it is in their music that one could look for creative impulse which, properly modernised, would further the ‘national revival’ in art400.

Respighi’s stylistic transformation from darkly expressive, still very ‘decadent’ and bombastic (in the Northern fashion) post-Wagnerian textures and the rich chromaticisms of Sinfonia drammatica (1914) to the bright and transparent ‘new modality’ of Concerto gregoriano (1921) show that his aesthetic progress largely agreed with Bastianelli’s postulates. Still, it was not the Concerto gregoriano but ←184 | 185→the much earlier Fountains of Rome that were unanimously hailed by critics and the public as a symbol of the Italian national revival in music.

Christoph Flamm, a German scholar previously quoted as an expert on the music of Respighi, made interesting observations concerning the diametric difference of opinions in the Italian press between Sinfonia drammatica and (just two years later) the first part of the Roman Trilogy401. The significant rise in nationalistic sentiments during World War I had led critics to trace and condemn all distinct stylistic influences and borrowings from musical cultures north of the Alps, and German influences were criticised much more severely than French or Slavic ones. This may have had to do with Italy joining the Entente in 1915, but also with traditional sympathies and antipathies rooted in Italian mentality. Be it as it may, Respighi’s Sinfonia drammatica – which Flamm describes as a mature work demonstrating a high level of mastery and technique – proved a failure. Critics did not like its overly intellectual aura, its subjectivism and sombre moods, which seemed at odds with Italy’s national traditions. Most of all, however, writers criticised the evident influences of Wagner, Strauss and Mahler. Actually, as Flamm observes, Fountains of Rome were not free of these influences, either. Still they were hailed as typically Italian. Flamm explains this inconsistence with heightened chauvinism, which clearly stopped Italian critics from ‘hearing the music clearly’. In the above quoted excerpts from Melchiorre’s review, however, we can find a clear distinction depending on the degree to which foreign influences are reworked by Italian composers. Assimilation itself is commendable, as long as the achievements of other cultures are properly assimilated and adapted to suit the national tradition. The musical world of Fountains of Rome, complemented (as in Vivaldi’s case) by the composer’s programme notes and constituting – according to Respighi himself – the artistic result of his own impressions and views of the Eternal City – is closer to the Mediterranean tradition than the world of Sinfonia drammatica.402. It was probably this turn toward illustrative, impressive orchestral music that employed all the musical and extra-musical sources in the service of the two key nationalistic categories of that time – those of italianita and romanità – that influenced the success of the Fountains. The later Concerto gregoriano, though maintained in bright ‘Latin’ ←185 | 186→colours and quite devoid of the ‘decadent’ qualities pointed out by Bastianelli – did not win such applause.

Though the superlatives with which a fascist journal greeted Respighi’s work significantly contributed to this composer later being associated in the public view with the regime of Mussolini, which cast a shadow on the postwar reception of his music, Melchiorre’s emphasis on the prominently national qualities of the first two parts of the Roman trilogy still deserves our attention, especially in the context of the suggestion of some supra-historical ‘Italian-ness’ or ‘Romanity’ supposedly essentially contained in the Trilogy, and the interpenetration of these two concepts. Paraphrasing Szymanowski’s famous statements, one could claim that Respighi tapped into the ‘racial’ sources of the Italian (or, more broadly, Latin-cultural) soul. There may be some truth in this conclusion, especially in the categories of the cultural continuity of Rome as the Eternal City.

2.4 Prophetic Aspects: The Roman Trilogy in the National and International Context

If we now travel in time from the interwar period not to ancient Rome, but to the second half of the 20th century, to one of Federico Fellini’s greatest films, the world famous blockbuster Roma of 1972, widely distributed and watched by cinema-goers (also in communist Poland) – we may recall the final scene, in which a group of bikers ride in the night along Rome’s ring road toward the brightly lit ruins of the Colosseum. They bring a youthful dynamic into the revered ancient scenery, and the roar of engines symbolises modern technology. They pass the picturesque ruins and melt into the darkness of the Eternal City, which lies asleep. The opening scene of the same film, a model lesson of ‘crossing the Rubicon’, shows Rome at dawn, probably some time in the late 1930s. In this film there are many oneiric wanderings through the dark corners of Rome, many evenings, nights and daybreaks, but this main direction from dawn to dusk does find its clear parallel in Respighi’s earlier Fountains of Rome. The same is true about the sharp and garish clashes of modernity and tradition, loftiness and triviality, and especially the trips in time represented in the other two parts of the Roman Trilogy. In the film, these are limited to periods preserved in Fellini’s own personal memories of his first visits to Rome in the 1930s, while the ancient past is revived in each case ‘through the agency’ of modern times – of the director’s youth and mature years. Thus, the scene of Julius Caesar’s assassination later turns out to belong to a theatrical spectacle. We also have a symbolic scene of vanishing Roman frescoes discovered during the construction of Rome’s ←186 | 187→underground railway, as well as references to Rome as a centuries-old centre of Catholicism, for instance in the surrealistic-grotesque scene of a ‘church fashion show’ taking place seemingly outside the temporal framework, at the house of a Roman aristocrat who had not left her house for years and had lost contact with external reality.

Numerous parallels inevitably lead to the (unanswerable) question concerning the extent to which Fellini drew on Respighi’s concept of travels in time and the other elements of the latter composer’s scenario for the Roman Trilogy. Respighi’s symphonic poems clearly anticipate many of the Hollywood soundtracks of super-productions set in ancient Rome as well. His music has a film-like quality in its modern panoramas – one could say that Respighi sensed this quality still in the era of silent movies. Did the cityscape of Rome really influence the composer’s creative imagination as strongly as it did many years later with Fellini? The question seems relevant in that the anticipation of film-type thinking can be found in Rome-inspired stage and musical works already in an earlier period, for instance in the great final scene of Act One of Puccini’s Tosca, which opens with Scarpia’s ominous order of “Tre sbirri – una carozza,” and ends with a powerful Te Deum sung at Rome’s Church of St Andrew – one of the earliest operatic prefigurations of collective film scenes. Only a camera, as we know, can bring out the full significance of the sharp contrast between collective a thanksgiving ritual and the police chief’s sordid schemes motivated by a fatal passion; only a film close-up zooming in on the face can reveal the full force of this figure’s acting.

On the other hand, musical fascinations with great metropolises have their international context. They appeared in the 20th century, first in a cosmopolitan sphere, at a time when turn-of-the-century nationalisms still produced post-Romantic paeans dedicated to natural landscapes while big cities were usually perceived as a source of evil and the loss of national spirit. One of the first portraits of the world’s great cities in music is the symphonic poem Paris: A Song of a Great City (1898) by Frederick Delius, a Briton of Dutch-German descent residing in France. The composition, as we read in the composer’s own enthusiastic motto attached to the score, extols the French metropolis as a symbol of the powerful laws of life. Delius’s stance is similar to those of Feruccio Busoni, known for his anti-nationalistic views, for whom great cities (Berlin in particular) offered a fascinating example of how humans can tame nature. Busoni’s urban fascinations are not reflected in his music, but Ralph Vaughan Williams expressed such sentiments (in his case – with a nationalist colouring) before World War I in his monumental London Symphony, which inaugurated the trend of representing metropolitan cities in music not just as unique phenomena of ←187 | 188→civilisation, but as symbols of the nation’s achievements and an expression of the sense of a national community’s love for their capital.

Musically speaking, Respighi’s music is very different from that of Vaughan Williams, but the Italian artist clearly shared his English colleague’s national motivation. The whole of the Roman Trilogy exploits those historical attributes of Rome that no other great European capital could boast – manifest references to the power of the Roman Empire and the previously mentioned ‘trips in time’. As compared to the two other parts of the Trilogy, Fountains of Rome does not contain flashbacks to the Antiquity, and the journey in time (as in A London Symphony) takes place between dawn (when the city wakes up to life) and dusk. Vaughan Williams did not include such detailed topographic notes as Respighi, but he gave indirect clues in the music itself, for instance by quoting the tune of Big Ben as well as then well-known songs that represented urban folklore or – in present-day terms – the audiosphere of London at that time403. Nor did Vaughan Williams fail to represent the famous early morning mist over the Thames or the modern industrial face of the city, present in the piercing roar with which the first movement properly begins, thus illustrating the awakening of the industrial giant.

Rome did not have such well-developed industry at that time, but it had its own unique aura, mythology and history. As we know, Respighi added titles and detailed literary references which leave us in no doubt as to the location of each Roman fountain. He also drew on myths and legends related to the places he portrayed. The melancholy-pastoral intro of the first movement (Andante mosso) depicts the Villa Giulia fountain at daybreak, while the spectacular and lively second movement (Vivo), abounding in post-impressionistic effects and also containing powerful post-Wagnerian culminations, is a morning vision of the Fontana del Tritone. The composer plays with the audience’s imagination here, bringing the mythological Naiads and Tritons and for the first time in this piece, attracting the listeners’ attention to the city’s ancient past. The solemn and dignified third movement (Allegro moderato) depicts the Trevi Fountain around noon, exploiting at the same time the theme of Neptune’s pageant moving along the sunlit surface of the water. The nostalgic fourth movement (Andante) brings typical Respighi-esque ‘percussive-metal-bar’ pentatonic ostinato progressions, his ←188 | 189→highly characteristic type of melody, as well as impressionist effects: evocations of evening bells, bird songs and the whisper of nature falling asleep in the big city. Respighi probably did not know A London Symphony, so the similarities are most likely a reflection of the ‘spirit of the age’, the inclusion of post-impressionist cityscape fascinations in a modernised version of musical nationalism in the 1910s. What underlies the successive symphonic frescoes dedicated to the great cities and constitutes its ideological-emotional undercurrent is a wide range of patriotic sentiments, from simple nostalgia in Gershwin’s An American in Paris to the titanic struggle with the enemy in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 ‘Leningrad’, to the heroic and tragic tones of Bolesław Woytowicz’s Warsaw Symphony, to the patriotic aura of Richard Addinsell’s famous Warsaw Concerto (written for the purpose of a feature film based on wartime events). It is interesting that the finale of Pines of Rome and the 1st movement of the Leningrad Symphony contain the most effective and best known examples of a march-based crescendo in 20th-century symphonic music. Written in two totalitarian states, both compositions were eagerly employed by the propaganda machines of their respective countries. As we know, this association did not harm the reputation of Shostakovich, who represented the victorious coalition. Things were different with the Roman Trilogy. After 1945, Respighi was accused of conformism, of promoting ‘false Romanity’, and collaboration with the regime, of which he was admittedly a favourite. This criticism was refuted by Respighi’s widow Elsa, who reminded readers (in a letter published in 1945 in “Il mondo musicale”)404 that Fountains of Rome had been written in 1916, while the finale of Pines of Rome (so frequently associated with a fascist apotheosis of power) was sketched in the early 1920s405. Until his death, Respighi refused membership of the Fascist Party. Elsa Respighi rejected claims of the composer’s debolezza morale (moral weakness) and suggested that his worldview evolved toward some form of tacit opposition, proof of which was supposedly to be found in the final verses of Lucretia that he still managed personally to set in music, and which condemned tyranny. It cannot be ruled out that Respighi (who died of heart attack in 1936) may have felt disappointed and worried in the last years of his life by the growing aggressiveness of fascism in the international scene. He may also have heard of the atrocities and crimes committed by legionaries of the ‘New Rome’ in Abyssinia. It also seems natural that in the conditions of a totalitarian state, only his closest ←189 | 190→family could know of the composer’s anxieties and doubts. His personal discomfort suggested by the author of the letter may also have resulted from the realisation of the degree to which the Roman Trilogy had been appropriated by fascist propaganda – and the consequences of that fact, as well as the ominously prophetic nature of the final march from Pines of Rome in the context of the events of 1935, which must have appeared to the composer as the irony of fate406. On the other hand, we know very well that not being a party member in a totalitarian state does not automatically entail refusal of acceptance for the system, and one must maintain some degree of distance to the memories of widows to prominent cultural figures. Research conducted by Fiamma Nicolodi does confirm that Respighi was apolitical407. Little is known of his views since he did not write any reviews or feuilletons, disliked public speeches, and was reluctant to give interviews. The surviving documents from Mussolini’s office show that he strove to maintain distance to political authorities. On the other hand, though, he held so many prominent posts in numerous cultural committees, corporations, etc., absurdly inflated by fascist bureaucracy, that his identification with the fascist state’s official musical life comes to us as no surprise. One can hardly escape the question of why he accepted all these posts, despite worldwide fame and material prosperity if he really did not quite accept the official ideology. He had no need to promote himself and his oeuvre. Leaving aside the fact that composers were frequently associated with official artistic life and the governing elites of totalitarian states, despite not being party members and remaining apolitical in their own view – there is also the question of the convergence between some aspects of their aesthetics and official demands. The compositional process of the Roman Trilogy undoubtedly started before the fascist dictatorship, as an expression of the composer’s own authentic fascinations with the Eternal City. The cycle is his individual artistic vision and impression of the metropolis, whose landscape was, as he would say, dominated by fountains and pines. On the other hand, the illustrative quality in his music comes at times dangerously close ←190 | 191→to the garish demonstrativeness of the ‘iconic’ type of message as promoted by fascist propaganda408, devoid of intellectual content but ensuring a direct impact on a very wide scale. The above-mentioned ‘trips in time’ in the 2nd and 3rd parts of the trilogy bring in strong expressive contrasts and a ‘Roman’ realisation of the principle of ‘unity in diversity’, anticipating, as suggested above, the later film techniques. On the other hand, they also constitute a kind of parallel to how fascist propaganda handled the mythology of Rome, disregarding such ‘issues of secondary importance’ as historical truth, but drawing arbitrarily on the Empire’s and the city’s history, as well as the entire Roman culture, in ways which were politically convenient at that time.

Naturally, this similarity cannot be used as a charge against Respighi the composer, who had the right to feel and interpret Rome as his artistic conscience suggested to him. One can also hardly blame the author of the Roman Trilogy and other Italian composers of his generation for the lack of open opposition to fascism. Like the majority of the Italian society, those composers greeted the regime’s modernising efforts with approval. The myth of romanità proved to be an ingenious and highly effective tool in the hands of propagandists. Not only did it work on the mass imagination, but it authentically integrated the whole society. The situation only started to change after 1935, which gradually led to a collapse of the Roman myth and – as a result of wartime events – expose the theatrical, superficial character of the ostensibly reborn ‘empire’. The key turning point in politics and ideology, which was also the first step on the downward path that led fascist Italy to a catastrophe, was the subordination of that country to the aggressive policies of the Third Reich, and especially passing the racial acts, which stood in contradiction to the ideological foundations of Italian fascism and to that interpretation of the mythic romanità which Mussolini intensively promoted among his compatriots back in 1934. But this was a change that Respighi – perhaps luckily for him – did not live long enough to see.

←191 | 192→←192 | 193→

342 Quoted after: Wapiński, Historia, p. 204.

343 Ray Moseley, Mussolini’s Shadow. The Double Life of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Yale University Press 1999, Chapter One, available at:, accessed 3.10.2018.

344 Adolf Nowaczyński, “Italia i Polonia” [Italia and Polonia], Prosto z mostu, No. 34, 20th August 1939, p. 8.

345 Laura Malvano, Fascismo e politica dell’immagine, (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1988), pp. 152–153. The author stresses the role of visual messages in the fascist propaganda of the romanità myth. Visuals had a decisive influence on the ‘hermeneutics of Romanity’ on the mass scale. Of key importance was the intensity and frequency with which all the fasci, eagles and other Roman attributes were exhibited in public space, which worked on the fundamental level of perception. Cf. also: Andrea Giardina “The Fascist Myth of Romanity”, Estudos Avancados 22(62), 2008, pp. 55–76.

346 Benito Mussolini, Doktryna faszyzmu [The Fascist Doctrine], transl. S. Gniadek, (Lwów: Filomata, 1935), p. 22. Importantly, this was one of many translations into European languages of the entry for Fascismo, printed in the Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 1932. Though the Italian dictator was officially its author, it is believed to have actually been written by Giovanni Gentile and commissioned by Mussolini.

347 Mussolini, Doktryna, p. 19.

348 Quoted after: Kohn, The Totalitarian Philosophy of War, p. 222.

349 Quoted after: Fernando Tempesti, Arte dell’Italia fascista, (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1976), p. 59.

350 In 1909 the future dictator wrote a historical novel, published in English translation in 1928 by the New York publisher Albert and Charles Boni. Is title, The Cardinal’s Mistress, seems to foreshadow Mussolini’s future love of ‘carnal pleasures,’ for which he was notoriously known…

351 Mantua: Edizioni Paladino, 1927. It is a 47-page brochure, richly illustrated with the dictator’s photos, published in the propagandist series “Mussolinia”, edited by Franco Paladino and dedicated to the promotion of Mussolini’s cult. The series includes panegyrics praising the leader’s activity in many disciplines of life, which was to demonstrate his versatile talents and largely foreshadowed the future cult of Stalin in the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc.

352 The musical consequences of Italy’s imperial ambitions were also commented on in Poland. In April 1936 Muzyka Polska informed of a competition for composers for Italy’s new national hymn, “appropriate for the new Italy’s imperial power.” The jury, we read, included such eminent composers as Mascagni and Casella. Cf.: Anon. “Kronika – Włochy” [Chronicle - Italy], Muzyka Polska No. 4, April 1936, p. 368.

353 More on the cultural-political links between the Futurists and fascism, in: L. B. Mosse, “The Political Culture of Italian Futurism”, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 25, Nos. 2/3 1990, pp. 253–268.

354 In particular, the 1929 manifesto of aero-art (aeropittura), signed by Depero, Prampolini and Marinetti, among others, was an apology of a new perspective in art made possible by the bird’s eye view from an aeroplane. The changing perspectives of the flight, claims the manifesto, create a new reality, encouraging the rejection of detail and a new synthesis of perspectives.

355 See: Maria Elena Versari, “Futurist Machine Art, Constructivism, and the Modernity of Mechanization,” in Futurism and the Technological Imagination, ed. Günter Berghaus (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), p. 150.

356 Cf.: David Osmond-Smith, “Masculine Semiotics: the Music of Goffredo Petrassi and the Figurative Arts in Italy during the 1930s”, Twentieth-Century Music, Nos. 1–2, 2012, p. 33.

357 Osmond-Smith, “Masculine Semiotics”, p. 33.

358 Osmond-Smith, “Masculine Semiotics”, pp. 33–34.

359 Prampolini maintained extremely lively international contacts. He was active in, among others, Zurich, Prague, Paris, and also stayed in Germany, where he was closely associated with members of the Bauhaus group. While in Paris he made friends with many Polish artists, including Jan Brzękowski.

360 According to Jerzy Waldorff’s report of 1939, Marinetti supposed that Hitler’s negative reaction to German modernism in the fine arts was motivated by petty personal resentments and the envy of a failed painter turned dictator. Cf.: Jerzy Waldorff, “Totalistyczne impresje” [Totalist Impressions], “Muzyka Polska” No 2, 1939, p. 76.

361 Quoted after: C. Salaris, Artecrazia: l’ávanguardia futurista negli anni del fascismo, (Firenze: La nuova Italia, 1992), p. 190. See. also: Osmond- Smith, “Masculine Semiotics”, pp. 35–36.

362 Schönberg, “National Music”, pp. 169–174.

363 Quoted after: Institute of Jewish Affairs, Hitler’s Ten-Year war on the Jews, Kessinger Publishing, 2007, p. 283.

364 It has been suggested that Goebbels was disgusted with the libretto during the German premiere, and Mussolini shared his objections. Ben Earl claims that the reservations concerned large portions of Act Two, set in a brothel. Cf. Ben Earle, Luigi Dallapicola and Musical Modernism In Fascist Italy, (Cambridge: CUP, 2013), p. 162.

365 Quoted after: Fiamma Nicolodi, Musica e musicisti nel ventennio fascista, (Fiesole: Discanto Edizioni, 1984), pp. 284–285. See also: Erhardt, Strawiński, 265–267.

366 Richard Capell, “The Florence Festival”, Monthly Musical Record, LXIV, May 1934, p. 83, quoted after: Levi, “The Reception of Italian Music”, p. 23.

367 Arnold Cooke, “The International Music Festival in Florence”, The Chesterian May-June 1934, p. 137, quoted after: Levi, “The Reception of Italian Music”, p. 23.

368 F.B. (anon) “Modern Music at Venice”, The Musical Times Vol. 78, No. 1136 (Oct. 1937), p. 914.

369 Quoted after: Fiamma Nicolodi, “Aspetti di politica culturale nel ventennio fascista”, in: Illiano (ed.) Italian Music., p. 108.

370 Waldorff, “Totalistyczne impresje”, p 76.

371 W. Sandelewski, Puccini, (Kraków: PWM, 1973), pp. 169–170.

372 Maurice Halbwachs, Społeczne ramy pamięci [The Social Framework of Memory], transl. M. Król, (Warsaw: PWN, 1969). Engl. edition: On Collective Memory, ed. by and transl. by Lewis A. Coser, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).

373 “Kultura pamięci” [The Culture of Memory], in: Pamięć zbiorowa i kultura, Współczesna perspektywa niemiecka [Collective Memory and Culture. The Contemporary German Perspective], ed. Magdalena Saryusz-Wolska, (Kraków: Universitas, 2009) p. 73, see also: Jan Assmann, John Caplicka, “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity” New German Critique, No. 65, (Spring – Summer, 1995), pp. 125–133.

374 Cf.: Luca Scuccimarra, “Romanità”, in: Dizionario del fascismo, ed. Victoria de Grazia e Sergio Luzzatto, (Torino: Einaudi, 2002–2003), vol. II, pp. 539–541.

375 The relation between changes in Rome’s urban space and the organisation of musical life in the city was noticed by the foreign press, as exemplified by a 1937 report in The Musical Times approvingly describing the reconstruction of the Augusteum related to the policy of the romanità (“back to B.C. movement”), and to “the increasing importance of music in Italian social and political life.” Cf. anon., “Musical Notes from Abroad – Italy”, The Musical Times, vol. 78, No. 1128 (February 1937), p. 170.

376 Cf. Allessandro Turba, Il mito di Giulio Cesare e il culto della romanità nel teatro musicale dell’Era Fascista: i casi di Gian Francesco e Riccardo Malipiero, PhD diss., Universita degli studi di Milano 2016. file:///C:/Users/Dell/Downloads/phd_unimi_R10055.pdf. Accessed: 01.12.2018.

377 The hymn was also an expression of patriotic pride with the fact of the annexation to the Italian state of all the provinces inhabited by Italians that had previously been under Austrian rule. On the wave of national enthusiasm, World War I was usually considered in Italy – despite tremendous economic costs and human losses – as a completion of the great task of the risorgimento.

378 The premiere was cancelled due to a violent storm, and eventually held on 1st June 1919.

379 The British, who, as we know, created an ever larger empire, equally willingly drew on the solar metaphors, stressing that “the sun never sets” on the British Empire.

380 Julian Budden, Puccini. His Life and Work, (Oxford: OUP, 2005), pp. 417–418.

381 This hymn was written in so called “Congress Poland” in connection with the planned coronation of Tsar Alexander I as King of Poland. Its text draws on the English “God save the King” and it originally closed with a solemn invocation of “Lord, please protect our King.” Soon, however, as the political situation changed, and the hopes placed in the Russian ruler proved vain, the supplication of the refrain turned from that of loyal subjects into a prayer for national liberation. The music also changed in the 19th century, and took its current form in the 1860s, most likely during the January uprising. Cf. Krzysztof Bilica, “‘Boże coś Polskę’ Felińskiego-Kaszewskiego. Inspiracje i echa” [God, Thou Who Hast Poland” by Faliński-Kaszewski. Echoes and Inspirations], in: Pieśń polska [The Polish Song – A Reconnaisance], ed. Mieczysław Tomaszewski, (Kraków: Akademia Muzyczna 2002), p. 197.

382 About the significance of Inno a Roma for Italy at that time – and for Rome in particular – we can also read in the Polish musical press, which stressed that the City Council purchased the rights to this work. Cf. “Muzyka Polska” No. 2, 1939, p. 106.

383 The whole Italian territory was traversed by travelling theatres, the so-called thespian trucks (carri di tespi), which presented the national operatic legacy to those social groups that had previously had no contact with such elitist art. Fascism was notably pluralist in its attitude to the aesthetics of all artistic discplines. Modern steel-and-glass edifices were erected throughout Italy alongside neo-Classicist Roman stylisations. Cf.: Marla Susan Stone, The Patron State: Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 4.

384 Michela Nicolai, Puccini “compositore di stato?” Strumentalizzazione di un personaggio publico durante ilfascismo, a paper delivered at the International Musicological Conference “Music and Propaganda in the Short Twentieth Century”, Pistoia (Italy), 18th-20th May 2012.

385 Harvey Sachs, Music in Fascist Italy, (London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987), p. 132.

386 This support also manifested itself in the formation of new, permanent symphony orchestras, among others in Florence, Turin and Rome (Radio Orchestra). Cf. Earle, Luigi Dallapiccola, pp. 71–72.

387 Cf.: Richard Taruskin, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, in: Taruskin, The Danger of Music, p. 208.

388 Christoph Flamm, “<Tu, Ottorino, scandisci il passo delle nostre legioni>. Respighis “Romische Trilogie” als musikalisches Symbol des Italienischen Fascismus?” in: Italian Music in the Fascist Period, ed. Roberto Illiano, (Turnhout: Brepols 2004). pp. 348–350.

389 Nino Rossi’s appraisal was confirmed in the 1930s by many foreign correspondents. E.g. Nancy Fleetwood stressed the significant increase in the presence of Italian orchestral music and of renowned Italian symphony orchestras in the programmes of German concert halls. Similar conclusions can be drawn from Otto Meissner’s reports from Berlin printed in the Polish press. Cf.: Nancy Fleetwood, “Musical Notes from Abroad - Germany,” The Musical Times, Vol. 78, No. 1138, December 1937, p. 1073.

390 Nino Rossi, “‘Pini di Roma’”, il Resto di Carlino, 5th June 1925, quoted after: C. Flamm, “<Tu, Ottorino>”,, p. 348.

391 Alberto Gasco, I Pini di Roma del m.o Respighi, “La tribuna”, 16th December 1924, quoted after: Flamm, “<Tu, Ottorino,>”, p. 347.

392 Nicola Melchiorre, “Respighi ed i sui poemi”, L’arte fascista, III/10–11, 1928, p. 398: “Senza dubbio il Respighi è una robusta personalità, e uno dei pochissimi maestri moderni che, senza perder d’occhio le conquiste spirituali del pensiero europeo dell’ultimo ventennio, ha saputo sottomettere le conquiste medesime ad un concetto proprio, personale, aderente perfettamente alle tradizioni culturali del proprio paese ed anche ai bisogni del tempo.”

393 Melchiore, “Respighi”, p. 398: “Insomma il Respighi in questi lavori e un vero classico, se classico vuol dire esprimere le proprie idee con compostezza ed eurytmia di forme ed equilibrio di part, mettendo la banda tutto cio che e vano e superfluo, e non assumere a dignita di arte quello che e ancora materia In fermentazzione.”

394 Melchiore, “Respighi”, p. 400.

395 Notably, it was largely thanks to the musicological preoccupations of composers belonging to Respighi’s generation (Casella, Malipiero, and others) that Vivaldi’s concertos were restored to musical practice and the wealth of Baroque Italian instrumental music was rediscovered.Cf:. Catherine Paul, Ezra Pound, Alfredo Casella, and the Fascist Cultural Nationalism of the Vivaldi Revival”, Quaderni di Palazzo Serra 15 (2008), pp. 91–112:, accessed: 16.10. 2017.

396 It is highly characteristic of that period that so many outstanding Italian composers of that generation chose to study abroad in Europe’s main music centres. Casella studied composition with Gabriel Faure in Paris (his fellow students at Paris Conservatoire included Ravel and Enescu) Malipiero - with Max Bruch in Berlin, and later in Paris, Franco Alfano - with Sitt and Jadassohn in Leipzig.

397 Nevertheless, in 1932 the artistic paths of Respighi and Malipiero diverged. Dailies in Milan, Rome and Turin published a “manifesto of Italian musicians,” authored by Alcesto Toni, which defended 19th-century Romantic traditions. This text, also signed by Respighi and Pizzetti, was directed against Casella and Malipiero, though no specific names were mentioned. Characteristically, all the aesthetic options of that time – post-Romantic, neo-Classical and modernist – considered themselves as exponents of the national spirit. More on debates on nationalism in music as far as the Respighi’s generation was concerned see in: Thomas S. Vitzhum, Nationalismo e Internazionalismo - Ottorino Respighi, Alfredo Casella und Gian Franco Malipiero und die kultururplitischen Debatted zwischen 1912 und 1938 in Italien, PhD diss, Regensburg University, 2007,, accessed 10.12. 2018.

398 More on Bastianelli’s aesthetic views in: Miriam Donadoni Omodeo, Giannotto Bastianelli, Lettere e documenti editi e inedtii, (1883–1915), 2 vols., (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1989–1992).

399 Gianotto Bastianelli, La crisi musicale europea, (Pistoia: Pagnini, 1912). Bastianelli was notably also a composer. His late works, such as Natura morta, 1915 (dedicated to the memory of Scriabin) demonstrate evident influences of the Russian messianist and modernist. Cf. C.G.Waterhouse, “Bastianelli Gianotto”, The New Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 2, 1980, pp. 280–281.

400 Quoted after: Ben Earle, Luigi Dallapicola and Musical Modernism In Fascist Italy (Cambridge: CUP, 2013) p. 44.

401 Flamm, “<Tu, Ottorino>” p. 340.

402 Flamm fails to notice to what extent some of Respighi’s Wagner and Mahler inspirations are distinctly filtered through the tradition of French impressionism, much closer to the Italian tastes of that time.

403 More on the concept of ‘audiosphere’ in: Maksymilian Kapelański, Wspomnienia dźwiękowe z mojego dzieciństwa we Wrocławiu i w Toronto [Acoustic Memories of My Childhood in Wrocław and Toronto], in: Audiosfera Wrocławia [Wrocław’s Audiosphere], (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2014), pp. 338–345.

404 Quoted after: Flamm, “<Tu, Ottorino>”, p. 334.

405 Elsa Respighi, Ottorino Respighi: His Life Story, trans. Gwyn Morris (London: G. Ricordi, 1962), pp. 89–90.

406 On 3rd October 1935 Italian armed forces invaded Abyssinia thus starting a war which was then seen by fascist propaganda as the first step into putting Roman-imperial dreams into action.

407 Fiamma Nicolodi, Musica e musicisti nel ventennio fascista, Fiesole 1984, p. 151. These conclusions are corroborated by Alessia Angela E. Macaluso, Fascist Disenchantment and the Music of Goffredo Petrassi, PhD diss., (Toronto, Ontario: York University,2017), pp. 58–60, (, accessed: 10.12.2018) and by Jadwiga Marczyńska-Negri: “Respighi, Ottorino”, Encyklopedia Muzyczna Kraków: PWM, vol 7, 2004, p. 368.

408 According to Janet and John C.G. Waterhouse: “Parts of Pini di Roma (…) evoke something of atavistic pageantry that became associated with fascist propaganda”, see: “Respighi, Ottorino”, The New Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 21, p. 215. Polish authors, on the other hand, tend to associate the characteristic garishness of Respighi’s music with Italian national qualities rather than with politics, see: Bogusław Schaffer, “Ottorino Respighi”, in: Schaffer, Muzyka XX wieku [Music in 21th Century], (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1975), pp. 69–71.