Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite I

From Wind Repertory Project
Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi (trans. William V Johnson)

General Info

Year: 1917 / 2013
Duration: c. 20:00
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: William V. Johnson
Cost: Score and Parts Unknown


1. Balletto detto "Il Conte Orlando"
2. Gagliarda
3. Villanella
4. Passo mezzo e Mascherada - 4:20


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
Contrabassoon (optional)
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Contra Alto Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
String Bass
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Snare Drum
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Marimba
  • Tambourine
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone



None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Respighi was also a scholar of early music, editing the works of Claudio Monteverdi and Tomaso Antonio Vitali, as well as transcribing works by many Renaissance and early Baroque composers. He also delighted in arranging obscure early music for modern performance. The originals of these older works were, in Respighi’s time, seldom if ever heard, and his efforts brought this rich period of music back to life for many listeners. As Respighi and a group of nine fellow composers stated in a manifesto, countering the claims of the more dissonant sounds then becoming commonplace in the concert hail: “A logical chain binds the past and the future the romanticism of yesterday will again be the romanticism of tomorrow.”

His three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances are based on Italian and French lute music, mostly from the early seventeenth century, to accompany dancers and singers.

Suite No. 1 opens with the Balletto detto “Il Conte Orlando,” published in 1599 by the composer Simone Molinaro (c. 1570-1633). The first section grows from a gentle opening to a stirring climax. A quieter interlude based on the same theme follows, then the opening panel is repeated.

Vincenzo Galilei (c. 1520-1591) (an amateur composer and lute player best known as the father of Galileo) composed the following Gagliarda. This type of dance, also known as a galliard, was executed with exaggerated leaps. This is a bold, strongly accented number with richer scoring than the preceding Balletto. Respighi uses a sweet anonymous Italian tune as the contrasting middle section.

The composer of the third section, Villanella, is unknown. A villanella was a street song, derived from an earlier Spanish vocal form that came to popularity in Naples. It flourished side by side with, and in contrast to, the more refined madrigal.

The finale, Passo mezzo e Mascherada, combines two contrasting forms, both a dance and an air, through a pair of anonymous melodies. The name of the opening, fast-paced passo mezzo remains obscure. It might mean step-and-a-half, referring to the pattern of the dance it accompanied. Respighi alternates it with a mascherada, a type of villanella designed to be sung and played at a masked ball or by street players during Carnival season. It often contained an element of caricature. This flowing, melodic mascherada/villanella isn’t as gloomy as the one heard in the third movement. The passo mezzo keeps interrupting it, gleefully and vivaciously. Eventually, the passo mezzo carries the day.

This arrangement for wind orchestra is designed to provide an additional setting of Respighi’s magnificent orchestral work. It seeks to capture the spirit of the Renaissance era that employed such instruments as the lute, shawm, dulcian, sackbut, recorder, crumhorn, cornetto, and serpent, but with the addition of the rich, colorful sounds available to the late Romantic orchestra with its huge array of modern wind, string, and percussion instruments.

-'Program Note by William V. Johnson for the San Luis Obispo Wind Orchestra and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Wind Ensemble concert program, 2 March 2016



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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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Works for Winds by This Composer