Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3


Composed: 1931
First Performed: Unknown
Duration: 19 minutes
Instrumentation: 1st and 2nd violins, violas, cellos, double bass.

  • A scholar of early music, Respighi edited the works of Claudio Monteverdi and Tomaso Antonio Vitali and transcribed pieces by many Renaissance and early Baroque composers.  However, much of that work has drawn criticism from today’s early music experts for their idiosyncratic nature.
  • He delighted in arranging obscure early music for modern performance. His three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances are based on Italian and French lute music, mostly from the early 17th century. 
  • Unlike Suite No.1 (1917) and Suite No.2 (1923) Suite No.3 is scored exclusively for string orchestra.  The official score indicates that it can be performed by string quartet, omitting the double-bass part.

I.       Italiana (Santino Garsi da Parma: Italiana (Fine sec. XVI) – Andantino)
• The opening section is based on a popular lute galliard – a very lively and complicated dance of the period.
• It was first attributed to our old friend Anonymous but is now recognized as a piece by Santino Garsi da Parma.

II.       Arie di corte (Jean-Baptiste Besard: Arie di corte (Sec. XVI)
• It is based on six pieces from the Arie di Corte (Airs of the Court) by the Burgundian lutenist and composer Jean-Baptiste Besard, born in 1567.
• The courtly songs for lute and voice become a purely instrumental suite. The violas sing accompanied by strumming cellos; at one point the cellos imitate bagpipes drones; and the strings remind us that we are at a noble court.

III.      Siciliana (Anonymous: Siciliana (Fine sec. XVI) – Andantino)
• As the name suggests the dance originated in Sicily. It is pastoral in nature much like a slow jig or tarantella.
• It is in an ABA form with a more vigorous B section.

IV.      Passacaglia (Lodovico Roncalli: Passacaglia (1692) – Maestoso – Vivace)
• Passacaglia translates as “street song” but was a courtly dance that first appeared in Spain. Initially it had a reputation as being a bit unsavory and fiery but gained respectability in France when the Sun King favoured it in his court ballets.
• Respighi adapted it from the 1692 collection Capricci armonici sopra la chitarra spagnola by the 17th-century Italian guitarist and composer Ludovico Roncalli.

A Suggested Performance: 

Given that it is one of Respighi’s most popular works there are many recordings and videos out there.  However, one of the best is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sir Neville Marriner:




2016 © PEI Symphony Orchestra | All Rights Reserved