Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 2+afl+pic.2+ca.2+Ebcl+bcl+cbcl.2+2cbn/4.4.2+btbn+cbtbn.2/timp.4perc/
  • 30 min

Programme Note

‘It consists of sensations evoked by the wonderful beauties of Rome’, wrote Richard Strauss of his early ‘symphonic fantasia’ Aus Italien, ‘not descriptions of them’, and much the same is true of this vastly more complex and layered homage to the richest of all cities. The violent, marching cohorts of an imperial past conjured by Elgar, the bells evoked in Act 3 of Puccini’s Tosca, liturgical chant and popular song – everything is here except Respighi’s gramophone-record nightingale, but all of it filtered through a complex imagination. To call it a showpiece for large orchestra would be misleading, because every solo or unusual ensemble carries emotional resonances, but in it the composer certainly dares to prove that the theatricality of the tone poem is far from dead. The massed brute force of Rome’s darker side – both military and ecclesiastic – is interspersed by a nocturne with haunting roles for vivacious solo strings, harp and celesta, later by a lament, before petering out in ghostly echoes. The ‘black Sanctus’ of the second movement’s hidden Rome, first in a chain of instrumental songs, yields to the innocent good faith of a diatonic hymn – one of many such moments in the composer’s work. Most cinematic of all is the finale, which sweeps from noisy street life – Respighi with heavy traffic – up to the saints on the rooftops, with St Michael’s echoing fanfares yielding to the amazingly orchestrated clamour of Roman bells.

© David Nice


…Roma, Amor, Labyrinthus captures the composers recollections of Rome as a student in the late-‘50s under Goffredo Petrassi, to whom the work is dedicated… [this is] one of Sir Peter’s most spectacular scores, evoking the might of the ancient city from a very personal viewpoint.
Paul Conway, The Independent, “Barbican Hall, London, May 2000”.