The composer and musicologist Ottorino Respighi (born in Bologna on July 9, 1879, died in Rome on April 18, 1936) is perhaps best known for his three Ancient Airs and Dances suites.
Respighi's father was a piano teacher, who taught the child violin and piano. Ottorino continued studying violin with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, and composition with Giuseppe Martucci and the early music scholar Luigi Torchi. Later Respighi briefly studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia, and considered these lessons very important. He also had composition lessons with Max Bruch. Respighi's original compositions include the symphonic poems Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome, Roman Festivals and Brazilian Impressions, and these are now standard repertoire works. On the other hand, his operas, from the early Semirâma to the late Lucrezia, are hardly ever played or recorded nowadays.
Respighi was also a devoted scholar of the Italian music of the 17th and 18th centuries. He published editions of the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi and Benedetto Marcello's Didone. His Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1 of 1917 is based on tunes by Simone Molinaro, Vincenzo Galilei (father of Galileo Galilei) and anonymous composers. In 1918 Sergei Diaghilev commissioned a ballet from Respighi, who then wrote La Boutique fanstasque, which borrows tunes from Rossini. Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 2 of 1924 is based on tunes by Fabrizio Caroso, Jean-Baptiste Besard, Bernardo Gianoncelli and an anonymous composer. Following the success of this suite, Respighi wrote Gli Uccelli in 1927, based on Baroque pieces imitating birds. Then in 1932, he wrote Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3, which differs from the previous two suites in being for strings only and somewhat melancholy in overall mood. It is based on tunes by Besard, Lodovico Roncalli and anonymous composers. Respighi's wife Elsa (née Olivieri-Sangiacomo) made ballets of the Ancient Airs and Dances Suites.
From 1923 to 1926 Respighi was director of the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, and until 1935 taught composition there. In 1925 he collaborated with Luciani on an elementary textbook entitled Orpheus.