By Ottorino Respighi
In the early to mid-twentieth century, as the revival of interest in early music continued and intensified, composers explored the possibilities of this music using a modern orchestral sound.
Some of the more notable are the Pulcinella Suite of Stravinsky, the Stokowski Bach transcriptions, the Ricercare from the Musical Offering by Bach/Webern, and the Suite of French Dances arranged by Paul Hindemith.
The Ancient Airs and Dances of Respighi falls into such a category. In each of these composers’ efforts, what is basically an arrangement or transcription of existing earlier music inevitably shows the contemporary stamp of it’s arranger, and the techniques and expression which characterize that particular composer or arranger’s contemporary musical passions as well.
The lute music Respighi used as his source was written for a very quiet and intimate instrument. Respighi manages to find a way to imbue these pieces with his own particular kind of broad orchestral color. Traditional dance forms, in addition to their Italian heritage, also likely appealed to Respighi’s sense of color and variety, lending themselves to the kind of instrumental treatment he used in his own compositions.