Phillip Littlemore’s superb arrangement of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances takes four separate movements from two of the three sets of orchestral suites. Melodic material from the 16th and 17th centuries is reworked creating music that seems both old and modern at the same time.
The Ancient Airs and Dances is a set of three orchestral suites written in 1917, 1924 and 1932 respectively. In each, Respighi borrows melodic material from the 16th and 17th centuries, and then applies his own distinct voice to create something at once new and old. Balletto detto “Il Conte Orlando” by Simone Molinaro, was a popular piece from the beginning of the 17th century. Its noble rhythmic gestures in the opening and closing sections are answered by a more reflective mood in the middle. Gagliarda, by Vincenzo Galilei (father of the famous astronomer) was originally called Polymnia, after one of the muses of song. Arie di Corte (Courtly Airs), is based on a set of songs by Jean-Baptiste Besard, where sprightlier dances are enveloped by a stately dance. The finale is a clever alternation of two anonymous dances of the late 16th century. There are several variations on a passa mezzo with interjections of a mascherada. The suite arrives at a brilliant finish with the mascherada’s fanfare theme.