I first heard Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome long before I was able to see some of these magnificent structures in situ. I recall that it was on an old LP that I had found in a second-hand shop. Certainly, the conductor was Eugene Goossens. It was the first time that I had encountered his name, and I guess that I did not realise then that he was a born and bred British composer and conductor. Over the years I have heard several performances of The Fountains on record. Ones that stand out for me are Fritz Reiner, Ernest Ansermet and, for a bang up to date version, I cannot recommend more highly John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London on the Chandos label. Yet, when all is said and done, I still enjoy Goossens’s 1957 recording of The Fountains of Rome. It is like a ‘first love.’ The characteristics of this performance are warmth and elegance, as well as a deep understanding of musical impressionism.
The Fontane di Roma is a tone poem for orchestra. It was completed by Respighi in 1916 and was premiered the following year on 11March 1917 at the Teatro Augusteo in Rome, under the direction of Antonio Guarnieri. This was the composer’s first attempt at musically representing the glories of bygone Rome. The Pines of Rome would follow in 1924 and the Roman Festivals in 1928.
The basic premise of the Fountains are impressionistic sketches of four of Rome’s iconic fountains although there are no breaks between sections. It is as if the ‘listener’ is on a peregrination around the Eternal City. The Fountains are presented ‘in order’ from daybreak to sunset. The first section is ‘The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn’. This is pastoral in mood, describing the ‘fresh, damp mists of a Roman dawn.’ After an eruption of heavy brass (four horns), the music segues to ‘The Triton Fountain in the Morning’. The composer is imagining a riotous dance of the naiads and the tritons which, is in many ways an elaboration of the original structure. Respighi wrote that this is ‘like a joyous call, summoning troupes of naiads and tritons who come running up, pursuing each other and mingling in a frenzied dance between jets of water.’ The third section is ‘The Fountain of the Trevi at Midday’. This is presented as a ‘solemn procession of sirens and tritons led by Neptune’s chariot, drawn by seahorses. The music reaches its stunning climax here. But slowly the intensity decreases as the visitor begins to see ‘The Fountain of the Villa Medici at Dusk’. In reality, I think that Respighi is presenting an impression of the many fountains in the garden rather than a single cascade. Here the night air ‘is full of the sound of tolling bells, birds twittering and leaves rustling.’ After some magical instrumentation on the harps, violins and the flute, the work ends in tranquil mood.
The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, kettledrums, triangle, cymbals, Glockenspiel, a bell, two harps, celesta, pianoforte, organ (ad libitum), strings.
Eugene Goossens and the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded Respighi’s Fountains of Rome on 19 September 1957. It was part of an extended session between 18 September and 15 October, where Goossens conducted a wide range of music, mainly with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The July 1961 edition of The Gramophone carried an advert for the new album as part of its ‘a kaleidoscope of orchestral colour’ series. Apart from the Fountains of Rome, the LP included Jaromir Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper: Polka and Fugue, Bedřich Smetena’s The Bartered Bride: Overture, Polka, Furiant and the Dance of the Comedians. The final number was Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa. The album was issued in Mono (ALP 1785) and Stereo (ASD 366).
The earliest review of this album that I found was in High Fidelity (March 1960, p.97): ‘It's been many years since I have found Sir Eugene so consistently in best form as he is here, and I never had imagined him capable of the tenderness and grace he reveals in one of the finest performances of Respighi's Fountains of Rome I have ever heard. I relished almost more, however, his zestful, high-stepping readings of the Overture, Polka, Furiant, and Comedians' Dance from Smetana's Bartered Bride. His Glinka Jota Aragonesa and Polka and Fugue from Weinberger's Schwanda are admirably done too, but for some reason they are less dramatically satisfying - possibly, in the latter case at least, because the exquisitely transparent recording is relatively lacking in utmost depth and weight. Except for this deficiency, the recording is faultless, even in monophony, although it is only in the stereo edition that full justice can be given to the Respighi and Smetana works.’
Trevor Harvey (T.H.) reviewing for The Gramophone (April 1961, p.535) considered that ‘this is a good performance of The Fountains of Rome, though it suffers in direct comparison with Reiner's performance [SB2103 RB16231, coupled with Respighi’s The Pines of Rome…] It is meticulously played but rather lacks the romantic wash of sound that Reiner gives it.’
I listened to the Reiner’s account as I prepared this essay. This is a remarkably sensuous performance, that is unhurried and full of remarkable detail. Many commentators would regard it as definitive.
Harvey observes the ‘very lively Polka and Fugue from [Weinberger’s] Schwanda follows…and certainly, no reservations need be made about the ‘Overture’ and ‘Dances’ from The Bartered Bride. He did not enjoy Glinka’s Jota Aragonesa. I played this piece and tended to agree. Pleasant enough, but small beer compared to the Smetana and the Respighi.
Finally, he considered that ‘the Philharmonia and Goossens are in top form and I do not think I have ever heard all that running about in the [Smetana] Overture played so swiftly and so softly - it's a miracle of string playing. All the dances have splendid verve and most enticing rhythms.’ T.H. noted that there is a lot of music on this record – [it] is well recorded.’ Despite a few issues of balance, it is ‘still, a recommendable miscellany record indeed.’
The Gramophone (March 1967, p.490) reviewed the reissue of The Fountains of Rome. It appeared on the HMV Concert Classics label (XLP 30068, Mono and SXLP 30068 Stereo. It was priced at 19s.4d. The LP also included Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Trevor Harvey (TH) simply wrote that that it was ‘a good bargain’. He thought that the Mussorgsky is well-characterised’ and that ‘the Fountains of Rome is equally enjoyable.’
Eugene Goossens and the Philharmonia Orchestra can be heard playing Respighi’s Fountains of Rome on YouTube (Accessed 29/01/21). It is taken from yet another repackaging of this work.