Editor's note: Classical MPR host Steve Staruch recently traveled to Rome, a world capital filled with so much art and history that it can be an overwhelming assault on the senses. Fortunately, the calming music of Ottorino Respighi came to the rescue.
My beloved and I were in Rome recently (our first time) singing in an ecumenical choir. The Together in Hope Choir was invited to open an international liturgical arts festival. Free time in the Eternal City was limited, so we were judicious in our sightseeing choices. There is art everywhere in Rome, but the Borghese Gallery was one place we were eager to visit.
The Borghese family was one of the most prominent and wealthiest in 16th- and 17th-century Rome. No expense was spared in the family's love of art, and the gallery was built with the express purpose of housing sculptures by Bernini and paintings by Rubens. The gallery is an overwhelming banquet of art treasures.
There is the nymph Daphne pursued by Apollo. You can almost hear her flesh turning into the bark of the laurel tree. There is innocent Susanna, trapped in her bath by the lecherous old men. She gasps at their treachery. You feel yourself gasping, too. The vivid determination on young David's face, as he winds up his sling, is frightening.
Ticketed guests are allowed two hours in the gallery for about 40 euros. Inevitably, two hours is too much time for such a feast. I reached my limit for beauty and drama after a little more than an hour. Solitude was what I needed, so I found a marble bench outside the gallery, sat down and closed my eyes.
That's where another treasure waited.
In and around Rome grows a particular type of pine. It's commonly called an umbrella pine. With a tall yet angular trunk, the needles spread outward at the top of the tree to form a canopy. The tree provides much-needed and welcome shade in summer, as well as an oasis for songbirds. Sitting there, I couldn't help but recall Ottorino Respighi's massive The Pines of Rome, which includes a movement inspired by the Villa Borghese. Pines also includes recorded bird sounds in its pastoral third movement.
Does life inspire art, or is it the other way around?
Finding a bit of quiet and stillness in the busy capital and enveloped in the shade and coolness of the pines, didn't the birds begin to chirp, and tweet, and sing. A feast for the ears. I opened my eyes and smiled, living in the art of my Respighi moment.
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