Respighi Meets Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli Adoration of the Magi 2
Sandro Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi” (1475)


Ottorino Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures), written in 1927, was inspired by the work of Italian Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli. The second movement is a musical depiction of Botticelli’s famous nativity scene, Adoration of the Magi. 

Color and atmosphere are important elements in Respighi’s music. Notice the distinct voices of the bassoon and oboe and the contrast between the dark, velvety strings and the shimmering timbre of the flute. Towards the end of the movement, you may hear a moment of subtle illumination.

In the painting, Botticelli replaces the backdrop of the stable with ruins of ancient Rome. Respighi also draws on history, quoting Veni, Veni Emmanuel, which has roots in ninth century antiphon. Listen to Zoltán Kodály’s choral arrangement of Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel here.

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