The Pines of Rome

I love them. These elegant trees pop up all throughout Rome and are as important to the beauty of this city as the ancient Roman ruins and Baroque churches.

These are the “umbrella” or “stone” pines. They have been used in Italy since the Renaissance as decorative elements in gardens and to accent architecture. Their bright green color pops against the oranges and golds of the city, and when you look up at them, they are like little green puffy clouds.

Love the shapes of these trees!

Indeed, these beautiful trees have not only inspired paintings, such as the one at the top of this post (by Hendrik Voogd, 1807), but they’ve also inspired music. Pines of Rome is a “tone poem” created in 1924 by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. The four movements celebrate the pine trees in four different locations in Rome, throughout a day. Below I’ve linked the four movements, courtesy of the The Folsom Lake Symphony.

Respighi was Aaron Copland’s senior by just 21 years (Respighi’s much shorter life meant they overlapped in time just 36 years). They were both precocious child musicians who shared similar musical influences. So if you’ve heard the music of one but not the other, be prepared to hear many similar qualities.

First we hear the Pines of Villa Borghese, where children play among the trees, singing and dancing.

Pine trees in Villa Borghese

Next, we hear the Pines Near a Catacomb, a more somber movement. 

Then, we hear the Pines of the Janiculum (complete with bird song!)

Umbrella pine tree behind the Janiculum “lighthouse”

And, finally, we hear the Pines of the Via Appia. You can picture ancient Roman armies marching along.

Pine trees near the Via Appia Antica

Like La Lupa and the Colosseum, the Pines of Rome are enduring symbols of this great city both visually and aurally.