"The Adoration of the Magi" from Botticelli Triptych

Composed by Respighi

Part of a suite inspired by works of the Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli, Respighi’s “L’Adorazione dei Magi” represents a painterly composer’s best attempt to reconcile the “exotic” Bethlehem setting of the first Christmas with the holiness of the scene. Respighi accomplishes the seemingly impossible via clever compositional ideas. First, he leads with reed instruments, associated with the East in European minds, and introduces sounds reminiscent of Arabic music later. Second, he drops surprising, luminous harmonies into the middle of the piece, surely meant to suggest the rays of heavenly light that pour onto the baby Jesus in Botticelli’s painting. Finally, he weaves quotations of the ancient carol “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” into the fabric of the composition, striving for archaism. The result: a musical evocation of the wise kings’ visit to the Christ child that captures the locale, the circumstances, and the modern listener’s yearning for yuletide familiarity all at once.

Program Notes written by Nick Stevens