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“Il Tramonto” by Ottorino Respighi

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a most unusual man.  He was born to privilege in a wealthy family.  He began writing poetry very young and published his first novel while at Oxford University.  After less than a year he was thrown out of the University for his atheistic views.

At the age of 19 he eloped to Scotland to marry the 16 year-old Harriet Westbrook, but three years later fell in love with Mary Godwin, who, after the apparent suicide of Harriet, became Mary Shelley – author of the famous novel “Frankenstein“.

Percy Shelley drowned in a storm just before his thirtieth birthday. 

Shelley’s poem “The Sunset” dates from 1816 (you can read the poem here).  It is a rather peculiar poem about a young couple, written in the gothic style – desolate and macabre :

  • The poem begins in a calm, reflective way.  The death of a young man is described – but as a beautiful, romantic happening.  Then we are shown the young man walking with his love through the countryside under the light of the setting sun. 
  • The beginning of the second stanza keeps the sweet tone of the poem, describing the young couple’s night of love.  But then, abruptly, the woman awakes to find her lover dead in her arms.
  • The rest of the poem describes the woman’s suffering and laments as she hopes for peace in death.

Il Tramonto” is a setting (written in 1914) by Ottorino Respighi of an Italian translation of this poem.  Respighi captures perfectly the change in tone that occurs just after the beginning of the second stanza.  

Il Tramonto” is usually performed by voice and string quartet, although it exists in a version for voice with string orchestra.  In this extract I sing the first part of a version for voice and piano, accompanied by Janet Hughes.


One Comment

  1. wrote:

    The weather has been very gothic here in the last days: so I shall go and read “Sunset” forthwith! What a lovely and interesting website. Love the Candlemas chant especially.

    Friday, December 7, 2007 at 11:30 am | Permalink

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