Born in 1879, Ottorino Respighi was an Italian composer who first studied violin and viola in his home town of Bologna, Italy. Later he went to St. Petersburg to study with Rimsky-Korsakov, where he was first violist in the Opera Orchestra, and he was exposed to Russian orchestral style and color. He was a reserved boy, but he had obvious talent -- by the time he was twenty, he was a brilliant violist. When he was thirteen, in 1892, he began studying composition, and by 1900 he published his first major work, Symphonic Variations.
Respighi composed all different types of music. He wrote a number of operas, such as Re Enzo; a piano concerto in 1902; and a number of suites, including Vetrate di chiesa, 1927, Gli ucell, and 1927, Feste Romane, 1929. He also spent some time as a teacher at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome as a professor of composition. In 1924 he was the director of the conservatory, but he resigned two years later. Besides composing, Respighi also edited much music for publishing and recorded some of his songs with his wife, Elisa.
Respighi also immortalized Rome with his most famous series of pieces, Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome), Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) and Feste Romane (Roman Festivals). I played the fourth movement of Pines of Rome a couple year ago; the piece highlights the idea of an army coming over a hill and seeing the glorious city of Rome. It is an example of what has been said that his works are 'new old music'. Pines of Rome also is featured in Disney's Fantasia 2000, where it is portrayed as a group of whales sailing through the clouds.
Throughout the 1920s and early '30s, he continued to compose many pieces such as Adagio with Variations for Cello and Orchestra; Ballata delle gnomidi (Ballad of the Gnomes); and Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures) for chamber orchestra. He wrote numerous operas, even though they didn't have much success outside of Italy. He also received many, many awards and recognition during these years and also earlier: he was awarded the Chair for Composition at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome in 1913, and was elected to the Academy of Italy in 1932. Not that it would help much, as Mussolini was in power and World War II was coming close -- but Respighi died before all that came to pass, as he passed away on April 18th, 1936, at the age of only 56.