Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961) had as its main vocation the music that was expressed with a lot of precocity, perhaps thanks to the paternal influences: Onorato, Duke of Sermoneta, was born in Rome on 18 January 1842, the only son of Duke Michelangelo and Calista Rzewuska, he was a great lover of music and musician himself. He met Wagner in Bayreuth and worked to promote the first performances of his works in Rome; a close friend of Franz Liszt – friendship in turn inherited from his father Michelangelo – so much to entrust him in baptism the second son Roffredo.

Liszt played a considerable role in Roffredo’s biography: he was the first to recognize the musical talent of the godchild and to direct him to study piano.

The compositional and concert activity was concentrated in a few years, reaching its peak around 1909. From 1887 to 1904 Roffredo dedicated himself only to instrumental music, giving life to twenty compositions, for piano, but also chamber music and symphony; the only exception in this period was the writing of two operas that took the years from 1910 to 1940. All the works were published by the prestigious Schott publishing house in Mainz, Germany.

The first public performance was held in Rome in 1888, the Quartet op. 12. This first performance received the favor of the public and critics, giving Caetani opportunities to appear on the national scene and soon on the international scene: the compositions were performed in France, England, Russia and the United States.

The only reason why Roffredo turned out to be a musician almost ignored in his homeland, in a context of modern disquietude and heritage of nineteenth-century heritage, might be because “his dedication to chamber music, a genre towards which the musical environments Italians of the early ‘900 showed a profound indifference, but the Caetani should be credited with having been among the first supporters of a return to instrumental music long neglected especially for the continued dominance of Italian melodrama on any other form of musical expression »1.

Exception within a compositional path marked by instrumental music, was the writing of two operas: Hypatia and L’isola del sole. Probably this change of purpose, turning to a composition in which the literary component has a strong impact – it was Roffredo himself to write the librettos of the two works – is due to the meeting with Marguerite Chapin, who became his wife in 1911. The personality of Marguerite was always linked to the interest in art, soon changed into commitment and literary activity: in 1924 the literary magazine Commerce was born, it lasted eight years and was directed by Marguerite herself who collected the most significant literary experiences of established authors and emerging of the first twenty years of the twentieth century. From 1948 to 1960 the new magazine Botteghe Oscure, under the editorial care of Giorgio Bassani, in which some of the best examples of poetry and prose were published in the original language, new talents who soon established themselves as the cornerstones of literature. Of this intense cultural fervor Roffredo was never the protagonist, but he lived all the phases and influences.

1 B. Origo, «Caetani Roffredo» in the Biographical Dictionary of Italians, pp. 225.

Hypatia is the first lyric opera by Roffredo Caetani, inspired by the last twenty-four hours of life of the protagonist Hypatia, philosopher, math and astronomer at the head of the Neoplatonic school of Alexandria. The events are set during Lent, in March 415 and narrate the clashes between followers of different religious tendencies in a context characterized by the legacy of the Hellenic world and the affirmation of a nascent Christianity. Hypatia becomes a symbol of science and ancient wisdom, too often identified with paganism and idolatry; she was too modern for her time and for this, despite the love of Orestes, prefect of Egypt, she will die stoned by a delirious crowd of fanatical Christians. Published in 1924 by Schott in three hundred signed copies, it was performed on May 23, 1926 at the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar. It appears in Italy only in 1957 through the RAI.

The island of the sun is a musical novel divided into two acts and an epilogue, set in Norbia, Salerno, at the end of the Middle Ages. It tells the story of the love of a wandering singer, Roario, for Musella, daughter of a wealthy landowner. Inside the plot the love of the two young people, at first contrasted, then solved on the island of the sun, Capri. Represented in 1943 at the Rome Opera House.

The death of his son Camillo in ’40 was one of the reasons that marked the dismissal of Roffredo from public executions and the drying up of the artistic vein. The last period of his life is devoted to the rearrangement and classification of scores, manuscripts of published and unpublished works, concert programs, correspondence and the collection of criticism and reviews (this material is kept inside the archive of Palazzo Caetani di Botteghe Oscure).

Roffredo Caetani was never a pen man, always reluctant to communicate his feelings on written paper, this is why today it is even more necessary to give voice and expression to his music for too long relegated to oblivion, leaving to the specialists the task of critically evaluating the exact scope of his work.


Lelia Caetani, painter and gardener, died in 1977 and with her one of the most colorful Italian dynasties.

Anatolius of the ninth century, Lord of Gaeta (south of Rome), is the first of the Caetani to gain visibility. The Gaetani flourished in Gaeta, which spread significantly to the north and south of their native city at the beginning of the eleventh century. In the twelfth century the name Caetani appears to indicate an influential family from Lazio, known for its strategic links with other powerful dynasties such as the Orsini, the Conti, the Annibaldi.

In 1118, Giovanni Gaetani, a Benedictine monk from Monte Cassino, succeeded Pasquale II under the name of Pope Gelasius II.

Benedetto Caetani (1235-1303), whose family settled in Anagni, was elected Pope with the name of Boniface VIII. A competent canonist and patron, Bonifacio founded La Sapienza University of Rome. His pontificate was characterized by constant disputes with Philip IV of France. His provocative Bull Unam Sanctam (1302), an extreme affirmation of papal supremacy, led to his humiliating arrest at Anagni in September 1303 and the sacking of his palace. During his life Bonifacio increased the power of his family through territorial expansion.

He acquires the Papal fiefdom of Ninfa and the neighboring estates that he then passed to one of his nephews in 1298. Ninfa was well fortified although not enough to save her from the brutal sack of 1381, which occurred on the scene of papal wars and infra-family disputes over the territory .

A brooding rivalry between the Caetani and Colonna families followed, in 1499, the confiscation of all the Caetani properties by Pope Borgia, Alessandro VI, then returned in 1504 by Pope Giulio II Della Rovere.

Despite this turbulent climate, the Caetani increased their influence, especially in the Pontine region, south of Rome. The impenetrable castle of Sermoneta is a lasting monument to this great family, no less than the nearby ruins of the town of Ninfa with its 30-meter high jurisdictional tower, a ducal castle and a town hall, seven churches, two convents and many houses – of course ruins of a religious, civic and military center that was lively at the time.

In the sixteenth century there were two cardinals Caetani – Niccolò (1526-1585), appointed just 14 years old, and his nephew Enrico (1550-1599), both of the family sermonetan branch. Onorato IV Caetani, (1542-1592), the nephew of Cardinal Niccolò, was captain general of the papal infantry in the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and was on board the La Grifona, the first Christian ship to be attacked by the Turks. In his triumphant return to Sermoneta and his wife Agnesina Colonna, sister of the Admiral of the Spanish Pontifical Fleet, Onorato, in giving thanks, built the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Sermoneta. Pope Sixtus V appointed him first Duke of Sermoneta. His marriage to a column was a further effort to reconcile the two families after such a long and mutual animosity.

In the late seventeenth century, Francesco Caetani (1613-1683), eighth Duke of Sermoneta, viceroy of Sicily, a prince ‘no less good at the rule of flowers, than men’, made efforts to bring the injured and nurtured Ninfa back to life. He is remembered for the propagation of tulips, at the time very fashionable.

While the Via Appia, following the western side of the Lepini Mountains, was one of the most important military and commercial routes of ancient Rome and the Middle Ages, the territory itself was very rich. This lush land of the Caetani, practically the territories of Sermoneta, had a maximum border of over 100 miles. Since ancient times, however, there remained a colossal topographic challenge, the marshes. These had the periodic effect of rendering the Via Appia unviable. For centuries, the Roman emperors themselves, among them Trajan, tried in vain to drain them; then, with the papal purchase of Ninfa, the popes played their part, including Bonifacio VIII and Sixtus V, who died of malaria in 1590 after visiting the marshes. It was only in the twentieth century that an attempt succeeded, and the genius behind it was Lelia’s uncle, Gelasio Caetani (1877-1934) was the fourth son of Onorato. Accustomed and resourceful as his father, Gelasio became US ambassador and his face appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in April 1924. Passionate about the history of his family, he compiled the Domus Caietani.

He used the knowledge learned in the war with Austria, between 1915 and 1917, to reclaim the marshes. The project, which included the use of explosives to create a series of drainage channels, was carried out with the collaboration of the work provided by the Italian State and completed in the early 1930s.

Palaces and strongholds associated with the Caetani remain – for example in Rome, Cisterna, Sermoneta and Fondi. Looking back, however, the history of the Caetani is not just about power and supremacy. The twentieth century produced a Caetani generation involved in the arts, academics and music. Suffice it to mention two brothers of Gelasio – Leone, a famous Islamist, and Roffredo, the father of Lelia, a gifted composer. Gelasio, who died in 1934, is especially remembered for the restoration of the ruins of Ninfa and for having given way, with his English mother, to what would become an idyll that would one day captured the imagination of musicians, artists, poets and horticulturists.

The Foundation, named after Lelia’s father, Roffredo Caetani, owns and manages the Garden and the Castle together with agricultural properties.