It’s amazing how rich the Serchio valley is in music. It’s not just rich with choirs or good singers but rich with composers. Just on the classical music front everyone’s heard of Puccini, the world’s third most popular composer (I’ll let you guess who the first and second are) whose family came from Celle Di Pescaglia but there’s also Alfredo Catalani from Colognora, Nicola Dorati, the renaissance Madrigalist, from Granaiola and Astor Piazzolla from Massa Sassorosso.
If you’re into tango then Piazzolla needs no introduction. Think of the ubiquitous tango libre for a start. But it was only in 2012 that researcher Ofelia Lachner found out that Astor’s mother’s parents emigrated from Massa Sassorosso.
They’d gone to Argentina for a better life, like so many Italians of the time. In Mar del Plata, where they settled Piazzolla’s mum married a boy from Trani, Puglia and in 1921 Astor was born.
It took him some time, however, to become famous. Piazzolla’s dad didn’t let him join the great Carlos Gardel’s band in 1934 because he thought he was too young, which was a stroke of luck as he avoided being killed when Gardel’s band all perished in a tragic plane crash over Colombia in 1935.
(The great Carlos Gardel – the finest Tango singer of all time)
As Astor joked “I’d now be playing the harp instead of the bandoneon.”
(In my opinion, however, Piazzolla was such a good bandoneon player that I’m sure he’d be still playing his beloved instrument in his third state of consciousness).
Piazzolla moved to Paris where he trained under that hard-taskmaster (or mistress?) Nadia Boulanger who taught some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century including Dinu Lipatti, John Eliot Gardiner and Philip Glass. She firmly told the young man to stick to his tango which, at first disappointed Piazzolla as he wanted to become a more orthodox classical musician. However, Piazzolla’s tangos, with their beautiful formal beauty and often complex counterpoint, fully pay homage to his training under Boulanger.
(The formidable Nadia Boulanger)
If you read my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/dont-cry-for-me-sassorosso/ you’ll be able to read something more about Astor Piazzolla and the amazingly recent discovery that Piazzolla’s family had its origin in Massa di Sassorosso and also see some of the celebration that took place when they inaugurated the monument to Piazzolla in that town.
I only attended that day’s evening events but wanted later to visit Piazzolla’s village of origin. Unfortunately, I mistook Sassorosso for Massa Sassorosso. These are two villages near each other but quite distinct.
I finally managed to get to the right village a couple of day ago when escaping from the incredible heat that has hit the Italian peninsula (and England, I hear) as I headed towards the highest village in the Italian Apennines, San Pellegrino in Alpe at a height of 5581 feet.
Although not as distinct as Sassorosso, which is built out of a very red stone (hence its name), Massa is still a very attractive place to visit besides being a pilgrimage centre for all lovers of the world’s greatest tango composer.
The village is well-kept with picturesque streets and I sensed a pride in the inhabitants that now they had become spotlighted through the origins of one of their great predecessors.
There’s a trail that one can follow through the village, written in both English and Italian, which places the Piazzolla family firmly in the framework of Italian immigration to Argentina and in particular to Mar del Plata.
Homesickness must have been a very great problem and there was even a local newspaper printed in Argentina bringing all the news from Garfagnana and Massa Sassorosso.
When I eventually got to the end of the trail there was a monument to the musician, celebrating the cultural links between this part of the world and Argentina, created by James Covina, who has a strong personal connection to Argentina, including a tangoing couple with behind them labels showing some of Piazzolla’s best known compositions.
I was so glad that I finally found the right place. I love Piazzolla and so does Lucca Symphony orchestra conductor Colombini, as he so well demonstrated in his recent concert programme.
Again all this proves that this area of the world is not filled with mute inglorious Miltons. I wonder how many other famous composers, artists and writers are waiting to emerge through research in this most beautiful valley which must have inspired some of its inhabitants to the greatest thoughts and the highest artistic values.
(The Most Perfect Tango Composer of them all).