Francis and Cecilia

Lovers of early music (i.e. some of the best, most exciting music ever written) should remember for next year that the 21st Festival Toscano di Musica Antica has been in full swing in Pisa and ended this Sunday 28th August.

Thanks to a friend I was reminded of this superb festival and by 7 pm was entering the glorious cloister of the church of san Francesco in whose chapter house the first concert was to be held.

The festival’s title this year was ‘Bach forever’ and was chosen by its artistic director, Carlo Ipata, whose Auser (ancient name for Serchio river) band has become one of Italy’s premiere period music ensembles.


‘Bach forever’, for Bach never dies and if our solar system implodes then an exo-planet may well receive the sound contents of Voyager launched in 1977 and which includes the Maestro’s Brandenburg Concerto no 2.

The chapter house has some beautiful frescoes by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, a late gothic painter from Florence illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and dating from 1392.

They made an impressive backcloth to our first concert which was a performance, on harpsichord, of Bach’s three part inventions or sinfonia written as didactic pieces for his sons and students. As his introduction states:

My pieces are an honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard  are shown a clear way not only 1. To learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, 2. to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good ideas but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition.

Never could such academically titled pieces sound more enjoyable, for Bach is the supreme combiner of erudition and entertainment and they were played with  fluency by the young Carlo Pernigotti.

As an encore Carlo played a moving piece by Froberger, a predecessor greatly admired by Bach, dedicated to the memory of a friend who’d died in a domestic accident. Pernigotti stated that he felt that, in the present tragic time that Italy finds itself, this piece, called a tombeau, would be a suitable closure to his concert. Its plangent harmonies and deep sentiments were totally appropriate. Indeed, ever more so since his friend, the lutenist Blancrocher, fell to his death down a flight of steps which collapsed, an event – depicted by an eerily descending scale – which happened to several of the victims of Amatrice and adjoining villages.

During the concert’s interval an ‘apericena’ (dinner with aperitivo) was served courtesy of the l’alba (dawn) association. We were treated to farro dishes with fish sauce and as much prosecco as we desired. L’alba is a laudable association which aims at furthering autonomy for disadvantaged people. It does this through various means, the main one being catering. It has a bathing establishment called ‘Big Fish’ at Marina di Pisa, sheltered flats for helping people towards autonomy, art-therapy courses, ceramics workshops and restaurants and cafes serving natural products prepared under the supervision of professional chefs. For more information visit their web site at

Italy works largely through voluntary associations. We can see this is the situation around Amatrice but we can also see this in our local area where volunteer ambulances and first aid services are run by unpaid, enthusiastic persons. While the politicians gobble up the people’s taxes the people who truly run Italy are its voluntary associations.

(Incidentally, there’s a similar type of restaurant in piazza San Francesco, Lucca. The food is delicious and it’s enhanced by the fact that one is helping people who’ve suffered traumas to re-establish themselves. I remember a similar place in Woolwich London SE called the citizen’s gallery. I wonder if it is still functioning).

After a taste of south Italian Amari at a corner bar we wended our way to the church of Santa Cecilia (who appropriately is the patron saint of music.).

The Saint Cecilia church is another of those disgracefully neglected but very beautiful churches which those who can tear themselves away from the Piazza dei Miracoli will be able to enjoy. Founded around 1103 Santa Cecilia is a single nave church graced by a double lancet window around which are sited those rare Islamic ceramics one can find in a few other places in our area (e.g. at San Cassiano). The campanile, like Saint Francis’ church, is propped on top of the roof and is supported internally by a columnar structure. This is an excellent solution to the scarcity of land for a separate campanile and without sacrificing the church’s internal congregational space.

The altar is crowned by a painting of the martyrdom of Saint Cecilia by Salimbeni dated 1607.

Tthe best feature of the church is its acoustical property which glorified the wonderful concert we attended with Carlo Ipata’s Auser Musici and the absolutely unmissable Roberta Invernizzi, a soprano of immense virtuosistic drive I had been introduced in last Year’s Barga Opera festival. (To see and hear more of this gorgeously passionate singer go to ). Meanwhile here are some snippets of what Roberta sang at Santa Cecilia:

The program consisted mainly of arias from Gasparini’s operas. As in the case of the harpsichord recital we had seats on the front row and almost felt that she was singing just for us. It was an ecstatic experience for me and I forgot the stifling heat which summer Pisa generates, particularly within its buildings.

Carlo Ipata explained that this concert was part of a project to issue a new CD of Gasparini’s vocal music.

In case you haven’t come across Gasparini, neither did I until my friend introduced me to him.  Briefly, Gasparini is almost a local lad, having been born in Camaiore in 1661. His teacher was no less than Corelli under whom he studied in Rome and where his first opera ‘Roderico’ was produced. In 1702 he went to Venice and worked for ’La Pieta’ before he left and gave the job to Antonio Vivaldi. Returning to Rome in 1720 Gasparini produced his last big opera ‘Tigrane’.

J.S Bach appreciated Gasparini and copied his Missa canonica for use in Leipzig. Gasparini became teacher of, among others, Marcello, Quantz and Domenico Scarlatti.

It’s quite astonishing how such an important musical figure could have become completely unknown until rediscovered by the likes of Carlo Ipata.

Barga opera has been crucial in bringing Gasparini back to the stage with his ‘Bajazet’. (See my post on that production at

The evening concluded with La Invernizzi singing a seductive cantata by another composer who is constantly rising in my estimation, Nicola Porpora.

I could tell you more about Porpora, who gave Handel some tough competition while in London, but will spare you. Just watch and listen to this production of Porpora’s ‘Semiramide riconosciuta’ if you have not yet been converted to his luscious music.

Thankyou Roberta and thankyou Carlo for bringing back to us music which for far too long has been lying under piles of  dust and now is finally able to witness a sunlit resurrection and new life under your immaculate musicianship.

2 thoughts on “Francis and Cecilia

  1. Thank you for this most interesting and informative blog it was a delight to read and listen to the tantalising snippets. What an amazing event and very suggestive surroundings with good acoustics is a good way to entice congregations back to places of worship. More prayers are needed in such trying times of whatever creed it is peace and harmony we crave for not infernal warring scenarios there is enough tribulation with the forces of Nature. Media set news 24 since the 24th August has been broadcasting non stop news on the dreaded earthquake events. The whole episode has been most sensitively followed and explained on a daily basis with progress reports and events unfolding over 2000 tremors are still happening. A rebuild is possible with new technologies antisismic constructions after all it was Italian engineers who moved the whole of Aswam for the building of the dam. Humanity builds fantasy play parks such as Las Vegas Theme Parks so why not rebuild in safety and with up to date methods a beautiful town as had their forbears in the 14th century. The inhabitants of the area await this day so let us hope and pray that this will be achieved after all it is remarkable that the butchers house self build is still standing there is a Eason to be learnt.

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