Bagni di Lucca’s Organ Transplant

I remember a colleague and fine organist playing me a transcription for organ of a pot-pourri of excerpts from Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ and very effective it sounded too. I was reminded that Giacomo Puccini came from a family of organists (for example, one of his predecessors, Domenico Puccini, wrote some excellent organ sonatas) and was foreseen by his family to eventually succeed his father (who prematurely died in 1864) as organist of Lucca’s San Martino cathedral. Indeed, in 1875 Puccini came first in the organ examinations held at Lucca’s (then Pacini, now Boccherini) music institute where he was a student.


(Giacomo Puccini as student)

However, despite his mother Albina’s persuasion, Giacomo Puccini’s applications to become organist of Lucca cathedral were all turned down. This didn’t, however, mean that Puccini was able to make a modest living playing the organ. Indeed, several of Lucca’s churches all benefitted from his competent playing. The Servite church (where Colombini holds some magnificent concerts with the Lucca Philharmonic orchestra), and San Pietro Somaldi (where Puccini carved his name on the organ case) are just two in Lucca and there were other churches where Puccini played the organ; for example at Farneta (where the recently restored organ also bears his carved name – rather in the fashion of English schoolchildren on their desk-tops).

Puccini also improvised, transcribed and composed pieces for the organ in his youth. Perhaps it was because of his improvisations that he may have been refused the ultimate accolade of becoming organist of Lucca’s cathedral. Evidently, Giacomo introduced some themes that may have been regarded as not religious enough by the church authorities and veering too much towards the operatic. Nevertheless, it was not unusual to do this until the advent of the Caecilian reform undertaken by Saint Pius X in the first years of the twentieth century. In any case, Giacomo must have soon come to the conclusion that he was more fitted for the opera stage than for the organ loft.

A CD of Puccini’s organ compositions played by Liuwe Tamminga, head organist of Bologna’s San Petronio, was issued in 2008 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It’s available on Amazon at Many of the items on the disc consist of transcriptions but there are also some fugues which Puccini wrote for his pupil Carlo Della Nina who lived in Porcari (not too far from the Materis paint factory where I worked as a business English teacher).


Indeed, as recently as 2014 a march written for organ was rediscovered in a private collection at Porcari and performed ninety years after the composer’s death.

Specific Puccini works where the organ (or even harmonium, if the organ is not available) plays a major part is the ‘Vexilla Regis’, the ‘Salve Regina’ (subsequently incorporated in his first opera ‘Le Villi’), and his Requiem in memory of Verdi of 1905.

In Puccini’s major operatic works the organ plays a magnificent part in the sumptuous ‘Te Deum’ concluding act one of ‘Tosca’ and at the end of ‘Suor Angelica’.

Puccini also has an important organ connection with Bagni di Lucca. Restoration of the organ at our parish church at Corsena is commencing. This instrument, which has remained silent since 1987, was built by Paolino Bertolucci in the first half of the nineteenth century.The organ pull-down screen is particularly charming:


It is also the same organ on which Giacomo Puccini played the accompaniment to his youthful ‘Vexilla Regis’ commissioned by our mayor Betti’s great grandfather, Adelson Betti for Holy Week in 1878 when the composer was barely twenty years old and very much in need of some cash. ‘Vexilla Regis’ is a favourite of our local church choir and to look forwards to the day when this piece will be accompanied by the same organ on which Puccini himself played will, indeed, send a tingle down my spine.

(If you want to know more about San Pietro di Corsena, the ‘Vexilla Regis’, hear a recording of it and learn further about Puccini’s connection with Corsena do read my post at ).

(Some Views of the Parish Church of San Pietro di Corsena)

Of particular interest is the fact that our parish church’s organ was originally built for the church of San Michele in Foro in Lucca.


(San Michele in Foro)

If you climb up to the attic of Puccini’s birth house in Lucca you’ll get a wonderful view of the statue of San Michele which the composer would wake up to see every morning.


It was this very organ which was remounted in Corsena when San Michele received a new organ built by Odoardo Landucci in 1864. A true organ transplant, if ever there was one!

Happily, funds have now enabled restoration on Corsena’s organ to be started. The firm of Samuele Maffucci from Pistoia, where the colleague I mentioned at the start of this post also works (Enrico Barsanti), is in charge of the repair.


(The organ cabinet as it appears at present without its organ under restoration)

The work is due to be completed by 2017 and the organ will again become a major contributor to liturgical functions, concerts and general music-making. The cost is around 45,000 euros, much of which comes from local sponsorship, the Italian episcopal council and from parishioners’ contributions.


(The Samuele Maffucci Team)

I am sure that it will be a great day when our parish church will again resound to the strains of its resurrected organ. It will truly turn out to be a fabulous occasion!

What next I wonder? The restoration of the 1774 Michelangelo Crudeli organ at the Pieve di Controni? I do hope so!





Two Unmissable Events Tonight

There are two major events tonight in and around Bagni di Lucca and, as usual, they are on at the same time (9.15 pm) so you’ll have to decide which one to go to.

The first is  the ‘Volo della Farfalla’ (the flight of the butterfly), an annual event remembering the tragic death a young and highly promising actor, Stefano Girolami, from Bagni di Lucca who died, aged only 28, on September 24, 2010, after falling a victim to Ewing’s sarcoma. Here is the event’s flyer:


Ewing’s sarcoma is a malignant  tumour: a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue such as the  pelvis, the femur, the humerus, the ribs and collar bone. This terrible condition particularly attacks young people, mostly males.

The “Volo Della Farfalla” raises funds for the Rizzoli Institute in Bologna, which is responsible for the research and treatment of bone tumours.

The other event is at nearby lower Ghivizzano and is again given for a charitable cause – the central Italian earthquake which has killed three hundred people and devastated so many communities.

The four choirs, which include our own, are all well-worth hearing especially as two are conducted by the brilliant young Andrea Salvoni, and Don Fiorenzo Toti’s Gallicano choir is well-known for its mastery in polyphony. This is the flyer:


So do decide on which charitable event you’ll be thinking of attending if you are in the area or, at the very least please tell your friends and acquaintances about them.



Music for Saint Michael

The eleventh “Concert for St. Michael”, organized by the Polifonica Lucchese and the AML( Lucchese Music Association), will be held Saturday, September 24 at 5:30 pm (free entry) in Lucca’s Church of St. Michele in Foro. The performers are the long-established Polifonica choir directed by Egisto Matteucci and the Boccherini Chamber Orchestra. The four soloists are soprano Mirella Di Vita, contralto Sara Bacchelli, tenor Marco Mustaro and bass Francesco Facini.

The program includes sacred music composed by Boccherini and Mozart for evening prayer, and formed by some of the psalms and the canticles of the Magnificat, divided, almost like an opera, in arias, ensembles and choral pieces, in an alternation of different styles and structures.

Luigi Boccherini’s four-part Domine ad adiuvandum G534 and Dixit Dominus G533 for four voices and orchestra has words taken from two psalms from the ‘vespers for th ‘Volto Santo’. Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339 was composed when serving the prince archbishop of Salzburg. Among the pieces that make up this work, is the exquisite Laudate Dominum, for soprano and chorus,

and a bright Magnificat, closing the concert.

This is definitely an occasion not to be missed, both for the high quality of the music and performers, and for its magnificent setting in one of Lucca’s finest churches.

To see my posts on some of the previous years I’ve attended the music for Saint Michael go to:


Of course, quite apart from the music being performed, it’s well worth arriving earlier to take a look at the church itself.

San Michele is built in the centre of the city’s ancient Roman forum (hence its full name) and its original construction dates from the eighth century. Attached to it were a hospice and a monastery. Pope Alexander II ordered the church’s reconstruction around 1070 which continued until the thirteenth century.

San Michele in Foro is one of the supreme examples of Luccan Romanesque architecture with its intarsioed marble decorations and one of the finest facades anywhere with a superimposed sequence of four orders of arcades crowned by a statue of Saint Michael defeating the dragon and giving it a high vertical slant which is almost gothic. In fact, the church itself was supposed to have been transformed into the gothic style with a raised nave – this idea never took place, however.


San Michele is built in a latin cross plan and it’s said that there an emerald embedded in St Michael’s statue which under certain sunlit conditions emits a powerful green ray. If anyone sees the green light then one is supposed to be blessed by the strength of this most powerful of archangels. I must take a better look next time I’m there!


Who was the architect of this wonderful church? Tradition has it that it was Diotisalvi, the same person who designed Pisa’s baptistery. Indeed, the whole building demonstrates not just the transition from romanesque to gothic but also a syncretism between Pisan and Luccan architecture styles.


(San Michele in Foro during this year’s Luminara)

Things to point out inside the church, which is covered by a barrel vault, are three wonderful art works:

  • Andrea Della Robbia’s Madonna and Child
  • Filippino Lippi’s four saints in the ceremonial Pala ordered by the nobleman Magrini.


  • Raffaello da Montelupo’s bas-relief of the Madonna.

Saint Michael is Coreglia Antelminelli’s patron saint too and there is also a  festival there, described in my post at;

Although the Coreglia festa takes place on the 8th of May the actual day dedicated to the archangel in the church calendar is September the 29th.

Here’s something I wrote on the archangel after having visited Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall,


then proceeding to Mont Saint Michel


and thence to Piedmont’s Sagra di San Michele.


My visit to San Michele in Foro thus completes the mystical ley-line which unites four sacred places dedicated to the Prince of all Angels.




Saint Michael, light’s archangel, ring with fire

the subterfugal dragon with your sword;

in heaven’s war lamed souls once more aspire

to walk the fragrant gardens of their Lord.


You speak from burning crests and keep the Word

creating sky and earth, the wind and sea;

and cast from north to south a line to gird

with strength this pilgrimage and set me free.


Beyond jade mountains lead, resist and fight:

your shrines are fortresses within men’s hearts

encased by swirling tide and gargoyled height,

enfolded in veiled clouds and shrouded arts.


Perfected force, revealing energy,

through your pellucid eyes at last I see.




PS The other two archangels, Gabriel and Raphael, are also commemorated on the same day as Saint Michael. Incidentally, in these days when the various religions are praying for peace in Assisi and attempting to bring down divisions between themselves they could have no better start that these three archangels. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Eastern Orthodox and, especially, Islam all recognize and refer in their holy books to the great power of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!






Camigliano’s Choral Festival


On Saturday, September 24th at 9.15 pm in the parish church of Camigliano (Capannori) there’s the second evening of the 38th Camigliano Choral festival promoted by the “Giacomo Puccini” choir of Camigliano under the patronage of the Municipality of Capannori and the financial contribution of the Cassa di Lucca foundation. Guests will be the C.A.I. choir from Frosinone (see photo) directed by Giuseppina Antonucci. It is a thirty-strong mixed voice choir who will present a programme of songs by Bepi De Marzi inspired by the beauty of the mountains and popular tradition. The second guest group comes from Vaiano (Prato). It’s the “Quarta Eccedente” choir directed by Fabio Cavaciocchi who will present a varied programme including sacred music, spirituals and popular songs.

The Puccini choir, directed by Luigi Della Maggiora will be hosts and sing traditional songs, creating an interesting evening for choir lovers. It’s another attraction of the Camigliano festival which is an important event both for its continuity (thirty-eight uninterrupted years), the quality of the participating groups and for the territory’s cultural and tourist promotion. Free admission.








Il Baluardo di Lucca

Il Mammalucco is the name given to Fornoli’s cultural association. This means that, in that part of the comune of Bagni di Lucca, anything from a concert to a dance evening to children’s activities is likely to be organised by’ Il Mammalucco’ whose facebook page is at

What a name for an association! What does ‘mammalucco’ mean anyway? In common parlance it means a dolt or an idiot but it’s really a bit more subtle than that. It also means the willingness to be made a fool of, or risk doing something which could turn out either way – a resounding success or an abject failure.

The etymology of the word is also subject to different interpretations. It could derive from ‘Mamluk’, which is Arabic for ‘the king’s slave’. In fact, the Mamluk became the leading warrior class under the Ottoman Empire obeying the king’s orders unto death. Presumably, their willingness to die for their master in unthinking obedience during the mediaeval saracenic raids against Italy may have seemed a bit stupid to Italians, so the term was applied generically to anyone who didn’t have a brain to think for himself.

A second interpretation is more fanciful and relates to the ‘figurinai’ or statuette sellers from our Lucca region who emigrated to America with their craft. (A well-worn urban myth says that when Christopher Columbus landed on the new continent he was immediately greeted by a figurinaio who was itching to sell the captain a souvenir statuette.) According to this interpretation children, excited by the little statuettes the Lucchesi were selling in the streets of New York and other cities, would cry out ‘Mamma look!” in an effort to attract their parents’ attention and get them to buy a statuette.

Whatever the origins of the word the Mammalucco association is doing a fine job of enlivening social life for its inhabitants. This July 14th for example, it invited ‘Il Baluardo’ choral group to perform in front of Fornoli church. Together with the Coro delle Alpi Apuane it’s one of Lucca’s premiere folk-song choirs.

Founded in 1989 ‘Il baluardo’ has participated in over five hundred concerts. They have performed in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain and have established ties with other Italian and foreign choirs. Directed by baritone Elio Antichi the choir also includes guitarist Gabriele Cinquini and keyboard Tiziano Mangani. ‘Il Baluardo’ repertoire consists of traditional Tuscan folk-songs which they perform in a cappella style. They also include folk-songs from other regions of Italy and several European countries.

In addition’ Il baluardo’ includes performances of such items as French renaissance chansons and contemporary pieces.

The concert we heard at Fornoli was a delight. The first half was a sequence of Italian work folk-songs which were cleverly brought together with a narrative and some lively inter-acting between the choir members.

The second half consisted of more ‘classical’ repertoire including French chansons, crusaders’ ballads and more modern pieces.

The choir was introduced by the inspirer and organiser of the Mammalucco association, Marco Nicoli, who is also a noted journalist of ‘La Nazione’ newspaper and writes many articles on our area bringing to the public’s attention important issues and sparkling events (like the Fornoli carnival, for example).

We are glad to have such public-spirited figures as Marco in our midst and that evening he did us and the association proud by bringing along a truly inventive and highly enjoyable choir.

For more information on ‘Il Baluardo’ and forthcoming concerts see

PS ‘Il Baluardo’ means bulwark and clearly refers to Lucca’s walls in which lovely city the choir is based. At least we have a well-defined origin for that word!


A Choral Feast At Barga

The choral concert at Barga’s Duomo di San Cristoforo last Friday at 9.00 pm was organised by the Istituto Superiore d’Istruzione di Barga to raise funds for Amnesty International and was, thankfully, very well attended.

Four local choirs participated – each one very different in style and repertoire.

This was the programme.

Roberta Popolani directed the choir of Barga cathedral in six pieces of both a liturgical and folkloric character. The highlight of their performance was, in my opinion the contribution of the teenage clarinet player, Giorgio dell’Immagine who, true to his surname, produced an imaginative arrangement of Madre io vorrei which included, apart from his limpid playing, three flutes (one of which was a bass flute) and the charmingly effective contribution of two girls who might have just come out of their nursery class. (But then bedtime for Italian children are rather more flexible than those in anglo-saxon parts).

06252016 035A personal friend, Andrea Salvoni, still in his twenties and already a formidable choirmaster (he conducts our own choir at Ghivizzano,) has achieved a miracle of choral ensemble with the pupils of the Barga’s ISI (Institute of higher education) where he teaches.

The ISI choir rendering of John Rutter’s ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ (blessing of Saint Francis) had the words enunciated very clearly (there must be a good English language coach at ISI) and the blending of the voices was perfect.

The same qualities permeated the other items but the choir’s biggest hit was the Gloria from the Misa Criolla which truly exploded with all its slightly melancholic brilliance into the farthest recesses of the somewhat cavernous Barga Cathedral acoustics. Nicola Soldani on percussion, Gioele Tomei on guitar with Niccolò Giambastiani and Andrea Salvoni on keyboards fully integrated themselves into the choral sound. For me the star was an extraordinary ISI student soloist, Caterina Pieretti whose voice was filled with both emotional strength and an extraordinary sound range.

Here is an excerpt from the Misa:

Argentinian Ariel Ramirez’ Misa was probably the first alternative mass to hit the Roman Catholic  liturgical scene after the Vatican council II reforms and its first performance in 1964 must have had an amazing impact which it has never lost to this day. Based on native folk rhythms and melodies, such as the chacarera and the carnavalito, the Misa established Ramirez’ reputation although it must be remembered that he wrote over three hundred other highly regarded compositions. It’s a pity that Ramirez died only in 2010 for he would surely have relished this Italian take on his fabulous Misa.


(Ariel Ramirez)

We entered into the realms of high renaissance polyphony with Gallicano’s own maestro-priest Don Fiorenzo Toti, an acknowledged authority on that great period of choral music which produced such geniuses as Victoria, Lassus and Palestrina.

I love Don Toti’s conducting style which is precise but authoritatively relaxed.His choir, culled from the mountains around Gallicano, must surely have some of the finest polyphonic singers in the Lucchesia and the final Bach chorale was simply gloriously sung

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The Joyful Angels Lucca Gospel choir needs no introduction to anyone who lives in our area. Its repertoire can be both thrilling and moving, truly infecting the audience with their appellation. Andrea was for a time an excellent pianist with the choir but pressures of work (and the foundation of his own ISI choir) forced him to give way to another accompanist, Ivan Magnelli who is clearly filled with a very natural jazz-blues soul and who accompanied magnificently with almost breathtaking virtuosity. He must have some of the fastest fingers in the whole Serchio Valley.

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After the highly pleasurable choral concert we were invited to the nearby conservatoire – formerly nunnery of Saint Elisabetta – where under the warm night of stars and the sound of cicadas we were treated to a rinfresco with the most wonderful variety of cakes I have tasted for a long time. It was truly a culinary midnight feast to cap the musical one we had been treated to.

A million thanks are due to the organizers and especially to Don Stefano Serafini the Duomo’s Don (and an ex-English language student of mine) for providing the environment for this superb night. I’m sure a goodly amount of funds were collected for Amnesty International, too.

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(Don Stefano Serafini, Barga’s Deputy Mayor Caterina Campani and Maestro Andrea Salvoni)

Let the People Sing

Campo Tizzoro does not immediately ring a bell as one of Italy’s historic towns. Situated between the passo dell’Oppio and the passo delle Piastre on that alternative and very scenic route from Bagni di Lucca to Pistoia it does not claim much attention at first sight. Yet it’s significant for three main reasons.

First, the battle of Pistoia was fought here in 62 BC between the conspirator Catiline, who tried to overthrow the Roman republic and its senate, but was soundly defeated by Macedonian legions under the command of Gaius Antonia Ibrida, as the historian Sallust describes.

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Second, Campo Tizzoro became a major metal industry centre when the Società Metallurgica Italiana was founded here in 1910. The centre started manufacturing munitions (rather like Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal.) In fact, the armaments factory still stands although now converted into a small business enterprise centre. The large concrete bullet-like guard posts still stand to remind one that this was once a thriving manufacturing centre.

Campo Tizzoro was fundamental to the Italian war effort and the allies knew it. This is why the place boasts (if that is the correct verb) some of the largest air-raid shelters and bunkers in Europe. A state secret until 2000, these immense underground chambers are now under the care of a local historical association and can be visited upon appointment.


Third, Campo Tizzoro was the setting yesterday of an important rassegna corale, or choir festival, in which our own choir took part.

The festival took place in the parish church of Santa Barbara which is situated on a hill by Campo Tizzoro. The church was built by the architects Marchetti and Lavini during the nineteen-twenties in a Pistoian neo-Romanesque style. The exterior, with its zebra marble stripes is rather more impressive than the interior which we found has terrible acoustics and is rather bare.

This was the programme of the first choir: Campo Tizzoro’s own parish choir.


The arrangements were by the choir master and were suitably novel. These included two original compositions by Maestro Gilberto Valgiusti: a hymn to the church’s dedicatee Saint Barbara and a ‘Salve Regina’. Further pieces included an arrangement of the ‘Exodus’ film theme with words added. Unfortunately, those ghastly acoustics did not do the pieces and singers adequate justice in my opinion.

The second choir, the gruppo Canova from Florence, entertained us with pieces from a composition by their own Maestra Elisa Belli, ‘Tre giorni di Luna – Turandot.’ It’s a ballad opera based on Carlo Gozzi’s story of the ice princess, more famously set, of course, by the great Puccini himself. Elisa Belli has written other operas, including one based on Romeo and Juliet, which have been performed in Florence’s parks.

It was then our turn to round off the festival. This was our programme:


We’re not boasting but our performance received the highest praise with people in the audience standing up and shouting “Bravissimi”. Certainly, we managed to conquer the acoustics of the cavernous church and our choir master was, again, pleased with our results.

At the end of the concert all choir masters were presented with a commemorative tile plaque.

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Here’s Andrea walking away with his:

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We then proceeded to the best bit of the festival, the rinfresco or evening tuck-in.

For this we journeyed to Pracchia, which is now the nearest railway station (excluding the Aulla line of course) to Bagni di Lucca. Pracchia is on the old Pistoia – Bologna line which, until the opening of the Apennine tunnel in 1934, was the only way of connecting the cities of Florence and Bologna.

Indeed, the nearest railway station was once even closer to Bagni di Lucca than Pracchia for in the twenties a metre-gauge railway was built from Pracchia through Campo Tizzoro and San Marcello Pistoiese to Mammiano near the spectacular pedestrian suspension bridge (see my post on that at

Regrettably, this metre gauge railway, which would today have been a real tourist attraction, was dismantled in 1965 for all the wrong reasons (road traffic, diminishing passenger numbers, slow speed etc.). Fortunately, large stretches of it are now being restored as a cycleway, rather as been done for similar closed railway lines in the UK.

The evening meal was superb. The choirs were seated at three incredibly long tables in a hall decorated with festive streamers. The meal consisted of antipasto followed by lasagne and rice with leeks. Roast beef, chips and salad then succeeded and the whole gargantuan repast was concluded with a spectacular fruit pie dessert.

Everything was washed down, obviously, with local wine which was surprisingly good for this mountain area.

There was a raffle and the first price went to one of our own tenors. (Inside the package is an automatic pasta making machine).

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All choirs then joined together in an impromptu rendering of Verdi’s moving chorus from Nabucco, ‘Va Pensiero’. Surely this piece is the Italian equivalent of the UK’s ‘Jerusalem’ and, like that hymn, is the country’s unofficial anthem, so superior, in both cases to the official ones.

The Campo Tizzoro rassegna corale has been going strong since 2004. How can the parish afford to feed and entertain such multitudes of choirs? It’s all thanks to the sponsors who advertise in the programme and also provide food and raffle ticket prizes. Well done to them and the organizers! Long may the rassegna continue.

Have choir will travel and, what’s more, meet like-minded people, enjoy great hospitality and pass the time in the most delectable way. If you can sing why don’t you join your local choir?