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!





Ancient Organs

It’s often not realised that the Lucchesia has over three hundred organs which testify to the immense musicality of this area of Italy. In addition, a very large number of these organs are precious historical instruments dating as far back as the sixteenth century. In the UK it’s very much a different matter until the nineteenth century. Many of that country’s historical organs were destroyed by the taliban equivalents of the time: the reformation and the puritans. It’s, thus, a major experience to hear some of the wonderful kings of instruments which still grace so many of the churches in the Lucchesia and which are increasingly being revalued and restored.

In our own Bagni di Lucca, for example, restoration of the organ at our parish church at Corsena is planned to commence soon. This organ, which has remained silent since 1987, was built by Paolino Bertulucci in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is 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..

Also of interest is the fact that our parish church’s organ was originally built for the church of San Michele in Foro in Lucca. It was remounted in Corsena when San Michele received a new organ built by Odoardo Landucci in 1864.


Now in its twenty-second season, the ‘Domenico Lorenzo’ Association this year presents four recitals performed on historical organs in the Lucchesia with the support of the Cassa di Risparmio di San Miniato S.p.A. and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca.

The first recital is on Sunday, October 2, at 9.15 pm, at the Church of S. Micheletto, where organist Luca Scandali performs works by sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Italian composers on the Bartolomeo Ravani organ dating from 1660, accompanied by Mauro Occhionero on traditional Renaissance percussion. On this occasion the “Balli, battles and songs” CD (Brilliant, 2016), recently recorded by the two artists on the Zeffirini organ (1551) in St. Stefano church, will be presented.


 All concerts are free entry.
For information: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128; Fax 0583 370460


In the second concert, on Sunday, October 9 at 6 pm, Gabriele Giacomelli will perform music by Italian composers of the seventeenth and nineteenth century on the Odoardo Landucci and sons organ (1867-9), recently restored by Glauco Ghilardi, in San Lorenzo church, Farneta.



As per tradition, the season includes an evening dedicated to the screening of a silent film accompanied by an organ improvisation. The film is Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925), and the event will take place on Wednesday, October 12 at 9.15 pm in the splendid setting of the church of St. Francesco, with Edoardo Bellotti (see photo) on the organ and with a historical and critical presentation by Pier Dario Marzi on behalf of “Ezekiel 25:17” Cineforum which organizes the event.



The season ends on Wednesday, October 19 at 9.15 pm in the church of St. Stefano, with the ‘Gesualdo Consort of Gesualdo’ chorus accompanied by organist Daniele Boccaccio (see photo), who will perform music by Pietro Vinci (Sonetti spirituali, in the version for choir and organ) and other authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on the precious Zeffirini Onofrio organ which dates from 1551.


Stazzema Peace Organ Concerts

Sant’Anna di Stazzema was the scene of one of the worst massacres perpetrated by nazi-fascists during World War II. (See for more details of this horrific event.)

During the Nazi massacre that, on August 12, 1944, claimed the lives of 560 innocent people, even the small organ of the church of Sant’Anna di Stazzema was destroyed by the SS machine guns. In 2007, sixty years after the tragic massacre, music returned to the small town in Versilia, thanks to its Peace Organ Festival. The Peace Organ is a remarkable instrument built by Glauco Ghilardi from Lucca. It’s in the great tradition of the Baroque organ builder in northern Germany, Arp Schnitger (1648-1710) and is the result of the awareness and input of two German musicians from Essen, Maren and Westermann, who, in 2002, embarked on a fundraising trail for the organ in Germany and Italy through concerts under the patronage of the Presidents of Italian and German Republics and with the support of the Tuscany Region, the Province of Lucca, the Municipality of Stazzema and other municipalities and Italian and German institutions.


The Peace Organ is located in the little church of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, in the National Peace, park which offers visitors the opportunity of visiting the History Museum and the park’s beautiful woodland paths.


Here is the Peace Organ programme for this year:


The Organ Festival of Sant’Anna di Stazzema Peace reaches its tenth year and, thanks to the collaboration between Italy and Germany, also hosts internationally renowned musicians. There are six concerts, each Sunday from July 17 to August 21 in the Church of St. Anna di Stazzema and a lecture at the S. Anna di Stazzema Historical Museum. The Festival, which is emerging as one of the highest musical quality appointments in the rich panorama of Versilia, is a concrete expression of the power of music to promote dialogue, understanding and collaboration between peoples and cultures.

During the concerts funds will be collected for the expansion of the organ with a deep bassregister to the pedal, whose inauguration is scheduled for the organ’s tenth anniversary.

Sunday, July 17 at 4.30 pm Edoardo Bellotti will hold a conference entitled “The Time Machine”.

At 6 pm the same day Bellotti, organist, harpsichordist, musicologist and teacher, who holds recitals in the most important world festivals, will perform the following program on Stazzema’s Peace organ:

Eduardo Torres – Gradual “Tecum principium”
Max Reger – Intermezzo Op. 80 n. 10
Franco Vittadini – Elevation
Franz Schubert
– Erlkönig D 328
– Abendlied D 382 1797 – 1828
(keyboard arrangement by August Horn)
Johann Sebastian Bach
– Concerto in D BWV 964 by A. Marcello
(Andante, Adagio, Presto)
Domenico Zipoli – Suite n. 2
(Prelude, Corrente, Sarabande, Giga)
Johann Jacob Froberger
– Toccata VI for the elevation of the Host
– Fantasia ut re mi fa sol la
– Toccata XIV in G
Tel. +39 339 1348269 +39 338 3221217


Sunday, July 24 at 6 pm there’s a recital by the German organist Sebastian Küchler-Blessing.
Tel. +39 339 1348269 +39 338 3221217


Sunday, July 31 at 6 pm there’s a recital by the Italian organist Gabriele Giacomelli.
Tel. +39 339 1348269 +39 338 3221217


Sunday, August 7 there’s a recital by the duo formed by organist Michele Savino and Italian oboist Tommaso Guidi.
Tel. +39 339 1348269 +39 338 3221217


Sunday, August 14 at 6 pm there’s a recital by German organist Martin Bernreuther.
Tel. +39 339 1348269 +39 338 3221217


Sunday, August 21 at 6 pm there’s a recital by Italian organist Alessandro Bianchi.
Tel. +39 339 1348269 +39 338 3221217







A Cool English Lesson

What do you do if the room allocated to you for your English lesson is too hot? In Italy it’s simple: just take your class out and into the nearest church, for these buildings are really cool in summer!

San Rocco, at the end of that sweet square outside the library where my lesson took place, is one of Borgo a Mozzano’s noblest building. I have already described it in my post at:

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I thought I knew this church pretty well but when I stepped into it last Thursday I was overwhelmed by something inside it I had never seen before.

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To gaze on Santini’s addition to his altar rising up like a staircase to heaven was absolutely overwhelming!

At this stage, Mr Pieroni, the sage of Borgo a Mozzano and the director of the Gothic Line project stepped in with a visitor and explained to us a little more about this fine-looking church. Santini’s additions to the principal altar had been made specially for the Feast of Corpus Domini and it took two weeks for the local townsfolk to erect it this year.

(If you don’t know what or how important the feast of Corpus Domini is do read my post on it at

Who was Francesco Santini?

Santini was born in Cerreto, which is just above Borgo a Mozzano, and there is news of him from 1640 to 1660. He came from a family of highly regarded carvers in the area. Santini’s first work is a wooden altar, dating from 1642, in the monastery church of San Francesco in Borgo a Mozzano. It’s the first altar you see on the right entering the church and was commissioned by the Society of the Immaculate Conception. I have always been taken by this altar. Its superb carving of the serpentine columns, unadorned by any overlying paint, reminds me somewhat of England’s own marvellous Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).


Francesco Santini is a good example of an exceptional artist born into a thriving craft tradition. Much in the same way as other creators spring from a family tradition, (a great example is the number of musicians in the Bach family), he was just one of many other Santinis who carried on what they considered a craft but what many of us today would consider an art. A later Santini, for example, Alessandro created the altar of another of Barga’s churches, San Rocco.

At least we are able to give names to the Santinis. I wonder how many other great artistic works lie in our territory with their creator’s name remaining unknown!

PS I’ve written more about the great Santini in my post at

The attractive floor decoration in the nave of San Rocco was composed out of coloured sawdust and is yet another long-standing local tradition. It clearly represents the plight of the refugees, over four thousands of which have been drowned this year alone. (Indeed, only a couple of days a boat was lifted from the ocean depth (using some very sophisticated Italian technology)  with over eight hundred bodies trapped in the boat’s hold. The remains of the corpses are now in Augusta, Sicily being identified through taking DNA samples from them.

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I found the contrast between the depiction of the grim ocean depths before the heavenly stairway rather poignant.

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The floor decoration should have been placed outside in the square but due to the unpredictable weather this year it was placed inside the church and very effective it looks there too.

Why is there an oval stuck in the middle of this painting? It’s because it’s actually a door opening out and showing a miraculous image of an ancient terracotta Madonna behind it. No-one had the key, however, to show it to me.

Ou English lesson consisted in developing a vocabulary to describe ecclesiastical features like nave, apse, transept, portico, altar etc and by the end of it I’m sure that any one of my students could have become a very good guide! Actually, the student in my tutelage is an excellent artist and restorer and she was able to point out to me several artistic features in the beautiful paintings adorning the side altars and, in particular, be able to give me her opinion as to some were superior to others. She pointed out to such features as composition, the way the hands were painted, the way the light fell on the faces, the manner of laying on the brushstrokes.

San Rocco’s organ is a fine Agati organ dating from 1851. I climbed up to have a closer look at it and it still produces a rather good sound. I think, however, that prosepctive organists in this area must be tested for vertigo before they take up any job…

I think I leant more from that lesson that she did from mine! However, learning a language is all about being able to get one’s meaning across and I’m sure we both, in our own ways, managed to express quite involved aspects of aesthetics and art in general.

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So, if you’re in a hot classroom and perhaps not feeling too inspired just take your students to visit a nearby church. At least in Tuscany’s now torrid afternoons you can do that and turn a routine lesson into something much more stimulating!



Corsanico Music Festival

The 2016 Corsanico festival opens in the atmospheric church of S. Michele Arcangelo.


The 35th International Festival of Classical Music is organized by Corsanico’s “Vincenzo Colonna Organ Friends Music Cultural Association “. Eight concerts, four in July and four in August, will have as their central theme the great and historical organ now known throughout the world. The festival is sponsored with the prestigious patronage of the Senate, the Tuscany Region and the Province of Lucca.

index(The Vincenzo Colonna Organ at Corsanico)

The opening ceremony, on Sunday July 10th at 9.15 pm, is entitled “Tribute to Francis Poulenc.” It stars a sensational sextet comprising members of Genoa’s Carlo Felice theatre orchestra: Francesco Loi – flute; Guido Ghetti-oboe; Luigi Tedone -bassoon; Valeria Serangeli-clarinet; Carlo Durando-horn; Edward Barsotti-piano and organ.
Tickets are € 10 each.
Info:, – tel. 0584 954016

Saturday 16th.Dal Barocco al Romanticismo”. The great organist Giancarlo Parodi will perform music by J. Kayser, G. Salvatore, J. S. Bach; Mendelssohn and Liszt.

Saturday 23rd. “Serata Bach: preghiera e poesia” (‘Bach evening: prayer and poetry’) . Music and cantatas by J.S. Bach, performed by Anna Caprioli-soprano and Sergio Chierici-organ.

Saturday, 30th. “Meraviglie del Barocco veneziano”, with the “Trio Sophia”
Alessandra de Negri-soprano; Lilian Stoimenov-trumpet and Marco Vincenzi-organ; music by A. Caldara, C. F. Pollarolo, T. Albinoni, Vivaldi, Galuppi and G. Giordani.

Borgo a Mozzano’s ‘San Rocco e San Sebastiano’

Italy is so full of riches that just one church in a provincial centre could require several posts dedicated to it. Piazza San Rocco in Borgo a Mozzano is easily missed unless one is going to the library, now re-housed in the splendid palazzo Santini on the south side of the square.

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Closing the piazza is the parish church of san Rocco, a saint better known as Saint Roche in France and the UK and the patron saint of plague and pestilence victims.

San Rocco, patron saint of illnesses, became one of the most popular saints of all time and still has a devoted following today, especially among those afflicted by rare conditions. According to tradition, Saint Roche had a very eventful life, eventually dying in a prison around 1380. He, too, fell a victim while healing the sick and had to retire to a cave since his plague sores were beginning to make him stink unpleasantly. The only companion he found was a dog who would steal bread from his own master’s table to bring it to Saint Roche. This delightful animal story is represented in many statues depicting the saint and in banners celebrating him. Here’s the banner and statue in the Borgo church:

Fortunately, occurrences like the Black Death have been wiped out (I hope) in the west so there is less need to invoke Saint Roche. However, the beauty of this secondary church in an easily by-passed square in an easily by-passed town needs to be savoured and appreciated.

In 1527 a chapel was built over the site of Saint Sebastian’s oratory by members of the confraternity of San Rocco in Cerreto (the village overlooking Borgo a Mozzano) and dedicated to San Rocco and Saint Sebastian. The chapel was expanded into a church between 1607 and 1627. San Rocco e San Sebastiano was consecrated on the third of July, 1746. The present church dates largely from between 1760 and 1791 when the choir and apse were enlarged.

The classical façade is both dignified and elegant, looking out onto the square which was formed by the demolition of some houses.

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Above the entrance there’s a round marble bas-relief depicting Saint Roche.

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The construction of the campanile in 1690 made the church rather unstable and it has had to be stabilised and reinforced by iron chains.

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San Rocco’s interior is aisle-less and in the form of a Latin cross. It has six altars. The four before the transept are decorated in stucco and were built by Giovanni Battista Lazzari, Sebastiano Lippi and Giovanni Maria Michelacci.

The four side altars are dedicated to Saint Anne, the Crucifix, the Virign of Sorrows, and Saint Gregory, respectively:.

Of particular interest in the apse are the three rare frescoes by neo-classical Luccan artist Luigi Ademollo who worked at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They represent the Centurion, the Redeemer and Baptist and the distribution of the loaves.

For me one of the major delights in the church is the decoration of the organ (by Nicomede Agati) balcony depicting musical instruments including the violin and a viola da gamba, showing that this instrument was still very much in vogue in the eighteenth century. Who knows, perhaps music-making in the organ loft was once enriched by orchestral instruments in a manner similar to that described in Dorset by Thomas Hardy in his ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’.

I hope Borgo appoints organists who don’t suffer from vertigo!

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The church doesn’t stop at ‘old art’: the recent stained glass windows illustrating the four evangelists are superb:

There are many other points of interest in this church:

It’s so easy to get blasé about the lovely things which particularly abound in Italy. Often one has to see familiar places with new eyes to really relish them.

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Organ Morgans


Now in its twenty-first season, the Domenico Lorenzo Association offers, this year, a program of four concerts performed on the territory’s historical organs with the sponsorship of the Cassa di Risparmio di San Miniato SpA and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca. The first event is on Friday, October 2nd, at 9.15 pm, at the Church of S. Salvatore della Misericordia, where organist Andrea Vannucchi performs Italian composers from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century on the instrument attributed to Domenico Pucci (1830 ca .) which has been recently restored.


Free admission.

For information: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128; fax 0583 370460



In the second concert, Saturday, October 10th at 6:30 pm, Gianpaolo Prina inaugurates the restoration of the Domenico Pucci organ (1828) in the church of the Convento di San Cerbone, restored by Glauco Ghilardi through the Lions Club Lucca Host. Free admission.

For information: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128; fax 0583 370460



The third concert is on Friday, October 16th at 9.15 pm in the church of St. Peter Somaldi, Lucca with organist Antonio Galanti who performs music by Italian composers from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries on the valuable Cacioli Domenico organ (1687), expanded and modified by Paolino Bertolucci, Pietro Paoli and Filippo Tronci. Free admission.


For information: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128; fax 0583 370460



Now in its twenty-first season, the Associazione Domenico di Lorenzo offers this year four concerts performed on the territory’s historical organs, with the contribution of the Cassa di Risparmio di San Miniato SpA and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca. As usual, the season will conclude with an evening dedicated to the screening of a silent film accompanied by organ improvisation. The event, will screen a masterpiece by Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor (“I prefer the elevator,” 1923), will take place on Friday, October 23rd at 9.15 pm in the sumptuous setting of the church of St. Francesco, with Matteo Venturini at the organ and an introduction by Pier Dario Marzi on behalf of the “Ezekiel 25:17” Cineforum who is helping to produce the event. Free admission.

For information: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128; fax 0583 370460