Amore Della (Nella) Musica?

Ieri un caro collega ha discusso con me qualche cosa che avevo, recentemente, messo su “Facebook” quando scrissi che “c’è una cosa peggiore di una persona che non ama la musica e questa è una persona che ama distruggere l’amore della musica negli altri”.

Proprio, il pomeriggio del giorno seguente stavo ascoltando quell’eccelso programma di musica della BBC, “Radio Three”. Ogni settimana una persona famosa è invitata a scegliere le sue musiche preferite ed è intervistato dal noto compositore e giornalista musicale, Michael Berkeley (classe del 1948). Questa volta era il turno di Christopher Le Brun (classe 1951), presidente della Royal Academy, prestigiosissima accademia d’arte britannica, fondata, tra gli altri, da Giovanni Battista Cipriani, classe 1727, fiorentino e antenato di mia moglie, Alexandra Cipriani.

A un certo punto Berkeley chiese a le Brun. “Noto che non ha incluso ancora della musica barocca. Perché? “Ve lo dirò”, rispose il presidente della R. A. “Forse risale al fatto che avevamo nella nostra scuola un direttore del coro scolastico che ci stava facendo le prove per il “Messia” di Handel.  Diventò molto arrabbiato nel modo nel quale si cantava e disse “venite tutti dopo nel mio studio per ricevere “ten of the best” (frase idiomatica inglese che significa dieci colpi di verga).

Per gli italiani che non lo sanno, la verga, come elemento di punizione corporea, è stata sola relativamente recentemente abolita nelle scuole statali inglesi, ed esiste ancora quest’usanza Mediovale nelle scuole private, famose, come Eton ecc. dove vanno anche i reali e gli aristocratici di quell’isola).

A dispetto della verga, (che non sembra aver fatto male, dopo i tanti sforzi muscolari, alla mano bacchettante del direttore), i poveri ragazzi non hanno migliorato la loro performance (non sorprendentemente). Alla seconda prova il direttore diventò ancora più arrabbiato. Li ordinò tutti a ricevere una seconda “vergonata” (scriverei “vergognata”) – sul sedere, si capisce – non è più d’obbligo togliere i pantaloni come nei tempi di Dickens quando si sospettava ci fosse qualche snello volume nascosto per diminuire la pena dei colpi). Finalmente, i ragazzi sono stati capaci, secondo il direttore, a cantare l’Handel come lo voleva lui. Però, come disse Christopher le Brun, direttore della Royal Academy, ci fu un sottofondo di accompagnamento di singhiozzi e lagrime socchiuse nel canto – una vera Lacrimosa. Oddio!

Mi sarebbe tanto piaciuto se quell’infame direttore avesse calpestato il suo piede per sbaglio (si dirigeva con un bastone colpendo il pavimento all’età barocca) e morto d’infezione, come l’infausto Lulli della corte di Luigi XIV….

Non penso che ora il “Messiah” sia messo in prova tra i sudditi di Sua Maestà con il sistema asinellario della carota e bastone. Alla mia scuola (e parlo di Dulwich College, dove sono stati istruiti tra i migliori compositori e scrittori della Gran Bretagna moderna: per esempio, Anthony Payne che ha ricostruito la terza sinfonia incompiuta di Elgar e altre delle sue Pomp and Circumstance marcie) e lo scrittore di quel libro che diventò la base del film “The English Patient”) il nostro direttore, dal Galles, naturalmente, (patria dove gli abitanti sono nati con la musica nei polmoni, anche se, sfortunatamente, dato l’imperialismo inglese per troppi secoli contro quel paese e la Scozia e, specialmente, l’Irlanda, nati senza il proverbiale cucchiaino argentato in bocca), ci ha donato l’amore per questa composizione eccelsa, oltre che a Vaughan Williams, Poulenc, Bach, e una caterva di altri che poi il nostro coro cantava anche alla Royal Festival hall.

Peggio però accade, oppure è accaduto, oggi. Leggete la biografia di Philip Pickett (classe 50), un pioniere della musica antica, grandissimo suonatore del flauto dolce e fondatore di uno dei più goduti gruppi di esponenti di musica rinascimentale e barocca, the New London Consort. Guardate alle recenti modifiche della sua biografia nel Wikipedia (quella scritta in inglese però, perché questi fatti non sono menzionati nella versione Italiana) e vedrete che ora è diventato famoso anche per il suo bullismo sessuale per il quale sta scontando undici anni in carcere da questo febbraio. Che cosa faceva non lo descrivo ma come lo faceva, è veramente un metodo cosi semplice che ora nuovi regolamenti anglo-sassoni sono stati messi in operazione per evitare altri casi negli istituti musicali.

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(Philip Pickett)

Era facile: prendeva ragazzi dai tredici ai sedici anni. Li portava negli studioli di pratica che, come si sa in Inghilterra, sono isolati con doppie porte contro l’infiltrazione di rumori estranei come il trombone da un lato e il pianoforte dall’altro. Chiudeva la porta a chiave. Spegneva la luce. Il resto ve lo lascio alla vostra immaginazione. Per fare una parafrasi su un famoso film di fantascienza: “Nessuno può sentire le tue grida quando sei in uno studiolo di pratica musicale.”

E i poveri ragazzi e ragazze? Troppo vergognose perché dicano alcuna parola ai genitori. Ansiosi di non perdere il posto privilegiato in un prestigioso conservatorio. Psicologicamente distrutte a vita tramite il loro abuso sessuale.

Fu solo l’anno scorso che una studentessa Frances Andrade ha avuto il coraggio di parlarne del suo abuso sessuale. Ormai era diventata una musicista professionale, una bravissima violinista che ebbe anche il coraggio di amare la musica a dispetto di quelle sue terribili esperienze che aveva provato.

Testimoniò in tribunale contro il suo maestro di musico che si chiama Michael Brewer e il giorno dopo fu trovata morta suicidata con overdose, una martire quasi si direbbe per la somma arte. Il trauma della confessione era diventato troppo forte, ahimè.

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(Michael Brewer)

Parlo di queste cose perché forse non tutti gli Italiani leggono i giornali inglesi e neppure quello che succede nella cronaca inglese (da parte gli onnipresenti reali) e, inoltre, parlo di questo per far affermare che non punto il dito specificamente a nessuno qui ma che scrivo queste parole solo per far capire quello che è successo, e che può succedere nel mondo dell’arte più soave – l’arte della musica, che è veramente una scala celesta lasciata a noi quando gli angeli ne hanno avuto abbastanza di questo mondo che, allo stesso momento può essere così bello e così imperfetto, per ritornare in paradiso …..

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(Un angelo – Frances Andrade)  

PS If you want me to write my future posts again in English do let me know!

Of Waterfalls

Waterfalls have, for me. always been a passion. The gushing of the water over precipitous rock slopes, the sheer energy produced by the flow, the often magical surroundings can truly be awe-inspiring. It would be great to visit some of the world’s highest falls; in particular to see Venezuela’s Angel Falls at 2648 feet in height and only discovered in 1933 . Perhaps one day I shall!

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 In Great Britain traditionally the highest fall, at 371 feet, is Glomach in Ben Affric, Scotland. A considerable trek of over five miles through wild and lonely country is required to visit it but the moorland through which the path traverses is very beautiful. Although clearly paling in volume of water descending before such colossal as Niagara (which I saw during my trip to the States) Glomach’s great leap truly impresses. These photos date from our trek there in 1989.

However, Glomach isn’t the highest waterfall in the UK. That privilege goes to Eas a’Chual Aluinn in Sutherland, Scotland with a drop of 658, feet making it three times higher than Niagara! Perhaps next time I’m in Scotland?

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My favourite waterfall is Pistyll Rhaedar in mid-Wales. At 240 feet it’s one of the UK’s highest single-drop waterfalls. A lovely path takes one up to its top and thence across into the heights of the Berwyn Mountains from which the waters draw their sustenance. These photos date from our first visit there in 1984.

Waterfalls are mine

alone in untraced moorland;

liquid skylark trills.

In our Val di Lima waterfalls can be highly seasonal; the highest volume of water falls from them at spring when the snows on the upper mountain slopes begins to melt and later in the summer many of them can completely disappear. Of our local falls, one of the most attractive is at Fabbriche di Casabasciana, near an otherwise unremarkable village on the way to Abetone.

near a waterfall

a stork pounces on a frog

by the twisted path

These falls can be approached by crossing an iron bridge which connects with a disused cartiera (paper mill). Even at this time of the year the falls are impressive. These photos date from May 2007.

The waterfall skeins

crash upon rain-blackened rocks:

body’s fire is quenched.

It would be good if a waterfall itinerary were issued by the comune di Bagni di Lucca. Especially in the hot summer waterfalls would be delightful places to visit in search of a cooler corner of the world!

Four wheels Bad, Two Wheels Good?

Reading the interesting article by musicologist and insurance agent Michele Bianchi on Giacomo Puccini’s experience with bikes in this month’s LuccaMusica, a free magazine which gives as complete as possible listings of musical events in Lucca province and beyond (I’m the English collaborator for this rag) , I reflected on my own biking experiences. I was given my first push bike at age 7 for Christmas and would regularly ride, not just to school, but to explore most parts of London after my first major expedition from Forest Hill to Richmond Park on a Raleigh Space Rider when ten. London was a little different then.

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When sixteen I moved over to motorized bikes and bought a second-hand Honda 50 – a model which apparently is still going strong.

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In my twenties I graduated to motorbikes. The first was a somewhat unreliable Villiers Ambassador.

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The bug was caught and I subsequently moved across to Hondas. The CBs 250s and 360s served me fine, especially in getting to parts of Wales other vehicles can’t reach.

(CB360ing from London to Mid-Wales – Bwlch-y-Groes and Lake Bala)

The real breakthrough was when I bought a Honda Transalp in 1997.

With this bike I managed my first trip to Italy across the most beautiful reaches of France and climbing over the highest of alpine passes, the col de l’Iseran at height 9088 feet. I eventually descended via the Mont Cenis pass into the piedmontese plain. Based in Tuscany I visited the most wonderful places including Urbino, Montalcino and San Galgano.

I also visited the comune of Bagni di Lucca (though not the actual town itself which had to wait until 2001) for the first time, entering the Val di Lima via the passo Della Croce Arcana which is above Cutigliano. Little did I know that in 2015 I would celebrate ten years of permanent residence in this valley.

According to my video entry this is what I did between 7 and 15 August 1997 on that bike:

C136      07/08  –  15/08/97            Italy – Sant’Antimo – exterior – painter of Badia – Montalcino – town hall – old streets – funeral – town wall views – Certosa di Galluzzo – Abbey church – choir stalls – cloisters – monk’s cell – Monterchi – Madonna del Parto – Parto film – Gubbio – town hall – paintings – pottery – Etruscan tablets – old streets – cathedral – Sant ‘Ubaldo – views – Prato – Pracchia – Bardalone – Piastre – Prunetta – San Marcello – Cutigliano – Melo – Passo della Croce Arcana – Fanano – Pian del Falco – Rifugio Ninfa – Sestola – Pievepelago – Abetone – Cutigliano – San Marcello – Passo d’Oppio – Bardalone – Piastre – Pistoia – Pontassieve – Stia – Passo la Calla – Monte Falco – Monte Falterona – Castagno d’Andrea – departure for Home – German war cemetery at Passo della Futa – Bologna – torri degli Asinelli – San Petronio – Sabbioneta – Palazzo Giardino – arms gallery – Teatro Olimpico – streets – Mausoleum – Town Hall with old equestrian statues – camping at Lago d’Iseo – grebes – eroded pyramids – lake views – Passo del Gavia – Bormio – old streets – Stelvio pass – eagle – Alto Adige – Austria – Voralberg campsite – Germany – Meerburg – Boden See – Strasburg – Cathedral – Peruvian & cimbalom music – stained glass – astronomical clock

On that memorable 1997 trip I began my return home by doing  two of the most glorious alpine passes ever: the unmetalled Gavia pass (height 8599 feet) and the mythical Stelvio pass (height 9045 feet) before entering Austria and traversing the incredibly long and claustrophobic Voralberg tunnel.

Have bike, have tent, have trangia will travel and sleep and eat…… Glorious times which will always live in the memory.

As I trudged to work, fighting my way through London’s south circular road on that same Transalp I thought of those happy holiday times and wrote this poem:

THE BIKER

Red and white flame of power: you unbar

my prison and deliver me into

freedom’s arms. The wind of the plains sings through

me as fleet wheels spin and carry me afar.  

The whole earth unfolds around: vineyards yield

their ripened clusters in smiling valleys,

silver castles pass while the sun dallies

with my face and heaven’s grace is revealed.  

There is ecstasy in the engine’s pulse,

a leap of joy in the throttle’s release:

swiftness and light, sky and motion’s increase

transfigured into a boundless impulse.  

And when, through traffic and concrete, I ride

to work I don’t care: these wheels have had sight

of alpine glaciers and the eagle’s flight

and blue waters by the sea’s golden side.

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In 2001 on another Transalp (a green one this time with disc brakes on both front and rear wheels –  a bastard had stolen my original red and white one from just outside my house) I explored ex-Eastern Germany, Poland (reaching two places so diametrically opposed to each other in atmosphere: Cracow and Auschwitz) and Silesia.

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(My second Transalp in front of Charlton House London)

 In Italy I‘ve now stuck to scooters. I feel my biker days are over, although not two-wheel ones are not. I do feel lucky (cross fingers) not to have had major spills on any of my two-wheeled vehicle – just a broken wrist when the Transalp slipped across some oil near the millennium dome then being built in Greenwich (now called the O2).

In Italy I’ve slipped a couple of times, again due to “sostanze oleose”, but nothing serious – just some rather heavy bruising. I was, therefore, saddened to hear about the motorbike accident an acquaintance from Bagni di Lucca Ponte suffered at the start of this month on his Harley Davidson by the new Rivangaio  bridge crossing the Serchio near Piaggione. Colliding with a van the centauro’s (bikers are called centauri – “centaurs” – half-man half-bike in Italy) condition was so serious that a helicopter lift to hospital at Cisanello Pisa was necessary.His pillion partner was, fortunately, rather less seriously hurt.

I wish D. G. a complete and successful recovery and I am sure he will have the guts to go back to his beloved Harley-Davidson as soon as he is well again.

The problem with driving bikes (and cars) is, of course, not so much one’s own skills and reactions, which have to be top-class, but the bloody fools which surround one (and think they can drive just as well as you).

I do hope that my mates who are taking to the road on two wheels, whether it be on a Harley, a Ducati or even a Honda, will realise that superhuman care is needed here on those mountain roads with so many blind curves, so much unreliable road surface, so many distractions (especially the stunning scenery) and above so many idiots that abound on Italy’s (and clearly in other countries’ too) roads. Always easy riding but often difficult driving……

PS. Interestingly, we again visited Cutigliano yesterday when we saw the end of its primavera (spring) festival.

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Now we know how all those flamboyant Easter egg wrappings can be transformed to create new effects including iridescent butterflies!

Truly cute (twee?) Cutigliano!

(Cutigliano is a sort of mini Florence in the mountains complete with the old palace for the capitano della montagna and the loggia opposite it housing the Marzocco)

On our way back we took a quick look at the village of Lizzano, which lies just before the Abetone junction at La Lima, with its unusual mural paintings.

For more on Lizzano and the murals see my post at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/extra-mural-studies/

A Loving Spoonful

On a visit last month to a friend who lives near Castelnuovo Di Garfagnana I was presented by him with a hand-carved spoon with my initial carved on it. This item he’d crafted with just a simple knife during a couple of hours chat.

I was flattered by my friend’s folk-gift and said  I could not possibly use it to stir my next onion soup. The chestnut spoon, in fact, now lies on my mantelpiece as a token of a long-standing friendship.

I thought nothing more about handmade wooden spoons until I visited Wales last week when I was reminded of the great Welsh tradition of making love-spoons. These intricately carved objects were clearly not used in the kitchen but were made as tokens of affection. The degree of intricacy would give an indication of the proficiency of the suitor in handiwork and, hence, his ability to support a new family.

Furthermore, the spoon would include designs symbolizing aspects of love: a cross for faithfulness,   bells for a marriage proposal, a padlock for a life of security, a horseshoe for good luck…

The earliest surviving Welsh love spoons date back to the seventeenth century but the tradition of carving them goes back much further than that. Other northern countries, especially Scandinavia, apparently have the same custom.

Why a spoon? Perhaps it’s because a happy marriage starts as much in the kitchen as it does in the bedroom and also because a spoon helps to blend things together since a successful marriage is as much a blending of two individuals as it is a compromise between them.

These thoughts came to mind when I looked at some Welsh love spoons for sale at the lake Vyrnwy  visitor centre.

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I don’t know if any modern Welsh youth still indulge in this charming custom. I think less quaint evidence of the suitor’s ability to support a new family may be now asked by today’s lasses but the Welsh love-spoon clearly works a magical mixture for today’s tourist industry and many are, indeed, beautifully crafted and a delight to purchase.

A Little Welsh Abbey

The dissociation of sensibility remarked upon by poet T.S. Eliot when referring to a separation of thought and feeling that entered into seventeenth century poetry and distinguished the earlier metaphysical poets from writers like Milton onwards remains a much debated theory among critics today.

 

What for me, however, remains an even greater dissociation of sensibility is that between pre-reformation and post-reformation Britain. When one considers that art and crafts from the British isles were admired in the highest degree by Italian artists in mediaeval and renaissance ages, quite apart from wool from British sheep which not only created some of that island’s most magnificent churches, especially in east Anglia and helped the Florentine guilds amass their wealth through the import of this commodity, as the “arte della Lana” so amply demonstrates (as does the woolsack in the British parliament on which the speaker of the house of lords sits and which represents the great wealth Britain supplied during the middle ages) then one realises just how much was lost and destroyed through the dissolution of the monasteries by that pre-ayatollah, Henry VIII.

 

Yes, Britain has had its Taliban not once but several times and, most disastrously in the sixteenth century. What that century failed to achieve in bamiyan-like destruction it finished off in the civil war of the seventeenth century.

 

I remember being told by my Welsh teacher many years ago that Wales anciently was a smiling country with festivals galore, famous for its merry dancing and laid-back moral attitudes.

 

The anti-romish destructions of previous centuries was cemented by the spread of anti-conformism in the nineteenth century as witness the many typical chapels, erected in a variety of styles from neo-norman to neo-classical, scattered around the country, many of which today have found a variety of alternative uses from visitor centres, private homes, sports venues and even night clubs.

 

There were, however, once great abbeys in Wales, the greatest being the CIstercian foundation at Tintern, still magnificent in its fallen glory and which I was reminded of when I saw that other great Abbey ruin last summer in Italy at San Galgano.

 

Tintern was the mother house and on our way back from the bay of Cardigan we visited one of its dependencies, Abaty Cymer, near the village of Llanelltyd. The abbey, dedicated to Saint Mary, was founded in the twelfth century by Maredudd Ap Cynan Ap Owain Gwyneth and never became very large or opulent. Its income came largely from horse-breeding and sheep-rearing.

 

The entrance to the Abbey ruins was through a delicate carpet of snow-drops. Again,  this was, for us, a trip down memory lane as we’d last been here over thirty years ago. Here are some pictures from that visit.

 

And here are some from our trip this week:

 

I wonder how many years will pass before we return again….

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Two Welsh Lakes

Central Wales has some of the principality’s largest lakes.

 

We visited two of them: Vyrnwy and Bala (in Welsh Llyn Tegyd). Lake Vyrnwy is an artificial lake formed by building a dam which, at the time at the end of the nineteenth century, created the largest manmade reservoir in Europe. At its start there’s a visitor centre and bird hide where the wild life can be abundantly observed. 

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The lake is surrounded by dense forests. A road goes all the way around it. I remember during one particular hot summer when the lake level fell that I was able to see the traces of a village which had been drowned when the dam was built by the Liverpool water authority. It reminded me of what I experienced at lake Vagli on the rare occasion when that lake was emptied and the submerged village of fabbriche Di careggine saw light again.

 

Lake Bala is instead a natural lake which hosts a unique species of very ancient fish called gwyniad. The town, which gives its name to the lake and is largely welsh-speaking, has a famous inn, the white lion, praised by George Borrow in his classic book on travels through Wales.

Bala also has a chapel dedicated Our Lady of Fatima, the statue of which was brought here in the 1930s. It’s unusual to find a catholic shrine in this otherwise very non-conformist area. 

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Bala was once joined to Llangollen and Dolgellau by a railway which closed down many years ago. However, part of the railway has been reactivated and made into narrow gauge. Along it are these little steam-hauled trains with wonderful views over the lake.

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Both lakes Bala and Vyrnwy are absolutely idyllic places and it would be easily possible to spend whole summers here, as we have done in the past, swimming, walking and sailing.

 

it was really good to be back and re-explore these old haunts!

When I Have Crossed the Bar

As we drove towards the sea the clouds lifted and a gentle sunlight beamed over one of Wales’s most beautiful estuaries, the Mawddach, welcoming us to Barmouth, one of this country’s most picturesque coastal resorts perched between rocky outcrops. We decided to take a turn on the beach and what a beach! So much sand and so few people to walk on it – a slight difference from most ItalIan resorts but also a slight difference in terms of the bracing chill sweeping over the sands and the surrounding hills…

We took a little rest in the quaint seamen’s institute, reading the papers, browsing through old books and observing the boards displaying the various rescues which the lifeboats had carried out in past years.

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There were many chapels in Barmouth but most of them had been taken over by antique shops and cafes and restaurants – at least they hadn’t been demolished.

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There was also a closed-up drapery store which must once have known glorious times.

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Visting Barmouth was a lovely end to a day down memory lane filled with a variety of landscapes which few other areas can supply: we’d travelled over mountain passes, by lakes, over rivers and now the sea was before us.

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I thought of that poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – I don’t know if he wrote it here but those lines seemed somehow evocative of the beautiful place we found ourselves at:

 

 

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

 

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

 

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

 

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

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