31 July 2019

31 July

Salvatore Maranzano - crime boss


Sicilian ‘Little Caesar’ who established New York’s Five Families

The criminal boss Salvatore Maranzano, who became the head of organised crime in New York City after the so-called Castellammarese War of 1930-31, was born on this day in 1886 in Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily.  Maranzano’s position as ‘capo di tutti capi’ - boss of all bosses - in the city lasted only a few months before he was killed, but during that time he came up with the idea of organising criminal activity in New York along the lines of the military chain of command established in ancient Rome by his hero, Julius Caesar.  His fascination with and deep knowledge of the Roman general and politician led to him being nicknamed 'Little Caesar' by his Mafia contemporaries in New York.  Installing himself and four other survivors of the Castellammarese War as bosses, he established the principle of replacing the unstructured gang rivalry in New York with five areas of strictly demarcated territory to be controlled by criminal networks known as the Five Families.  Originally the Maranzano, Profaci, Mangano, Luciano and Gagliano families, they are now known by different names - Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese to be precise - but are essentially based on the same structure.  Maranzano, perversely, had originally set out to be a priest in his homeland and even undertook the necessary studies to become one.  Read more…


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Alessandro Algardi – sculptor


Baroque works of art were designed to illustrate papal power

Alessandro Algardi, whose Baroque sculptures grace many churches in Rome, was born on this day in 1598 in Bologna.  Algardi emerged as the principal rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture and although Bernini’s creations were known for their dynamic vitality and penetrating characterisation, Algardi’s works were appreciated for their sobriety and surface realism. Many of his smaller works of arts, such as marble busts and terracotta figures are now in collections and museums all over the world.  Algardi was born in Bologna, where he was apprenticed in the studio of Agostino Carracci from a young age.  He soon showed an aptitude for sculpture and his earliest known works, two statues of saints, were created for the Oratory of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna.  After a short stay in Venice, he went to Rome in 1625 with an introduction from the Duke of Mantua to the late pope’s nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who employed him to restore ancient statues.  Although it was a time for great architectural initiatives in Rome, Algardi struggled for recognition at the start as Bernini was given most of the major sculptural commissions.   He received his first major commission in about 1634 to sculpt a funeral monument for Pope Leo XI, who had reigned for less than a month in 1605.  Read more…

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Antonio Conte - football coach


Southern Italian roots of the former boss of Chelsea

Antonio Conte, the coach who led Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 before becoming manager at Chelsea in the English Premier League,  was born on this day in 1969 in Lecce, the Puglian city almost at the tip of the heel of Italy.   Formerly a hugely successful player and manager with Juventus, as a midfield player for the bianconeri he won five Serie A titles and a Champions League. He also played in the European Championships and the World Cup for the Italy national team.  After returning to the Turin club as head coach, he won the Serie A title in each of his three seasons in charge before succeeding Cesare Prandelli as Italy's head coach.  Conte hails from a close-knit family in which his parents, Cosimino and Ada, imposed strict rules, although as a child Antonio was allowed to spend many hours playing football and tennis in the street with his brothers, Gianluca and Daniele.  He began to play organised football with Juventina Lecce, an amateur team coached by his father, but it was not long before US Lecce, the local professional club, recognised his potential and offered him an opportunity.   Juventina received compensation of 200,000 lire - the equivalent of about €300 or £250 in today's money - plus eight new footballs.  Conte quickly moved up through the Under-15s and Under-20s teams and made his senior debut aged just 16 in 1986 after Lecce had won promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history.  Read more…

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30 July 2019

30 July

Michelangelo Antonioni - film director


Enigmatic artist often remembered for 1966 movie Blowup

The movie director Michelangelo Antonioni, sometimes described as “the last great” of Italian cinema’s post-war golden era, died on this day in 2007 at his home in Rome.  Antonioni, who was 94 years old when he passed away, was a contemporary of Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti.  Remarkably, three of that trio’s most acclaimed works - Fellini’s La dolce vita, Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers and Antonioni’s L’avventura - appeared within a few months of one another.  Antonioni’s genius lay in the way he challenged traditional approaches to storytelling and drama and the way people viewed the world in general.  His characters were often intentionally vague, his most favoured themes being social alienation and bourgeois ennui, reflecting his view that life left many people emotionally adrift and unable to find their bearings.  His movies often had no strong plot in a conventional sense, were dotted with unfinished conversations and seemingly disconnected incidents. Antonioni made a number of films in English, the most famous of which were Zabriskie Point (1970) and The Passenger (1975) and, above all, Blowup (1966), a movie starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave that was shocking at the time for its sex scenes.   Read more…


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Vittorio Erspamer - chemist


Professor who first identified the neurotransmitter serotonin

Vittorio Erspamer, the pharmacologist and chemist who first identified the neurotransmitter serotonin, was born on this day in 1909 in the small village of Val di Non in Malosco, a municipality of Trentino.   Serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets and central nervous system of animals, including humans.  It is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. A generation of antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, Seroxat, Zoloft and Celexa, have been developed with the aim of interfering with the action of serotonin in the body in a way that boosts such feelings.  The name serotonin was coined in the United States in 1948 after research doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio discovered a vasoconstrictor substance - one that narrows blood vessels - in blood serum. Since it was a serum agent affecting vascular tone, they named it serotonin.  However, in 1952 it was shown that a substance identified by Dr Erspamer in 1935, which he named enteramine, was the same as serotonin.  Dr Erspamer made his discovery when he was working as assistant professor in anatomy and physiology at the University of Pavia, having graduated there in medicine and surgery in 1935.  Read more…


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Naples earthquake of 1626


Devastating tremor and tsunami killed 70,000

The region around Naples, one of the most physically unstable areas of high population in the world with a long history of volcanic activity and earthquakes, suffered one of its more devastating events on this day in 1626.  An earthquake that it has been estimated would register around seven on the modern Richter scale struck the city and the surrounding area.  Its epicentre was about 50km out to sea, beyond the Bay of Naples and the island of Capri to the south, but the shock waves were strong enough to cause the collapse of many buildings in the city and the destruction of more than 30 small towns and villages.  A tsunami followed, in which according to some reports the sea receded by more than three kilometres (two miles) before rushing back with enormous force, towering waves engulfing the coastline.  In total, it is thought that approximately 70,000 people were killed by the quake itself and the tsunami.  Naples at the time was a thriving city, still under Spanish rule.  It had a population of around 300,000, which made it the largest port city in Europe and the second largest of all European cities apart from Paris, which had about half a million inhabitants.  Read more…

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29 July 2019

29 July

Agostino Depretis – politician


Premier stayed in power by creating coalitions

One of the longest serving Prime Ministers in the history of Italy, Agostino Depretis, died on this day in 1887 in Stradella in the Lombardy region.  He had been the founder and main proponent of trasformismo, a method of making a flexible centrist coalition that isolated the extremists on the right and the left.  Depretis served as Prime Minister three times between 1876 and his death.  He was born in 1813 in Mezzana Corti, a hamlet that is now part of Cava Manara, a comune in the province of Pavia.  After graduating from law school in Pavia, Depretis ran his family’s estate.  In 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe, he was elected as a member of the first parliament in Piedmont.  He consistently opposed Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the Prime Minister of Piedmont Sardinia.  A disciple of the pro-unification activist Giuseppe Mazzini, Depretis was nearly captured by the Austrians while smuggling arms into Milan, but he did not take part in the 1853 uprising planned by Mazzini in Milan. It is thought he predicted it would fail.  Depretis briefly served as Governor of Brescia in Lombardy after Cavour’s resignation in 1859.  Read more…


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Teresa Noce - activist and partisan


Anti-Fascist who became union leader and parliamentary deputy

Teresa Noce, who became one of the most important female campaigners for workers’ rights in 20th century Italy, was born on this day in 1900.  A trade union activist as young as 12 years old, Noce spent almost 20 years in exile after the Fascists outlawed her political activity, during which time she became involved with the labour movement and in Paris and subsequently led a French partisan unit under the code name Estella.  After she returned to Italy in 1945 she was elected a member of the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies) as a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).  Working with the Unione Donne Italiane (Italian Women’s Union), she secured changes to the law to protect working mothers and provide paid maternity leave.  Born in one of the poorest districts of Turin, she and her older brother were brought up in a one-parent family after her father abandoned their mother while they were both young. Because her mother’s poor income, they were seldom able to keep the same home more than a few weeks before being evicted for non-payment of rent.  Teresa was a bright girl who taught herself to read the newspapers her mother occasionally bought but was forced to abandon her dreams of an education in order to contribute to the family income as soon as she was physically capable of work.  Read more…


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The birth of Benito Mussolini


Future dictator inspired by his father's politics

Benito Mussolini, who would become Italy's notorious Fascist dictator during the 1920s, was born on this day in 1883 in a small town in Emilia-Romagna known then as Dovia di Predappio, about 17km (11 miles)  south of the city of Forlì.  His father, Alessandro, worked as a blacksmith while his mother, Rosa was a devout Catholic schoolteacher.  Benito was the eldest of his parents' three children. He would later have a brother, Arnaldo, and a sister, Edvige.  It could be said that Alessandro's political leanings influenced his son from birth.  Benito was named after the Mexican reformist President, Benito Juárez, while his middle names - Andrea and Amilcare - were those of the Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani.  Working in his father's smithy as a boy growing up, Mussolini would listen to Alessandro's admiration for the protagonists of the Italian unification movement, such as the nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, and the military leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. But he also heard him speak with approval about the socialist thinker Carlo Pisacane and anarchist revolutionaries such as Carlo Cafiero and Mikhail Bakunin.  Alessandro's view would leave a lasting impression and, one way or another, shape the direction his son would eventually follow, although initially Benito saw himself as a traditional socialist.  Read more...

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Pope Urban VIII


Pontiff whose extravagance led to disgrace

The controversial Pope Urban VIII died on this day in 1644 in Rome.  Urban VIII – born Maffeo Barberini – was a significant patron of the arts, the sponsor of the brilliant sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose work had a major influence on the look of Rome.  But in his ambitions to strengthen and expand the Papal States, he overreached himself in a disastrous war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, and the expenses incurred in that and other conflicts, combined with extravagant spending on himself and his family, left the papacy seriously weakened.  Indeed, so unpopular was Urban VIII that after news spread of his death there was rioting in Rome and a bust of him on Capitoline Hill was destroyed by an angry mob.  His time in office was also notable for the conviction in 1633 for heresy of the physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, who had promoted the supposition, put forward by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, that the earth revolved around the sun, which was directly contrary to the orthodox Roman Catholic belief that the sun revolved around the earth.  Urban VIII was born to Antonio Barberini, a Florentine nobleman, and Camilla Barbadoro, in Florence in April 1568. Read more…

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Agostino Depretis – politician

Premier stayed in power by creating coalitions


Agostino Depretis served three terms as Italy's premier in the last 19th century
Agostino Depretis served three terms as
Italy's premier in the last 19th century
One of the longest serving Prime Ministers in the history of Italy, Agostino Depretis, died on this day in 1887 in Stradella in the Lombardy region.

He had been the founder and main proponent of trasformismo, a method of making a flexible centrist coalition that isolated the extremists on the right and the left.

Depretis served as Prime Minister three times between 1876 and his death.

He was born in 1813 in Mezzana Corti, a hamlet that is now part of Cava Manara, a comune in the province of Pavia.  After graduating from law school in Pavia, Depretis ran his family’s estate.

In 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe, he was elected as a member of the first parliament in Piedmont.  He consistently opposed Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the Prime Minister of Piedmont Sardinia.

A disciple of the pro-unification activist Giuseppe Mazzini, Depretis was nearly captured by the Austrians while smuggling arms into Milan, but he did not take part in the 1853 uprising planned by Mazzini in Milan. It is thought he predicted it would fail.

Depretis briefly served as Governor of Brescia in Lombardy after Cavour’s resignation in 1859.

Depretis was a master at making coalitions from the Right and Left
Depretis was a master at making
coalitions from the Right and Left
After Italian unification, Depretis was elected to the country’s parliament and served successively as minister of public works, minister of the navy and minister of finance.

He became leader of the Left after the death of Urbano Rattazzi in 1873 and he was invited to become premier for the first time in 1876.

For the next 11 years he was the dominant force in Italian politics. A scandal in March 1878 brought down his first Government before he could introduce liberal reforms, but he returned to power later in 1878 and formed a Government that lasted for the next eight months.

In 1881 he formed another Government that lasted for more than six years. The main reform he achieved was the extension of suffrage from two per cent to seven per cent of the population of Italy.

Depretis managed to stay in office by perfecting the art of trasformismo, taking ministers from both the right and the left to form coalitions.

In 1882 Depretis signed the Triple Alliance, which allied Italy with Austria-Hungary and Germany. He was then persuaded to colonise Africa, but when 500 Italian soldiers were killed by Ethiopians at the Battle of Dogali in January 1887, his Government resigned.

Depretis was chosen as Prime Minister again in April but, because he was suffering badly from gout, he moved to live in Stradella, near Pavia. He died there while still in office on 29 July, making him the fourth longest-serving Prime Minister in Italian history after Benito Mussolini, Giovanni Giolitti and Silvio Berlusconi.

The church of San Lorenzo Martire
in Mezzana Corti
Travel tip:

Mezzana Corti, where Agostino Depretis was born, is a small village - a  frazione - that is now part of the municipality of Cava Manara in the province of Pavia. Cava Manara was originally known as Cava Taverna, but was renamed Cava Manara in 1863 in honour of Luciano Manara, an Italian patriot who was killed in battle at the age of 24.

The Monument to Agostino Depretis in Stradella
The Monument to Agostino
Depretis in Stradella
Travel tip:

Stradella, where Agostino Depretis died, is part of the Oltrepò Pavese in the province of Pavia, an area to the south of the River Pò and therefore oltre - beyond - the Pò. Stradella was once an important centre for the production of accordions and there is still a museum in the town dedicated to the instrument, Il Civico Museo della Fisarmonica Mariano Dallapè di Stradella.  There is a monument to Deprestis in Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

More reading:

Giuseppe Mazzini, the thinking man's revolutionary who is seen as a hero of the Risorgimento

How Cavour became the first Prime Minister of a united Italy

The Five Days of Milan

Also on this day:

1644: The death of Pope Urban VIII, whose extravagance led to disgrace

1883: The birth of Benito Mussolini

1900: The birth of Teresa Noce, the partisan who became a campaigner for the rights of working women


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28 July 2019

28 July

San Marino’s liberation from Fascism


The day the people demonstrated against their government

San Marino residents celebrate the anniversary of their liberation from Fascism on this day every year.  The Sammarinese Fascist Party had been founded in 1922 by Giuliano Gozi, a veteran of the First World War who came from a rich and powerful family.  The party was modelled on the Fascist party of Italy and used violence and intimidation against its opponents.  Gozi took the roles of both foreign minister and interior minister, which gave him control over the military and the police. He continued to serve as foreign minister, leading the cabinet, until 1943.  In 1923 Gozi was elected as San Marino’s Captain Regent. The Fascists retained this post for 20 years as they banned all other political parties, although some independent politicians continued to serve in the Grand and General Council of the Republic.  But in the early 1940s a group of Socialists started up a clandestine anti-fascist movement and the opposition to the Fascist regime grew stronger in the republic.  On July 28, 1943 the Socialists held a successful political demonstration and as a result new elections were called.  Read more…

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Luigi Musso - racing driver


Wealthy Roman who found expectations hard to bear

Luigi Musso, who for a period of his life was Italy’s top racing driver, was born on this day in 1924 in Rome.  Musso competed six times for the world drivers’ championship, three times for Maserati and three times for Ferrari. His finished third in the 1957 season, driving for Ferrari.  His solitary Formula One Grand Prix victory came in 1956 in Argentina, although he had to content himself with a half-share of the points after being forced to hand over his car to Juan Fangio, the local hero and Ferrari team leader, after 29 of the 98 laps, when Fangio’s car failed.  Sadly, two years later he was killed in an accident at the French Grand Prix in Reims, which his girlfriend, Fiamma Breschi, blamed on the ferocity of his rivalry with his fellow Ferrari drivers Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.  Born into a wealthy Roman family – his father was a diplomat – Musso grew up in a luxurious palazzo off the Via Veneto. He acquired his love of cars from his brothers, who were also racing drivers.  He began to compete in 1950 in a car he bought himself, a 750cc Giannini sports car. He made an inauspicious start, his first race ending when he left the track and collided with a statue of the national hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi.  But he soon began to enjoy success racing sports cars and his talent was noted by Maserati, for whom he dominated the 1953 national 2000cc sports car championship.  Read more…

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Riccardo Muti - conductor


Celebrated maestro shows no sign of slowing down

The brilliant conductor and musical director Riccardo Muti was born on this day in 1941 in Naples.  Since 2010, Muti has been conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while retaining his directorship of the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, a training ensemble for talent from Italian and other European music schools, based in Ravenna and Piacenza, which he founded in 2005.  Previously, Muti held posts at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.  He was named principal conductor and music director for the Maggio Musicale when he was only 28 and stayed there 12 years.  He was at La Scala for 19 years from 1986 to 2005, his tenure ending amid rancour following a conflict with the theatre's general manager, Carlo Fontana.  Although he was born in Naples, his childhood years were spent largely in the Puglian port city of Molfetta, near Bari. He entered the world in Naples, he says, at the insistence of his mother, Gilda, herself a Neapolitan, who travelled across the peninsula by train in the later stages of each of her five pregnancies in order that her children would also grow up as Neapolitans.  Muti studied piano at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in Naples, where he also studied philosophy.  He learned the art of conducting at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan. Read more…

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27 July 2019

27 July

Adolfo Celi – actor and director


Successful career of a Sicilian who was typecast as a 'baddy'

An actor who specialised in playing the role of the villain in films, Adolfo Celi, was born on this day in 1922 in Curcuraci, a hamlet in the province of Messina in Sicily.  Celi was already prominent in Italian cinema, but he became internationally famous for his portrayal of Emilio Largo, James Bond’s adversary with the eye patch, in the 1965 film Thunderball.  He had made his film debut after the Second World War in A Yank in Rome (Un americano in vacanza), in 1946.  In the 1950s he moved to Brazil, where he co-founded the Teatro Brasiliero de Comedia.  He was successful as a stage actor in Brazil and Argentina and also directed three films.  Celi’s big break came when he played the villain in Philippe de Broca’s That Man from Rio. Afterwards he was cast as the camp commandant in the escape drama, Von Ryan’s Express, in which Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard played prisoners of war.  After appearing in Thunderball, Celi was offered scores of big parts as a villain.  He later made a spoof of Thunderball in the film, OK Connery, in which he played opposite Sean Connery’s brother, Neil.  Despite being fluent in several languages, Celi’s heavy Sicilian accent meant he was always dubbed when he appeared in English language films.  Read more…

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Giosuè Carducci – poet and Nobel Prize winner


Writer used his poetry as a vehicle for his political views 

Giosuè Carducci, the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born on this day in 1835 in Tuscany.  Christened Giosuè Alessandro Giuseppe Carducci, he lived with his parents in the small village of Valdicastello in the province of Lucca.  His father, a doctor, was an advocate of the unification of Italy and was involved with the Carbonari, a network of secret revolutionary groups. Because of his politics, the family was forced to move several times during Carducci’s childhood, eventually settling in Florence.  During his time in college, Carducci became fascinated with the restrained style of Greek and Roman literature and his work as an adult often used the classical meters of such Latin poets as Horace and Virgil. He published his first collection of poems, Rime, in 1857.  He married Elvira Menicucci in 1859 and they had four children.  Carducci taught Greek at a high school in Pistoia and was then appointed as an Italian professor at the University of Bologna.  Carducci was a popular lecturer and a fierce critic of literature and society. He was an atheist, whose political views were vehemently hostile to Christianity generally and the Catholic Church in particular.  Read more…

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Mario Del Monaco – tenor


Singer became famous for his interpretations of Otello

Opera singer Mario Del Monaco, who was renowned for the amazing power of his voice, was born on this day in 1915 in Florence.  His family were musical and as a child he studied the violin but he developed a passion for singing as well.  He studied at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro, where he first met and sang with the soprano Renata Tebaldi, who was to partner him regularly later in his career.  Del Monaco made a big impact with his debut performance as Lieutenant Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in Milan in 1940.  He became popular with the audience at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 1950s, making many appearances in dramatic Verdi roles.  He was one of the four Italian tenors at their peak in the 1950s and 1960s, sharing the limelight with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Carlo Bergonzi and Franco Corelli.  Del Monaco became famous for his interpretation of the title role in Verdi’s Otello, which, it is estimated, he sang hundreds of times.  He started making recordings for HMV in 1948 in Milan and was later partnered by Renata Tebaldi in a series of Verdi and Puccini operas recorded for Decca.  Read more…

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26 July 2019

26 July

Constantino Brumidi - painter


Rome-born artist responsible for murals in US Capitol Building

Constantino Brumidi, an artist whose work provides the backcloth to the daily business of government in the United States Capitol Building in Washington, was born on this day in 1805 in Rome.  Brumidi’s major work is the allegorical fresco The Apotheosis of Washington, painted in 1865, which covers the interior of the dome in the Rotunda.  Encircling the base of the dome, below the windows, is the Frieze of American History, in which Brumidi painted scenes depicting significant events of American history, although the second half of the work, which he began in 1878, had to be completed by another painter, Filippo Costaggini, as Brumidi died in 1880.  Previously, between 1855 and about 1870, Brumidi had decorated the walls of eight important rooms in the Capitol Building, including the Hall of the House of Representatives, the Senate Library and the President’s Room.  His Liberty and Union paintings are mounted near the ceiling of the White House entrance hall and the first-floor corridors of the Senate part of the Capitol Building are known as the Brumidi Corridors.  Brumidi arrived in the United States in 1852, having spent 13 months in jail in Rome following the upheaval caused by the occupation of the city by French forces and the revolution among Roman citizens.  Read more…

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Pope Paul II


Flamboyant pope who helped make books available to ordinary people

Pietro Barbo, who became Pope Paul II, died on this day in 1471 in Rome at the age of 54.  He is remembered for enjoying dressing up in sumptuous, ecclesiastical finery and having a papal tiara made for himself, which was studded with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, topaz, large pearls and many other precious gems.  Barbo was born in Venice and was a nephew of Pope Eugenius IV through his mother and a member of the noble Barbo family through his father.  He adopted a spiritual career after his uncle was elected as pope and made rapid progress. He became a cardinal in 1440 and promised that if he was elected pope one day he would buy each cardinal a villa to escape the summer heat. He then became archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica.  It was reported that Pope Pius II suggested he should have been called Maria Pietissima (Our Lady of Pity) as he would use tears to help him obtain things he wanted. Some historians have suggested the nickname may have been an allusion to his enjoyment of dressing up or, possibly, to his lack of masculinity.  Barbo was elected to succeed Pope Pius II in the first ballot of the papal conclave of 1464.  Beforehand an agreement had been drawn up that bound the future pope to continue the Turkish war, to not journey outside Rome without the consent of the majority of the cardinals, nor to leave Italy without the consent of all of them.  Read more…

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Francesco Cossiga - Italy's 8th President


Political career overshadowed by Moro murder

Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga was born on this day in 1928 in the Sardinian city of Sassari.  Cossiga, a Christian Democrat who had briefly served as Prime Minister under his predecessor, Sandro Pertini, held the office for seven years from 1985 to 1992. He was the eighth President of the Republic.  His presidency was unexceptional until the last two years, when he gained a reputation for controversial comments about the Italian political system and former colleagues.   It was during this time that another heavyweight of the Italian political scene, Giulio Andreotti, revealed the existence during the Cold War years of Gladio, a clandestine network sponsored by the American secret services and NATO that was set up amid fears that Italy would fall into the hands of Communists, either through military invasion from the East or, within Italy, via the ballot box.  Cossiga admitted to have been involved with the creation of Gladio in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War.  This led to renewed speculation surrounding the kidnap and murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978, an event that prevented a vote in the Italian parliament on the so-called 'historic compromise' whereby the Italian Communist Party, which was riding a peak of popularity at a time in which Italy seemed especially vulnerable to social unrest, would be given a direct role in government for the first time.  The event was a key moment in Cossiga's political career. Read more…

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25 July 2019

25 July

Carlo Bergonzi - operatic tenor


Singer whose style was called the epitome of Italian vocal art

Carlo Bergonzi, one of the great Italian opera singers of the 20th century, died on this day in 2014 in Milan.  He specialised in singing roles from the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, helping to revive some of the composer’s lesser-known works.  Between the 1950s and 1980s he sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the New York Times, in its obituary, described his voice as ‘an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivalled subtlety’.  Bergonzi was born in Polesine Parmense near Parma in Emilia-Romagna in 1924. He claimed to have seen his first opera, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, at the age of six.  He sang in his local church and soon began to appear in children’s roles in operas in Busseto, a town near where he lived.  He left school at the age of 11 and started to work in the same cheese factory as his father in Parma.  At the age of 16 he began vocal studies as a baritone at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma.  During World War II, Bergonzi became involved in anti-Fascist activities and was sent to a German prisoner of war camp. After two years he was freed by the Russians and walked 106km (66 miles) to reach an American camp.  Read more…

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Agostino Steffani – composer


Baroque musician and cleric who features in modern literature

A priest and diplomat as well as a singer and composer, Agostino Steffani was born on this day in 1654 in Castelfranco Veneto near Venice.  Details of his life and works have recently been brought to the attention of readers of contemporary crime novels because they were used by the American  novelist, Donna Leon, as background for her 2012 mystery The Jewels of Paradise.  Steffani was admitted as a chorister at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice while he was still young and in 1667 the beauty of his voice attracted the attention of Count Georg Ignaz von Tattenbach, who took him to Munich.  Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria, paid for Steffani’s education and granted him a salary, in return for his singing.  In 1673 Steffani was sent to study in Rome, where he composed six motets. The original manuscripts for these are now in a museum in Cambridge.  On his return to Munich Steffani was appointed court organist. He was also ordained a priest and given the title of Abbate of Lepsing. His first opera, Marco Aurelia, was written for the carnival and produced at Munich in 1681.  Read more…


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Battle of Molinella


First time artillery played a major part in warfare

An important battle in Italy’s history was fought on this day in 1467 at Molinella, near Bologna.  On one side were infantry and cavalry representing Venice and on the other side there was an army serving Florence.  It was the first battle in Italy in which artillery and firearms were used extensively, the main weapons being cannons fired by gunpowder that could launch heavy stone or metal balls.  The barrels were 10 to 12 feet in length and had to be cleaned following each discharge, a process that took up to two hours.  Leading the 14,000 soldiers fighting for Venice was the Bergamo condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni. He was working jointly with Ercole I d’Este from Ferrara and noblemen from Pesaro and Forlì.  Another condottiero, Federico da Montefeltro, led the army of 13,000 soldiers serving Florence in an alliance with Galeazzo Maria Sforza, ruler of the Duchy of Milan, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Giovanni II Bentivoglio, the ruler of Bologna.  Condottieri were professional military leaders hired by the Italian city-states to lead armies on their behalf.  Read more…

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Alfredo Casella – composer


Musician credited with reviving popularity of Vivaldi

Pianist and conductor Alfredo Casella, a prolific composer of early 20th century neoclassical music, was born on this day in 1883 in Turin.  Casella is credited as being the person responsible for the resurrection of Antonio Vivaldi’s work, following a 'Vivaldi Week' that he organised in 1939.  Casella was born into a musical family. His grandfather had been first cello in the San Carlo Theatre in Lisbon and he later became a soloist at the Royal Chapel in Turin.  His father, Carlo, and his brothers, Cesare and Gioacchino, were professional cellists. His mother, Maria, was a pianist and she gave the young Alfredo his first piano lessons. Their home was in Via Cavour, where it is marked with a plaque.  Casella entered the Conservatoire de Paris in 1896 to study piano under Louis Diemer and to study composition under Gabriel Fauré.  Ravel was one of his fellow students and Casella also got to know Debussy, Stravinsky, Mahler and Strauss while he was in Paris.   He admired Debussy, but he was also influenced by Strauss and Mahler when he wrote his first symphony in 1905.  Read more…

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Carlo Bergonzi – operatic tenor

Singer whose style was called the epitome of Italian vocal art


Carlo Bergonzi made his professional opera debut in the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville
Carlo Bergonzi made his professional opera debut in
the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville
Carlo Bergonzi, one of the great Italian opera singers of the 20th century, died on this day in 2014 in Milan.

He specialised in singing roles from the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, helping to revive some of the composer’s lesser-known works.

Between the 1950s and 1980s he sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the New York Times, in its obituary, described his voice as ‘an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivalled subtlety’.

Bergonzi was born in Polesine Parmense near Parma in Emilia-Romagna in 1924. He claimed to have seen his first opera, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, at the age of six.

He sang in his local church and soon began to appear in children’s roles in operas in Busseto, a town near where he lived.

Bergonzi spent two years in a prisoner of war camp during World War II
Bergonzi spent two years in a prisoner
of war camp during World War II 
He left school at the age of 11 and started to work in the same cheese factory as his father in Parma.  At the age of 16 he began vocal studies as a baritone at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma.

During World War II, Bergonzi became involved in anti-Fascist activities and was sent to a German prisoner of war camp. After two years he was freed by the Russians and walked 106km (66 miles) to reach an American camp.

On the way he drank unboiled water and contracted typhoid fever. He later recovered, but when he returned to the Arrigo Boito Conservatory after the war he weighed just over 36kg (80lb).

Bergonzi made his professional debut as a baritone in 1948 singing the role of Figaro in Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Other baritone parts followed but Bergonzi soon realised the tenor repertoire was more suited to his voice. After retraining he made his debut as a tenor in the title role of Andrea Chenier at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari in 1951.

The same year he sang at the Coliseum in Rome in a 50th anniversary concert commemorating Verdi’s death. The Italian radio network RAI engaged Bergonzi for a series of broadcasts of the lesser-known Verdi operas.

Carlo Bergonzi and Maria Callas (left) performed together at the Metropolitan Opera
Carlo Bergonzi and Maria Callas (left) performed
together at the Metropolitan Opera
These included I due Foscari, Giovanna d’Arco and Simon Boccanegra.

He made his La Scala debut in 1953 creating the title role in Jacopo Napoli’s opera Mas’Aniello. His London debut came in 1953 and his American debut followed in 1955 in Chicago.

After he appeared at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time the following year he received a glowing review from the New York Times.

He continued to sing at the Met for the next 30 years, appearing opposite such famous sopranos as Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price. He sang in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Met in 1964 in memory of President John F. Kennedy, under the baton of Georg Solti. His last role at the Met was Rodolofo in Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 1988.

Bergonzi’s chief Italian tenor rivals during his career were Franco Corelli and Mario Del Monaco but he outlasted them both, continuing to sing in concerts into the 1990s.

Franco Corelli's was one of Bergonzi's  rivals among Italian operatic tenors
Franco Corelli's was one of Bergonzi's
rivals among Italian operatic tenors
In May 2000 it was announced he was to sing the title role in Verdi’s Otello in a concert in New York. It attracted a great deal of interest and Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti were all in the audience.

Sadly, Bergonzi was unable to finish the performance because his voice had been affected by the air conditioning in his dressing room and a substitute tenor had to sing in his place.

After retiring, Bergonzi mentored many famous tenors and the soprano, Frances Ginsberg, was also one of his pupils.

Bergonzi died 12 days after his 90th birthday in Milan, leaving a widow and two sons. He was laid to rest in the Vidalenzo Cemetery, not far from Polisene Parmense.

He left a legacy of beautiful recordings of individual arias and complete operas, including works by Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo.


The church of the Beata Vergine di Loreto
The church of the Beata Vergine di Loreto
Travel tip:

The village of Polisene Parmense, where Bergonzi was born, is about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Parma and around 20km (12 miles) south of Cremona. In January 2016 it merged with Zibello to form the new municipality of Polesine Zibello.  The village contains two buildings of interest - the church of the Beata Vergine di Loreto, also known as Madonnina del Po, which was built between 1846 and 1920 to preserve an effigy fresco of Our Lady of Loreto that had been discovered in an ancient shrine, and the nearby Antica Corte Pallavicina, a fortress that dates back to the 13th century.

The entrance to Bergonzi's restaurant in Busseto, I due Foscari
The entrance to Bergonzi's restaurant in Busseto, I due Foscari
Travel tip:

Busseto, where Bergonzi sang as a child, is a town in the province of Parma, about 40km (25 miles) from the city of Parma. Verdi was born in the nearby village of Le Roncole but moved to Busseto in 1824. Bergonzi owned a house there and after his retirement also opened a restaurant and hotel there, I due Foscari, named after the Verdi opera about court intrigue in Venice. At the time of his death, I due Foscari was still being run by his son, Marco.

More reading:

How Italy mourned the loss of Giuseppe Verdi

Why Franco Corelli was called 'the prince of tenors'

Pietro Mascagni - a reputation built on one brilliant opera

Also on this day:

1467: The Battle of Molinella sees artillery used for the first time in warfare

1654: The birth of baroque musician Agostino Steffani

1883: The birth of Alfredo Casella, the musician who revived interest in Vivaldi

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24 July 2019

24 July

Giuseppe Di Stefano – tenor


Singer from Sicily who made sweet music with Callas

The opera singer Giuseppe Di Stefano, whose beautiful voice led people to refer to him as ‘the true successor to Beniamino Gigli’, was born on this day in 1921 in Motta Sant’Anastasia, a town near Catania in Sicily.  Di Stefano also became known for his many performances and recordings with the soprano, Maria Callas, with whom he had a brief romance.   The only son of a carabinieri officer, who later became a cobbler, and his dressmaker wife, Di Stefano was educated at a Jesuit seminary and for a short while contemplated becoming a priest.  But after serving in the Italian army he took singing lessons from the Swiss tenor, Hugues Cuenod. Di Stefano made his operatic debut in Reggio Emilia in 1946 when he was in his mid-20s, singing the role of Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon. The following year he made his debut at La Scala in Milan in the same role.  Di Stefano made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1948 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Read more… 


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Eugene de Blaas - painter


Austro-Italian famous for Venetian beauties

Eugene de Blaas, a painter whose animated depictions of day-to-day life among ordinary Venetians were his most popular works, was born on this day in 1843 in Albano Laziale, just outside Rome.  Sometimes known as Eugenio Blaas, or Eugene von Blaas, he was of Austrian parentage. His father, Karl, also a painter, was a teacher at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) in Rome. His brother, Julius, likewise born in Albano, was also a painter.  In 1856, the family moved to Venice after his father was offered a similar position at the Venetian Academy. At that time, Venice attracted artists from all over Europe and the young De Blaas grew up in a social circle that was largely populated by painters and poets.  Like his father, he became interested in the school known as Academic Classicism, a style which seeks to adhere to the principles of Romanticism and Neoclassicism.  He exhibited at the Venice Academy when he was only 17 years old.  Read more…


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Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia


The first king to be called Victor Emmanuel

The King of Sardinia between 1802 and 1821, Victor Emmanuel I was born on this day in 1759 in the Royal Palace in Turin.  He was the second son of King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia and was known from birth as the Duke of Aosta.  When the King died in 1796, Victor Emmanuel’s older brother succeeded as King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia.  Within two years the royal family was forced to leave Turin because their territory in the north was occupied by French troops.  After his wife died, Charles Emmanuel abdicated the throne in favour of his brother, Victor Emmanuel, because he had no heir.  The Duke of Aosta became Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia in June 1802 and ruled from Cagliari for the next 12 years until he was able to return to Turin.  During his reign he formed the Carabinieri, which is still one of the primary forces of law and order in Italy.  Read more… 

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23 July 2019

23 July

Damiano Damiani – screenwriter and director


Filmmaker behind the hit Mafia drama series La piovra

Damiano Damiani, who directed the famous Italian television series La piovra, which was about the Mafia and its involvement in Italian politics, was born on this day in 1922 in Pasiano di Pordenone in Friuli.  Damiani also made a number of Mafia-themed films and he was particularly acclaimed for his 1966 film, A Bullet for the General, starring Gian Maria Volontè, which came at the beginning of the golden age of Italian westerns.  Damiani studied at the Accademia di Brera in Milan and made his debut in 1947 with the documentary, La banda d’affari. After working as a screenwriter, he directed his first feature film, Il rossetto, in 1960.  His 1962 film, Arturo’s Island, won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian International film festival.  During the 1960s, Damiani was praised by the critics and his films were box office successes.  A Bullet for the General is regarded as one of the first, and one of the most notable, political, spaghetti westerns. Its theme was the radicalisation of bandits and other criminals into revolutionaries.  Read more…


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Francesco Cilea – opera composer


Calabrian remembered for beautiful aria Lamento di Federico 

Composer Francesco Cilea was born on this day in 1866 in Palmi near Reggio di Calabria.  He is particularly admired for two of his operas, L’Arlesiana and Adriana Lecouvreur.  Cilea loved music from an early age. It is said that when he was just four years old he heard music from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera, Norma, and was moved by it.  When he became old enough, he was sent to study music in Naples and at the end of his course of study there he submitted an opera he had written, Gina, as part of his final examination. When this was performed for the first time it  attracted the attention of a music publisher who arranged for it to be performed again.  Cilea was then commissioned to produce a three-act opera, meant to be along the lines of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, by the same publisher.  The resulting work, La Tilda, was performed in several Italian theatres, but the orchestral score has been lost, which has prevented it from enjoying a modern revival.  In 1897, Cilea’s third opera, L’Arlesiana was premiered at the Teatro Lirico in Milan.  In the cast was the young Enrico Caruso, who performed, to great acclaim, the famous aria Lamento di Federico.   Read more…


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Sergio Mattarella – President of Italy


Anti-Mafia former Christian Democrat is Italy's 12th President

The first Sicilian to become President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, was born on this day in 1941 in Palermo.  Mattarella went into politics after the assassination of his brother, Piersanti, by the Mafia in 1980. His brother had been killed while holding the position of President of the Regional Government of Sicily.  Their father, Bernardo Mattarella, was an anti-Fascist, who with other prominent Catholic politicians helped found the Christian Democrat (Democrazia Cristiana) party. They dominated the Italian political scene for almost 50 years, with Bernardo serving as a minister several times. Piersanti Mattarella was also a Christian Democrat politician.  Sergio Mattarella graduated in Law from the Sapienza University of Rome and  a few years later started teaching parliamentary procedure at the University of Palermo.  His parliamentary career began in 1983 when he was elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies in a left-leaning faction of the DC that had supported an agreement with the Italian Communist Party led by Enrico Berlinguer.  Read more...

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22 July 2019

22 July

Gorni Kramer - jazz musician


Multi-talented composer of more than 1,000 songs

The songwriter, musician and band leader Gorni Kramer was born on this day in 1913 in the village of Rivarolo Mantovano, near Mantua.  An accomplished accordion and double bass player, Kramer later became a record producer, arranger and television writer.  His embrace of the jazz and swing genres developed in spite of them banned from being played on Italian state radio during the Fascist era.  He was a prolific composer thought to have written more than 1,000 songs during a career that spanned 60 years.  Kramer’s non-Italian sounding name led to a popular misconception that he was born in another country, yet it was his real name - reversed.  He was born Francesco Kramer Gorni, so named because his father was a fan of the American cycling world champion Frank Kramer.  It was from his father that Gorni inherited his passion for music, having played the accordion in his father’s band.  Gorni studied double bass at the Conservatory in Parma and obtained his diploma in 1930. He began to work as a musician for dance bands, then in 1933, aged 20, formed his own jazz group.  Read more…


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Palermo falls to the Allies


Capture of Sicilian capital triggered ousting of Mussolini

One of the most significant developments of the Second World War in Italy occurred on this day in 1943 when Allied forces captured the Sicilian capital, Palermo.  A battle took place between General George S Patton’s Seventh Army and some German and Italian divisions but it was not a prolonged affair.  The Sicilians themselves by then had little appetite to fight in a losing cause on behalf of the Germans and the invading soldiers were greeted by many citizens as liberators.  It was not a decisive victory for the Allies but it had a symbolic value, signifying the fall of Sicily only 12 days after Allied forces had crossed the Mediterranean from bases in North Africa. When news reached Rome that Palermo had fallen, the Fascist Grand Council, who had for some time given only uneasy support to Mussolini, knew that something had to be done to limit the damage of what now looked like an inevitable defeat for the Axis powers in Italy.  Two days after the fall of Palermo, after Mussolini had told the Grand Council that Hitler was thinking of withdrawing German forces from the south of Italy, a motion calling for Mussolini’s removal from power was passed.  Read more…

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Indro Montanelli – journalist


Veteran writer who cast a critical eye on Italian politics and society

One of the greatest Italian writers and journalists of the 20th century, Indro Montanelli, died on this day in 2001 in Milan.  The previous year he had been named as one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes by the International Press Institute.  Montanelli had been a witness to many of the major events of the 20th century. He was in Danzig when Hitler rejected the ultimatum from Britain and France in September 1939. He was in the streets of Budapest in 1956 when Soviet tanks rolled in and he was shot in the legs by Red Brigades terrorists on an Italian street in 1977.  Montanelli was born Indro Alessandro Raffaello Scizogene Montanelli in 1909 at Fucecchio near Florence.  He began his journalistic career by writing for the Fascist newspaper, Il Selvaggio.  He then worked as a crime reporter for Paris Soir before serving as a volunteer with Italian troops in the Eritrean Battalion in Ethiopia - Abyssinia as it was then - where what he saw caused him to change his mind about Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader, after which the regime took exception to some of his writing and withdrew his press accreditation. Read more…

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St Lawrence of Brindisi


Talented linguist who converted Jews and Protestants

St Lawrence of Brindisi was born Giulio Cesare Russo on this day in 1559 in Brindisi.  He became a Roman Catholic priest and joined the Capuchin friars, taking the name Brother Lawrence.  He was made St Lawrence in 1881, remembered for his bravery leading an army against the Turks armed only with a crucifix.  Lawrence was born into a family of Venetian merchants and was sent to Venice to be educated. He joined the Capuchin order in Verona when he was 16 and received tuition in theology, philosophy and foreign languages from the University of Padua. He progressed to be able to speak many European and Semitic languages fluently.  Pope Clement VIII gave Lawrence the task of converting Jews living in Rome to Catholicism because of his excellent command of Hebrew. Lawrence also established Capuchin monasteries in Germany and Austria and brought many Protestants back to Catholicism.  While serving as the imperial chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II, he led an army against the Ottoman Turks threatening to conquer Hungary armed only with a crucifix and many people attributed the subsequent victory to his leadership.  Read more…

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Gorni Kramer - jazz musician

Multi-talented composer of more than 1,000 songs


Gorni Kramer was a popular performer for many decades
Gorni Kramer was a popular performer
for many decades
The songwriter, musician and band leader Gorni Kramer was born on this day in 1913 in the village of Rivarolo Mantovano, near Mantua.

An accomplished accordion and double bass player, Kramer later became a record producer, arranger and television writer.  His embrace of the jazz and swing genres developed in spite of them banned from being played on Italian state radio during the Fascist era.

He was a prolific composer thought to have written more than 1,000 songs during a career that spanned 60 years.

Kramer’s non-Italian sounding name led to a popular misconception that he was born in another country, yet it was his real name - reversed.

He was born Francesco Kramer Gorni, so named because his father was a fan of the American cycling world champion Frank Kramer.

It was from his father that Gorni inherited his passion for music, having played the accordion in his father’s band.

Gorni studied double bass at the Conservatory in Parma and obtained his diploma in 1930. He began to work as a musician for dance bands, then in 1933, aged 20, formed his own jazz group.

Kramer (centre) with the comedy duo Garinei &
Giovanni, with whom they worked for many years
Despite the American genre being forbidden to be played on state radio by the Fascist party, Gorni developed a knowledge through mixing with musicians who worked on the liners connecting Europe and North America.

In the mid-1930s, by which time he was using Kramer as his professional name, his career as a songwriter took off. He composed the music for Alberto Rabagliati’s 1936 hit Crapa pelada, and in 1939 he wrote Pippo non lo sa, one of Trio Lescano's most famous songs.

During World War II, he wrote  he worked with Natalino Otto, a singer also banned by the state radio station EIAR because of swing. Gorni wrote Ho un sassolino nella scarpa, one of Otto's greatest hits.

It was around the same time that he began a collaboration with Franco Cerri and the Quartetto Cetra.

In 1949 he met humorist duo Garinei e Giovanni and began to compose for their worldwide stage performances.  This was his main activity for the next ten years.

Gorni made his television debut in 1957 on Il Musichiere, a music show hosted by Mario Riva. He composed the show's theme song Domenica è sempre domenica. Other shows followed, such as Buone vacanze, Giardino d'inverno, L'amico del giaguaro and Leggerissimo.

By the mid-60s, he had gradually reduced his public performances, but he continued to work as a music publisher and a TV author.  He died of a heart attack, in Milan in 1995. He was survived by his daughters Teresa and Laura.

One of the three gateways into the  historic village of Rivarolo Mantovano
One of the three gateways into the
historic village of Rivarolo Mantovano
Travel tip:

Rivarolo Mantovano, Gorni Kramer’s birthplace, is an historic  village in Lombardy in the province of Mantua, the city of Mantua being some 30km (19 miles) to the northwest. It was known as Rivarolo di Fuori until 1907.  The village with a squared plan and perpendicular roads as established by duke Vespasiano I Gonzaga in the late 16th century.  The perimeter walls, interrupted by three gates, enclose the entire village in a rectangular shape. Along the village streets it is rare to find buildings that stand out from the others, with the exception of the main square, once called Piazza Grande (now Piazza Finzi), around which most of the important buildings are clustered.

The Conservatory of Parma was named after Arrigo Boito, who was the author of several libretti for Verdi operas
The Conservatory of Parma was named after Arrigo Boito,
who was the author of several libretti for Verdi operas
Travel tip:

Parma, where Gorni Kramer attended the Conservatory, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio. The Conservatory, named in honour of Arrigo Boito, who wrote the libretti for many of Verdi’s operas, is on Strada Conservatorio.

More reading:

Pippo Barzizza, pioneer of Italian jazz and swing

The short life of 50s jazz club sensation Fred Buscaglione

Renato Carosone, writer of classic Italian songs

Also on this day:

1559: The birth of St Lawrence of Brindisi

1943: Palermo falls to the Allies

2001: The death of the great 20th century journalist Indro Montanelli


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