22 August 2019

22 August

Luca Marenzio – composer

Madrigal writer influenced Monteverdi

Luca Marenzio, a prolific composer of madrigals during the late Renaissance period, died on this day in 1599 in the garden of the Villa Medici on Monte Pincio in Rome.  Marenzio wrote at least 500 madrigals, some of which are considered to be the most famous examples of the form, and he was an important influence on the composer Claudio Monteverdi.  Born at Coccaglio, a small town near Brescia in 1553, Marenzio was one of seven children belonging to a poor family, but he received some early musical training at Brescia Cathedral where he was a choirboy.  It is believed he went to Mantua with the maestro di cappella from Brescia to serve the Gonzaga family as a singer.  Marenzio was then employed as a singer in Rome by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo and, after the Cardinal’s death, he served at the court of Cardinal Luigi d’Este.  He travelled to Ferrara with Luigi d’Este and took part in the wedding festivities for Vincenzo Gonzaga and Margherita Farnese.  While he was there he wrote two books of madrigals and dedicated them to Alfonso II and Lucrezia d’Este.  Read more…


History’s first air raid

Balloon bombs dropped on Venice

Venice suffered the first successful air raid in the history of warfare on this day in 1849.  It came six months after Austria had defeated the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in the First Italian War of Independence as the Austrians sought to regain control of Venice, where the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin had established the Republic of San Marco.  The city, over which Manin’s supporters had seized control in March 1848, was under siege by the Austrians, whose victory over the Piedmontese army in March 1849 had enabled them to concentrate more resources on defeating the Venetians.  They had regained much of the mainland territory of Manin’s republic towards the end of 1848 and were now closing in on the city itself, having decided that cutting off resources while periodically bombarding the city from the sea would bring Venice’s capitulation.  However, because of the shallow lagoons and the strength of Venice’s coastal defences, there were still parts of the city that were out of the range of the Austrian artillery.  It was at this point that one of Austrian commander Josef von Radetzky’s artillery officers, Lieutenant Franz von Uchatius, came up with the unlikely idea of attaching bombs to unmanned balloons and letting the wind carry them into Venice.  Read more...


Bruno Pontecorvo - nuclear physicist

Defection to Soviet Union sparked unsolved mystery

Bruno Pontecorvo, a nuclear physicist who defected to the Soviet Union in 1950 and was suspected of espionage after working on research programmes in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, was born on this day in 1913 in Marina di Pisa.  One of eight children born to Massimo Pontecorvo - a Jewish textile manufacturer who owned three factories - Bruno was from a family rich in intellectual talent. One of his brothers was the film director Gillo Pontecorvo, another the geneticist Guido Pontecorvo.  After high school, he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study engineering, but after two years switched to physics in 1931. He received a doctorate to study at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where Enrico Fermi had gathered together a group of promising young scientists, whom he dubbed “the Via Panisperna boys” after the name of the street where the Institute of Physics  was then situated.  Fermi described the 18-year-old Pontecorvo as one of the brightest young men he had met and invited Pontecorvo to work with him on his experiments bombarding atomic nuclei with slow neutrons. Read more…


Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi – bishop

Progressive priest who shaped the destiny of a future Pope

Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, Bishop of Bergamo, who was a mentor for the future Pope John XXIII, died on this day in 1914 in Bergamo.  He was Bishop of the Diocese of Bergamo from 1905 until his death and is remembered with respect because of his strong involvement in social issues at the beginning of the 20th century when he sought to understand the problems of working class Italians.  Radini-Tedeschi was born in 1857 into a wealthy, noble family living in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  He was ordained as a priest in 1879 and then became professor of Church Law in the seminary of Piacenza.  In 1890 he joined the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and was sent on a number of diplomatic missions.  In 1905 he was named Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bergamo by Pope Pius X and was consecrated by him in the Sistine Chapel.  Radini-Tedeschi was a strong supporter of Catholic trade unions and backed the workers at a textile plant in Ranica, a district of Bergamo Province, during a labour dispute.  Working for him as his secretary at the time was a young priest named Angelo Roncalli, who went on to become Pope John XXIII in 1958 but never forgot the values Radini-Tedeschi had taught him.  Read more…


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