18 March 2024

18 March

NEWGian Francesco Malipiero – composer and musicologist

Musician revived interest in Monteverdi and composed music in the same spirit

A composer and editor whose work helped to rekindle interest in pre-19th century Italian music, Gian Francesco Malipiero, was born on this day in 1882 in Venice.  Malipiero’s own output, which included operas and orchestral works, has been assessed by experts as fusing modern techniques with the stylistic qualities of early Italian music.  The composer was born into an aristocratic Venetian family and was the grandson of the opera composer Francesco Malipiero. He studied music at the Vienna conservatory and then returned to Venice to carry on his studies. He used to copy out the music of Claudio Monteverdi and Girolamo Frescobaldi at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, which inspired his love of music from that period. He moved to Bologna to continue his studies and after graduating, returned to Venice and became an assistant to the blind composer Antonio Smareglia, which he later said taught him a great deal.  In 1913 he travelled to Paris where he was influenced by the music he heard there, from composers such as Ravel and Debussy. He attended the premiere of an opera by Stravinsky, La Sacre du Printemps, and described this experience as like awakening from a ‘long and dangerous lethargy.’  Read more…


The Five Days of Milan

Citizens rebel to drive out ruling Austrians

The Five Days of Milan, one of the most significant episodes of the Risorgimento, began on this day in 1848 as the citizens of Milan rebelled against Austrian rule.  More than 400 Milanese citizens were killed and a further 600 wounded but after five days of street battles the Austrian commander, Marshal Josef Radetzky, withdrew his 13,000 troops from the city.  The 'Cinque Giornate' uprising sparked the First Italian War of Independence between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Empire.  Much of northern Italy was under Austrian rule in the early part of the 19th century and they maintained a harsh regime. Elsewhere, governments were introducing social reform, especially in Rome but also in Sicily, Salerno and Naples after riots against the Bourbon King Ferdinand II.  Ferdinand, ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and Charles Albert (Carlo Alberto) of Savoy, in the Kingdom of Sardinia, adopted a new constitution, limiting the power of the monarchy, and Pope Pius IX in the Papal States followed suit a little later.  The response of the Austrians was to seek a still tighter grip on their territories in Lombardy-Venetia.  Read more…


Mount Vesuvius – the 1944 eruption

The last time the volcano was seen to blow its top

Mount Vesuvius, the huge volcano looming over the bay of Naples, last erupted on this day in 1944.  Vesuvius is the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted during the last 100 years and is regarded as a constant worry because of its history of explosive eruptions and the large number of people living close by.  It is most famous for its eruption in AD 79, which buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is believed to have killed thousands of people.  An eyewitness account of the eruption, in which tons of stones, ash and fumes were ejected from the cone, has been left behind for posterity by Pliny the Younger in his letters to the historian, Tacitus.  There were at least three larger eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since. In 1631 a major eruption buried villages under lava flows and killed about 300 people and the volcano then continued to erupt every few years.  The eruption, which started on 18 March 1944 and went on for several days, destroyed three villages nearby and about 80 planes belonging to the US Army Air Forces, which were based at an airfield close to Pompeii.   Read more…


Bobby Solo - pop singer

Sixties star found fame after Sanremo disqualification

Bobby Solo, who was twice winner of Italy's prestigious Sanremo Festival yet had his biggest hit with a song that was disqualified, was born Roberto Satti on this day in 1945 in Rome.  The singer and songwriter won the contest in 1965 and again in 1969 but it was the controversy over his 1964 entry that thrust him into the spotlight and sent him to the top of the Italian singles charts with the first record to sell more than one million copies in Italy. To emphasise that the competition was to select the best song, rather than the best artist, each entry was sung by two artists, one a native Italian, the other an international guest star. In 1964, Solo was paired with the American singer Frankie Laine to showcase Una lacrima sul viso (A Tear on Your Face).  Laine performed the song in English but Solo was stricken with a throat problem. Rather than withdraw, he sang the song with the help of a backing track, only to be told afterwards that this was against the rules. The song was disqualified but attracted such attention that it became a huge hit, topping the Italian singles chart for eight weeks. Sales in Italy and other countries eventually topped two million.  Read more…


Alessandro Alessandroni – composer

Versatile musician became famous for his haunting whistle

Alessandro Alessandroni, the composer of more than 40 film scores who could play many different musical instruments, was born on this day in 1925 in Soriano nel Cimino near Viterbo.  As a child he was a friend of Ennio Morricone and the two of them went on to collaborate on many soundtracks for Spaghetti Western films.  Alessandroni also founded the 16-member vocal group I Cantori Moderni (The Modern Choristers) in 1961. His first wife, the singer Giulia De Mutiis, was a member of the group, who performed wordless vocals on many Italian film soundtracks, as was Edda Dell’Orso, whose exceptional voice also featured in Morricone’s scores.  Most notably they sang Mah Na Mah Na for the film Sweden Heaven and Hell, a song which was later popularised by The Muppet Show.  Alessandroni learnt to play the guitar, mandolin, mandoloncello, sitar, accordion and piano. His family barbershop in Soriano nel Cimino became a favourite gathering place for local musical talent. He says of this time: ‘We had a guitar, mandolin and a mandola. We didn’t do much business but we made a lot of music.’  Read more…


Book of the Day: Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973): The Life, Times and Music of a Wayward Genius, by John C G Waterhouse

In recent years Gian Francesco Malipiero has been recognised increasingly widely as one of the most original and strangely fascinating Italian composers of the early 20th century. He was the teacher of Maderna and Nono, and was revered by (among many others) Dallapiccola, who even called him the most important (musical) personality that Italy has had since the death of Verdi . He was also a key figure in the revival of the long- neglected music of Italy's great past, and himself edited what remains the only virtually complete edition of the surviving compositions of Monteverdi. Gian Francesco Malipiero: The Life, Times and Music of a Wayward Genius not only provides the first monographic survey of Malipiero's life, times and music to appear in English, but covers the subject more comprehensively than any previous publication in any language. Dr Waterhouse draws on hitherto unpublished documents, and with the help of numerous musical examples, analyses the composer's works, style and idiosyncratic personality.

Dr John Waterhouse was an English musicologist and former lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast and Birmingham University. A prolific writer, he is said to have had almost unparalleled knowledge of 20th century Italian music. Bilingual, he wrote his 1990 book La Musica di Gian Francesco Malipiero in Italian.

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