Showing posts with label Arpino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arpino. Show all posts

7 December 2023

Marcus Tullius Cicero – statesman, scholar and writer

The brutal beheading of a great Roman politician and orator

A late 19th century book illustration showing the imagined scene of the murder of Cicero
A late 19th century book illustration showing the
imagined scene of the murder of Cicero
Cicero, the last defender of the Roman Republic, was assassinated on this day in 43BC in Formia in southern Italy.

Marcus Tullius Cicero had been a lawyer, philosopher and orator who had written extensively during the turbulent political times that led to the establishment of the Roman Empire.

In the months following Julius Caesar's assassination in 44BC, Cicero had delivered several speeches urging the Roman Senate to support Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, in his struggle against Mark Antony.

Cicero attacked Antony in a series of powerful addresses and urged the Roman senate to name Antony as an enemy of the state. Antony responded by issuing an order for Cicero to be hunted down and killed.

He was the most doggedly pursued of all the enemies of Antony whose deaths had been ordered. Cicero was finally caught on 7 December 43BC leaving his villa in Formia in a litter - a kind of Sedan chair - heading to the seaside.

The portrait bust of Cicero at Rome's Capitoline Museum
The portrait bust of Cicero at
Rome's Capitoline Museum
Cicero is reported to have said: “I can go no further: approach, veteran soldier, and, if you can do at least do so much properly, sever this neck.” 

He leaned his head out of the litter and bowed to his captors who cut off his head. On Antony’s instructions, Cicero’s hands, which had written so much against Antony, were cut off as well and they were later nailed along with his head on the Rostra in the Forum Romanum.

Cicero has gone down in history as one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers. He also had immense influence on the development of the Latin language.

Born in 106BC into a wealthy family in what is now Arpino in Lazio, Cicero served briefly in the military before turning to a career in law, where he developed a reputation as a formidable advocate.

As a politician, he went on to be elected to each of Rome’s principal offices, in 63BC becoming the youngest citizen to attain the highest rank of consul without coming from a political family.

He is perceived to have been one of the most versatile minds of ancient Rome, introducing Romans to Greek philosophy and distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher.

A fresco showing Cicero denouncing Catiline in a speech to the Roman senate
A fresco showing Cicero denouncing Catiline
in a speech to the Roman senate
However, his career as a statesman was marked by inconsistencies and a tendency to shift his position in response to changes in the political climate. Expert analysts believe his indecision could be attributed to a sensitive and impressionable personality. 

Nonetheless, he is remembered as a staunch defender in his speeches and writings of the Roman Republic and its values, which he believed was the best form of government and worth defending at all costs. He was a strong advocate of the rule of law, which he felt was essential for maintaining a stable and just society.

One of his great successes was to expose a plot by the senator Catiline to overthrow the Roman Republic and establish himself as dictator. He convinced the Senate to take action against Catiline, and the plot was foiled.

The Cisternone Romano is one of Formia's attractions
The Cisternone Romano is
one of Formia's attractions

Travel tip:

The Formia of today is a bustling coastal town on the coast of Lazio, about 150km (93 miles) south of Rome and roughly 90km (56 miles) north of Naples. During the age of the Roman Empire it was a popular resort, renowned for a favourable climate, and many other prominent Romans had villas there in addition to Cicero. His burial place - the Tomba di Cicerone, a Roman mausoleum just outside the town - remains a tourist destination. The city was also the scene of the martyrdom of Saint Erasmus during the persecutions of Diocletian.  Heavily damaged during World War Two, the town was rebuilt and now serves as a commercial centre for the region. Tourists tend to favour the picturesque resort of Gaeta, which sits at the head of a promontory a few kilometres away, but Formia has pleasant beaches of its own and plenty of shops and restaurants. The Cisternone Romano, an enormous underground reservoir in which the Romans collected water to supply the area, is another visitor attraction. 

The dramatic hilltop setting of Arpino, the town in Lazio that was Cicero's birthplace
The dramatic hilltop setting of Arpino, the town
in Lazio that was Cicero's birthplace
Travel tip:

Arpino, the birthplace of Cicero, is a charming hilltop town situated some 130km (81 miles) southeast of Rome often overlooked by tourists despite its mix of Roman ruins, narrow mediaeval streets and picturesque squares. Attractions include the church of Santa Maria di Civita, perched on top of a rocky hill offering breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, and the Arpino Museum, in the Palazzo del Popolo, which has a collection of archaeological artefacts and mediaeval art.  Arpino has a tradition of simple but delicious food, such as porchetta (roast pork stuffed with herbs) and pecorino cheese, a hard cheese matured for many months that is the area’s equivalent of parmigiano.  Outside Arpino, in the Liri valley, a little north of the Isola del Liri, lies the church of San. Domenico, which marks the site of the villa in which Cicero was born.

Also on this day:

1302: The birth of Azzone Visconti, ruler of Milan

1598: The birth of architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini

1643: The birth of engraver and printmaker Giovanni Battista Falda

Feast of St Ambrose, patron saint of Milan


10 November 2016

Ennio Morricone - film music maestro

Composer who scored some of cinema's greatest soundtracks

Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, who composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the history of the cinema, was born on this day in 1928 in Rome.

Still working even as he enters his 89th year, Morricone has written more than 500 film and television scores, winning countless awards.

Best known for his associations with the Italian directors Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore and Giuliano Montaldo, he has also worked among others with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian de Palma, Roland Joffé, Franco Zeffirelli and Quentin Tarantino, whose 2015 Western The Hateful Eight finally won Morricone an Oscar that many considered long overdue.

Among his finest soundtracks are those he wrote for Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the 1960s, for the Leone gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America two decades later, for Joffé's The Mission and De Palma's The Untouchables.

He composed the score for Tornatore's hauntingly poignant Cinema Paradiso and for Maddalena, a somewhat obscure 1971 film by the Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz that included the acclaimed Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, which later reached number two in the British singles chart after being used for the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

Much of Morricone's film music, as well as his more than 100 classical compositions and numerous jazz and pop songs from the 1960s and 70s, has been recorded and his commercial sales have topped 70 million records worldwide.

Listen to Morricone's beautiful Gabriel's Oboe from The Mission

Morricone, whose parents moved to Rome from Arpino, an ancient hill town near Frosinone in southern Lazio, was brought up in the Trastevere district of the capital, one of five children raised by his father, Mario, a professional musician who played the trumpet, and mother Libera, who ran a small textile business.

He learned the fundamentals of music from his father before entering the National Academy of St Cecilia, where he first met Sergio Leone.

Sergio Leone, the director behind the 'Dollars' trilogy
Sergio Leone, the director  behind
 the 'Dollars' trilogy
On graduating, he had some success writing for the theatre as well as for radio. After marrying his girlfriend of six years, Maria Travia, in 1956, and becoming a father a year later, he began supporting his family by playing in a jazz band and arranging pop songs for the Italian public broadcaster, RAI.

Over the next few years he composed pop songs for Rita Pavone, Mario Lanza, Paul Anka and Francoise Hardy among many others.

He branched into film music for the first time in the early 1960s, taking the commission that was to change his life when Leone, his friend from St Cecilia's, asked him to write the score for his groundbreaking Western, A Fistful of Dollars.

Starring the 34-year-old American actor, Clint Eastwood, in his first major role, A Fistful of Dollars was a huge success, spawning two more in the genre that became known as 'Spaghetti Westerns'.  For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly each grossed more than $20 million.

A Fistful of Dollars made $14.5 million, which was incredible given that Leone made it on a budget of less than $250,000.  With only limited access to a full orchestra, Morricone had to improvise, incorporating gunshots, cracking whips, a whistle, a jew's harp, trumpets, and a Fender electric guitar into his score, as well as using human, mainly female voices as musical instruments. The result was a highly distinctive score that it became a classic in the history of cinema music, as instantly recognizable today as it was then, and several of Morricone's innovative measures became part of his repertoire.

Listen to Morricone's music for the opening scene of The Hateful Eight

The trilogy began a relationship with Sergio Leone that would last 20 years and opened many doors for Morricone, whose career prospered from then on.

His first nomination for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards came in 1979 for Days of Heaven, directed by the American Terence Malick.  There were two nominations in the 1980s, for Joffé's The Mission in 1986 and De Palma's The Untouchables in 1987, and probably would have been a third had the American distributors of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984) submitted the paperwork on time.

Morricone was particularly disappointed not to win with The Mission, which features the wonderful melody Gabriel's Oboe as its main theme, complaining that jazz musician Herbie Hancock's score for Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight, while beautifully done, used existing music.

The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for
Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
Further nominations came for Barry Levison's Bugsy (1991) and Tornatore's Malena (2000), and by the second decade of the new millennium Morricone's 50-year movie career had brought him 44 major awards.

It appeared, though, that the award he craved above all would elude him, and an honorary Oscar in 2007 for his overall contribution to film music seemed a slightly hollow consolation prize.

But then, late in 2014, just past his 86th birthday, he was approached by Quentin Tarantino, with whom he had collaborated previously but had had a difficult relationship. Morricone had not scored a complete Western for 35 years and had not worked on a high-profile Hollywood production since 2000 but The Hateful Eight, set just after the American Civil War, appealed to him.

He produced a score that was magnificent, one that would sit comfortably alongside anything he had done previously, from the sweeping L'Ultima Diligenza per Red Rock that accompanies the chillingly atmospheric opening scenes, to Regan's Theme, a melody of gathering pace with echoes of what he did for Leone half a century previously.

It earned Morricone his third Golden Globe, to go with The Mission and the ragtime-jazz score he wrote for Tornatore's Legend of 1900 and then, at the 87th Academy Awards night of February 22, 2016, the one he thought would never come and which made him, at 87 years, the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar.

Morricone, who has never left Italy despite being offered a villa in Hollywood by one of the studios he worked with, remains an active composer.  He and Maria had four children - Marco, Alessandra, Andrea, who himself became a film music composer, and Giovanni, who is a film director and producer in New York.

UPDATE: Morricone died in July 2020, aged 91, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall. Following a private funeral, he was entombed in Cimitero Laurentino in Rome.

The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
Travel tip:

Arpino, home of Morricone's parents, is a hill town situated about 120km south-east of Rome, 46km north-west of Frosinone in Lazio. Clinging to a ridge on top of a hill, it is relatively accessible from a nearby station on one of the Rome-Naples railway lines, yet attracts few tourists and therefore has the unspoilt feel of a traditional southern Italian community.

Travel tip:

The Trastevere district of Rome, which sits alongside the River Tiber, is regarded as one of the city's most charming neighbourhoods, full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses.  Increasingly fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, it has an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene.

More reading:

How Shakespeare adaptations made Franco Zeffirelli a household name

Sergio Leone - distinctive style of 'Spaghetti Western' creator

How Nino Rota found fame for The Godfather theme

Also on this day: 

1816: Lord Byron, the English poet and aristocrat, sets foot in Venice for the first time.

(Picture credit: First photo of Morricone by Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons)
(Videos from YouTube)