Friday, August 27, 2010


He's the Italian composer-prince who murdered his wife and her lover, was into wild bouts of self-flagellation, and who at the end of the 16th century wrote some of the most chromatic vocal music ever conceived in self-pitying lamentation for his human condition.
That's the myth, at least, but a brilliant new book by Glenn Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex, reveals there's much more to the story.
Despite the dazzling harmonic shifts in Gesualdo's fifth and sixth books of madrigals, his music was so extreme that some 20th-century critics and composers believed him to be a proto-serialist, going further than any composer before Schoenberg in mining the expressive potential of saturated dissonance. Watkins goes on, fascinatingly, to chart how the story of Gesualdo and his music has enthralled and inspired 20th- and 21st-century creatives, from Stravinsky to Boulez, Andriessen to Brett Dean, Werner Herzog to Ian Rankin.
Watkins wants us to understand Gesualdo in the context of his time, to reveal the man behind the myths, and to allow him to change in our perceptions from crazed musical psychopath to culturally comprehensible composer. And yet the hex, the essential mystery and enchantment of his music, remains.
Glenn can tell us how Gesualdo does it, analytically speaking, but nothing can prepare you for the visceral magic of this music's dark power.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Since centuries, every seven years in Guardia Sanframondi, a small village located upon the Mountain of Benevento area, the whole community says for a week an impressive meaculpa, which involves a thousands of people, in the name of the Assunta (Our Lady of Assumption). The myth’s origins go back to Carlo Magno Age, when the Assunta’s statue miraculously appeared from the earth. The legend tells that some farmers were working in the fields when the cows stopped to drag the plough and they kneeled down. Then, a hand came out from the earth at the point where the animals stopped. People started to dig and the Madonna came out from there blessing all the people and recovering a blind man. The people from the village tried to carry the statue to the town but the Madonna suddenly become incredibly heavy as to show a precise will. Some farmers started to beat their breast until they bled and the Madonna suddenly became light. This is the story of a devotion that still exists. (...)
The misteri go in procession all day long. The moment waited for seven years occurs when the mistero entitled “San Girolamo penitente” (Saint Girolamo the penitent) goes away from the cluster and it passes in front of the church’s entrance. That is the time when the head of the battenti says: “With faith and courage, Brothers, beat yourself in the name of the Assunta!”. A thousand hooded people respond by beating their breast three times at the same time with a special penance instrument that is called “spugnetta”, a cork disk with thirty-three points. The blood already changes the white tunics into red; the battenti run out of the church and they start to go along the town’s streets toward the mountain, in order to symbolically represent the ascent to the Golgotha. When they reached the top of the town, a gun shot advices them that the Virgin left the church to join them. At that time, the battenti kneel down doubling the force of the blow to start their procession very soon later. They start to go down in order to meet the Assunta. That meeting always happens in the town centre, between the castle and the Fontana dell’Olmo. The battenti kneel down one after the other, while the blood starts to pour again.The meeting with the Madonna represents the closing phase of the ritual; after that, the battenti go away to go back in the procession but with their usual dress. It is very difficult to recognize them among the people crying and praying in the crowd, while they take the Madonna back to the darkness that will keep Her for the next seven years.

Friday, August 13, 2010


"See Naples, and die!" an English writer has said; as if it were the crown and summit of all earthy beauty.
To the Mozarts it seemed as such. The splendid situation of Naples, the beauty of the city and its surroundings, the wonderful atmosphere, and the warm welcome they received at all hands, made it appear, as Madame Uslinghi had said, almost a Paradise.
[...] At Naples, which was their next stopping-place, Wolfgang played at the Conservatorio alla Pietà before a brilliant gathering, and excited so much astonishment that several of the audience openly declared that his powers were derived from a ring which he wore upon his finger. 'He wears a charm!' they cried; and when Mozart, hearing their remarks, smilingly laid aside the supposed magic ring, and played even more brilliantly than before, the enthusiasm was redoubled.
After this the Neapolitans vied with one another to show them honour and attention. A carriage was provided for their use, in which they drove about amongst the fashionable crowds on the Strada Nuova and the quay, on which occasions Leopold wore a maroon-coloured coat of watered silk, with sky-blue facings, and Wolfgang one of apple-green, with rose-coloured facings and silver buttons.