Viva Italia
Italy Wrap-up (with pictures)

The Birthplace of Music

Buon Giorno à Firenze! It's been absolutely beautiful here the past two days, and it's tempting to just spend all my time outside. But that would mean missing out on some of the great museums of the world, and who knows when I'll be back here? (The crowds are huge, and the language I've heard more than any other is American.)

This morning, I visited the Galleria dell'Academia, best known as the home of Michelangelo's David, but which also houses a fascinating museum of musical instruments and highlights Florence's role in the early development of music. Florence is probably best known for it's developments in art and science during the Renaissance, but music was considered just as important, with many artisans playing one or more instruments.

Among it's many contributions, Florence hosted the performance of the very first opera - Jacopo Peri's Euridice - and is the home of the Teatro La Pergola, the first purpose-built public theater for musical performances, opened in 1663. The inventor of the piano, Bartolomeo Cristifori, was employed by the Medicis. And, during the 18th Century, when the Austrian Lorraines came to power, Florence was home to numerous important musical events, including the Italian premieres of Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Le Nozze Di Figaro, and Haydn's The Creation.

Music for the Florentines was considered as much an exercise in mathematical logic as artistic expression, a concrete representation of the philosophy that everything is related, and that nature operates according to a set principle of ordered intervals. Where harmony reigned - whether in nature or in music - there would be beauty and rationality.

This application of mathematical principles to musical notation was also in evidence on Monday night, at the Karlheinz Stockhausen concert at the Auditorium della Musica in Rome. Stockhausen himself was seated at his soundboard in the center of Sinopoli Hall, and before the concert, he explained (in Italian) the construction of the two electronic works on the program: "Wednesday Greeting" from his massive seven-opera cycle Licht and the world premiere of "13th Hour" from Klang, a work that will eventually be 24 hours in duration. In the program notes (thankfully in English), there were incredibly complex charts and graphs which showed how each of the intervals was made superimposing 24 layers of sound, each building one on top of the other. With speakers placed all around the hall, the experience was alternately trancelike and intense to the point of maddening. More than anything, it sounded completely up-to-date, not unlike what one might hear at one of New York's experimental music venues.

After the music ended, Stockhausen - who turns 80 next year - ambled up to the stage and accepted a huge ovation from the mostly under- 30 crowd. He signed autographs at his soundboard afterward, and I had the chance to meet him briefly, telling him that I hoped he would think about coming to America sometime soon.

"I hope so too," he said, a bit awkwardly.

There is an arts festival going on in Florence this month, Fabbrica Europa, which features performances by groups from all over Europe, held at the old Leopold train station just west of the town center. Tonight features the Balanescu Quartet with video projections by Klaus Obermaier, performing songs by Maria Tanase, "The Edith Piaf of Bucharest", according to the brochure. With a free DJ set by Bucharest DJ's after, sounds like it's the place to be tonight.

On to Venice tomorrow: among the many things I have planned for there is a concert on Friday night of Schubert, Berio and Berlioz at the recently re-opened Teatro La Fenice, which has been lovingly restored after being completely destroyed by fire in 1996. The trip finishes up in Bologna, and I fly back Sunday. Pictures and posts to come.