Shelley In Italy

Posted on 28. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, Geography, History

Written by Serena with translation by Geoff

La settimana scorsa sono andata al mare a San Terenzo con mia cognata e mia nipote che erano in vacanza dall’Inghilterra. San Terenzo è un piccolo paese molto carino della costa ligure, fra La Spezia e Lerici. Mia cognata Caroline era già stata a San Terenzo un paio di anni fa, e si ricordava che lì c’era un edificio culturalmente importante per una persona inglese: la casa del poeta Shelley.

Last week I went to the sea at San Terenzo with my sister in law and niece, who were here on holiday from England. San Terenzo is a pretty little village on the Ligurian coast, between La Spezia and Lerici. My sister in law, Caroline, had already been to San Terenzo a couple of years ago, and she remembered that there was a building of cultural significance to an English person: the house of the English poet Shelley.

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Portrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint (1819)

Shelley, nel suo peregrinare attraverso l’Europa, visse a San Terenzo con la moglie Mary per alcuni mesi nel 1822, anno della sua morte. In quel periodo venne a trovarlo il suo amico e poeta Lord Byron. Secondo la leggenda Byron, che era un ottimo nuotatore, fece a nuoto tutto il golfo di La Spezia, da Lerici all’estremità est, a Porto Venere che chiude il golfo ad ovest. E’ per la presenza di questi due illustri personaggi inglesi che il Golfo di La Spezia è comunemente conosciuto come il Golfo dei Poeti.

During his wanderings through Europe, Shelley lived in San Terenzo with his wife Mary (author of the famous book ‘Frankenstein’) for a few months in 1822, the year of his death. During that time he was visited by his friend, the poet Lord Byron. According to legend, Byron, who was an excellent swimmer, swam across the Gulf of La Spezia, from Lerici at its eastern extremity, to Porto Venere, which closes the gulf on the west. It is due to the presence of these two famous English personalities that the Gulf of La Spezia is commonly known as the Gulf of the Poets.

Sul litorale di San Terenzo, andando verso Lerici, si trova una bella villa tutta bianca, dalla tipica architettura mediterranea. Ai tempi di Shelley la strada sul lungomare non era ancora stata costruita e la villa si trovava direttamente sulla spiaggia, isolata dal resto del paese. Oggi sulla facciata della villa c’è una targa in marmo con su scritto: “Da questo portico su cui si abbatteva l’antica ombra di un leccio il luglio del 1822 Mary Godwin e Jane Williams attesero con lagrimante ansia Percy Bysshe Shelley, che da Livorno su fragile legno veleggiando, era affondato per improvvisa fortuna ai silenzi delle isole Elisee. O benedette spiagge ove l’amore, la libertà, i sogni non hanno catene”.

Along the coastline on which San Terenzo lies, going in the direction of Lerici, there is a beautiful white, typically Mediterranean, villa. In Shelley’s day the coastal road had not yet been built, and the villa was situated right on the edge of the beach set aside from the rest of the village. Today the facade of the villa carries a marble plaque on which is written: “From this portico upon which the shadow of an ancient oak once fell, in July 1822, Mary Godwin and Jane Williams awaited in tearful anxiety Percy Bysshe Shelley who, while sailing on a fragile craft from Livorno, was taken down by sudden fate to the silence of the Elysium islands. Oh blessed beaches, where love, freedom, and dreams are free” (non hanno catene = literally: don’t have chains).

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Shelley was cremated on a funeral pyre on the beach at Viareggio and his ashes were interred in Rome. Painting by Louis Édouard Fournier (1889)

Shelley era andato con la sua barca a vela a Livorno a trovare degli amici. Nel viaggio di ritorno fu sorpreso da un’improvvisa burrasca che fece naufragare la nave. Non è chiaro dove il corpo del poeta e dei suoi compagni di viaggio furono ritrovati. Alcune fonti dicono che furono trascinati a riva a Viareggio, altre parlano di un punto a circa dieci chilometri a nord di Viareggio. Questo mi ricorda un episodio accaduto molti anni fa.

Shelley had gone to Livorno on his sailing boat to visit some friends. On the journey home he was caught up in a sudden storm which sunk his vessel. It’s never been clear exactly where the bodies of the poet and his companions were found. Some sources say they were washed ashore on the beach at Viareggio, others talk about a spot some ten km to the north of the town. This reminds me of an incident that happened many years ago.

Shelley grave

Shelley’s final resting place in The Protestant Cemetery, Rome. Photo (CC) by Allison Meier. The lines of poetry are taken from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.

Era la festa della mia laurea e fra gli invitati c’erano due miei amici che non si conoscevano, e che hanno subito dimostrato reciproca antipatia. I due amici erano Massimo, viareggino DOC, e Francesca, napoletana verace, ma con casa di famiglia per le vacanze a Forte dei Marmi, località a pochi chilometri a nord di Viareggio. Ad un certo punto li ho sentiti ‘disputarsi’ il corpo di Shelley: “Shelley è naufragato a Viareggio” diceva Massimo. “Non è vero, il suo corpo è stato ritrovato a Forte dei Marmi” ribatteva Francesca. “No, a Viareggio, dove adesso c’è Piazza Shelley, per l’appunto” rispondeva Massimo!

It was my graduation party, and amongst the guests were two friends of mine who had never met before, and who immediately took a dislike to each other. The two friends were Massimo, a genuine Viareggino (a person from Viareggio), and Francesca, an authentic Neapolitan who had a family holiday house in Forte dei Marmi, just a few km north of Viareggio. At a certain point I heard them arguing over Shelley’s body: “Shelley was shipwrecked at Viareggio” said Massimo. “It’s not true, his body was found at Forte dei Marmi” replied Francesca. “No, at Viareggio, to be more precise exactly where Piazza Shelley stands” answered Massimo.

Yet another example of the famous Italian campanilismo!

La Tempesta di Ugo Foscolo

Posted on 24. Jul, 2014 by in Literature

Introduction by Geoff

It’s been a stormy week. It all began early Monday morning when a violent thunderstorm shook me from my dreams and commanded me to write a blog. Yes, inspiration from the skies! We began with La Tempesta from Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni, took a musical detour to 18th century Spain, courtesy of  Maestro Boccherini, and here we are back in Italy again with a passionate poem by Ugo Foscolo (1778 – 1827).

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Portrait of Ugo Foscolo by François-Xavier-Pascal Fabre (Public Domain)

Now I’m going to hand over to Serena who will dipanare la matassa di questa poesia (unravel this poem), which, being written in an 18th century Italian, eludes my comprehension.

La Tempesta di Ugo Foscolo

The Storm, by Ugo Foscolo

Sparve il sereno, o Doride,
dal ciel, già mugge il vento
fra gli alberi, e succedono
silenzio, orror, spavento.

The calm has disappeared, oh Doride,
from the sky, the wind already roars
in the trees, and is followed
by silence, horror, fright.

Tutti gli augei si turbano
entro i lor nidi ascosi,
ove i concerti obbliano
de’ canti armoniosi.

All the birds are unsettled
inside their hidden nests,
where they cease to sing
their harmonious songs

Sol vedesi la rondine,
priva de’ suoi compagni,
rader la superficie
de’ paludosi stagni.

Only the swallow is seen,
without its companions,
skimming the surface
of the marshy ponds

Vien, Dori, vien: cerchiamoci
salvar dalla tempesta,
ve’ quante rose chinano
la tenerella testa.

Come, Dori, come: let’s try
to save ourselves from the storm,
Look how many roses bend
their tender heads.

Sopra di loro il turbine
tetre minacce ha sciolte,
sembra che solo bramino
esser da tue man colte.

Above them the whirl
has unloosed dark menaces,
they seem only to desire
to be picked by your hands

Come all’aspetto tremano
di lor vicina morte,
le cogli, o Dori tenera,
pria di sì ‘nfausta sorte.

As they seem to tremble
because their death is near,
you pick them, oh sweet Dori,
before such ominous fate.

Spiri la gaia porpora
delle lor foglie lievi
del seno tuo purissimo
su le ridenti nevi.

May the jolly purple
of their light petals blow
over the joyous snows
of your purest breasts

Ecco dal nembo torbido
in parte siam sicura,
qual sotto questa pergola
si temerà sventura?

Here we are in a place
safe from the dark cloud,
beneath this pergola
what misfortune can one fear?

Felicitade amabile!
In questo asilo ombroso
ci attende di bei grappoli
il succo delizioso.

Oh sweet happiness!
In this shady shelter
the delicious juice
of beautiful grapes awaits us.

Fiero Aquilone, or l’impeto
del tuo furor qui puoi
spiegar, e al sen di Doride
torre anche il vel se vuoi

Oh fierce north wind, now
you can release the impulse
of your fury, and from Dori’s breasts,
if you wish, remove the veil.

Boccherini in Spain

Posted on 23. Jul, 2014 by in Music

One of the aspect of researching for my blogs that I really enjoy is the way that one piece of information leads to another, and a whole new world of possibilities opens up before my eyes. On Monday, for example, I was searching for information onLa Tempesta when I came across a song by Angelo Branduardi of the same name. I wasn’t crazy about the song itself, but the attractive melody seemed somehow familiar. A bit more digging revealed that it was originally penned in 1780 by the Lucchese composer Luigi Boccherini under the title Passa Calle, as part of the suite Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid.

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Statue of Luigi Boccherini playing his Violoncello (cello) outside the Conservatorio Luigi Boccherini in Lucca.

So what was an 18th century composer from Lucca doing writing music about the streets of Madrid? Boccherini was born in Lucca, Tuscany, in 1743, and his father, a cellist and double bass player, sent him to study music in Rome at an early age. Later, both father and son would travel to Vienna where they were employed as court musicians at the Burgtheatre. From there, Boccherini junior moved on to Madrid, Spain, where he worked for Infante Luis Antonio, younger brother of King Charles III.

Back in those days, of course, options for making a living as an artist or musician were pretty limited, and if you didn’t want to starve it was important to find a rich patron. Very often, the only thing that those rich patrons required of their composers was ‘musical wallpaper’, and vast amounts of tedious repetitive music was churned out by some incredibly talented composers just to keep the boss happy.

It must have been tough for a composer as talented as Boccherini, and when one day the king complained about a passage in a new trio, ordering Boccherini to change it, the composer carried out the king’s orders by doubling the passage in length, and immediately getting the sack … way to go Luigi! Boccherini then accompanied Don Luis to a little town in the Gredos mountains called Arenas de San Pedro, and it was there and in the nearby town of Candeleda that he wrote many of his most beautiful pieces.

Now, everyone must surely know at least one piece by Boccherini, and it’s probably this one, played here in a version unlike anything you’ve ever heard: The Trio Elinte play Boccherini’s Minuet. But it’s also highly likely that you’ve heard Passa Calle without even knowing it, as it featured prominently in the film Master and Commander, starring Russell Crow (see video clip below).

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And here’s a lovely version of the entire suite which I highly recommend you listen to: La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid.

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Flamenco dancer. Photo (CC) by Flavio~

Finally, the missing link, the song that led me from Monday morning’s dramatic tempest to Boccherini’s little masterpiece: La Tempesta by Angelo Branduardi. Not really my ‘cup of tea’ as I’m not a fan of modern pop versions of classical music, but interesting none the less.