The Tuscan Guide

What's on in and around Lucca


Tuscan Grapevine is updating its section on what's on in and around Lucca.
The "
Art & Culture" section provides all the necessary information for the coming months.

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Lucca, City of Music - UNESCO

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On Saturday, 10 March at 7pm in the magnificent auditorium of San Romano, Lucca and UNESCO met the creative genius of Beethoven in an inspiring performance of his 9
th symphony. This was the highlight of a series of performances, workshops, conferences and exhibitions organized by Lucca - the only Italian candidate for the UNESCO ‘Creative City of Music’ award - for the delegation of around 150 people, the theme being, "The universal language of music and art for global ethics.”

Lucca was chosen as a venue for this international event, not only for the contribution it has made to the world of music through musicians and Lucchese composers such as Puccini and Boccherini, but also because the city has preserved a large part of its architectural and environmental heritage.

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Palazzo Ducale

The beautifully restored San Romano Hall, once a church and monastery for the Dominican fathers dating back to the 13th century is a good example. It sits behind the Palazzo Ducale in the heart of Lucca, and its ornate Baroque decoration and numerous works of art provided a wonderful setting for Saturday’s
performance. The choice of Beethoven’s 9
th Symphony, with its aim through Schiller’s text to celebrate the universal fellowship of humanity in joy was a good one, and fitted well with UNESCO’s theme.
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Decorated altars in San Romano Auditorium

The Pisa choir and the Coro Polifonica Lucchese joined the orchestra and singers from the Boccherini Institute of Music, conducted by GianPaolo Mazzoli in this ambitious venture, with soloists Maria Pia Ionata (soprano), Sabina Cacioppo (contralto), Romolo Tisano (tenor) and Francesco Facini (baritone).
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Performers waiting for the arrival of the audience!

Events in Italy rarely start on time, but on Saturday it was the audience who arrived late, probably due to previous events running over time, followed no doubt by an aperitivo!

This student orchestra was impressive in both rehearsals and performance. Although very disciplined in their approach under the direction of Mazzoli, any tension was dissipated with smiles and jokes resulting in a natural freshness and vitality of execution.
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The Orchestra in rehearsal

The Ninth Symphony is not a work for the faint-hearted. For several years after Beethoven’s death it was unsurprisingly considered too difficult to perform, and not until the middle of the 19th century with the help of composers like Wagner did it became established in the orchestral repertoire. The famous conductor, Furtwangler once stated that the interpretation of a piece of music is made easier if the craftsmanship is excellent. However, alongside Beethoven’s wonderful technique and artistry comes a nightmare, even for the professional; throughout the piece the various instrumental parts are very exposed, and there is literally nowhere to hide. There are problems too for the voices heard in the last movement. However, although opera composers like Verdi and others have criticized the choral parts for being too high and too difficult to sing, it is this very high tessitura that creates the excitement and dramatic intensity that would not have been possible otherwise.

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The symphony begins seemingly out of nothing; low, pianissimo murmurings in 5ths on the strings set against a descending 5th motif. Lucca’s young orchestra caught the intensity of the opening bars – different from anything heard before - and there was an expectant hush throughout the auditorium. The uncertainty continues as the music struggles with a tonal centre; then with a rising crescendo the clashing trombones are out in full force, sounding as though the orchestra is tuning, trying to find a way forward. Finally, the main theme arrives In D minor, a stormy development of the motif, hammered out by the whole orchestra. There follows a respite from tension with a contrasting lyrical melody in the wind played beautifully by the performers, but the restlessness returns. Then there is what sounds like a military funeral march played over a Baroque-style chromatic ostinato pattern and finally, the opening 5ths motif returns, this time journeying up the orchestra to end the movement with a dramatic flourish.

The second movement is a scherzo and trio, more daring and with a faster tempo than anything written before. The intricate part writing, making much use of a rhythmic motif heard pianissimo on the timpani is woven expertly within a fugato structure, and has an almost breathless energy. It is followed by the Trio, which is much more of a dance; based on a Russian folk-dance motif, the oboe has most of the work accompanied by the bassoon playing a lively counter melody. Once more the orchestra was impressive, but it was even more tested in the 3
rd movement marked, Adagio molto e Cantabile.

Beethoven’s deafness had made him seemingly more abstract and introspective
in his compositions and with a newly found spirituality. This can be clearly heard in the Adagio, placed before the finale for maximum effect. It is structured largely in two blocks of theme and variation, the two beautiful legato melodies requiring very expressive playing. It was now the turn of the string section to shine, and they did with some lovely vibrato and a warm, lyrical sound. This movement is however the calm before the storm. Just before the end, peace is shattered by what Wagner calls a fanfare of terror; a dissonant fanfare played by the trumpets and drums using the combined triads of D minor and Bb major – a technique way ahead of its time and used later by Stravinsky, Debussy and film-music writers. Then follows the beginning of a whole new chapter in musical composition.

Despite his well - documented struggles with writing music, the seamless introduction of voices into the final movement shows Beethoven’s genius – making the difficult and complex seem simple and natural. After an enormous dissonant chord illustrating all the evil and chaos in the world, he brings back short motifs from each movement, interrupted each time by a dismissive recitative–like phrase played sternly by the low strings, as if to say, No, that’s not what we want!’ Finally, after a very loud chord the low strings play the hymn-like ode to Joy theme very softly, gradually merging with the other instruments, including a lovely counter- melody played by the bassoon, to reach a glorious fortissimo. Then out of nowhere arrives the thrilling sound of the baritone voice recitative,
O friends, not these tones; instead let us sing more pleasing and joyful ones, and so begins this extraordinary movement, inspired by Schiller’s Ode and Beethoven’s own belief that the essence of life is joy.

Local English teacher and writer, Francis Pettit who attended the concert writes:

"All in all, the evening was one of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve had in Lucca, indeed, anywhere in the world. If Lucca doesn’t get its accolade with this concert then nothing else will do it! "

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Written for Tuscan Grapevine by Paula Chesterman, from Tuscan Talent