This Sunday, 24th March, three events were remembered: Palm Sunday, we know, was when Christ entered into Jerusalem on a donkey and begins “la settimana santa”. (Why this adorable animal should also be used as a term of disparagement for the intellectually challenged beats me).
At least Christ rose from the dead. But in the other two events no such hope appeared. The Fosse Ardeatine outrage was a mass execution of 335 victims carried out in Rome in 1944 by German occupation troops as a reprisal for a partisan attack conducted on the previous day. The Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre was a Nazi atrocity in the eponymous hill village near Camaiore on the other side of the Apuan Alps just north of us. 560 local villagers, largely women and children (the men had hidden in the forest not believing that their loved ones would be harmed) were murdered and their bodies burnt in a scorched earth policy by the German occupation forces of the Waffen-SS. Both the last two commemorations were presided over by the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano and could be seen live on television. In one of his last public engagements, the president was visibly moved as he held the hand of the German president Joachim Gauk, specially invited for the occasion.
One of the things that I am frequently reminded about in Italy is that this country was the theatre of bloody conflicts in WWII which degenerated even further into sanguineous civil war. Indeed, Bagni di Lucca was on the front line for several months in 1944-5. (It was only saved from massive destruction by a hair’s breadth, as the tablet in San Pietro di Corsena church testifies). This front line is something which I witness on my way to Lucca when crossing the anti-tank wall built as part of the German defenses of the so-called Gothic line (informative guided tours to this arranged at: https://www.facebook.com/events/220766471302399/).
Strangely, I have been present at all three events (in different years, of course): Palm Sunday in the Vatican with the last pope, the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome (when I was still a teenager) and Sant’Anna di Stazzema, where we arrived without any knowledge that this was the anniversary of that massacre, and where the church organ dedicated to peace (after the previous one had been destroyed by enemy forces) and donated by Germany had just been inaugurated. We walked up the “via dolorosa” to the monument in memory of the innocent victims and it was a truly heart-rending experience.
These tragic and unnecessary events helped me to concentrate my mind on the current atrocities perpetrated on our planet in such diverse places as Syria, the Congo and North Korea. I hearken to the words of Pope Francis when, this Sunday, he said “don’t let anyone steal hope from you”.
Anyway, here are photographs of some of these places as we witnessed them.
To restore hope, in the evening at 9 pm (no 7.30 pm starts for concerts in Italy, supper takes precedence!) I went to a concert at the church of Bagni di Villa Ponte al Serraglio. Soberingly called “Rassegna Corale” it featured three choirs: gli Stereotipi, la corale di Diecimo and the choir of Castelnuovo cathedral.
The evening turned out to be absolutely splendid. The repertoire was unusual and included items by eighteenth century Garfagnana composers who I’d never heard of. Of the items deserving special mention was the Purcell anthem sung by gli Stereotipi, a group of eight young musicians (one of whom is our choir master at Ghivizzano) with impeccable interpretation and (rarely in Italy) good English accent, the Perosi by the Diecimo choir directed by one of the members of gli stereotipi, and the Salieri item by the Castelnuovo choir which, in my opinion, is not only the best this side of Lucca but on any side of Lucca. It was quite superb, equaling (if not surpassing) the best English semi-professional choirs.
No wonder Maestro Bacci, its director, has been asked to take over the Capella Cecilia in Lucca’s cathedral. Some photos of the evening, including the amazing programme are shown here:and you can hear the Purcell on youtube here
And you can listen to their beautiful rendition of Poulenc’s “Salve Regina” here:
And Byrd’s angelic “Ave verum” here:
Finally, Lotti’s Miserere here (one of the choir members told me it was especially and exhaustingly difficult to sing since the choir leader had mistakenly given them a tone higher on his tuning fork!)