Republic or Monarchy Day?

June the 2nd is Republic day in Italy, commemorating the 1946 referendum which decided, with a majority of over two million votes, in favour of a republic instead of the previous monarchy. It is a national holiday with most shops, institutions and facilities closed.

It is also Armed Forces Day and there is an impressive parade of Italian military might down the Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. Looking at my friends’ comments in facebook this parade has certainly divided opinion. Some write it’s a big waste of money, which could be better spent elsewhere (especially on culture), others say it’s a stirring and impressive spectacle which should make one proud of living in this country..

Each year Italy’s Republic day concentrates on a particular theme. In 2012 the day was dedicated to those affected by the earthquake in Emilia. In 2013 it was dedicated to families and firms in economic difficulty and this year the theme was a commemoration of world war one which broke out one hundred years ago.

Whatever one may think about the day’s emphasis I am sure there is no difference of opinion when Italy’s Unknown Soldier is remembered by the laying of a wreath on this day by the president of the republic:

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Few could remain unimpressed by the tri-colour fly-past of the Italian air force:

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June 2nd happens also to be the anniversary of H.M. the Queen of England’s coronation in 1953. (I can just about remember that auspicious event – Bromley high street was closed to traffic and there was a lot of bunting and celebration). The 61st year of Elizabeth II’s coronation was celebrated in typically ebullient style by Lucca’s premier musical anglophile Maestro Andrea Colombini (wearing his now famous union jack waistcoat) in the beautifully restored church of the Servites within the walled city.

This was the concert programme:

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Homage to Republic day was paid by the opening performance of the Italian national anthem (which sounds a lot better when played with a full symphony orchestra and chorus, as on this occasion)..

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Elgar, Vaughan-Williams, Handel, Grainger, Parry, Arne and some, traditional tunes followed. Colombini has clearly got the peculiar English musical idiom under his belt and I could hardly fault the performances which gained in high spirits what they occasionally lost in accuracy. I especially loved the way the second movement of Ralph (pronounced correctly by Colombini) V-W’s folk song suite was performed and I was very glad, too, that Elgar’s Imperial march, composed for another Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, was played, with the brass section coming to the fore. Perhaps one day Colombini might choose the neglected, but wonderful, Coronation march written in 1911 for King George V’th crowning when the Servites’ church beautiful organ is fully restored (the march has an organ part). “NImrod” brought out (naturally!) the highest emotions and I am not ashamed to admit I was close to tears when I heard Colombini’s rendering of this majestic and moving item.

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We are lucky to have Colombini. Not only will his performances of English music bring tinges of nostalgia to ex-pats but, more importantly, they will finally destroy the myth that England is a land without music. I’ll never forgive the otherwise great German poet Heine (another of Bagni di Lucca’s illustrious visitors) for declaring about the English:

“These people have no ear, neither for the beat nor indeed for music in any form, and their unnatural passion for piano-playing and singing is all the more disgusting. There is verily nothing on earth as terrible as English musical composition, except English painting.”

Humph! Colombini has certainly put an end to that myth – the Italian part of the audience were as enthusiastic about what they heard as the English. (I also thought of the headmaster of the school in Genoa I did an EU teacher exchange with in 1995 who worshipped English music and showed me with pride his recordings of the complete symphonies by Bax, Rubbra and V-W himself). With an ending fully worthy of any last night of the proms I exited not into the streets of South Kensington but into the almost empty vie of Lucca.

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Yet, as is surely appropriate, Italy’s republic day had the last word as I crossed the bridge over the Serchio on my way home.

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Snippets from the evening’s concert follow:

 

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