From Tallis To Garibaldi

Most of my working life has been spent in Greenwich, now upgraded to “Royal” status because of the former presence of a monarch’s palace there.

In fact, Henry VIII was baptised in the local parish church of Saint Alphege where I attended a lunchtime piano recital given by students from the Trinity College of Music.

The royal palace was replaced by the seamen’s hospital which in turn was occupied by the royal naval college. This has now moved outside London and its premises, probably the finest renaissance buildings in the UK (and designed by Wren and Hawksmoor) are now the campus of the University of Greenwich.

The recital included works by De Falla played by Sofia Sarmento from Portugal and Schubert’s complete Moments Musicaux played by Italian Filippo Di Bari.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing both young performers and wish them well in their future careers. St Alphege, of course, has a long and noble musical history since the time when that “father of English church music” Thomas Tallis, was organist there. Part of that organ’s keyboard has survived to this day.

Greenwich, although so familiar and pleasurable to me only disappointed in one respect: the ghastly new display of the famous tea clipper the “Cutty Sark”. How anyone could submerge her fine hull in a glass and steel cocoon, completely destroying her fine line is anybody’s business.

From Greenwich we made our way to the Italian Institute in Belgrave square where an unusual musical recitation, “Garibaldi in London” was given composed by Marcello Panni who has worked extensively as composer and conductor and has written several operas staged at La Scala, Florence, Rome and Bonn.

Garibaldi was memorably quoted by Tennyson as “having the divine stupidity of a hero” and was both feted and feared by the British establishment: feted because of his romantic exploits in uniting cultivated Britons’ favourite country of exile, and feared because, as Queen Victoria correctly said, he was also a revolutionary.

The music was lively in a sort of post Weill-jazzy idiom and aptly described the ambiguity of Garibaldi’s one and only visit to the British Isles in 1864.

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The recitation did not include one incident which I recollect was depicted in the “Illustrated London news” of the time. On his way to the Crystal palace to address working men’s associations Garibaldi passed my old school, Dulwich College watched by hundreds of enthusiastic boys. Seeing the horses in some difficult when approaching the steep hill leading to the palace the Dulwich boys tied ropes onto the carriage and helped pull Garibaldi’s retinue along College road for quite some distance.

 

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