A Report on Music in Italy Just Before World War II

August 20, 2009


The Musical Times of June 1937 published a fascinating report by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji on the state of music as he found it in Rome. It begins with pointed criticisms of Roman benightedness and then continues (as a subsequent entry here will show) by placing Italian musical culture far above that of his British readers. The experienced reader of music criticism will find much to read between the lines :

Back in Rome after a lapse of a few years, there are a number of matters that I have examined or re-examined with interest.

First, I observed the same monotonously stereotyped programmes of recitals and concerts to which I am accustomed at home [Plus ça change. — R.E.], the only difference being that insipidly familiar items acquire a temporary and unfamiliar visual piquancy in their Italianized names — this is especially diverting in the case of the battered threadbare rags of Lieder. To see ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’ become ‘Il giovane all’ Sorgente,’ ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ ‘Solitudine nella foresta,’ ‘Maria’s [sic] Wiegenlied’ ‘Ninna Nanna della Virgine’ is most odd [Imagine a time when a song of Reger qualified as a battered threadbare rag of Lieder. — R.E.] ; and still odder to hear those infuriatingly familiar strains wedded or rather forced into a mariage de convenance with Italian words! The falsification is quite indescribable, and the Italians, most clear-headed and realistic of peoples, knew what they were about when they stigmatized ‘Traduttore, traditore.’ Still odder is it to hear the whole delivered in a full-bloodedly baroque Italian manner of presentation, like the giddy aberrations of Sicilian 16th-century pastry-cook church decoration and architecture. For it must be said that the italian singer, even on those rare occasions to-day when he really is that and not a fish-salesman manqué, has a singular lack of flexibility of style or power of stylistic adaptation, such as is fairly common among even third-rate English performers. An artist like Dino Borgioli, whom I have many a time had occasion to refer to in enthusiastic terms, is the rarest of rare exceptions. A Borgioli is very rare anywhere, and even more so in Italy.

To be continued.

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