July 27, 2012

"The Orpheus of Apulia"

Guitar Virtuoso and Composer Mauro Giuliani
Mauro Giuliani (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
By Giovanni di Napoli
"Then Herr Mauro Giuliani, a Neapolitan, came to us—a man who had been led early in the right direction through correct sense of harmony, and who, as an accomplished virtuoso, combined with the most correct performance the greatest perfection of technique and of taste...Through his teaching and the competition he has aroused among teachers and lovers of the instrument, he has formed for us so many outstanding amateurs, that there could scarcely be another place where authentic guitar-playing is so widely practiced as here in our Vienna." —Excerpt from the preface to a guitar method published c.1811/12, entitled Versuch einer vollständigen methodischen Antleitung zum Guitare-Spielen by Simon Molitor and Wilhelm Klingenbrunner (1)
Southern Italy has a long history with the guitar, dating as far back as the Spanish viceroyalty. In fact, the earliest extant six-string guitar was built by the Neapolitan luthier Gaetano Vinaccia in 1779. The prestigious Gagliano, Fabricatore and Vinaccia families are credited with several innovations for the instrument and throughout the nineteenth century Naples remained a major center for its production. (2) It is also no coincidence that some of the most celebrated early classical guitarists—most notably the great Federico Moretti (1760-1838) and Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841)—hailed from the Regno

However, when talking about the history of classical guitar in Southern Italy it is impossible not to mention Mauro Giuliani. For this we can thank music historian Thomas F. Heck and his major contributions to the field. This author's brief biographical sketch is completely indebted to Mr. Heck's illuminating Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer (Editions Orphée Inc., 1995) — the definitive work on Giuliani and a must-read for any serious student of the history of classical guitar.

Little is known about Mauro Giuliani's early life. He was born on July 27, 1781 in Bisceglie, a small fishing village along the Adriatic coast in Apulia. His father, Michele, moved the family to nearby Barletta, where Mauro and his older brother, Nicholas received music instruction at the Teatro San Ferdinando. Around 1800 Nicholas travelled to St. Petersburg with wealthy patrons returning to Russia from a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Nicholas in Bari. Nicholas served as a voice instructor in the Russian capital until his death (c. 1850). Mauro studied the cello, counterpoint and the six-string guitar, a relatively new instrument for which he had a special affinity. 

Mandolin (maple, spruce, tortoiseshell, ivory),
made by Vincenzo Vinaccia
(active 1769-1785), Naples, 1777
At the age of 16 Mauro composed a mass, which according to his first biographer Filippo Isnardi "did him much honor." (3) He may have taken additional schooling at one of the prestigious music conservatories in Naples. Giuliani married a local Barlettana girl, Donna Maria Giuseppa del Monaco, and on May 17, 1801 they had a son, Michel, who would become a noted professeur de chant at the Conservatoire de Paris.

Sometime between 1801 and 1803 the young musician moved north to Trieste, presumably with his family (its possible they arrived at a later date). Generally, there are two schools of thought as to why they moved: The first was to escape the chaos caused by Napoleon's invasion of the Kingdom of Naples in 1799 and the second was the lack of opportunities to earn a living as a guitarist in a kingdom obsessed with opera. While both scenarios seam plausible, it was most likely a combination of the two—plus the limited number of publishing houses south of the Alps—that caused an exodus of guitarists from the kingdom.

In 1806 Giuliani took leave of his family and sought his fortune in Vienna, quickly acquiring a reputation as a remarkable composer and musician. He soon took on a mistress and in 1807 his illegitimate daughter, Maria Willmurth, was born. Its unclear if Giuliani was unfaithful to his wife or not, there are no records of her after Michel's birth, but we do know that he supported his daughter, even providing for her dowry.

Nineteenth-century Imperial Vienna was a thriving musical center where musicians throughout the empire and beyond flocked to meet its musical demands. Receiving rave reviews from enthusiastic audiences, Giuliani established himself among the city's musical elite, which included such impressive luminaries as Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ludwig van Beethoven. He taught, performed and published numerous compositions, making him the premier guitarist in Vienna.

In 1808, at a time when the guitar was considered only suitable for song accompaniment, Giuliani had the audacity to premiere a three-movement concerto for guitar with full orchestra. While admitting that Giuliani was "perhaps the greatest guitarist who has ever lived" one critic from the influential music journal Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung could not grasp the guitar's evolving role as a solo instrument. According to the reporter, "One absolutely has to have heard the musician himself in order to get an idea of his unusual skill and his precise, tasteful execution," then backtracking, "We must put the guitar back in its place—let it stick to accompaniment—and we will always be happy to hear it." (4) The critic would go on and admonish the audience, claiming their excitement could only be explained as a fad. 

Giuliani's third child, a daughter named Emilia, was born in Vienna in 1813. It is open to question who the mother was: Maria Giuseppa, Fräulein Willmurth or an unknown third woman? Whoever she was, they must have been married because the child bore his last name. Emilia would become famous in her own right as a guitar virtuoso, composing the famous set of preludes for guitar op.46.

On December 8, 1813 Giuliani played the cello at the première of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. 

His genius eventually caught the attention of Napoleon's second wife Empress Marie-Louise (later Duchess of Parma), who in 1814 bestowed on him the rank of "Honorary Chamber Virtuoso." According to Isnardi, the Empress also gave the composer/guitarist her own lyre-guitar, a magnificent instrument that combined the body of the lyre with the neck of a guitar. 

In 1819 Giuliani joined Ludlams-Gesellschaft, a secret society founded by the city's artists and musicians. The Ludlamshöhle, as they were more commonly known, were more like a freewheeling fraternity than a subversive organization. As part of their affiliation members were given humorous nicknames—Giuliani was called Vilac Umo Capo d'astro. The capo d'astro part of his moniker clearly stems from his use of a little clamp on the neck of his guitar, but the Vilac Umo portion is less obvious. Some hypothesize that it’s a corruption of vigliacchi uomo, which in Italian means cowardly or dastardly man, a term of abuse Giuliani had a penchant of murmuring whenever he met someone he did not like.

Struggling to pay his debts (and possibly for health reasons), Giuliani returned to Italy. After visiting his parents in Trieste for almost three months he continued south towards Rome, taking a few detours along the way, including a short stay at Parma in order to pay his respects to his patroness Marie-Louise. In Rome, Giuliani continued publishing his works for the guitar and may have performed in concert with Rossini and Paganini. However, unable to firmly establish himself in the Eternal City he would try his luck in his homeland.

With its rich musical history and numerous theaters and salons, Naples vied with Vienna and Paris for the right to call itself Europe's music capital. Despite its importance in the production and development of the instrument, the quality of guitarists residing in Naples at the time inexplicably declined. In this favorable climate Giuliani had no trouble asserting his primacy.

Settling in the southern capital in 1823, Giuliani performed regularly for the Neapolitan nobility, quickly making a name for himself with his brilliant performances on the lyre-guitar. In 1824 his daughters, Maria and Emilia, were invited to stay with Marie-Louise, who was visiting relatives in Palermo. The Duchess was, after all, the daughter of Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily.  

In 1826 Giuliani had the great privilege of performing for King Francis I himself at the Palazzo Reale in Portici. Two years later, in what must have been a truly gratifying moment, he gave a concert with his daughter Emilia, who was only a teenager at the time. The performance was a great success, thus giving Emilia a promising start to her burgeoning career. Unfortunately, illness would keep Giuliani from performing with his daughter at her next recital. 

Mauro Giuliani died in Naples on May 8, 1829; he was only 47-years-old. Highly prolific, he published over 200 compositions for the guitar. His extensive repertoire and inspirational performances, as well as the accomplishments of his many students, were undoubtedly a major factor in the future acceptance of the guitar as a solo instrument. 

Giuliani was the most important guitarist of his time. His fame would live on long after his death:
"In his hands, the guitar became gifted with a power of expression at once pure, thrilling, and exquisite . . . In a word, he made the instrument sing." —Excerpt from Mauro Giuliani's eulogy printed in 1833 in Giulianiad, a guitar magazine named in his honor. (5)
To this day his work remains popular among classical guitarists and admirers of the genre alike.

The following source proved invaluable to this post:
Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer by Thomas F. Heck, Editions Orphée Inc., 1995

(1) Quoted from Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer by Thomas F. Heck, p. 32
(2) For more on the origins of the six-string guitar see "Stalking the Oldest Six-String Guitar" by Thomas F. Heck, 1972
(3) Quoted from Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer by Thomas F. Heck, p. 7
(4) Quoted from Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer by Thomas F. Heck, p. 39-40
(5) Quoted from Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer by Thomas F. Heck, p. 134

Feast of San Pantaleone

The Martyrdom of San Pantaleone (1638)
by Gerolamo Imperiali
By Giovanni di Napoli
July 27th is the feast day of San Pantaleone, patron saint of Ravello. According to tradition, the Christian physician was beheaded (c. 305) during the Diocletian persecutions in Nicomedia, and that a woman collected his spilled blood. The ampulla holding the saint's blood reached Ravello in the eleventh-century after a storm at sea transported the monks of Saint Basil, guardians of the phial, from the East. It is believed the relic chose the town for shelter.
In honor of the martyr, I would like to share a few photos taken during my 2010 pilgrimage to beautiful Ravello—arguably the most bedazzling jewel gracing the Amalfi Coast—and its fabulous Duomo, home to the saint's relic. Continue reading

July 24, 2012

Sicily's Immortal Painter: Antonello da Messina

Ecce Homo
(Photo courtesy of New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

Due to scant documentary information very little is known about the life of Antonello di Giovanni d'Antonio, better known as Antonello da Messina. As his moniker indicates, he was born in Sicily between 1425 and 1430 at Messina, then a prosperous port city in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. His father, Giovanni d'Antonio, was a stonemason; his mother's name was Garita, possibly a diminutive of Margherita.

Between 1445-55 Antonello traveled to Naples and studied the new technique of oil painting introduced from the Low Countries in the atelier of Niccolò Colantonio (born c. 1420). The Neapolitan was a leading exponent of the Netherlandish (Dutch and Flemish) style of painting; tempera and fresco being the common mediums practiced by painters at the time. Here, Antonello was undoubtedly exposed to the works of Spanish, Provençal and Netherlandish masters, including Jan van Eyck, whose paintings were avidly sought after by the city's patrons.

Naples—recently conquered (1442) by Alfonso I (Alfonso V of Aragon)—was a major European capital and important center for the arts. King Alfonso, called the "Magnanimous" for his generous patronage, continued the city's aggrandizement begun under the reign of the Angevin kings. Many of Europe's preeminent painters, sculptors, architects and poets found favor at the Neapolitan court. Perhaps one of the city's most recognizable historical monuments, the Castel Nuovo and it's extraordinary triumphal arch, originates from this period. Reminiscent of Classical Rome and the Medieval Capuan Gate, the Aragonese Arch is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Continue reading
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July 21, 2012

Salvator Rosa

Self portrait, Salvator Rosa 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Aldo Lira
“Painter, Poet, Musician, Philosopher, and Patriot, he combined in his fine organisation the supreme elements of high art, with the noblest instincts of intellectual humanity. He worked through his great vocation with a spirit of independence that never quailed, and with unflinching resistance to the persecutions of despotism and the intrigues of professional rivalry. His moral dignity refused to pander to the licentious tastes of the profligate times in which he flourished, and, in this respect superior to many of his great predecessors, he left not one picture that,
‘_dying, he might blush to own,’ while he exhibited in his great historical compositions, "The Death of Regulus" and "The Conspiracy of Catiline," a graphic eloquence which Herodotus and Gibbon have scarcely surpassed.”
The above paragraph, from the Life and Times of Salvator Rosa by Lady Sydney Morgan, published in 1824, is only one of many lofty and effusive tributes paid to Salvator Rosa during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries by the artists, intellectuals and literati of the time. Who was Salvator Rosa and what did he do to inspire such admiration more than 150 years after his death? Continue reading

July 17, 2012

A Look at the 109th Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Rosebank, Staten Island

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grotto
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

I finally made my pilgrimage to The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grotto in Rosebank, Staten Island over the weekend and what better time to do so than during the 109th annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Visiting for the first time, one cannot help but notice the narrow meandering streets of the neighborhood, but the directions are straightforward and simple and I reached my destination without difficulty.

The grotto stands in a shaded lot outside the Society of Mount Carmel's community hall on Amity Street. As you enter through the gate and stroll down the red-bricked lane one is immediately moved by the spiritual significance of the shrine. Places such as this were constructed throughout Europe from time immemorial for the purpose of prayer and reflection. 
Examples of grottoes in New York City and Southern Italy: (L-R) Shrine Church of St. Bernadette in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn; Most Precious Blood Church in Manhattan's Little Italy; and near the promenade in Minori, Campania
Illuminated with votive candles and festive lights, the elaborately decorated structure (made with bricks, cement and stones) looks almost dreamlike. Positioned prominently in the central chapel sits the statue of the Madonna del Carmine. She is flanked by a host of saints housed in the winding grotto's many nooks and crevices. Many of the saints, which have been donated over the years by people unwilling to throw away their weathered or damaged statues, have been restored to their former glory. It is a testament to the hard work and devotion of the society.
Ave Maria!
The Madonna del Carmine in the principal chapel
The annual eight-day celebration in honor of the Madonna culminates with a procession on July 16th from the grotto to Saint Joseph's Church on 171 St Mary's Avenue for a special Mass. Visitors were treated to live entertainment and games. The usual assortment of delicious Southern Italian fare (sausage and peppers, calzone, zeppole, etc.) was available. 

For me, what makes this Feast different from all the others is the venue. The society's large shaded yard, picnic tables and lawn chairs gave the affair a more intimate atmosphere; it almost felt like a large family reunion in the park. I found myself frequently returning to the grotto, marveling over the amazing stonework and discovering something new each time. I especially enjoyed listening to the older generation share their experiences and point out their favorite parts of the monument.
Saint Barbara stands sentinel outside main chapel
The guiding light behind the construction of the grotto was Vito Russo, the society's second president. Born on November 6, 1885 in Sala Consilina a small town in the province of Salerno, Vito and his younger brother Giovanni immigrated to the United States with their stepparents, eventually settling in Rosebank in 1895. Vito married Teresa Cavallo and had seven children, two girls and five boys. Tragically, in 1935 their youngest son Vito Jr. died of pneumonia at the tender age of five.
Granite and bronze monument dedicated to Vito Louis Russo
Everyone agrees that the untimely death of the child was the catalyst behind the building of the grotto. However, reports are conflicting about whether Vito's indoor paper shrine (which the grotto was modeled after) was created before or after his son's death. Nevertheless, society members embraced the project and construction began in October 1937. Vito was unanimously elected president for life in 1939 and presided over the society until he passed away on February 22, 1954.
An old black-and-white photo of Vito Russo's 
paper model in his Smith Street home
(Reproduced from a Society of Mount Carmel brochure)
In 1983 Thomas Tedesco built the chapel to St. Anthony and a year later the giant crucifix. In 2001 the site was placed on the New York and National Registers of Historic Places. Amazingly, the grotto is not considered complete, there is talk that the society plans to expand the grotto and build an arch envisioned by Vito.

Undoubtedly, during the rest of the year the Grotto offers visitors a moment of peace and tranquility. I look forward to resting under its canopy of trees, alone with my thoughts.
A closer look at the grotto
(L-R) Thomas Tedesco's St. Anthony chapel 
and some details of the shrine 
Sign at grotto entrance declares its 
National and State Historic Site status
The following source proved invaluable to this post:
Multivocality and Vernacular Architecture: The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grotto in Rosebank, Staten Island by Joseph Sciorra from Studies In Italian American Folklore edited by Luisa Del Giudice, Utah State University Press, 1994

For more info please visit The Mount Carmel Society online at Ourladyofmountcarmelshrineofrosebank.com

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grotto
36 Amity Street at White Plains Avenue 
Rosebank, Staten Island, NY 10305
(347) 204-5203

July 16, 2012

Titan of the South: Vincenzo Gemito

Il Pescatore by Vincenzo Gemito at the Museo Civico
in the Maschio Angioino, Napoli (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

A year before his death the great Neapolitan sculptor Vincenzo Gemito wrote, "If the artist lacks knowledge of the past, he will never be able to make masterpieces." (1) As with art, this rule also applies to people. Without historical memory there is no shared identity or vision. This is why we study our history and keep our ancestral folk traditions alive. A people cut off from their past are enervated. Those who don't know their history will never be able to fulfill their destiny. Gemito's genius is a source of inspiration and a reminder of the potential that is still in us.

Vincenzo Gemito was born in Naples on July 16th 1852. Abandoned at the wheel of the Santissima Annunziata by his mother, with only his ear pierced for protection against the evil eye (Jettatura), the charitable sisters of the foundling hospital took him in and named him Vincenzo after a nearby piazza. The child was given the surname Gemito, meaning “to whimper”, because of the pitiable mewling sounds he made.

An excerpt from Ferdinando Russo’s (1866-1927) poem, The Wheel at the Annunciation reveals the pervasiveness of child abandonment at the time:

Night and day one went and another came;
never did that wheel ever tire!
It turned always... always it turned and turned... (2)

Giuseppe and Giuseppina Baratta, a poor couple grieving the recent loss of their infant son, adopted him on July 30th. A former monk, Giuseppe worked as a house painter, but died when Gemito was only six-years-old. To help support his foster mom the young scugnizzo sold coffee in the streets. Giuseppina eventually married Francesco Jadicicco, another poor house painter, with whom Gemito had a loving relationship. He affectionately referred to his new stepfather as Masto Ciccio. Continue reading

July 13, 2012

Independence Flagstaff Revisited

By Giovanni di Napoli

I returned to Anthony de Francisci's Independence Flagstaff at Union Square Park this morning to pay my respects to the artist (he was born 125 years ago today) as well as get additional photos. Recently, I tried to take pictures of his sculpture for Independence Day, but the Parks Department were busy cleaning the monuments for the Fourth of July celebration. Now that the lawn is open to visitors again and his bronze reliefs are polished I wanted to get a closer look. Here are a few bonus pix to supplement my original post, On the Origin of Specie: 'Lady Liberty' and Anthony de Francisci.

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

July 12, 2012

The Giglio Lights Up the Night Sky of Williamsburg

A Beacon of Tradition
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
Some friends and I returned to Williamsburg, Brooklyn yesterday for the night lifting of the giglio at the 125th annual Feast of San Paolino outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Needless to say, we had a great time. The weather was great, spirits were high and the giglio was rockin'. 
Mark and his son Gino enjoying the festivities
Up until now I’ve focused primarily on the giglio itself, but as one reader reminded me, a feast is not a feast without the food. Yesterday's night lift gave me the perfect opportunity to highlight (and eat) some of the feast’s delicious southern Italian delicacies.

Antipasto: I started my night with a dozen clams
from Lou’s Fried Seafood and Clam Bar
Primi Piatti: Who could resist a freshly made calzone?
Secondi Piatti: Next up was the obligatory sausage and peppers
Dolce: Young ladies serve up some delicious zeppole to sate my sweet tooth
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Announcing the 123rd Celebration of the Feast of Saint Rocco

Viva Saint Rocco! 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Sunday, August 19, 2012
St. Joseph's Church
5 Monroe Street, New York, NY
(212) 267-8376

Sponsored by

Come celebrate 123 years of faith in glorious St. Rocco, helper of the sick and Saint of Miracles.

12:00 pm High Mass in honor of St Rocco
1:30 pm Procession of St. Rocco through the streets of Little Italy
2:00 pm Sale of coffee and light refreshments in church basement
5:30 pm St. Rocco returns to the Church
6:00 pm Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Veneration of the relic of St. Rocco
6:30 pm Entertainment and refreshments available, raffle drawing

July 9, 2012

A Look at the 125th Annual Feast of San Paolino di Nola in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Viva San Paolino!
The giglio danced its way through the throng
It was smooth sailing for San Paolino's boat
"The Sultan"
Faith, family and friendship keeps this time-honored tradition alive
The band kept festivities rolling
The sweltering heat did not dampen any spirits
A show of fidelity
As temperatures soared the paranza showed their true mettle
A feat of strength: Carrying a five story,
three ton tower for five hours is no small task
The St. Paulinus Society's standard
Some lifters show their devotion with tattoos
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
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