Calcagni’s Memoirs. Illness and a Thought, in Great Secrecy (14)

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

14th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni – see the original text in Italian -, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text

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My mother had looked after and cured her husband since he was 50, because of a chronic catarrh of the bladder and urine retention that also caused him perineum abscesses.

He, who held in low esteem doctors & medicines, refused any treatment and only when he could not take it anymore and was forced to urinate lest his bladder would burst, he went to an emergency ward where he got syringed or cut, depending on the circumstances: then with open wounds he was imprudent enough to get back home on foot.

“Nature must follow its course when an imminent danger of death has been avoided.”

I remember having gone through all the hospitals of Rome in order to accompany my father to the various emergency wards. He used to stay a few hours, then he started shouting so he was discharged.

[…] Had my father taken a bit of care of himself he could have turned 100, since at 70, when he died, he still had the arteries of a young man. And he suffered no other inconvenience than this urine retention […] which was his continuous worry, his fixation, so that when […] he heard someone say “that man is very ill” he asked:

“Can he micturate?”
“Yes”
“Nothing serious then.”

Mum was at times ill because of that blessed liver of hers but he didn’t worry since my mother suffered no bladder inconvenience.

“Nothing to worry about,” said my father, “such things have no real consequences. What is fundamental is to be able to urinate, like that, naturally, happily.”

The Church of San Francesco a Ripa, in Trastevere. Click for attribution

A Thought, in Great Secrecy

When I, as a higher-level clerk, was better set up financially the idea came to my mind to rent a piano so that my father could enjoy himself a bit given his very great passion for music.

My father got wind of it and objected, saying:

“Tell Carlo not to bring the piano here otherwise I will p*** into it.”

Much perplexed as I was by this very strange eventuality, I however decided to try and, taken the necessary arrangements with the shopkeeper, I had the piano arrive in great secrecy to our house, and closed it into a room.

My father came home and went to bed at 9 o’clock as usual, without having seen the piano.

When I arrived home at night I said to my mother:

“How did it go?”
“All’s well. He didn’t notice anything yet.”

At about 5 am, however, we are awakened by discreet, very much discreet piano chords. We get up to our great surprise and approach the piano room in our nightdresses. There we see my father who, in his nightdress too, was blissfully tickling the piano keys.

He had not p*** into it … my battle was won, to the great delight of the poor man who was in truth very much pleased by my thought and my boldness.

All Efforts were Hopeless

My father died of a fever, as a result of absorption, that had been dragging on for several days, but disaster was caused by a pneumonic fact, as it usually happens. I was nursing him that night and I perceived the end approaching by the fact that he, almost in a coma, did not call Rachele anymore, but his mother … mamma mia, mamma mia […]

He passed away peacefully, assisted by the comforts of religion and by a special blessing from the Holy Father. He had confessed himself a few days earlier.

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On the 23rd of September 1909 Il Giornale d’Italia published this obituary notice in the local news:

“Count Calcagni’s death, General Brigadier of the Pope’s noble guards.

This morning (Wednesday 22nd, 4:20 AM) Count Giovanni Calcagni, retired Brigadier of his Holiness’ noble guards, died in Rome. He was one of the most respected and characteristic figures of the Roman Catholic patriciate.

Count Calcagni was a likable gentleman of the old school: although seventy-year-old he still retained an exceptionally vigorous body which led him not to care about the assaults of the illness which has now brought him to the grave. His health had rapidly worsened in the last few days until all efforts to save him became hopeless.

He passed away assisted by the comforts of religion and by a special blessing that the Pontiff wanted to send him.

Although Count Calcagni had retired several years earlier from the active life that he had led as a result of his duties at the Papal Court, his demise however will be felt with deep regret by all who could appreciate the rectitude of his character and the originality of his spirit.

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated in honour of the extinct in the Parish Church of S. Francesco a Ripa at 10 AM. Our deep condolences go to the desolate family.”

Original text in Italian

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Related posts:

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Poverty and Father’s Funeral in Trastevere (4)

Color in Music and Color in Words. Have We Got the Christmas Blues?

What can possibly the concepts of colour in music and colour in words have in common? (It’s a sort of reply to our latest post)

[I know, it's Christmas time, how boring a few scattered thoughts on such stuff today. Merry Christmas in any case to all of you!]

Tone Colour in Music

Colour in music may refer to timbre, which is what allows us to distinguish a clarinet from an oboe, a sax from a trumpet and so on.

Usually even just a single instrument (the horn, the trumpet or the piano for example) can change its sound according to how it is played and to who is playing it, so we somewhat have different colours within the same timbre.

A piano played by different artists can produce very different results. I find the piano amazing since it can greatly vary its timbre especially considering that piano tones are directly produced by a mechanism and the only thing a performer can do is just a variation in velocity, ie in the speed and strength in which a key is pressed.

“When Ferruccio Busoni played [the piano] – Heinrich Neuhaus wrote (Neuhaus was Sviatoslav Richter‘s and Emil Gilels‘ teacher) – you heard the brass of trumpets, the trill of violins and the soft chords of harps.”

Classical Guitar. Expressive but Neglected

The classical guitar is even richer in colours than the piano [but unfortunately very few great musicians wrote music for this delightful instrument.]

Not only for the very sensitive human fingers (especially with no nails!) touching the strings directly without any mechanical intervention, but also for the right hand (the plucking one) that can move above, over, or below the sound hole thus greatly modifying the sound. Additionally the same string on a guitar sounds differently when plucked by the index, medium or ring-finger fingertips (again, with no nails). Last and not least, the same note can (pitch) be played on different strings, which varies the colour even more.

[As a break listen to Filomena Moretti from Sardinia (Italy) playing a prelude and fugue by Bach on the guitar. I wonder what her playing would be like without nails. Notice how the sound changes as she moves her hand from and to the guitar sound hole.]

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In some languages the connection between the concepts of colour and of timbre is more evident: Klangfarbe is musical timbre in German (Farbe = colour), and in English we have timbre but also tone colour, an exact equivalent of Klangfarbe.

Do We See ‘la Vie en Rose’?

Paul Costopoulos: “Someone feeling sad has the “blues”; we are “green” with envy or we are “green behind the ears” when we are new to something. One may be “red” with confusion and we see “la vie en rose”. Tying colors and feelings is nothing new and music is feelings.”

MoR: “Colours and feelings. Interesting. I never heard “green behind the ears”, but numerous are the English phrases I don’t know.”

Sledpress: “Color is vibration — the wavelengths of light — so sound full of vibrations and harmonics, created as one vibration overlaps another, could be called sound full of color. I remember reading a saying of Goethe about the world being composed of the “deeds and sufferings of light.”

MoR: “Goethe’s theory of colours is a splendid nightmare. And I wonder how these waves being so different can interact. Unknown territory.”

Sledpress: “I have a special fondness for splendid nightmares, like phlogiston (…) I do think there has to be some intrinsic connection between the measurable effects of certain types of vibrations on the human system and the subjective experience of those colors, sounds and so on.”

MoR: “Various are the effects of sound and colour vibrations on people and I ignore the progress of psychology and neuropsychology of colour and music in order to escape subjectiveness. I know there’s a lot of music and colour therapy based on some research being made.”

[Have another break by listening to these amazing Japanese little girls. They are in my view almost perfect artists already at their age!]

Colour in Writing

Mario: “And colour in writing? Forgetful you are.”

MoR: “Right. To me colour in writing is given by the vivacity of images. Examples of very colourful writers are to me Homer, Tolstoy, Gramsci, Garcia Marquez or Garcia Lorca. Also in the real sense that I see colours when I read them. Here, as with music (although I left it unexpressed above,) we have what is called synaesthesia.”

Mario: “Synaesthesia?”

MoR: “It’s when the sensory perceptions of taste, vision, hearing, etc.. mix. We receive them from our sensory organs, but they are processed, and sometimes mixed, by our brain.”

Mario: “So sounds can evoke colours, or the vision of an apple its taste, and so on.”

MoR: “Exactly. In literature the synaesthetic effect of colour could be triggered by the vivacity of images. The authors mentioned are full of glowing images. So if I say that a writer’s text is colourful I refer to his / her vigour, vitality, expressiveness as for the images he / she evokes. In music it is clear that tone colours – but also expressiveness of melodies etc. – can favour synaesthesia.”

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Mario: “How do you know those girls are Japanese and not Chinese?”

MoR: “Because a Chinese friend of mine has told me.” :-)

Examples of Monodic and Polyphonic Music

Manuscript of the Musical Offering. Wikimedia. Public Domain

Ashish, the Geek Wrestler, once asked me for a sort of introduction to Western music. The reason I’m writing this is to save him from metal rock. But the topic is immense and greater than my knowledge, so I guess I can write brief notes on specific aspects, like this one.

One of the characteristics of Western music is polyphony, e.g. music made of melodies that travel independently throughout the composition though harmoniously combined with one another. This whole thing, of combining different melodies together, began in the Middle Ages, possibly by chance, and progressed in the subsequent centuries.

Western music can also be monodic, the opposite of polyphonic, whenever there is either just one melody (monophony) or when a melody prevails over other sounds that serve as mere accompaniment to the main star, the melody itself.

In this nocturne for piano solo by Frédéric Chopin (op. 27 no. 2) we have a cantabile melody, sometimes doubled and with ornaments, accompanied by arpeggios and bass sounds. It is evident here that the melody is the main protagonist, despite the surrounding notes and some voice layering here and there.

Let us first listen to the real thing (we chose Maurizio Pollini for his unromantic interpretation of this romantic work) and we’ll then listen to and view a computer graphical representation of the same work, which favours analysis.

In the computerized version below (by Stephen Malinowski) we notice that the double notes of the melody are not always parallel, which creates like a secondary voice. At the end of the piece there is some slight hint of polyphony. But on the whole this is not a polyphonic piece. Chopin is mainly monodic. Only at the end of his life he inserted some polyphony in his most mature works.

Let us now plunge into the great polyphony of Johann Sebastian Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No.4, iii, Presto.) This music – whose clockwork complexity I hope will not hopelessly bore an unaccustomed ear – is such hard stuff I prefer to propose a computerized version first (also by Stephen Malinowski.)

Different colours and timbers help to mentally separate the different voices. The exercise of following the voices separately is highly educating and can result in great pleasure. No easy thing at first though. I should have chosen a music with less voices (2 or 3 maximum,) but I couldn’t find a Midi music as satisfying as this one, although being able to identify 3 voices (hard already) or  just 2 can be all right at first. The representation is what one usually gets on a Midi sequencer, i.e. a computer software, such as Steinberg Cubase.

Now a version with real players (the performers being unknown to me).

The music of Bach here presented is a fugue (or fugato). In a fugue voices (parts) are not all equal. There is a subject or theme (like a main melody) that is repeated many times at different levels of pitch. It is good exercise as well trying to identify, among the bunch of voices, the subject of a fugue whenever it pops up here and there, which is pretty often.

The study and practice of “the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm” is called counterpoint. It was highly developed during the Renaissance and was common practice later, during the Baroque period (Wikipedia).
Independent in contour and rhythm. Very important in polyphony. If played or sung separately, voices or melodies still make sense!

One last music by this great German composer: the Brandenburg Concerto No.3 – iii, Allegro, rich with tremendous energy and beauty.

Obsessive Engines. How Manias Help Us Shape Our Own Worldviews

Constantine's Roman Basilica in Trier, Germany

The huge Constantine’s Roman Basilica in Trier, Germany, used today as a Protestant church (courtesy of Dulcevisa). Click for source

Spontaneous philosophy

We have said in a previous post that all men are philosophers since everyone in the course of his/her life keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts that shape his/her unique conception of the world.

Therefore ‘philosophy’ is not such a weird thing that pertains only to a specialized category of professionals. It is on the contrary a natural feature of our species, exactly like talking or walking on two legs.

Inner motives help

There is another element I want to point out (since we mentioned it just briefly in the past.)

These concepts and their linking seem (at least to me) related to inner motives each of us keeps inside, unconsciously or not.

Such motives, often of biographical origin, are like filters that highly influence the way we see the world.

Everyone has his/her unique way of going through this thing, the uneducated and the educated alike, the unintellectual and the great pros of thought (traditional philosophers and scientist philosophers.)

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Ancient-Rome fiends, for example, may filter out things accordingly. They can look at a Renaissance façade and notice only the Roman elements that were reinvented by Renaissance architects, the semi-circular (or triangular) arches of the windows, for instance, which they can mentally link to Rome’s Pantheon niches which probably hosted the statues of Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa.

I being one of those maniacs, when within the walls of a Roman Basilica I am seldom hit by religious feelings and am rather inclined to imagine business people and magistrates doing their jobs in ancient Rome. What I tend to see is in fact the public building the Romans utilized for business, markets and legal matters, and not the place of Christian religious cult Basilicas were converted into (when they were not created from scratch for this purpose by the followers of the new religion.)

[See above the huge Constantine's Roman Basilica in German Trier, used today as a Protestant church (courtesy of Dulcevisa)]

Obsessions, themes, leitmotivs

What I mean is that we all have our obsessions, themes, leitmotivs. They not only greatly influence our view of things, on my opinion, but also tend to provide our ideas with some kind of order, thus helping us to become little or great philosophers.

Well, let’s face it, these manias may energize our ideas though this doesn’t automatically translates into real philosophical consistency, something one can reach only through toil (which is the work of the pro.)

These themes are evident in people we know well – close friends, family members, colleagues. We are aware of their fixations, which sometimes bore us to tears. It can be a father (or mother) figure obsession, a pervading mental escapism that comes out in many comments or behaviours, it can be anything.

Such leitmotivs are also present in the works of writers, musicians, scientists etc., although they are more complex to detect and it is the big part of a critic’s job to probe their works in search of elements which make the stylistic imprint of an author.

Had Rachmaninoff
a crush on a Muslim girl?

Just as an example, one reason why a melody by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is recognized as his and only his is this bizarre Arabic-scale leaning he had and that may related to some profound experience in his life.

It’s because he had Tartar ancestors? Was he desperately in love with a Muslim girl? I have to check – it might be for both reasons. I read somewhere he was in love with a Muslim girl and that he lost her for some reason. I may be wrong (plus I may sound mushy) but I couldn’t check this information in the books I have or in the Internet.

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Let us in any case listen to one of Rachmaninoff’s orientalizing melodies from Piano Concerto N. 2, III, Allegro scherzando.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Related posts:

Sex and the Search for a Method

Books, Multimedia, E-learning
(though outdated in some parts it is much to the point)

Locking Horns with a Young Roman

More recent:

Devouring Passions

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