Lucca: Italy’s Protestant Haven.

It’s not often realised that the supposedly historically clear-cut distinction between a Protestant northern Europe and a Roman Catholic southern Europe is not that clear-cut at all. For example, in Britain, Roman Catholic families, known as recusants, have never abjured their original faith since the great split the reformation created in the Christian faith.

Indeed, some of these families have retained high positions among the English nobility to this day; for example, the Duke of Norfolk, the first duke of the peerage, is the Queen’s (who is also head of the Church of England) second cousin. His main seat is at Arundel castle, Sussex.

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Arundel also possesses one of Europe’s finest Roman Catholic cathedrals.

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In Southern Europe many Roman Catholic communities renounced Papist doctrine to form their own protestant sects. Indeed, the first signs of Protestantism were felt as far back as the 12th century with the Waldensians.

The Waldensians take their name from a merchant from Lyons called Valdo, who around the year 1170 sold his assets and began to preach the Gospel to his fellow citizens with the idea of renewing the church. The Catholic hierarchy reacted by excommunicating him. (Later Saint Francis of Assisi decided to follow the same life of poverty, but the Roman Catholic Church acted rather differently and accepted his order of friars).

The followers of Valdo continued their preaching despite being excommunicated, forming small communities forced, because of constant repression, to lead a clandestine existence. Their faith was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and its fundamental tenets: the rejection of violence, the Roman Catholic oath of allegiance to the Pope, and the association of the church with political power.

Despite violent persecutions and the ruthless work of the Inquisition, the Waldensians kept their faith throughout the middle Ages. The areas where they largely settled were the Western Alps, Provence, Calabria and southern Germany.

Thus, both recusants in northern Europe and Protestants in southern Europe regrettably had their fair share of martyrs and for centuries had to practise their faith behind closed doors – hence the number of priests’ holes found in aristocratic English country homes and the secret locations of protestant sects in Italy.

Coughton Court, a National Trust property in England and home of the recusant family of the Throckmortons, has a whole secret section where Holy Mass could be celebrated:

Milton, during his visit to Italy in 1638, was fully aware of the situation and heard of the terrible massacre of the Valdensians by the troops of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy in Piedmont  in April 1655,

As a result Milton wrote one of his finest and, certainly, most angry sonnets: “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont”.

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones;
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Lucca played an important part in preserving emerging protestant and, especially, evangelical ideas. Indeed, it welcomed the Waldensians as it welcomed Protestantism.

Thanks to enlightened rulers and to the establishment of a press which printed one of the first bibles in the Italian language and thanks also to the mountainous area of the Garfagnana surrounding the city to the north, Lucca has historically been more generous to those of evangelical faith than most other areas of Italy. Even here, however, papist power used to make life for Protestants in Lucca almost impossible.

The Diodati were a noble family and had the Orsetti palace built for them by the great Luccan sculptor and architect Nicolao Civitali. However, despite the fact that, in the Republic of Lucca, the Protestant reform saw the adherence of a considerable number of citizens, including members of the aristocratic ruling class, the Diodati were forced to leave for Geneva because of their belief in the Protestant Reformation. (The palace is now seat of Lucca’s mayor, Alessandro Tambellini, who kindly showed us round this magnificent building – see my post about this at

The reason for the Diodati’s exile was that the Pope, suspecting what was happening in the Republic, began to exert diplomatic pressure on the government of Lucca. Lucca always rejected the Inquisition and the Jesuits, but fearing that the Pope and his army might invade Lucca, many distinguished Protestant Lucchese left the Republic. Fortunately none suffered physical violence but, rather, were helped by exiled Lucchesi.

Exiles included Michele Burlamacchi (1532-1590), Benedetto Calandrini, Pompeo Diodati, Michele Burlamacchi and his wife Chiara Calandrini, Teodoro Diodati (1573-1650) who studied medicine in Leiden, and moved to England, where he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1616. Among Teodoro’s patients was Prince Henry, the heir to the British throne and a brilliant young man.


Prince Henry lived at Charlton House in the borough of Greenwich, London with his tutor Adam Newton but sadly died of typhoid fever aged only 18, a real tragedy for the nation.


It’s thus that his younger, less intelligent brother Charles became heir to the throne (and I think we all know what happened to him….).

Another Lucchese, Giovanni Diodati (1576-1649), became a Protestant theologian, professor of linguistics, and the translator of the Bible in Italian and French. Giovanni’s translation of the Bible in Italian stands comparison with England’s own King James Version in the beauty of its language and that fact that it is still used in church services today. Indeed, only four years separate the Italian translation (1607) from the English one (1611).


We were privileged to meet a great evangelical leader and scholar, former pastor of the Waldensian church in Lucca, Domenico  Maselli , at a conference he participated in on that powerful mediaeval countess, Matilda, the lady who ordered the building of our famous devil’s bridge. (See for more on this and  Maselli who regretfully died the following year).

In Lucca’s via Galli-Tassi there’s an evangelical Valdensian church with a very active congregation. A friend, who also directs a choir I sing in, is organist at this church.

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There also used to be substantial numbers of Waldensians in the hills above Barga, especially at Piastroso and Renaio. They were protected by an old edict which stated that anyone living above 700 metres was free to practice whatever faith they wished.

Today, the mountain congregations have all but disappeared through emigration but every year, in July, the Waldensian evangelical community elsewhere meet up at the local inn in Renaio, called’ Il Mostrico’, for an ‘al fresco’ lunch, a prayer meeting and a talk about their community.


I turned up, by chance, towards the end of this year’s Renaio gathering and was impressed by the welcome I received and the beauty of the spot.

In the nearby school there was an exhibition of photographs depicting aspects of the group. How much history, how many ‘mute inglorious Miltons’ must there be in these evocative photographs!


The principal message of the Waldensian sectors is the oft stated but all too often disregarded one that ‘God is Love.’

It’s both an easy and a difficult message to follow. Words like ‘tolerance’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘apology’, all too often remain in one’s mind rather than in one’s actions.

I felt that both the Old Catholic recusants of England and Italy’s Waldensians must have survived to this day principally because they had the strength to forgive those who perpetrated the terrible persecutions they suffered in the past and because they were able to apologise for the persecutors before God himself.

I wish we all had the same power to forgive and forget. It would make the world such a better place!



I Fiumi e i Canali di Londra

Se uno pensa a Londra e il suo fiume, il nome ‘Tamigi’ entra subito in mente. Quello che non è immediatamente evidente è che Londra è una città di molti affluenti del Tamigi e, cioè, di molti fiumi.


(Gli affluenti più importanti del Tamigi)

Da piccolo mi ricordo che la mia ambizione era di arrivare con la mia bicicletta dalla zona di Londra del Sud dove abitavo (Forest Hill) e toccare le sponde del grande fiume. L’ho toccato, finalmente a Deptford seguendo il Ravensbourne, uno dei più lunghi degli affluenti del Tamigi.


(Il fiume Ravensbourne a Beckenham)

Purtroppo, nel centro di Londra parecchi affluenti sono stati canalizzati o addirittura convertiti in fogne (nel medioevo servivano già come cloache aperte, e la puzza degli scarti di macellai, di pelle, di ossa, di cani deceduti, e perfino delle teste decapitate dei criminali, doveva essere veramente insopportabile.)

Tra i fiumi scomparsi sotto terra nelle tubature, è il Fleet (che corre sotto Fleet Street), il Walbrook, principale affluente della Londra Romana, il Silk, il Moselle, il Tyburn, il Serpentine, l’Effra, il Westbourne, il Peck (da dove si deriva il nome della zona di Peckham), il Wandle (di Wandsworth) e il Quaggy, parte del quale si può vedere a Catford, il quale nome è tradotto come ‘guado di gatto. ‘)

(Scultura rapresentante il fiume Walbrook, ora intubato sotto Londra)

Derivo tuttora grande piacere a seguire gli affluenti del Tamigi. Non tutti sapranno che il bel lago del Serpentine che attraversa Kensington Gardens e Hyde Park, (e dove si tolse la vita Harriet, la prima moglie del poeta Shelley, nel 1816 all’età di ventun anni) non è altro che il fiume Serpentine arginato da una diga per poi scomparire sotto terra nei tubi.

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Certamente il più grande e bello degli affluenti del ‘Father Thames’ è il fiume Lea che sorge nella campagna idillica delle colline Chiltern a nord della capitale per poi sboccare in mezzo della zona industriale del Docklands. Il Lea è famoso per la sua associazione col grande scrittore del seicento, Izaak Walton, che scrisse ‘The Compleat Angler’ nel 1653, il classico testo sulla pesca.

Nel diciannovesimo secolo c’è stata una grande bonifica dopo il ‘great stink’ – la ‘grande puzza’ – che, nel 1858, fermò persino il lavoro del parlamento britannico. Grazie all’ingegner Bazalgette due enormi fogne furono costruite, il ‘Northern e il Southern outfall sewers’. Le stazioni di pompaggio ad Abbey Mills e Crossness sono capolavori d’ingegneria e arte vittoriana e sono monumenti protetti. Di recente, volontari si sono messi a rimettere a posto le pompe originali d’epoca e di ridipingere le elaborate costruzioni ferree nei loro colori originali.


La bonifica di Bazalgette fermò anche le epidemie del ‘Re Colera’, l’ultima della quale ebbe luogo nel 1866, uccidendo decine di migliaia di abitanti.

Chiamerei il sistema di fogne di Crossness e Abbey Mills le cattedrali Londinesi dedicate alla salute corporea come Westminster e Saint Paul’s sono le cattedrali che curano la salute spirituale della città.

Ho già scritto del vasto kilometraggio di canali Londinesi che, prima dell’invenzione delle ferrovie, erano il mezzo di trasporto più importante dell’Inghilterra (esistono ancora più di 3,500 kilometri di canali in Gran Bretagna oggi) ma che ora servano più per svago e turismo. (Non lasciate Londra prima di fare un bel giretto sul Regent’s canal in una tipica long boat!)

I canali avevano bisogno di fiumi e laghi per riempirli. Quest’acqua viene tuttora dai fiumi. Nella zona di Wembley, per esempio, scorre il Grand Union Canal che congiunge Londra a Birmingham e che è riempito in parte dal fiume Brent che dona il nome all’attiguo comune.

A pochi passi dall’autostrada M4, che scorre all’aeroporto di Heathrow per arrivare a Bristol e il Galles, si può entrare in una zona di pace e tranquillità che circonda l’antico maniero di Boston manor. E’ qui che si possono intravedere due corsi d’acqua, il fiume Brent che dona le sue acque al Grand Union canal.

Il generoso fiume Brent contribuisce al Grand Union canal anche vicino a Horsenden Hill nello stesso comune. Qui, a pochi passi dalle zone industriali, si entra in un’oasi silvestra di pace, dove esiste ancora una fattoria, un antico bosco collinoso anticamente abitato dai Celti: un rifugio, dove si può facilmente dimenticare che siamo in una megalopoli mondiale con una popolazione di più di dieci milioni di abitanti.

Come scrisse Joseph Conrad del Tamigi in quel romanzo ‘Cuore di Tenebra’ , che, per me,  è l’unico libro che porterei sulla mia  isola deserta: ‘stavo pensando a quei tempi lontani quando i Romani vennero qui per la prima volta millenovecento anni fa.’

Tale è la straordinaria varietà di ambienti che ci presenta Londra!

Parole d’acqua:

limpide memorie

di una città.



‘I poveri infatti li avete sempre con voi’ (San Matteo)

Non vorrei certo dipingere sempre un attraente ritratto di Londra. Come nel tempo di Dickens esiste incessantemente molta povertà – infatti – più povertà che mai e la disuguaglianza tra i ricchi e i poveri diventa sempre più vasta. Adesso, per esempio, più di diecimila persone, dette ‘rough sleepers’, dormono sui marciapiedi di Londra, il triplo di tre anni fa!

(Mie foto)

Allo stesso tempo aumentano sempre le proprietà vuote a Londra. Circa 20,000 appartamenti e case non sono occupati perché l’affitto, o il prezzo d’acquisto, è troppo alto e anche perché, in Inghilterra si compra una casa principalmente per investimento. In Italia, invece, i prezzi delle case sono diminuiti di almeno il 10%. Guarda Bagni di Lucca, dove scappano via gli inglesi vendendo le loro case a prezzi 30% di meno di quelli dell’acquisto!

Che fare? L’indifferenza è certo l’atteggiamento più vergognoso. Se vedo una persona col solito affisso ‘I’m hungry’ (‘ho fame’) non do mai soldi (che poi forse potrebbero essere usati nell’acquisto di droghe o alcool) ma un panino o una bottiglia di acqua.

Il fatto è che quando ero piccolo non si vedeva cosi palesemente questa immensa disuguaglianza di redditi. Dopo una guerra nella quale l’Inghilterra e le sue città furono sottoposte al bombardamento nazista più lungo, continuo e assiduo di qualsiasi altro paese, è sorto uno stato sociale col National Health service (servizio nazionale di sanità), con case popolari costruite per affitti ragionevoli a tutti, con un sistema di trasporto dove, anche senza macchina, si poteva viaggiare facilmente in tutte le parti più distanti del Regno Unito e, dove il livello d’istruzione era fondato sul merito dell’allievo e non sulla ricchezza della sua famiglia.

A quei tempi si credeva proprio in una società dove nessuno mancava di cure mediche, di un tetto sopra il capo, di un’istruzione di qualità, di lavoro per tutti…

Ora, con questo famigerato brexit, il Regno Unito rischia di vendersi  sempre di più al lurido mondo di lucro: più lavoratori si troveranno con contratti a zero ore e, sicuramente, i senza-tetto, che trovano qualche spazio accanto ad un portone di un grande magazzino o un sottopassaggio pedonale, aumenteranno esponenzialmente.

E’ ovvio, con la sempre più spaventosa differenza tra i ricchi e i poveri, che ci saranno sempre più allarmanti abissi tra le schierate politiche non soltanto in Gran Bretagna, non soltanto in Europa ma in tutto il mondo.

Chi ci salverà, mi domando? Non certo i marziani… o no?


Vite perdute?

Le masse ammucchiate

su marciapiedi.


Fornoli’s Summer Music and Poetry Festival


Don’t miss this great event taking place in the sagrato (that’s Italian for church forecourt) of Fornoli church. You are promised brilliant guitar playing by Giacomo Brunini interspersed with poetry readings. One of the readers is Piero Nannini, the well-known author and actor whose collection of stories called ‘l’angelo di gesso’ casts magical light on our local sights including Borgo a Mozzano’s Ponte Della Maddalena (aka ‘Del Diavolo’.)

It’s several years that journalist actor Marco Nicoli has been presenting this summer event and a truly enjoyable and convivial evening is assured. Be there!

Il Piu’ Amato Quadro Per Gli Inglesi

Questo è il quadro votato l’assoluto preferito degli inglesi in un recente voto.


Dipinto dal grande Joseph Turner, rappresenta la nave da guerra ‘Fighting Temeraire’ (la ‘combattente audace’), che fu presente alla battaglia di Trafalgar con Nelson nel 1805, portata alla sua rottamazione a Rotherhithe, sul Tamigi di Londra, nel 1838.

La bellezza spettrale e magnifica del grande veliero contrasta col brutto rimorchiatore nero a vapore che la trascina in un trascendente tramonto di sole piangente.

Il quadro per me è un requiem per un mondo scomparso e sono sicuro che per l’artista, che non volle mai essere separato dal suo ‘Temeraire’, sia stato un segno della propria mortalità.

Morì dieci anni dopo, e il quadro che vidi alla National Gallery ieri, rimane inciso nella memoria e nei suoi strabilianti colori mi ha commosso come poche altre opere d’arte possano fare.

Turner era molto sensibile alle nuove tecnologie che ha portato la rivoluzione industriale che ebbe nascita proprio nella sua patria. Un altro quadro che si può ammirare al National Gallery descrive questo cambiamento economico-sociale a perfezione.

S’intitola ‘rain, steam and speed’ (pioggia, vapore e velocità) e risale al 1844. Il dipinto descrive una locomotiva del Great Western Railway, costruita dal sommo  ingegnere, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, mentre attraversa il Tamigi sul ponte di Maidenhead.


Vicino alle rotaie in fondo a destra corre una lepre. Simboleggia la velocità oppure è il segno di un animale terrorizzato da un fenomeno che cambierà per sempre il bilancio delicato tra l’uomo e la natura?

In ogni caso, rimane questo un quadro ipnotizzante, con le sue pennellare, alquanto delicate e potenti, segnalando lo spartiacque tra due civiltà, tra due mondi, il secondo del quale stiamo ancora sempre di più soffrendo le conseguenze negative sul nostro amato pianeta blu.

Chissà se questo delicato bilancio si potrà ancora restaurare? Chissà cosa avrebbe detto (o, meglio, dipinto) Turner.


(Mie foto)

Acque di fiamma:

le lacrime del sole

spezzano cuori


Uno Spettacolare Modernismo Ecclesiastico a Londra

L’architettura del modernismo nel Regno Unito non ha mai avuto quel impatto che ha suscitato nell’Europa continentale. L’adozione delle idee rivoluzionarie del movimento Bauhaus tedesco e gli edifici del razionalismo italiano di Terragni e Pollini non trovano equivalenti facilmente riconoscibili qui.
Solo l’arrivo di profughi dopo il 1933, come Berthold Lubetkin, ha dato nuovo impeto ad uno stile liberato dall’influenza del movimento ‘arts and crafts’ che favoriva elementi più tradizionali e associati con l’artigianato rurale.

Infatti, una grande parte delle vie di Londra costruite negli anni trenta consistono di case di stile neo-tudor con facciate ‘half-timbered’ o ‘metà di legno’.







Immagina allora la mia sorpresa quando, l’altro giorno, camminando per una via di tipiche case bi-familiari e mezze armate, trovai davanti a me una chiesa con un’architettura di una bellezza modernista-razionale eccelsa.



St Mary’s, West Twyford, mi faceva subito venire in mente l’architettura del Bauhaus ed, in particolare, di un’altra chiesa modernista di Londra, St Saviour’s di Eltham. Infatti, l’architetto fu lo stesso.

Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day fu forse l’artefice delle chiese più rivoluzionarie del ventesimo secolo inglese. Nato nel 1896 e morto nel 1976, fu influenzato dalle innovative tendenze continentali e costruì edifici religiosi che riflettano le nuove pratiche liturgiche anglicane.

Liberò l’architettura dalle tendenze eclettiche e dalla pesante influenza del neo-gotico, reinterpretandole in nuove forme quasi danzanti e con un senso di spazio emancipato veramente sensazionale.

La Chiesa di Saint Mary colpisce con le sue masse cubiste, le sue vetrate tessellate di forma unica, le sue pronunciate linee orizzontali.


L’originalissimo campanile, con la statua della Madonna e l’enfasi verticale della vetrata, mi ha lasciato stupefatto.


Mi sono trovato ad altre sorprese quando sono entrato nell’interno. Quello che vedevo dall’esterno non era altro che un grande salone costruito nel 1958. (Sembrava più degli anni trenta). In più, fu trasandato in epoca più recente e solo restaurato nel 2010. Ora è usato come sala parrocchiale. Che bella sala!


Più sorprese seguirono. La grande sala dava sbocco ad un’antica chiesa del quattrocento con soffitto a travi a vista e una bella finestra bracciante.


Mi faceva un poco venire in mente il santuario della Madonna del Carmine (la Madonnina) a Capannori dove una grande chiesa moderna venne aggiunta ad una molto più piccola e vetusta.

Forse mi domandarete ‘ma com’è questa altra chiesa di Cachemaille-Day?’
Secondo me la Chiesa di Eltham è il più bello edificio religioso del ventesimo secolo a Londra. Costruito in quel anno infame del 1933, sorge ancora oggi come un segno di fede e di speranza in mezzo ad una zona di case modeste popolari.

Che impatto doveva avere questa chiesa quando fu aperta per la prima volta! Le vetrate ed le statue sono tra le più belle ed originali del modernismo inglese.

Queste fotografie le ho scattate nel lontano 2001 con la mia prima macchina fotografica digitale. La risoluzione non era tanto buona allora…


Perché non fate una visita a una Londra alternativa per gustare la sua architettura modernista. Non sarete disillusi!


colori della speranza

toccano i prati.



Il Castello Londinese di Fragole e Panna Montata

Nel 1739 un milord ventiduenne, figlio del primo dei primi ministri del parlamento inglese, Robert Walpole, iniziò, assieme ad un suo amico di università (era stato studente al mio collegio di King’s Cambridge), Thomas Gray (famoso poi per quella magnifica ‘Elegia scritta in un cimitero campestre’), il consueto ‘grand tour’ delle bellezze dell’Italia.

Si sono bisticciati, però, ritornando a Firenze poiché il giovane Horace Walpole amava divertirsi e il Gray, invece, preferiva studiare le antichità del bel paese.

Infatti, all’entrata in patria Horace non cominciò a progettare la solita villa palladiana all’inglese ma, invece, comprò un’umile casetta rustica ai bordi del Tamigi a Twickenham e la fece ricostruire, non nel severo stile classico detto ‘Augustiano’, ma, invece, in una forma del tutto novella: una specie di rococò gotico.


Horace, infatti, fu il precursore del caratteristico stile neo-gotico dell’età vittoriana. In più, scrisse il primo romanzo ‘gotico’, ‘il Castello di Otranto’ nel 1764: un genere che ebbe culmine nel ‘Frankenstein’ di Mary Shelley, scritto più di cinquant’anni dopo.

Il parallelismo tra l’architettura di Strawberry Hill House (‘casa della collina di fragole’) e il romanzo gotico si vede ovunque.


Nella nostra visita abbiamo esplorato gallerie lugubri, sale con soffitti dorati a trafori di ventaglio (come la cappella gotica del suo Collegio universitario), finestre con vetrate colorate, stanze rotonde poste in torri, camini modellati dopo le tombe regali di antiche abbazie, porte segrete, un perpetuo contrasto tra oscurità e luce…infatti un mistero dopo l’altro, proprio come i più arcani racconti di ‘orrore’ gotico.


È una dimora unica al mondo poiché è la prima che rifiutò la simmetria e lo stile degli ordini classici. In questo senso, la casa-castello di Horace punta verso il futuro romanticismo che scenderà sull’Europa con le poesie di Byron e i romanzi di Walter Scott.

Farete voi, certamente, la stessa opinione guardando le mie fotografie di questo gioiello di dimora, un vero piatto di fragole con la panna montata!

Il giardino è tutt’altra cosa: ridente invece di tenebroso, poiché il Walpole non voleva essere circondato da ancora altra melanconia gotica ma da sole e da fiori, proprio come la giornata della nostra recente visita quando, per più di due settimane a Londra, non si è visto nemmeno una goccia di pioggia e dove la temperatura tocca i trenta gradi.


Rimane veramente una stagione dove si può gustare quelle fragole con la panna e celebrare l’entrata della squadra inglese nei quarti di finale della coppa mondiale di calcio!


In ogni stanza

si leggono romanzi 


Organ Opulence at Corsanico


In the evocative artistic setting of Corsanico’s Pieve di S. Michele Arcangelo the Corsanico 2018 festival opens with the prestigious patronage of the Senate, of the Tuscany Region, Province of Lucca and Comune di Massarosa.

It’s the 37th year of the International Classical Music Festival organized by the Cultural Association “Friends of the Vincenzo Colonna Organ of Corsanico” with Graziano Barsotti as artistic director.

There are ten themed concerts, five in July and five in August, which will all include the historical organ now recognized throughout the world. The intrument is a masterpiece of Venetian organ art built in 1602 by Vincenzo Colonna.


The opening of the festival, on Friday 6 July, will feature Pisa’s Vincenzo Galilei choir (from the Scuola Normale Superiore) and the organist Pietro Consoloni, conducted by Gabriele Micheli, with “Psalms in music from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century”.

All concerts start at 9.15pm
Admission €. 10,00
Info: cell. 328 5391833,


Friday, July 13, features Sara Galanti (violin) and Antonio Galanti (organ) with a program of instrumental European music from the eighteenth century.


The horn ensemble of Lucca’s Boccherini Orchestra performs on Tuesday 17 July in a repertoire ranging from the baroque to the nineteenth century, entitled “Discovering the Horn” (the evening is free admission).


Saturday, July 21, the well-known guitarist Flavio Cucchi will present “From Vivaldi to Chick Corea”.


Lina Uinskyte (violin) and Marco Ruggeri (organ) perform a seventeenth to nineteenth-century repertoire as “Homage to the composer Antonio Bazzini in the bicentenary of his birth”, on Friday 27 July.


Friday, August 3, Ivano Battiston, accordion, Luca Magni, flute and Mariella Mochi, organ, will commemorate, in a classic program, the famous flautist David Bellugi who often played at Corsanico and who died recently.


Friday, August 10th, an ensemble of baroque trumpets and organ, with Andrea Macinanti on the organ, will perform a brilliant repertoire, “The Palatine Concert”, recalling the music of European royal courts.


Wednesday, August 15 will be the traditional “Gran Galà Lirico” with Francesca Maionchi-soprano, Laura Masini-mezzo-soprano, Nicola Simone Mugnaini-tenor, Graziano Polidori-bass, and Nadia Lencioni, piano. The program includes music by Mascagni, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Chopin.


Saturday, August 18th, there’s a Vivaldi evening: “Serata Vivaldi” with the Ensemble Bisentium playing a basoon concerto and The Four Seasons, with Federico Lodovichi, bassoon and Daniele Iannaccone, violin.


On Saturday 25th August an evening of Bach, “Serata Bach” (concertos by J. S. Bach), will conclude the Corsanico Festival 2018, with the Greve in Chianti Chamber Orchestra, with Cristiano Rossi as conductor. solo violins: Cristiano Rossi, Luca Rinaldi and Agnese Balestracci.

Pieve a Elici’s Fabulous Chamber Music Concerts


From 1st July to 26th August, the Versilia Chamber Music Festival is held in the church of San Pantaleone di Pieve a Elici. It’s now in its 51st season and is organized by the Lucchese Music Association (AML) and the Municipality of Massarosa with the support of the Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca Foundation, Fondazione Banca del Monte of Lucca and the Banca della Versilia, Lunigiana and Garfagnana.


Sunday, July 8, concert by Kirill Troussov (violin) and Alexandra Troussova (piano) that will give the festival’s audience an enthralling evening with Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata for violin and piano n. 9, op. 47, Mendelssohn’s sonata in F major and two pieces by Tchaikovsky: Meditation n. 1, op. 42 and Valse-Scherzo in C major op.34.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros, (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.


Saturday, July 14, Andrea Lucchesini plays Schumann’s Fantasia in C major, op. 17, Schubert’s Piano Sonata n. 5 in A minor, op. 164, D. 537 and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata n. 26 in E flat major, op. 81 “Les Adieux”.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.


Sunday, July 22, a “Calm sea and happy travel” concert with the Trio Metamorphosi performing Beethoven’s Trio in G major op. 1 n. 2 and Schumann’s Trio in G minor op. 110.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.


Monday, July 29 there’s a popular duo at the Pieve: Enrico Dindo (cello) and Pietro De Maria (piano). They play Beethoven’s 12 Variations in G major for cello and piano, WoO 45 on the theme “See the conquering hero comes” from Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus”, Schumann’s five pieces in popular style and Martucci’s sonata in F sharp minor for cello and piano, op. 52.


On Sunday 5th August there’s a recital by Danilo Rossi, viola, and Stefano Bezziccheri, piano, who celebrate the thirtieth year of artistic collaboration. The program consists of Schumann’s Märchenbilder, op. 113, four pieces for viola and piano, Brahm’s Sonata for viola and piano in E-flat major op. 120 n. 2, Sibelius’ Valse Triste, Kreisler’s Liebeslied and Ravel’s ‘Pavane pour une enfante defunte’ ending with Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Gran tango’.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.


On Sunday, August 12 the Guadagnini quartet with pianist Simone Soldati perform Webern’s Langsamer Satz, Haydn’s Emperor Quartet op 76 n.3 and Schumann’s piano quintet in E-flat major, op. 44.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.


On Sunday 19th August Anna Kravtchenko’s plays Haydn (Sonata No. 15 in E major Hob. XVI: 13 11 ‘), Rachmaninov (Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op.36) and seven Chopin nocturnes.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.


The great violinist Pavel Berman, who performs Paganini’s Capricci, concludes the Festival on Sunday 26 August.

The cost of the full ticket is 12 euros, reduced 10 euros (AML members 7 euros). The ticket office opens an hour before the concert.

Ps do read also my article on Pieve a Elici’s magical location in this July’s Lucca ‘Grapevine’.


The House of the Cruel Princess of my Dreams

I’ve already written extensively about the great Italian operatic composer Giacomo Puccini’s houses. My two main posts are at

and at

This is an extract of what I wrote in 2013 when I looked over the fence at Giacomo Puccini’s last house:

A similar fate of neglect appears to be that awaiting Puccini’s last house in Viareggio. Not too many know about this house or where it is. I was determined, however, to find it and clear directions from a newsagent on Viareggio’s esplanade took me there.  It’s, in fact, opposite the Pineta di Ponente, a couple of blocks from the seafront.

Why did Puccini move to Viareggio when he loved his little villa at Torre Del Lago so much? For two reasons: first, a peat extraction company had moved near his villa and started digging with mechanical means, producing noise which the sensitive master (or anyone else, for that matter) couldn’t tolerate. Second, the master’s health had begun to deteriorate, largely through his eighty-a-day (and five cigars) smoking habit (he especially favoured gold-tipped Sobranie) and it was thought that somewhere nearer a big centre like Viareggio would be more convenient, especially in days when roads and communications were not what they are now. In Viareggio Puccini had a ‘bungalow’ built for him by one of his favourite architects.

(Actually, I should add that Puccini had already owned the land on which he was to build his dream house since 1915. He had bought it, in fact, for his mistress, baroness Josephine von Stengel , who subsequently thought better and returned to her husband Arnold von Stengel ). Sadly, she died in 1926 just two years after Puccini’s death, aged just 39.

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If you think that a seaside bungalow evokes visions of  Peacehaven-on-sea then think again. The new bungalow is a marvellous thing, built in an eclectic style by architect Vincenzo Pilotti, and with ceramic decorations by Galileo Chini who went on to teach architecture and design at the court of the king of Siam (now Thailand) whose throne room he decorated. Indeed, there is an oriental perfume about this house.

I wonder, however, if, like the Chinese courtiers, Giacomo still hankered after his beloved Torre Del Lago. He certainly must have missed the easy reach of the second of his three great hunting passions, shooting at water-fowl on the lake. (The other two of the composer’s hunting passions, if you didn’t know them, were good opera libretti and beautiful women).

It is impossible to get into Puccini’s last house and almost impossible, too, to view its exterior in its entirety – so overgrown is the garden around it. One can’t even read the commemorative plaque placed on its façade clearly.

All this, however, is going to change. In 2011 a court decision resolved the litigation which had been going on as to Puccini’s house at Viareggio and authors’ rights. The Fondazione Puccini gained two-thirds of the remaining rights for the operas (from Fanciulla onwards) and also received the Viareggio villa – acquisitions equivalent to a sum of well over a million euros. I hope that it’s going to open to the public in the not-too-distant future….

In fact, nothing changed until 2015 since there were further significant court decisions to be overcome, also relating to the fact that the property had become ‘demaniale’, i.e. state-owned. In Italy, if anything becomes ‘demaniale’ it regrettably may predict an atrophic disaster.

In 2016 I wrote (extract):

Viareggio’s supreme Chinese connection is a building which conveniently lies between Via Marco Polo, the first Italian traveller to China, and the Piazza Puccini. It was the house Puccini had built by his architect friend Pilotti (who’d also designed his villa at Torre Del Lago) with decorations by Galileo Chini. (Chini incidentally designed the scenery for Puccini’s last opera). With an almost Indochinese, indeed Laotian feel to it, the building provided the immortal maestro with a much needed escape from the noise that the newly-founded peat extraction factory near his beloved Torre Del Lago villa was now grinding out. (How could even the famous Puccini not have stopped this factory from being set up? What regard did the Italian government have for their greatest composer’s peace and quiet?).

Chinese-looking, indeed Indo-Chinese looking, is this highly attractive bungalow now thankfully saved from the disastrously dilapidated condition I last saw it in a few years ago. A victim of a typically interminable Italian law-suit the villa finally became the property of the Puccini foundation in 2012. The garden had been cleared of its brambles and I was at last able to read the plaque placed on one of its walls.

La comunità di Viareggio promette di costudire consacrati a GIACOMO PUCCINI
e casa e bosco che furono reggia e giardino alla splendente regina Turandot.

(The community of Viareggio promises to look after the house and the woods, consecrated to GIACOMO PUCCINI, which were the palace and garden of the resplendent queen Turandot).

Let’s hope they really carry out that promise this time!

The portico is lovely and reminded me of a sweet country place we’d stayed at Luang Prabang, Laos last December.


But the cherry on the icing was that it was in this very house that Puccini composed his masterpiece, Turandot, all about the tortured love of Calaf for the ice-cold Chinese princess, Turandot, who eventually melts into his arms when she discovers the secret word ‘Love’:

La casa e bosco che furono reggia e giardino alla splendente regina Turandot

If love makes the world truly go round then I was surely moved. Like his neighbours during the time Giacomo Puccini was composing his last opera, I imagined I could catch the music from this transcendently ecstatic work on his piano (now at the Villa Torre del Lago).

On Saturday 23 June this year I was privileged to visit Puccini’s last house at Viareggio for the very first time. The visit had to be pre-booked and was to be described as an overview rather than an official visit. No interior photographs were allowed to be taken, principally for the reasons of security and for the fact that, frankly, the present condition of the house is rather dilapidated and not what your standard historical villa tourist would like to be presented with. The visit was free but its aim was to encourage visitors to publicise its presence and to help in finding generous benefactors.

The house looks towards the pine-wood and not towards the beach. Evidently Puccini didn’t like the sea! Another thing: Puccini was only able to enjoy the house for very few years. It was finally completed in 1921 (with the characteristic Italian tradition of ‘tettoiaggio’ i.e. placing a flag on the completed roof and having a party) and in 1924 Puccini died in a Brussels clinic after a supposedly successful operation.

We were greeted by Signor Viani, who has a distinguished family tree which includes one of Italy’s greatest twentieth century painters, Lorenzo Viani. We were then shown around by three charming girls from Viareggio’s secondary schools who were very well prepared in their knowledge of the house.



They explained that the true architect of the house was Puccini. He would thumb through ‘House and Garden’ type magazines from all parts of the world and when he found something that he liked, whether it be the design of a balustrade or the beams on a ceiling or the shape of a fireplace, he would consult his architect Vincenzo Pilotti. (Strangely, a school friend, who became one of the United Kingdom’s most distinguished architectural writers, but who sadly died at the end of last year, signed his brilliantly written critiques of modern architecture in ‘Private Eye’, Piloti –this time, of course, alluding to Le Corbusier’s trade-mark of standing buildings, stilt-like, on rows of concrete pillars).


Although Puccini called it his ‘bungalow’ the house actually has two storeys although the ground floor could more appropriately be entitled the basement.

The details of the house are absolutely stunning and all chosen by Puccini from his artist friends, especially Chini who was in charge of the ceramics:

I felt that the house owed quite a bit to Frank Lloyd Wright, in particular the Darwin D. Martin house with its horizontal emphasis and its layout with an L-shaped format. I was told, in fact, that Puccini received house design magazines from the U.S.A. where he’d scored a great success with ‘The Girl from the Golden West’, starring Caruso as Dick Johnson in a work specially written for the greatest tenor of all time, in 1910. (For more detail see my post on Enrico Caruso  at )

We first visited the piano nobile. Here we were shown Giacomo and Elvira’s son Antonio’s bedroom with his en suite bathroom complete with attractive tiles and a bidet. We saw the dining room with a dumb waiter connected to the kitchen below and a service room where Puccini’s servants would wait to attend to their famous household at dinner time. We then saw another fabulous bathroom with beautiful chamfered orange tiles and next Giacomo and Elvira’s two bedrooms (for they slept separately, although their beds were placed with the respective headboards next to each other and just divided by a wall. Puccini’s bedroom had a little door leading down a narrow staircase to his study in the ground floor (or basement) where he would do his composing, mostly at night.

We then walked down a long and wide corridor leading to the main staircase and were advised not to descend if we suffered from respiratory or allergic dysfunctions. It was easy to see (or smell) why. The dankness in the basement, the mould of the walls, the floor, which until quite recently had been submerged in a foot of water, emanated that decayed smell of advanced decomposition and putrefaction which one associates more appropriately with Edgar Allan Poe tales.

Here were the servants’ quarters and an ample kitchen with a large cooking area. Here too was the central heating boiler, albeit a little rusty. Here were the pipes leading to the chunky radiators in the floor above and here, too, was the creator’s kernel, the piano room and, adjoining it, the library where he would keep his music scores (which included everything from Palestrina to Wagner to Debussy and to the latest productions of Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire).

It was empty, all empty: the piano on which he composed everything from Madama Butterfly to Turandot, now in the pristinely kept tourist mecca of Puccini’s house inn Lucca; the shelves decayed and vacant, the decorations and stencils eaten away by the inexorably devouring dampness.

And yet….

….I have never come closer to Puccini’s ethereal presence as in this house. As we entered the maestro’s study situated below his bedroom and reached by a hidden staircase and were told that it was here that he composed all that remains by his own hand of ‘Turandot’, and as a recently discovered film (now digitally projected) showed him in this very room, walking past the same staircase that was next to us, looking into the fireplace that stood before us I felt my whole being shiver and my eyes became moist. It was an overwhelmingly traumatic experience which I have never quite experienced before and which I did my best to hide at the time.

We emerged into the garden which Mr Viani and his volunteers had cleaned up so that it now looked less like a Cambodian jungle than ever before. We admired the sprinkler system Puccini had had installed, the first one in Italy. We saw the caretaker’s house with, below, the garage where the master kept his last car, a Lancia Lambda which Puccini regarded as the best vehicle he’d ever bought (he usually didn’t drive his cars after the disastrous accident of 1905 which almost cost him his life and preferred to be chauffered instead (even on a motor-bike, in the side-car, naturally…). The garage entrance was the first in Italy to be self-opening. Puccini loved the latest technology!

I was particularly moved by the paw marks of Puccini’s favourite English setter dog set in concrete near his kennel. I think the dog’s name was Lea and was Puccini’s companion for many years in his favourite occupation (apart from writing operas and seducing women) which was hunting.

I could not find much sign of the radio aerial on the roof of the house for Puccini was also one of the first Italians to own a radio and receive broadcasts. At an evening with friends that included Toscanini he switched on the radio and heard a live broadcast from the New York Met of his opera ‘Madam Butterfly’. Toscanini said to Puccini, listening intently through the somewhat crackly reception ‘that proves Giacomo that you and your art truly belong to the world.’ So true!

Later, as my friends and I relaxed in the wonderfully restored art deco (Aldo Castelfranco, 1938) setting of Viareggio’s premier bathing establishment, the ‘Principe di Piemonte’ we admitted that we all of us experienced the same haunting feeling that Giacomo Puccini was looking at us with his gaze, half of ‘mestizia toscana’ and half of ‘spensieratezza’.


I have visited many houses of famous composers: from Beethoven’s in Bonn, to Mozart’s in Salzburg and Vienna, from Dvorack’s in Prague to Handel’s in London but never, in their beautifully restored and presented interiors, have I felt such almost frighteningly real presence of their illustrious musicians.

I applaud Mr Viani and his small band of volunteers who have saved our princess Turandot.

For more information see: