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Momenti Musicali: Claude Debussy and Eugenio Montale

Music and literature have always been related to each other. Many composers have been inspired by literary works for their compositions. With Momenti Musicali musicians and actors work together to accompany you on a fantastic journey through notes and words. Italy time: 21,00

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Momenti Musicali: Claude Debussy and Eugenio Montale

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Mar 21, 2021, 4:00 PM

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About the Event

Music and literature have always been related to each other. Many composers have been inspired by literary works for their compositions. With Momenti Musicali musicians and actors work together to accompany you on a fantastic journey through notes and words. The musicians will play the pieces linked to the literary passages that will be read in Italian and in English.

In this second iteration, we will explore how the poetry of Eugenio Montale was inspired by the music of Claude Debussy.

Pianists: Luana Struppa and Manabu Takasawa - Actors: Emanuele Capoano and Steve Dooner

Artistic Direction: Daniela Roma - Moderator and Supervisor: Chiara Durazzini

Sponsored by the Società Dante Alighieri - Roma. In collaboration with Dante Alighieri Society - Michigan and under the Auspices of the Consulate General of Italy in Boston and the Consulate General of Italy in Detroit.

Luana Struppa graduated from the Bologna (Italy) Conservatory of Music. She specialized in Ecole Normale de Musiquein Paris (France), in Hogheschool Von Music und Danse di Rotterdam (Netherlands) and later she got her degree in Music Disciplines. She participated in different competitions being always among the first. She played in concerts in Italy, France, Austria, Netherlands, USA, Spain and Belgium.

Manabu Takasawa is noted for his “sensitive touch” by The Washington Post and for his “beautiful sound with an abundant sense of fantasy” by Musica Nova magazine (Japan), pianist Manabu Takasawa is Professor of Music at the University of Rhode Island.  He has been heard in solo recitals at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Embassy of Czech Republic in Washington D.C. and Tokyo’s Opera City Recital Hall among others.

Emanuele Capoano is one of the co-founders of the Commedia dell’Arte troupe Pazzi Lazzi, directing and performing for the company since 2013. He is also a playwright and podcaster. He is originally from Calabria, Italy, and has over 10 years of theatre experience. Mr. Capoano studied theatre at Officina Teatrale ‘O in Florence, Italy and has attended several acting workshops including one taught by Yves Lebreton. He now lives in New York City where he works at the Istituto di Cultura.

Steve Dooner is a professor of English and Theater Arts at Quincy College. He both directs and acts on the South Shore and Boston, and his 2013 production of The Bacchae at The Oberon Theater in Cambridge was the A.R.T.’s official selection for the first Boston Fringe Festival.  He has more recently directed productions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, As You Like It, and Julius Caesar as well as familiar contemporary plays, such as John Patrick Stanley’s Doubt, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, and Steve Martin’s Picasso at Lapin Agile.

Eugenio Montale (Genova, 12 ottobre 1896 – Milano, 12 settembre 1981)

Eugenio Montale, born in 1896, is one of the few obvious “true masters” of the last fifty years of Italian literature. Born in Genoa into a family of businessmen, he discontinued his secondary studies and started, on a private basis, to study singing with the baritone Ernesto Sivori. But the 1915-18 war (in which he served as an infantry officer), the death of Sivori and his decision to go in for a literary career, turned Montale away from that course, in which he had shown an extraordinary interest in melodrama, even its technical aspects. When he started to devote himself to poetry, he was already in possession of a rich and versatile culture and a taste for Bellini’s and Debussy’s music, impressionist painting and the art of the great novelists of nineteenth-century Europe, at the same time sharing the interests of the Ligurian poets Roccatagliata-Cecardi, Boine and Sbarbaro. However, the “regional” outlook of the poetry of his time was not allowed to limit the critical attention that he paid to Leopardi and Foscolo. It was not until after the war that the poet dedicated himself fully to creative activities and literature. In 1921, he contributed to “Primo Tempo”, with Solmi and Debenedetti, revealing, besides his poetic gifts, a rare critical talent through his acuteness and independence of conventional patterns. His Omaggio a Svevo, published in 1925 in the Milanese paper “L’Esame”, aroused much attention, determining, among other things, the fortune of the works of the Triestine writer.

Montale settled down in Florence in 1928, where he became director of the Gabinetto Vieusseux library. He was one of the first inspirers of “Solaria”, always being one of the most active and politically non-conformist Florentine intellectuals until, in 1938, refusing to join the party then in power, he was dismissed from his directorship at the Gabinetto Vieusseux.

In 1925, he published his first collection of poems, Ossi di seppia, which quickly became one of the “classics” of contemporary Italian poetry; in his verses, sentiment appears desiccated by a severe intellectual rigour, evoked with intimate fullness in the fervid and striking sights of the Mediterranean landscape. Some critics aptly saw in Ossi di seppia a singular introspective continuity, as in a great modern novel, linked to the story of the protagonist, finding its most developed form in the poem “Arsenio”.

When Le occasioni (1939) was published, it brought consistent confirmation of this inner line of development which, bearing a new classical-modern imprint, identified itself with the great contemporary metaphysical poetry. In Le occasioni, Italian poetry and culture as a whole were, from then on, to recognise a book that reflected the solitude and the agony over the human condition of one who lucidly opposed Fascist oppression, creating a song of noble stoicism.

Montale’s biography is a chronicle of poetry. The Second World War saw the publication, in 1943, of Finisterre, a collection which, published in Lugano in two successive editions of modest print runs, constituted one of the cornerstones of the volume La bufera e altro, a consistent continuation of his whole work, printed in 1956. La farfalla di Dinard – which from the ninety-six pages of the 1956 edition was expanded, from one edition to another, into the 273 pages of the 1960 edition – showed Montale to be an original writer of autobiography and imaginative prose, almost a narrator, with malicious flashes of wit but with an elegiac spirit.

In 1961, Montale was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Rome and shortly afterwards, at the universities of Milan, Cambridge, and Basel. In 1967, President Saragat appointed him senator for life “in recognition of his distinguished achievements in the literary and artistic fields”. This event relieved him, in a sense, of the obligation to go every day to the editorial office of the “Corriere della Sera”, where he had been working as a music critic, editor and special correspondent since 1948. The following works, prose as well as poetry, confirmed the vitality of a writer who, true to the fundamental themes of his early career (the Universe marked by inevitable failure and pain as an existential stigma), managed to collect experiences and important moments from the spiritual transformations of our times. Auto da fé (1966 and 1972), Fuori di casa (1969 and 1975) and Quaderno di tradazioni (1948 and 1975) are books that give an idea of the vastness of his interests and of the versatility of his talent, later confirmed by La bufera e altro (1970).

In 1971, Mondadori published his fourth collection of poetry,  Satura, which soon became a bestseller. The book, exhibiting the usual linguistic ambiguity typical of Montale, alludes to a poetry that disrupts its own and others’ patterns, including, in a paradoxical manner, much more than is usual (even for Montale) to include in the stylistic and linguistic models of poetry: meditative solicitations, existential themes about man still in some way Christian and Western, a wisdom anything but senile, subtle and provocative humor in the face of a world that changes and proceeds along its tragic and mysterious route.

Montale’s great poetry, in actual fact, is born out of the search for those presences that reveal and liberate the hidden world, such as spectres and amulets. Not insusceptible to the stylistic lessons of Pascoli and Gozzano, nor to contemporaries writing in English, Montale has in his turn influenced younger Italian poets, even post-Ermetismo poets and experimentators.

After a volume of cultural articles, La farfalla di Dinard, he published in 1973, still with Mondadori,  Diario 1971-72, which contains more recent lyric poems, born of a moral meditation not very different from that which brought forth the poems of Satura.

Attentive to the effects of history, Montale’s poetry stands out as congenial to spirits that are aware of the consequences (of which, from many aspects, we have not yet seen the end) of the second world tragedy, which the writer saw as temporary reflections of an evil without origin and without end, according to a parable which makes him belong to the more conscious part of the European intellect.

Claude Debussy (Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 22 agosto 1862 – Parigi, 25 marzo 1918)

Achille-Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, about 20 miles outside of Paris, the son of shopkeepers. (He eventually would drop the Achille.) The family soon moved to Clichy, closer to Paris. Young Claude thought of being a painter, while his father initially hoped his son would enter the navy. It was the pianist Antoinette Maute, a student of Chopin, who discovered his musical talent and prepared him for entrance to the Paris Conservatory at age 11. The boy began as a pianist, but switched to composition. His abilities were obvious, as were yearnings to break free from the composition restraints taught at the Conservatory. Traveling intensified those yearnings. A trip to Russia exposed him to the exotic harmony of composers like Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. Later he would discover the nativism of Mussorgsky. Winning the Prix de Rome sent him to Rome for study in 1884, though he did not enjoy his stay there and returned to Paris before the end of his term. A trip to Bayreuth in 1888 helped make him a devotee of Wagner; a visit a year later began his retreat. That same year he was captivated by the free melodies and rhythms of the Javanese music he heard at the Universal Expedition in Paris (as was the younger Ravel). In the 1890s he encountered the French Symbolist movement and joined the circle of its leader, Stephane Mallarmé, who neatly summed up its attractions this way: "To name an object is to sacrifice ¾ of that enjoyment…that comes from the guessing bit by bit." Symbolism led him to the Impressionism of painters like Claude Monet, and that helped lead him to applying Impressionist techniques to music.

Debussy's first significant works appeared in the 1890s. Two were based on Symbolist writings: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Mallarmé) and Fêtes Galantes, a song cycle with texts by Verlaine. The String Quartet appeared in 1893, and his opera Pelléas et Mélisande in 1895. Other significant works followed. Nocturnes (1890s), La Mer (1905), the piano Images (1905 & 1907), and in 1912, the three-movement orchestral Images (the two Images are different works). In 1909 the cancer that would eventually kill him made its first appearance, but Debussy continued to work. Several major piano works appeared in the following years (Préludes, Études, En Blanc et Noir, and others), a major orchestral work (Jeux), and three instrumental sonatas, including his last work, the Violin Sonata in 1917.

Debussy was often described as catlike in his physical manner. He was in fact a lover of cats, a hedonist who was quite the Bohemian and café-goer. He was not terribly active except when composing. His means were limited, and he was often in debt. He had a few scandalous affairs (his first wife and one paramour attempted suicide), two wives and one daughter. His later years were marred by the pain of the cancer that would keep him housebound and eventually kill him.

Debussy was a dreamer whose music dreamed with him. His work tended toward the amorphous and liquid, with delicate changes in color, and soft, indefinite cadences. His rhythm wasn't terribly free at first, but by La Mer he was defying the bar-line and combining several complex rhythms at once. He adopted the Impressionist technique of using color and light to suggest rather than define scenes and objects, but he was too concerned with form to be definitively classified as an "Impressionist." He was often more interested in instrument timbres than the melody they produced, and his orchestration was precisely and subtly drawn. He also understood the dramatic value of silence. Perhaps most important was his extension of Western harmony and tonality beyond where Wagner had taken it. Rather than limiting himself to major and minor keys, standard rules of chord building, and Wagner's chromaticism, he extended his harmony with the Eastern-sounding whole tone scale, medieval modes, chords built from the harmonics and overtones of instruments, and pure imagination. Debussy did not spawn disciples, as Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg, et al., did. He was more of a quiet revolutionary, but as a pivotal, transitional figure between the late Romantics and the 20th century, his influence on 20th century music was just as strong.


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