12th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and 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.
Having a small house and also needing more freedom our family had the men’s and the women’s departments. The males with my father, the females with my mother.
Only in the dead of night one could see my father (he suffered a bit from insomnia) wandering like a ghost around all departments, opening windows, letting pure and new air in and then closing all up again; and this invariably all nights, not just on one occasion, in summer and in winter, ‘to refresh the air’ he used to say.
The departments lasted untouched until some space was made due to the departure of two males for military service. Thus my father could have a room on his own while my mother remained with her two daughters, Agnese and Maria.
I on my own in another room since my father went to bed at 9 pm while I (by that time older and clerk) was a night owl and came back home at impossible hours and could therefore disturb my father’s extremely light sleep. My mother stayed up very late at night since when everyone was asleep she only felt free to collect her thoughts in fervent, long and exhausting prayer.
Then she prayed quite a lot for all of us, for her husband already much suffering, for her daughter, the nun, for us sons, for the other spinster daughter and also primarily because while in prayer she could well wait until I came back home so that she could serenely rest.
Every night one could hear this endless two-rooms-away duet between dad and mum:
“Rachele, turn off the light.”
“Has Carlo come back home?”
“What is he doing?”
“May the Madonna guide him and save him from danger. Turn off the light now.”
“I’m almost done.”
My mother at last heard a distant voice that was approaching and singing in the silence of the night. It was me who practiced in the nocturnal quiet in search of the best voice setting while phrasing some opera tune. Therefore when I entered our house I found complete darkness and the deepest calm, the only sign of life being Titino’s warmly and silent welcome (our dog.)
Sitting softly at the table without making any noise I ate the food now cold mum had prepared for me. The calm was though only apparent since my father certainly did not sleep and my mother perhaps neither.
At that point one could hear as light as a breath my father’s voice giving the family news, commenting for me on the facts of the day, criticizing me.
And I silent, without breathing a word …
“Yes, he (that is me) thinks he’s intelligent and understanding because he has studied (I was graduated in law) and instead he’s a twerp! Now he’s begun to study singing … but he has no voice!!”
And there followed the most ‘tactful’ allusions to my faults, to my manias or peculiar expressions.
“Well then, well then” was my pet phrase.
After which he softly and in spurts repeated excerpts from letters I had received, from invitation cards or postcards from my future wife that he had read, since he, the father, had the right to know everything, to read everything, even to open a letter addressed to me.
I remember that at Christmas time Bice, my future how future wife – at that time only our, or rather my acquaintance – sent me the cutest postcard with the image of a little angel knocking at a closed door, under which she had written:
“Unfortunately I do not know if I ever will be that little angel … “
And in the night my father punctual and in the silence of my very late dinner, with a petite voice full of intention, began to say and to repeat many times:
“Unfortunately I do not know ….”
Right. Unfortunately? Why then unfortunately … because I was my father’s real worry and continuous preoccupation. He talked not much with me anymore because I was grown up, I had studied, deemed myself self-sufficient and especially because he felt like a reticence to show his interest to me. I too felt a reserve and a sort of fear (pauriccia) towards my father; in substance I feared his caustic spirit and the power of his humour so much superior to mine.
However my mother told me that my father by coming home every evening minutely inquired about me and my doings.
“What is Carlo saying? What is he doing? Was he in a cheerful mood? Why doesn’t he take a wife?”
He cared after all a lot about me but didn’t want me to feel it, he didn’t want to confess it to me or, better still, he did not want to even admit it.
We have talked about a concept, classicism, that can embrace for example the works of Horace, Raphael, Racine, Mozart, Goethe, Jane Austen and elements of British and American Georgian culture.
Mozart’s works – according to Ferruccio Busoni (an Italian-German pianist, composer & writer) – faced a curious indifference in 1917. He wrote in that year:
To the Wagnerian generation Don Giovanni’s text and music seem like simpleton stuff. “The baroque splendour – he continued – has made the world insensitive to the pure lines of the ancients.”
Here’s a choice of Busoni’s earlier aphorisms on Mozart published in 1906 in Berlin’s Lokal Anzeiger. A good conclusion in our opinion to our series on ‘what is classical’.
“So denke Ich über Mozart”
So denke ich über Mozart:
Thus I think of Mozart:
Seine nie getrübte Schönheit irritiert.
His never-clouded beauty irritates.
Sein Formensinn ist fast außermenschlich.
His sense of form is nearly supernatural.
Einem Bildhauer-Meisterwerke gleich, ist seine Kunst – von jeder Seite gesehen – ein fertiges Bild.
Similar to a sculptor’s masterpiece, his art – seen from every side – is a finished picture.
Er hat den Instinkt des Tieres, sich seine Aufgabe – bis zur möglichsten Grenze, aber nicht darüber hinaus – seine Kräften entsprechend zu stellen.
He has the instinct of an animal, setting himself his tasks up to the utmost of his limits, but no further.
Er wagt nichts Tollkühnes.
He dares nothing venturous.
Er findet, ohne zu suchen, und sucht nicht, was unauffindbar wäre – vielleicht ihm unauffindbar wäre.
He finds without seeking and does not seek what would be unfindable–perhaps what would be unfindable to him.
Er besitzt außergewöhnlich reiche Mittel, aber er verausgabt sich nie.
He possess extraordinarily rich resources, but never uses them all.
Er kann sehr vieles sagen, aber er sagt nie zu viel.
He can say very much, but he never says too much.
Er ist leidenschaftlich, wahrt aber die ritterlichen Formen.
He is passionate, but preserves the chivalrous forms.
Seine Maße sind erstaunlich richtig, aber sie lassen sich messen und nachrechnen.
His measurements are surprisingly accurate, but they allow to be measured and calculated.
Er verfügt über Licht und Schatten; aber sein Licht schmerzt nicht, und seine Dunkelheit zeigt noch klare Umrisse.
He has light and darkness, but his light does not hurt, and his darkness still shows clear contours.
Er hat in der tragischen Situation noch einen Witz bereit – er vermag in der heitersten eine gelehrte Falte zu ziehen.
In a tragic situation he doesn’t lose his sense of humour – in the most cheerful he can insert an erudite word.
Er ist universell durch seine Behendigkeit.
He is universal through his spryness.
Er kann aus jeden Glase noch schöpfen, weil er eins nie bis zum Grunde ausgetrunken.
He can still drink something from every cup, since he never drank any to the bottom.
Sein Palast ist unermeßlich groß, aber er tritt niemals aus seinen Mauern. Durch dessen Fenster sieht er die Natur; der Fensterrahmen ist auch ihr Rahmen.
His palace is huge, but he never leaves its walls. Through its windows he sees nature; the windows frame is also nature’s frame.
Heiterkeit ist sein hervorstechender Zug: er überblümt selbst das Unangenehmste durch ein Lächeln.
Gaiety is his most distinct trait: even the most unpleasant he adorns with a smile.
Sein Lächeln ist nicht das eines Diplomaten oder Schauspielers, sondern das eines reinen Gemüts – und doch weltmännisch.
His smile is not that of a diplomat, or of an actor, but that of a pure heart – and yet worldly.
Sein Gemüt ist nicht rein aus Unkenntnis.
His soul is not pure out of ignorance.
Er ist nicht simpel geblieben und nicht raffiniert geworden.
He has not remained simple and has not become raffiné.
Er ist ein Freund der Ordnung: Wunder und Teufeleien wahren ihre 16 und 32 Takten.
He is a friend of order: miracles and devilries keep their 16 and 32 bars.
Er ist religiös, soweit Religion identisch ist mit Harmonie.
He is religious as long as religion is identical to harmony.
Das Architektonische ist seiner Kunst nächstverwandt.
Architecture is the art closest to his.