my Marche

Pergolesi and Jesi, a winter afternoon

Art and Culture

It must not have been easy for Giambattista to leave these streets and places dear to him, and above all it must not have been easy to leave his parents and his native wild village to venture into Naples.
In Jesi, a small town that lived on agriculture and small industry, Giambattista must have been much loved by his parents who, before him, had tried to have other children, all of whom tragically died. He had been introduced to music by playing in church and it seems he already showed great skill in handling the violin, which was a widely spread art in Jesi where there was also a factory producing these instruments. One thing leads to another. An only child, in poor health, who although he came from a modest family, his father was an agricultural expert and his grandfather a cobbler from Pergola who had moved to Jesi, whose godfather was the noble Franciolini, and his godmother an Honorati, he did not risk being overlooked if it was truly said that he had "" an uncommon genius, a very lively and wonderful inclination towards music" as Cardolo Maria Pianetti describes him when she presents him at the Conservatory of Naples.

maxresdefault Giambattista Pergolesi, Jesi 1710 – Naples 1736

Who knows what his life must have been like in these alleys of Jesi, perhaps he was already strumming the spinet? Have you played the violin in one of the buildings with large doors, used to admit carriages, with high windows overlooking the rich Esino valley? Or in some villa with a park nearby?

_DSC8679 his birthplace in Jesi
It may seem strange, in a closed and somewhat stagnant society of the Papal State, but Jesi was not devoid of culture or, so to speak, a sleepy city. Meanwhile, Federico II had been born there and centuries ago the prize for the first printing press in Italy had been contested, in competition with that of Manutius in Venice. So there was a diffusion of knowledge, nobles who came and went from Rome, Florence or Naples and it was one of these who interceded for Pergolesi and found him accommodation at the Conservatory of the Poor of Jesus Christ in the Neapolitan city. Giambattista was sixteen years old, polio-ridden and limping, certainly not a robust young man.

Pergolesi_caricature caricature of Giambattista Pergolesi, made by Pier Leone Ghezzi in 1735.

It is not certain that he paid for the boarding school, and in any case the institute was not for wealthy young people, he got by thanks to donations from private individuals.
But Naples still represented the right climate, years later Rousseau from France, in love with Pergolesi - because the French were the first to exalt him - went so far as to say that "Naples is the only city where you learn to compose music."
Very little is known about the life of this musical genius and the French themselves, eager for news, were surprised. Thus Radiciotti writes: “For a long time almost no circumstance of his life was known with certainty: his surname, the place, the year in which he opened his eyes to the light, the year in which he took his last breath, the conservatory who hosted him, his true masters, the illness that killed him, the number of his works..."

It finally turns out that to support himself, after the conservatory, he becomes chapel master with some Neapolitan nobleman, but already at the conservatory he composes sacred dramas and only when he graduates, at the age of 21, does he compose his first real opera, The Sallustia and its first performance in a theater. Immediately afterwards  The Friar is in love which has a great success with the public.

I have it in mind Servant Mistress and I think of noisy, urban Naples, where perfumed and smelly airs, marine and earthly airs coexisted and still coexist under the  I was selling, as Leopardi calls it in the Broom, or Vesuvius. The Naples of the lazzaroni and thepulchinelli, and I think of another Giambattista, born a century earlier, who wrote fairy tales in the Neapolitan language, the Naples of Basile, of the " Cunto de li cunti”, a world of the absurd, where one learns to accept and understand that the world is both right and wrong at the same time. Only here could Pergolesi choose a similar theme, with similar arias, a servant who becomes impudent, cheerfully accepted by her master and also by the public.

_DSC8662 Pergolesi in Pozzuoli

And then the disease,” attacked by consumption with fever, he was sent to recover or improve a little by breathing the sulphurous air of Pozzuoli, in the casino of the Duke of Maddaloni, near the Church of the Franciscans where he was supported by this illustrious house, assisted by those religious and by the best doctors from Naples” (G. Sigismondo) which led to his death at just 26 years old. At the end of his life he composed it  Stabat Mater . A masterpiece: intense, enveloping music, as beautiful as it is tragic.
His short life recalls the romantic heroes of the nineteenth century, I think of Keats and Leopardi, who were also in poor health and therefore ethereal, delicate and sublime.

Pergolesi can be considered a pre-romantic, capable of penetrating the recesses of nature, precisely by virtue of this feeling of life slipping through his hands, and for this reason perhaps expressing it better than others, praising it, feeling its moods and smells, and intensely loving it every his moment. A century later, Leopardi, from the Marche like him, would also go to live in Naples in the last part of his life. Was it a coincidence or was Naples more alive and real than many other Italian cities? Maybe it still is.

The words of Ginestra, one of my favorite poems, come to mind: "you too will soon succumb to the cruel power of the underground fire".
Which fire? What burned in their spirits? The fire that emanated from their genes and consumed them more quickly so as to make them "easier to spoil" as Ruskin said? Victims of their characters and their souls?

What would have become of these spirits if they had lived today?
Would they have subjected Giacomo to psychological therapy and defined him as "bipolar"? Surely he would have undergone spinal surgery and, in his return to normality, his poetry would have been affected?
Pergolesi instead? The latest narratives on tuberculosis date back to Thomas Mann and his "Enchanted Mountain" where the guests of a sanatorium find themselves at the top of the mountain to breathe the healthy air for their rotten lungs, then the disease disappears, fortunately, from the screens of health computers. And Giambattista instead, what would he have set to music?

Unanswered questions. Questions that are useless, I tell myself, as I walk through these alleys of Jesi, while the bells strike six on a winter afternoon. Jesi is beautiful in winter.
I don't know how but suddenly I think of Hillman and his theory of daimon : the soul that chooses, before coming into the world, the parents, the place and the time to be able to carry out the task for which it comes down to earth and I say to myself, concluding the train of thoughts, that in these times their daimon,  he would certainly have adapted.