Sunday, May 16, 2010

We need to be offended

(Look like anyone you know?)

I'm no expert on Baroque music. I certainly love it, and I actually play quite a bit of it in my role as the keyboardist for a local church. But I'm still a bit of an "outsider" when it comes to the finer points of the genre. So you may forgive me when I say that, until recently, I had never heard of Federico Maria Sardelli.

Yes, this is another discovery from my recent Italy fascination. (Which is a full-on syndrome for me at the moment. Honestly, how could I fail to love a country that produced something as magnificent as the Decameron?)

Anyway, for those of you, who, like me, didn't know from Sardelli, the always-helpful Wikipedia provides a pretty good introduction to the man:

Federico Maria Sardelli an Italian conductor, composer, musicologist and flautist. He is the founder of the baroque orchestra Modo Antiquo and has made more than forty recordings as soloist and conductor, some of them in co-production with the German broadcast company Westdeutscher Rundfunk. He has twice been nominated for the Grammy Awards. A notable protagonist in the Vivaldi renaissance, he has conducted the world premiere recordings and first modern performances of Arsilda, regina di Ponto, Orlando Furioso, Tito Manlio, Motezuma, and L'Atenaide. For his artistic merits, on 28th november 2009 the Government of Tuscany decorated Federico Maria Sardelli with the Gonfalone d'Argento, the highest medal of honour of the Regione Toscana.

All of which sounds pretty impressive, right?

Right! Personally, I discovered Sardelli through a gorgeous 2006 recording of Scarlatti compositions (with Elisabeth Scholl singing). I was duly impressed. To my ears, the dude has all the requisite characteristics to be a leading light in the oh-so-hoary-and-exclusive early music scene.

But if you read that Wikipedia article a little farther, you learn that there is another side to Sardelli, and that he is also

a longtime collaborator of the satirical magazine Il Vernacoliere and is valued because of his satire of Italian mainstream culture, religion and religious kitsch. His nonsensical style resembles that of Monty Python and Daniele Luttazzi, but he has a recognizable style of his own rooted in Tuscan popular humor.

Notable characters and strips by Sardelli include:


'Il Bibliotecario' ("The Librarian"): a peculiar comic strip made always of two-frames variations on the same theme: in the first the librarian greets an unnamed elderly woman with an (always slightly different) flowery and archaic sentence (e.g. "May I help thee, my Peripatetic Friend: if I can be a Spring of Fulfillment for thee, consider me unfailingly at Your Disposal"). The woman will ask for an (always different, and really existing) improbable ancient book, such as the "Gabinetto Armonico" of Filippo Bonanni. In the second frame the librarian will reply with a totally unconnected, often nonsensical and, more often than not, heavily offensive behaviour (for example by flashing his buttocks and asking her for advice on his new tattoo, or claiming he's the "King of Fried Food" and insulting her).

'Merda' ("Shit") : a mute strip where various characters are nonsensically obsessed by their relationship with excrement (being unable to flush it away, bringing it to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures to be used as a standard, or being able to flush it away only to cry at the loss).

'Circo' ("Circus"): about the adventures of a circus whose animals indulge in embarrassing activities like homosexual copulation just when the show is going on.


His PiĆ¹ Belle Cartoline Del Mondo ("Most Beautiful Postcards Of The World") are elaborate stories built around kitsch 60's and 70's postcards (often representing children or couples), written in an absurdly baroque and archaic style and lexicon, full of wonderful linguistic inventions [...] and with exhilarating plots rich in political uncorrectness and cynically unhappy ends; a recurring character in these stories is that of the fictional awful dwarf Gargilli Gargiulo.

Would it be wrong (or surprising) for me to suggest that in the US, this sort of thing would be much more difficult for a "respectable" musician (whether of the classical or the jazz persuasion) to get away with?

And that we're much worse off for it?


Anonymous said...

So, Mr. English PhD, why aren't you writing the first great satirical jazz novel? The "renaissance" of the 1990s should provide plenty of fodder ...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Ha! I've never had much interest in writing fiction -- though, honestly, much of my music from the latest phase of the group (i.e., the stuff that will be going on the next album) is of a lovingly satirical bent. (I feel like I need to emphasize the "lovingly" part.) Not so much directed at the 90s, per se, but definitely informed by the ridiculousness of trying to make art music in a commercial-music-dominated world.