I would have been prudent to mention in my last post some of the musical experiences I encountered on the Basilicata trip, which included an excursion to la Casa Cava and its famed hall nei sassi (underground) and a walk through a narrow street past the conservatorio named for famed film composer Nino Rota, where the sounds of a practicing clarinetist filled the air from above.
But I digress, because this post is going to be a little more about the region of Campania. I spearheaded a weekend trip which flurried through Napoli, Sorrento, Positano, Agerola, Amalfi, and Salerno, and which probably featured as much time walking/hiking from place to place as was spent on the buses and trains involved. Which was a lot.
While I didn’t have time to visit the luthiers in person, Napoli happens to be a hotbed of instrument-making, particularly for mandolins. I’m proud to say that as of this week I am the owner of a brand-new mandolino in stilo Napoletano. (It was actually shipped to me from Catania, another prominent instrument-producing city. But don’t tell anyone). Back stateside, I played violin and piano for a decade give or take before deciding that I wanted to commit to composition instead. The time invested in learning to play the violin, however, prepared me well to pick up a mandolin just for fun as the instruments share a tuning pattern. But my American mandolin is of the archtop variety, which tends to be warmer and muted, and distinctly American. The Neapolitan instrument is a much older design, and probably the image that would come to mind when you think of a mandolin (if an image comes to mind at all – it’s okay, I’ve had folks call my American instrument a banjo before). It features a bowlback design, which sounds brighter and more resonant, and it plays more delicately. It’s a beautiful instrument, in my humble opinion, and as I have no piano at my disposal, it should help me out quite a bit when I’m writing stuff that I have to figure out more complex harmonies for.
But back to the trip. These have ended up becoming quite important to me, again due to the experiences of the landscapes, and la Costiera Amalfitana was no exception. If you can get past the tourists, there’s plenty of space to find monastery ruins, a crumbling Roman aqueduct, and the remains of a Medieval ironworks, among other things. The cliffs are breathtaking, and there are some spectacular views along the old footpaths which run between Positano and Amalfi. I should let the images below describe the land, however, as three days of travel and three days of work is not enough time to produce an equivalent in musical sketches with this condensed class schedule.
Certainly the most musical experience of the week, however, came from a peculiar sight in Salerno. It was a Sunday evening, and I had a few hours to kill before the train to Rome would arrive. I seated myself on a bench along the main pedestrian commercial street in the city and pulled out my notebook to jot down ideas for that lopsided waltz I’ve mentioned. And out of nowhere comes this elaborate religious procession, full of all sorts of people organized probably by status in the Church and distinguished by dress. There were banners, robes, and some very ornamental garbs. There were also loudspeakers reciting Latin phrases, and at one moment the entire procession began to sing. Bystanders on the sidewalk, like myself, mostly watched in silent reverence, as this clearly very old tradition passed by singing to some Aeolian tune (which I attempted to transcribe on the spot). Many hundreds of people were involved, and it took them between ten and fifteen minutes to pass altogether. I’m still not quite sure exactly what it was that I witnessed, but it’s probably not something I would have seen or heard in Rome.