As a true Sicilian man, I would like to explain the personality of Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835) in a different point of view from the routine of music and historical criticism that you are used to read in magazines. To date, in fact, when you read something about this composer, only the vicissitudes of his life are told or only comments about his works. But Vincenzo Bellini, Sicilian, was not an ordinary person, in the sense that the personality of a Sicilian is a set of alchemy that arise and are rooted in the same ground.
Land of sea, sun, wind and fire, elements of nature that are found everywhere, or almost, Sicily has them in a different way than in other parts of Italy.
To be born in Sicily means having the fire in the veins, a fire that burns inside, that destabilizes every day, a fire that gives joy and pain at the same time, virility and transience. Fire that comes from “a muntagna” (Etna), as the natives of Catania call it, that is the same towards which every day they look back north to understand how it will behave … if it has the steaming plume or it is quite.
So Bellini took inspiration for his compositions from that fire inside, that water from the crystalline sea, the breeze that caresses continually the city of Catania, the scents that intoxicate the senses, from the wild broom sticking with arrogance from the lava rocks of Etna.
Yet, to date, rare were the performances of his works in which the elements of nature that inspired the Swan of Catania are concerned; more lyrical than dramatic art, that of Bellini, the melodic line pure and clear, stripped of extrinsic complexity, where the harmonies, counterpoints and instrumental effects have value only in relation to the song. Song that he loved and knew how to put in music in a recognizable way among many, unique, single and unrepeatable, but not sugary, which instead is found in modern performances.
Bellini loved to walk in his city, in the streets of the old town: Via Etnea, Piazza Duomo, Via Crociferi, Piazza Stesicoro, all related to his childhood. Vincenzo loved also the sea, in fact, he was often at the “marina” (the port), close to breathe the sea air and watch the slow movement and undulating, who inspired him in his singable.
But being Sicilian also means having full awareness of death, a world with which it faces life in parallel, with fatality, just think of his Lyric Chamber, such as “Dolente immagine di Fille mia” (Sad image of my Phyllis) or “Bella Nice, che d’amore” (Beautiful Nice, that of love), which tell of death, or as “Il Pirata” (The Pirate), Sicilian subject drama and full of pathetic situations.
Perhaps all this has led the perpetrators of today to distort his personality even in those works, which are performed languidly, slowly, subdued, when in fact it is here that should emerge that fire that burns within, like lava, glowing, hatching inside “a muntagna”. Based on this assumption, in this writer’s opinion, the literature of Bellini’s music should be reviewed, full of mettle yet fatality.
Nowadays, in the birthplace of Bellini you can find the Bellini Museum, full of memorabilia, instruments and scores of the composer who deserve to be seen, not so much by tourists, but by musicians playing his music. Perhaps you will begin to get what the writer here wants you to understand: breathing that wonderful and sublime stale air of those rooms would lead to reflect not a little! Only then we would witness true music masterpieces.
© Salvatore Margarone
Translation by Ilenia Carraro