Who was Antonio Salieri?

My most recent article is about Antonio Salieri.  It has just been published by L'Italo-Americano.  

You can read Part One of Who Was Antonio Salieri?  now at


The Story of Maewyn Succat

In the 4th century AD, a man called Calpornius and his wife Conchessa were sent by Rome to Britain to serve as deacon, civil official, town councilor and generally to oversee Roman interests. Information about this couple is very sparse, but the year is believed to have been around 380 AD, a time when Great Britain wasn’t so great since it was under the rule of the Roman Empire. After several years, the couple produced a son whom they named Maewyn. Now, it was the law decreed by Rome that any child born of a Roman citizen anywhere in the world was also a Roman citizen. So, Maewyn, the Roman citizen, being the son of well-to-do parents, enjoyed the good life, but lived a pagan lifestyle which was far from the church’s teachings his father represented. God was not a part of his life.

When Maewyn was about 16 years old, his village was invaded by a gang of Irish marauders who abducted him and sold him into slavery. He served as a slave, tending the sheep of an Irish chieftain. It was during these years of enslavement that Maewyn had placed the blame for his present situation squarely on himself, viewing it as a punishment for turning away from God. Sometime during the years he tended the chieftain’s livestock, he experienced an epiphany of faith. The once carefree pagan boy had gradually become a deeply religious man who possessed a steadfast faith in God. He prayed often and his reverence for God grew even stronger. One night, in response to a voice that came to him in his sleep, he escaped from bondage and traveled hundreds of miles to a ship which brought him to France. From there he made his way back to Britain, but was ever mindful of the voice he heard in his sleep. Maewyn spoke also of a dream in which he described the first few words of a letter he received which read, “The voice of the Irish…” He said, “They shouted with one voice,” ‘We ask you boy, come and walk once more among us.’ In his dream he was devastated and could read no more. When he awoke from the dream, he felt a calling which burned in his soul. He would become a missionary to the pagan Irish who had enslaved him for six years. To prepare for the mission, Maewyn went to Auxerre, France where after much study, was ordained a deacon. He continued his studies under Bishop Germanus (St. Germain) and eventually expressed his desire for a mission to Ireland. Bishop Germanus recommended Maewyn to the pope. Pope Celestine granted that Maewyn return to Ireland to preach God’s word. It was at this time Pope Celestine gave Maewyn the name Patritius (Patrick), meaning “father of his people” and elevated him to the office of bishop.

Little is known of the hardships which he endured in Ireland, but among his writings was found evidence that he had been insulted and abused and bound in chains but that he endured these hardships for the good of others. He found that the pagan Irish had strange beliefs and seemed unable to grasp the concept of the Blessed Trinity. In Ireland, a small plant called the shamrock abounds to this day. It is a plant similar to a three-leafed clover. Patrick would pick them and use them to illustrate by example that each of the three leaves represents a person of the Holy Trinity, yet all three, attached to one stem, are but one entity just as there are three divine persons in one God. Much of the account of Patrick’s life which you read is gleaned from his Confession, a document he wrote entirely in Latin, shortly before his death. The Confession has been studied and debated endlessly by historians and scholars.

Finally, it seems that the controversy regarding Saint Patrick’s national origin has raged on for several centuries with no foreseeable end. Saint Patrick, a very great saint, is truly loved by many around the world, but simply loving someone does not automatically change their nationality. Historical documentation indicates that Saint Patrick originated from outside of Ireland, and that he entered Ireland twice in his lifetime, once as a slave and the other as a missionary. These historical facts, backed by documentation, speak for themselves. However, in addition to the law in effect at the time of his birth, the fact remains that Patrick was born of parents who were native to Rome, Italy. On that simple truth alone, he would be Italian by hereditary lineage and that fact, by its very nature, is not subject to controversynor is it likely to change. Therefore, Saint Patrick was indeed Italian by birth.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/90708659/resource/ ]

A Game of Chess

There is no love story like an Italian love story. Among the narratives of Italian folklore recounted over the years is one of a bloodless duel fought between two knights seeking the hand of the same lady. The story takes place over five centuries ago, in the town of Marostica, located in the foothills of the Asiago plateau of Vicenza province in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy. It was here that Taddeo Parisio, lord of the castle ruled. It seems that Lord Parisio had two daughters: Lionora, who was said to possess such beauty as to make angels envious, and Oldrada, who was not beautiful, just extremely pretty.

The knights in question were Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara who could not repress their declarations of love for Lionora. So intense was the rivalry between the two that there was talk of an impending duel between them to win Lionora’s hand in marriage.

Now it was said that Lord Parisio, who was known for his wisdom, frugality and good business sense, felt that to lose a warrior in a duel would be counterproductive. These were two of his most valued knights. Knights function best as warriors, he reasoned, and should not be engaged in peacetime squabbles. Consequently, he decreed that to avoid the spilling of blood and to preserve the honor of both knights the conflict between the two would be settled in a game of chess. The contest would test their reasoning abilities, talents and strategies as well as their ability to perform under the mental and emotional strain of adverse and demanding circumstances.

In keeping with his decree, Lord Parisio invoked an edict that the contest would involve a gigantic chessboard with human chess pieces, the grandeur of which would allow thousands of spectators to attend. The victor of the match would win the hand of the beautiful lady Lionora while the vanquished would be offered the hand of Oldrada. In that way, both the knights would enjoy the additional reward of becoming members of the royal family. Since there could be only one winner, both knights agreed to accept the outcome of the contest, win or lose.

Many foreign dignitaries, such as the Lords of Angarano and Vallarona, were invited along with the nobles of nearby cities and members of other royal families. Lord Parisio also ordered a parade of armed infantrymen, knights on horseback, heralds, nobleman, falconers, standard bearers, musicians, acrobats, fire eaters, farmhands and villagers: all in honor of this historic event.

The staging of a full scale chess board was organized in the piazza below the castle with a gigantic chess board consisting of sixty-four squares, each measuring approximately four feet by four feet. On opposite ends of the chess board were human chess “pieces” representing competing armies—an army in black consisting of a king, a queen, two bishops, two knights and two castles with their pawns to the front, all facing the army in white at the other end of the piazza.

On a high pedestal, overlooking the giant chess board below, sat the Knights Rinaldo and Vieri with a chess table between them. To one side stood Lord Parisio who would observe the moves between the knights and direct the identical movements of each human chess piece below. Those overtaken by an opponent’s piece would retire to the opponent’s side, captured and out of the match. Most importantly, each player would have to prevent the capture of his king: the loss of the king meant the loss of the match.

The human chess pieces moved from one square to another in a manner particular to its character. The king, of course moved on his own, unassisted, as did the bishop. But when the queen moved, it was with the assistance of two pages following dutifully behind keeping the train of her royal robe from touching the ground. The knight, on horseback, moved with the assistance of his squire whose job it was to lead the horse by the halter to the designated square and to keep the horse calm. The only non-human piece was the castle, a seven foot cylindrically-shaped object topped with a turret, moved from square to square by two pages. To the front of the royal entourage were eight pawns, also moving about unassisted.

As the two knights pitted their skills, one against the other, each was careful to protect his king from being captured. The Ladies Lionora and Oldrada watched the movements of the match intensely from high above. Both ladies hoped that Rinaldo would lose the match, but for different reasons, because each was harboring her own secret.

As the match progressed, chess pieces from both sides were captured and retired to the enemy’s camp. Rinaldo’s moves were ingenious, capturing many of Vieri’s pieces. Vieri retaliated as best he could by taking many of Rinaldo’s pieces. Then suddenly, Vieri began to move his pieces with such strategic skill as to place Rinaldo’s king in the tenuous position of being captured. Then, after several more moves, Vieri announced, “Check mate.” Rinaldo’s king had been captured and the match was over with Vieri declared the victor.

Unknown to anyone were the secrets harbored by each of the lord’s daughters. Oldrada, the younger of the two had been in love with Knight Rinaldo from the time she was a little girl but she was too shy to mention a word of it to anyone. She was a gracious, warmhearted and kindly young lady devoid of pride. So in love with Rinaldo was she that she would willingly accept him as her husband unconditionally.

Conveniently, Lionora’s secret serves to tie up any loose ends to this story. You see, long before the chess match, she and Vieri had been deeply involved in an ongoing love affair. So it was important to Lionora, as well as to her sister Oldrada, that Knight Vieri emerge victoriously.

Over five centuries have passed since the first human chess match. In memory of this ancient event, the people of Marostica prepare this special game with all its pomp and pageantry. The event lasts two hours with more than 500 characters including clowns, acrobats, townspeople and the like all dressed in renaissance costumes. It takes place during the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday in September during even numbered years.

Now's the time to plan for 2014, so what are you waiting for?   Buon viaggio!

[Image at the Marostica website
http://www.marcadoc.it/vedere/Partita-Scacchi-Marostica.htm ] 

La Befana: An Italian After-Christmas Story

The celebration of Christmas in Italy begins on December 25th and lasts for twelve days, ending on Epiphany, January 6th. This concept is an absolute delight for Italian children who look forward to the secret visits of both gift givers: Babbo Natale for Natale and La Befana for Epifania.  As a matter of fact, the mere mention of the word Epifania goes hand in hand with the concept of La Befana and visions of an old witch riding around on a broom.  
La Befana, was a senior citizen who was never without her broom.  At first, she was thought to be an evil witch, but no one actually knew why.  It was no secret that Befana spent much of her time cooking and cleaning in her little house.  And as she worked she sang, but when she sang her vocal cords released the most hideous screech ever heard by the human ear.  So terrible was the sound of her voice that the townspeople shuttered their doors and windows at the mere hint of being entertained by Befana.   However, no one could remember Befana doing anything wrong, except singing, so it seemed unfair to say that she was evil just because she sang.  Besides, she was Italian, and that’s what Italians do.  Eventually, society had undergone a change of attitude and rethought the concept of Befana from one of evil to one of good.  While this was happening, the story of Befana also acquired different versions.  Her story had changed over the years, having been told and retold by so many different story tellers.   Each story teller had his or her own personal way of telling it.    And so, the legend grew with diverse regional word-of-mouth interpretations from one generation to another resulting in variations on a theme.  
All versions, however, seemed to narrate a basic account of a simple woman who, on a clear evening, observed an unusually brilliant star in the heavens.  So bright, in fact, was the star, that Befana felt almost troubled by the sight of it and a bit concerned about its possible meaning.   She, of course, went back to her housework and tried not to think about the star, unaware that momentarily, she would encounter three wise men.  Suddenly, there came a knock. Upon answering the door, there on her door step stood an imposing trio complete with a procession of camels loaded down with gifts.   
The wise men, quite radiant in appearance but humble in manner, asked for food and lodging for the night and told how the great star was guiding them in their journey toward the town of Bethlehem where it was foretold that they would find the Christ Child. Befana obliged the travelers by sharing her food and humble home with them, but admitted that she had never heard of a place called Bethlehem.  
The next day, as the wise men prepared to depart they spoke again of their quest to pay homage to the Christ Child and invited Befana to accompany them.   Befana, somewhat embarrassed, declined the invitation, saying that she had no gift to offer the child, but her regal guests assured her that no gift was necessary and told her that the newly born king simply came into the world to make it a better place.  Befana was undecided and for the longest time, could not make up her mind.  Alas, the wise men could wait no longer. They finally took their leave and resumed their journey. 
Before too long, Befana had misgivings about declining the invitation. She decided to make a doll and bake some biscotti to take as gifts.  Then she followed the path taken by the wise men in hopes of catching up with them.  She ran and ran but could not find the way.  She ran so fast that she took flight on her broom. She flew all night but could find neither the journeymen nor the Christ Child. When she returned to her little house, she vowed never to give up trying to find the Christ Child and every year she flies around looking for the spirit of Christ in every child and leaves something for the children of Italy on the twelfth day of Christmas.  It is said that Befana forgets no one for she brings toys and treats for good little boys and girls and a shiny lump of coal for the questionable ones.
Merry Belated Christmas!    Buon Natale in Ritardo!

[image from Wikipedia at this link]

Il Presepio

The date is December 24, 1223.  Those in the cave are members of the village of Greccio, in the region of Lazio, Italy, brought together for the first re-creation of the birth of Jesus Christ by a monk known as Francis from the town of Assisi.    On a clear cold night, shepherds could be seen keeping vigil over their flocks, while in a nearby cave a man and woman gaze upon a tiny figure lying in a manger.  In the cave with them are several townspeople who have come to pay homage to the new king.  A small shepherd boy, trying not to be a bother, stands on tipped toes and stretches his neck to look over Joseph’s shoulder in hopes of getting a glimpse. There are also a flute player, an artisan and blacksmith to name a few.   And there within plain view of the manger can be seen three great figures in royal attire, kings, all three on their knees bearing gifts. 
The idea first came to him on the grassy hills outside of Greccio where it was quite common to see shepherds tending their flocks.  Francis often walked these hills watching this almost biblical scene and what he saw inspired him.  He would re-create a scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ as a way of conveying the ideas of Christmas as well as promoting the Christmas spirit to an illiterate congregation. To do this, he recruited townspeople and had them dress in biblical garments and he placed them in and around the cave on the outskirts of the village. He also added farm animals for authenticity.  In the manger was a true-to-life wax figure of the infant Jesus.  It was truly a sight to behold, and the event stirred much curiosity and interest across the land.
As the years passed, word of the nativity scene began to spread.  On Christmas Eve, families traveled far and wide to witness the spectacle. Over time, the nativity scene, or il presepio, as it is called in Italy, grew in popularity.  Other towns began featuring them and soon, people had individual nativity scenes in their homes by using wood-carved figurines.  Before long the Christmas nativity scene had spread throughout Western Europe.  As Catholicism flourished worldwide, so did the concept of the nativity.
Today in practically every country in the world, the nativity scene is used in the celebration of Christmas by Catholics and Protestants alike.  Children from one generation to the next attach themselves to these toy-like figurines and take pride in knowing the names of each character assembled around the manger.  
And it all happened because a Franciscan Friar, by this simple act and a desire to teach, had set into motion a chain of events which created a phenomenon that even he would probably never have imagined.    BUON NATALE!

[Nativity scene: Library of Congress Digital Prints and Photographs Online at this link.

Painting image: Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Basilique Assise, Legend of St Francis, Institution of the Crib at Greccio. From
Wikipedia at this link.] 


Quintiliano, a native of the region of Abruzzo, Italy departed from the port of Naples on September 21, 1910 and arrived in New York several weeks later, settling in Cleveland, Ohio.   He was a simple man, a lover of music who practiced the flute and worked as a truck driver.  In Cleveland, Quintiliano officially change his name to Quinto in his petition for immigration.  After having met Anna, the love of his life, they married and several years later, she gave birth to a son whom they named Enrico.
Eventually the couple left Cleveland, Ohio for Aliquippa, Pennsylvania where Quinto supported his family while employed as a steel worker.  He continued to play the flute and spent much time tutoring his son, determined that the boy would not grow up to be a factory worker, but a teacher.  Although the boy was a fast learner, Quinto had to force him to practice, but together the father and son team played in the Aliquippa Italian Immigrant band of “Sons of Italy” and they were very good.
Quinto spent much time with the boy, often reminding him of what his calling in life should be, but Enrico harbored his own thoughts and desires.  Enrico, who was often called by his American name Henry, loved and respected his father, but something was about to take place which would change his life forever. One day, as he sat with his father in a darkened neighborhood movie theatre, “The Crusades,” directed by Cecile B. DeMille, flashed across the silver screen.  The boy was absolutely astounded by the spectacle before him.  Inspired by the music of Rudolph Kopp, which accompanied the film, he knew at that very moment, that he would not be a teacher but a composer of music for the film industry. This young boy was determined to match the size of his dreams and as far as being a teacher was concerned, the world, through his music, would learn name of Henry Mancini.
Henry now studied music without having to be told and mastered many different instruments.  After high school, he was accepted by the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City, throwing himself into all aspects of music.  However, his stay at Julliard was not to last more than a year.  In 1943 the war was in full swing and Henry responded to the greetings of the draft board, eventually taking his place within the ranks of the infantry.  In 1945 their push of the Nazi Army led them to the liberation of a German concentration camp where Henry had witnessed, first hand, the horrors of man’s inhumanity to his fellow human beings.    
After the war, he was offered a two week job at Universal-International Studios but remained for six years.  For a number of years he took jobs wherever and whenever he could find them, but his big break came in 1958, when producer Blake Edwards asked Mancini to write a musical score for a new TV show called “Peter Gunn.”  It was that compelling sound that signaled the start of a career spanning forty years of composition for film and television, composing music for such landmarks as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses and the Pink Panther movies, to name just a few.  The young man who played music with his father in the Sons of Italy band managed to record ninety albums achieving seven gold records.  As a maestro, Mancini conducted over fifty engagements per year, resulting in over six hundred symphony performances with the Royal Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Pops and the London Symphony Orchestra. He composed music for nearly two hundred and fifty films and television shows.  The composer who once went out looking for work now accepted only one out of every ten offers he received to compose film scores.
There are many in the field of entertainment who might aspire to achieve at least one Academy Award in their lifetime or perhaps a Grammy or Emmy, but the man who managed to win four Academy Awards, twenty Grammys and two Emmys did so while teaching the world the name  of Henry Mancini.  

[Image from Wikipedia at this link]

The Italian Christmas Bread

Il panettone has probably been credited with providing more enjoyment and gratification than any other single holiday treat. It is a Christmas pleasantry, unique in quality known to grace any breakfast or dinner table. In tracing the origin of the panettone, all evidence seems to lead to the City of Milan, Italy. The panettone can clearly be seen in a 16th century painting by Pieter Bruegel, but the first evidence of the panettone being associated with Christmas was found in the 18th century writings of Pietro Verri, a notable Milanese scholar and writer, who referred to it as pane de tono or bread of luxury.
         The oldest recorded reference to anything resembling cake-like bread, dates back to the Roman Empire. It is said that the Roman recipe for a kind of sweetened bread included honey, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins mixed with barley mash and may have been the closest thing resembling today’s fruitcake.
      Like the Romans, many countries around the world have produced similar types of baked treats with mixed results and somehow, their production seemed to gravitate toward the Christmas season. One explanation of this phenomenon seems to suggest that with the heat of the summer gone, it was time to fire up the ovens and to make use of dried and preserved fruits and nuts harvested during the fall season. These ingredients were added into the dough mix and, depending on the baker’s choice, molasses, honey or some kind of liquor was included to enhance its desirability. Some were light, some dark, some crumbly and moist, others sticky and wet while still others were spongy or heavy. They were leavened or unleavened, shaped round, square or oblong. This being done at a time approaching the holiday season, should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to why it might be referred to as a Christmas cake. All the cakes seemed wonderful in their own way, but not suitable to every taste. Like many fruitcakes today, they were heavy.
      The lighter panettone was achieved by searching for something different. The recipe for panettone had undergone numerous experiments throughout the centuries by bakers seeking to shy away from heaviness. As time went on, the culinary pioneers stumbled upon something unique. They discovered that if they allowed the dough to rise, not once, but several times (or for at least 20 hours) before baking, they would be able to achieve a remarkably different product. Their patience paid off. Complete with yeast, butter, eggs, raisins, and candied lemon and orange peels, what finally emerged from the oven was a dome-shaped cake like bread which possessed the light-textured quality we enjoy today. 
      Bakers, for the most part, are made up of risk-takers, constantly seeking to improve by asking themselves, “What if?” and then pushing their skills to the next level. By being careful to maintain the technique, they were able to make a variety of different kinds of panettone. In the 19th century, for example, panettone served as il simbolo della libertà (the symbol of liberty) when ingredients including red candied cherries and green colored citron were added to the white dough to create the colors of green, white and red of the Italian flag.
     This cake-like bread has become world famous and, over time, synonymous with Christmas. Many look upon it as a blessing, for with so many foods to tempt us during the holiday season, it’s nice to know that among the many heavy, sweet holiday treats out there, we can still afford to enjoy a slice or two of the light-textured quality treat we’ve come to know as panettone with a minimum of guilt.
          Buon Natale!

[image from Wikipedia by Codice 1000 at