“If we continue to be unjust, God will take away our music.”
I want reassurances about what’s being done, not what will be done. I don’t want to hear about the future. There are people who don’t know how to get to the end of the day and feed their children. In my long life, I never even imagined such a thing, let alone experienced it. We’re living in a science fiction film.
In Ravenna [where he lives] the shutters are closed as though the virus could enter through the windows. There is a death-like silence, cemeterial. I’ve always spent Easter in Molfetta where, as a child, I saw the Good Friday processions. It’s very much a Southern tradition, and is accompanied by the band, which was my first music lesson: for centuries they have always continued, even in wartime.
I feel like a man in a cage, under house arrest, like everyone else. My wife Cristina and I obey the law, but it’s one thing to decide to stay at home and rest, and another for it to be imposed on us.
Just think of the family that lives in only 70-80 square metres… I also think of millions of people who can’t buy what they need to live… my boys and girls from the Cherubini [Youth] Orchestra. The theatres are closed, the music has stopped, and they – the crème de la crème of the conservatoires – can’t earn a penny. Yet they’re resilient and are willing to play and transmit music on the internet from their homes.
I no longer [follow the daily bulletins] when each day they tell us that the figures, on the one hand, are improving and, on the other, are worsening. I don’t understand a damn thing: I’m not Einstein, but I’m not the village idiot either. I doubt that this confusion helps anyone, I don’t know who’s responsible, but there are too many doctors saying conflicting things.
I watch documentaries on television, but state TV ignores those important but often forgotten directors: Germi, Pietrangeli, Rossellini, Bergman. At Easter, they broadcast every film about Jesus possible, and Ben Hur, which we know by heart.
I wish that there was more fantasy and less laziness. Those constant appeals to wash our hands, which are right of course, but TV treats Italians as idiots. When I’m abroad, I only see negative news about us. Instead, we have scientists, artists, and all those extraordinary doctors that we’ve got to know during this period.
Apart from Rai 5 [the cultural channel] which is doing an excellent job, why isn’t this being taken as an opportunity to broadcast more music? They give concerts in empty squares [Andrea Bocelli in the piazza in front of Milan’s Duomo] as though it was great music-making, something that it certainly wasn’t. At a time when we are forced to stay at home and watch more TV, they get the ratings anyway, but they couldn’t care less about the audience. Instead, they show Alien, which only serves to increase the depression that will explode if they tell us that we can’t even go to the sea.
I could exercise doing the stairs [‘scale’ in Italian, which also means ‘scales’] but I prefer those on the piano. I dress casually, in a sweater, but not in a tracksuit. I spend many hours studying Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which I’ve been doing all my life, and with which I’m supposed to open the season in Chicago in September. It is a triumph of counterpoint, stretched to the limit of expression, with a perfect marriage of text and music. The result is a revolutionary counterpoint, reaching a metaphysical sphere that is astonishing.
Beethoven means freedom: in the Ninth Symphony he says that we are all brothers. Instead, some European nations think that Italy is a lesser god. I’m outraged when we are called swindlers, after all that we’ve given Europe; it wouldn’t have developed its culture without us.
This current blow will lead us to having to adapt to a new world. I’m not thinking too much about whether we’ll be better people afterwards because I’m not thinking about the future, but about today. Solutions are needed for the poor.
I can’t stand politicians who preach and mislead; I hope they don’t think of music as something you can do without. Monsignor Ravasi [an Italian cardinal] told me of a quote by Cassiodorus, the Roman scholar and writer: “If we continue to be unjust, God will take away our music.”
Riccardo Muti was talking to the Corriere della Sera’s Valerio Cappelli.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.