Branduardi: “My Middle Ages from San Francesco to Sant’Ildegarda”

Angelo Branduardi he is a serious person and like all serious people he is self-deprecating and never serious. He jokes about the air of a guru, but he doesn’t know what it means to put on airs. In the panorama of the author’s song it is unique, in the sense that in formation, themes and sounds it resembles only itself. And often he succeeds in “miracles”, in the sense that he has always been successful with non-trivial experiments, even difficult on paper, which in his hands as a classical violinist immediately become popular. He knows it, but the only thing that has always been mounted on his head are the curls in the wild, now a trademark. His latest albumwhose launch was interrupted, in 2020, by Covid, it is dedicated to Hildegard of Bingen, the saint whom the calendar celebrates on 17 September. It is called the Path of the soul and it is only the latest of his not obvious repertoires that have touched on the theme of spirituality.

He said that music gives a lot but takes everything, where is the path of the soul?

“I’m on the move, the path of the soul that gives the title to the last album means that I don’t have a bomb-proof faith, a highway faith, but a path in which I fall many times, I make a mistake, I always return looking for something that perhaps does not exist and it is better that you do not find it: a bit like it happened to the knights of the round table with the Grail, who did the Search with a capital “r”. My aim is research. Music gives a lot, it has saved me many times, but when you play, when you write it also takes you. I have often said that music is seeing on the other side of the wall, the difficult thing is to come back here, this involves a dose of suffering that is worth experiencing for what comes back to you ».

His training is that of a violinist, graduated at the age of 16 among the youngest in Italy. The classical views the rest of the musical world with suspicion. How did he manage to take the plunge without feeling like a deserter?

“It was by chance, I arrived following my parents after graduating from Genoa to Milan. I didn’t know what to do and by pure coincidence there was an area of ​​the city near piazzale Corvetto where a lot of musicians of “other” music than the classical lived, but very cultivated: Maurizio Fabrizio, the La Bionda brothers, Gigi Cappellotto … we were all there, I found myself playing on other people’s records, I never considered this a fallback. It’s true, like all classical musicians, before I had a bit of a tendency to give little consideration to the rest, but I was wrong. My daughter who is a cellist says we are tired of playing the music of the dead ».

Her family who had laboriously invested in her studies and perhaps at that point imagined her as a violinist how did she take it?

“I remember very well when my father, who was a passionate Verdi melomaniac with whom I had quarreled later as a Wagnerian, at the age of 5 took me to the teacher Augusto Silvestri, a great pedagogue, to whom I owe a lot, who imported the Sevcik method into Italy with which they studied the violists of the east very different from the Franco-Belgian method. When he opened the case I saw this brown thing: a seventeenth-century Tyrolean violin that had been played a lot in the light of candles and kept its smell. He impressed me so much that, after a few years, I went looking for an identical violin, which I keep at home. I don’t know why I was thunderstruck, my mother always said that the first year and maybe the second year she would have liked to throw me and the violin out of the window, that from the first exercises with the empty string with the right hand and the right left (mime the gesture ed), a cat-like sound came out. You made the empty notes and then you counted to give yourself the notion of time: singing the miiii note and counting 1-2-3-4, the thing that tormented my mom. I had two moments of crisis and I have to thank my dad so much who had a difficult life, but he had time to witness the success of his son, even if it was not as he imagined it and this makes me very happy ».

The crisis is there, an instrument studied in this way from 5 to 15 years asks for a dedication that displaces you with respect to the rest of the world.

“Yes, in some ways I still pay for it now, when I found myself on the street after graduation I didn’t know anything about the world, that’s why I say that musicians are marginalized, maybe as luxurious as me”.

Her research was not taken for granted: for the fair of the east and for the infinitely small commissioned by the friars of Assisi, as a prediction (very wrong) they did not give her the two cents of the mouse as a prediction. Now an album dedicated to Hildegard of Bingen. Nobody asked: Hildegard who?

«I have to be honest, my wife and I who worked with me are not experts in Hildegard, when we started it came out professors who have spent their lives studying it. I was struck by the fact that a woman of the year 1000 wrote about music, and to discover that it was so many things that many know better than me: she was a dietician, an herbalist, she also invented hops in beer, even if the beatification process was closed immediately after her death and it took a thousand years for Pope Ratzinger to recognize her as a saint and doctor of the Church ”.

One does not get up one morning saying now I write an album on Hildegard, how did it go?

«I came across music, I heard I don’t remember on what occasion something of hers, and when I hear a musical thing I hardly forget it, it sticks to me, I must have heard a female choir singing somewhere. I said to my neighbor: what is this thing? And he was told: “It’s Hildegard”. I didn’t know anything about it, I first went to Wikipedia and then I got the complete work ».

There is a historical figure who has left music and texts, when a third thing is written, starting from that corpus of the original what remains?

«There was great respect: we tried to divulge, to make people understand that it is also beautiful modern music, and my wife translated the lyrics as they were from this difficult Latin already a bit Germanic. We did a third thing that I hope is the sum of the other two, like when you use a brace to join two things to a third ».

It is not the first time that, either for someone else’s commission or for his own choice, he ends up on issues that have to do with spirituality. The curiosity for the Middle Ages, for a classical musician who goes back up to the seventeenth century, how was it born, when?

“When I was already relatively adult, at 17-18 years old I listened to a cassette of the early baroque, the first thing I heard was the canta Schiarazula Marazula, an ancient Friulian dance, from which I took the dance in fa (hums: it’s me death and I wear a crown …). I made eight records which are called Ancient future in which I had a lot of fun. Ancient future 1, the infinitely small and the Path of the soul they are a kind of Hit parade of the Middle Ages. Regarding spirituality, there was also the beautiful offer of Luigi Magni that he made me do Be good, if you can, for which without false modesty I took all the prizes in circulation and I enjoyed myself like crazy, for five years I worked for the cinema which was my initial dream even if I then realized that my path was another. Music is spirit, it’s seeing what isn’t on the other side of the wall “

What is not there or what is not seen?

“What you can’t see.”

A wandering in time and space between different cultures and spiritualities. Where are the deep roots, don’t you risk feeling uprooted?

“I called my early music records Ancient future precisely because it means that there are deep roots that as Tolkien says never freeze and if you are a musician who started from there you will never lose them, I did not do Stockhausen, I did cross over something that is not classical music and it is not pop music, perhaps the only one in Italy ».

Did you run the risk of being misunderstood by both of those worlds?

«Of course, I ran it consciously. I was also a provocateur, in my niche I provoked without shouting ».

This makes it unique. Speaking of provocation, about Hildegard, she chose the least obvious thing to launch: a spoken piece …

“Yes, it’s my lowered voice. I play the devil. It was used to launch the next song that begins with Escape. Without the devil, one would not have known what to flee from before. It was a provocation but not an end in itself, even in the simplicity of Hildegard’s work in the path of the soul there is the devil who takes this soul, but she escapes him through virtue and returns to her father ».

In his concerts, theatricality is very essential, entrusted to sound, lights, different instruments, to the essential physicality of his movement. Is working to remove a choice?

“It came by itself, I take off in the concert that I do in a duo with Valdemarin there is no success, they are all mystical things, sometimes it comes with a beauty … I have three repertoires, one ancient, one in two, one with the group “.

It has become a recognized icon in the world, it has also made great numbers. Was it a choice to go back and stay at the theater dimension?

«Yes, I played in Paris on the airport runway with 120 thousand people, an incredible stage, I went in: it was full of screens and I felt uncomfortable for the first time, I didn’t play well. You don’t catch a gesture at that distance, if you have to show the blue you have to put 100 headlights it’s all oversized, I realized that that dimension wasn’t mine ».

How many languages ​​do you speak and how many instruments do you play?

«I speak French, English and German. I play the violin, I’m a good classical guitarist, I play the baroque flute quattet quite well, I peg it with the piano but I wouldn’t play it in public, I need it to write. As a left-handed I am at an advantage with the violin and at a very disadvantage with the piano. I studied violin and piano, given in the third year as a complementary exam, which I think made me pass because I was a good violinist ».

Is it true that the piano was your first musical love?

«There was a reason, I went to the Montessori school created experimentally for the children of the corner in Genoa and there I found a young teacher who I liked very much and played the piano, so I asked to learn it. Luckily there was no space in the house and there was no money. You could never have been my tool. ‘

In Ildegarda’s record there is the voice of Cristiano De André.

“I thought that being the son of a prophet he was fine as a prophet, among other things he is an excellent musician, he plays an avalanche of instruments”.

Genoa has produced different figures in music, in Italy does the songwriting have territorial coincidences?

“Hard to say, maybe they breathe an air. I understand Genoa and Naples a lot: they are seaside cities where there are a mixture of cultures, smugglers, prostitutes, so De André explains himself. Then there are the Roman schools: they were at the folk study ».

He still sings in public Confessions of a Marauder, his first song, was a self-portrait filtered through Esenin. Do you still recognize yourself?

“Woh! I’m the evolution of that boy. Music being the most abstract art is the closest to the absolute but we must not think that it is only angelic, sometimes it draws from the bowels. Next to the shaman, there was the magician who spoke to the underworld, the musician is half wolf and half lamb. I too am like that ».

Did you make peace with the minstrel etiquette?

“Yes, not in the sense of a jester. There is a phrase of an anonymous troubadour from the year 1000 in which I recognize myself: “I am the troubadour, I always go to many towns and cities, now that I have arrived here, let me sing before leaving”. It is a poetic phrase and it is the photograph of what I do a thousand years later. For this I accept the definition of minstrel. At the beginning it was a burden to me, when you are young you always tend to want to be something else ».

Branduardi: “My Middle Ages from San Francesco to Sant’Ildegarda”