Voices from the 17th Century: A Poem in Honor of Bernardo Pasquini

30

September
2010

A contemporary of Arcangelo Corelli, Bernardo Pasquini (pictured) was the most prominent harpsichordist and organist in Rome around the turn of the 18th Century. He was also a composer of numerous keyboard works, cantatas, operas, and oratorios.

Even though little survives by way of biographical information, the artifacts that we do have give us enough to get an idea about his importance. Among this evidence is a poem—or, more accurately, a Canzone Bernesca—written by Abate Bani of Livorno to Pasquini in honor of his visit from Rome.

The poem notably plays on the name Pasquino, no doubt drawing comparison (and humor) between Pasquini, the esteemed musician, and Pasquino, the infamous Roman statue (pictured below) to which people affixed little notes that anonymously vented their civic frustrations (no one was safe).

“Signor Bernardo, I am overjoyed
After ten years to see you well,
For under our Tuscan sky
We have longed for you as for the holy year.

Blessed be that coachman
Who in his carriage has driven you
From Rome to Biena, and from Pistoia to Prato
To hear the commedia at Pratolino.

From there you came little by little
As pleased our prince and the heavens
From the beautiful villa of water
To beautiful Livorno, city of fire.

In order to greet you on your arrival
I wanted to compose four strambotti in Bernesque style,
But a certain illness which I have had again recently
Has left me unable to render this little kindness.

During this illness full of troubles
The physicians drew so much blood
That my poor muse is languishing too
Because I can no longer follow my inspiration.

The fever which takes vigor from the senses
Has left me so exhausted that
Because of the quartana I would not be able to compose
In a unified style even a quatrain.

Among many hindrances I am tormented
By a sore on my leg clear to the bone
So that I cannot support myself on my feet–
How then can I make my verses run?

Only you can make me well
And leave a good memory of this illness.
Oh, place your hands on the instrument
And play me one of your Toccatas.

And if ever with such remedies
I am one day in good health
I want to write you a poem in praise of the Pedals
On the tune of the Girometta.

I hear that you have taken good lodgings
Where one eats at the sound of a bell,
Where everyone greets you with the utmost civility
And cheats you the moment your back is turned.

Marforio, who always stays near
The Brothers of Aracoeli in Rome
Will lament if he hears that Pasquini
Is hiding from them now in Livorno.

And I know too that you haven’t had much
Understanding or any sympathy from the brothers
Ever since Brother Jacobin (may the devil take him!)
Did that to you which we well know.

But those who have a pure and sincere heart
Will make them realize that it was foolish
To make a comparison between Scarlatti
And the filthiness of a black hood.

Now that you are in Livorno
Don’t think of returning soon to Rome;
We shall place you in arrest so that you won’t flee–
At least until you have become accustomed to writing
some fugues.

Without you Rome still has its own Pasquino
Who raises people’s eyebrows with his sayings.
In many ways he resembles you–
I don’t know if it’s in your appearance or your destiny.

He goes in search of the deeds of others,
And you often make Ricercara with your hands,
And that of Bracciano without arms
All your dear friends embrace you.

You play; he [the statue, Pasquino] “sings,”
And important men find only this difference in you:
That if in Rome he is Pasquino of the priests,
In Livorno you are the Pasquino of the friars.

By criticizing the actions of others
He is censured by every wise and prudent man;
But you, who are different
Are only blamed by Asses and c[oglioni]

I make my protests in your name
And I say that among all the players
Pasquini is the most distinguished and merits honor
As does Easter among the other feasts.

It would be silly and insane to say
That you had an equal in performance;
Your servant, the Abate Bani,
Will make this ring out over the land.”

(Translation: Gloria Pasquini Terwilliger)

Pasquino statue, Rome

(Statue of Pasquino, Piazza di Pasquino, Rome; photo: Adrian Murphy)

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