We Interrupt These Legacies…
It always comes as a sort of unwelcome surprise. You’re enjoying a piece of music on the radio. Suddenly, a warning tone sounds, drowning out the players and capturing your full attention. That’s followed by an advisory from the National Weather Service. As disruptive as it may be, you probably realize that an unexpected severe storm might be even more of a “showstopper.”
Historic events sometimes help us keep things in perspective. 350 years ago in 1668, organist/composer Dietrich Buxtehude became the organist of the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Lübeck. In 1705, the 20 year old Johann Sebastian Bach, himself an organist in the city of Arnstadt, walked some 250 miles to hear Buxtehude perform in Lübeck and to get to know the composer over the course of the few months he stayed there.
That’s the most memorable part of the story that has endured for centuries. But it’s not necessarily the end of it.
On Palm Sunday, 1942, the northern German city was bombed by the Allies during the Second World War. The Marienkirche was partially destroyed. The bells of the church fell to the ground. They’ve haven’t been moved since then. In fact, they’re broken and partially melted from the fires that were a part of the bombing.
The church was rebuilt after the War. And the legacy of Bach journeying to hear Buxtehude lives on, with an added chapter that’s hard to ignore. The bells serve as a reminder.
Lübeck came to mind on August 16th, which marked the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Milan, Italy during the Second World War. And yes, that bombing did if fact bring destruction to the legendary opera house: La Scala.
If you weren’t aware of that wartime episode, you might well have thought that La Scala has been around forever, given its reputation. Well, for one thing, it wasn’t always the opera house in Milan.
Back in the 17th century, the Teatro Regio Ducal (Royal Ducal Theatre) presented operas in Milan. But it burned down in 1776. A new opera house was built on the site of the church known as Santa Maria alla Scala. The church, which dated back to 1381, had been named for Beatrice Regina della Scala, the wife of the Lord of Milan back in the 14th Century.
The new opera house, which opened in 1778, became known as the Teatro della Scala It was renovated in 1907. Decades later, the stage that for centuries hosted its share of tragic stories would itself be a part of a larger one. Needless to say, La Scala was rebuilt after the Second World War and re-opened in 1946.
I’m guessing there have been 75-year commemorations related to events of the War in cities throughout Europe. And the interruption of the cultural life of those cities would be just a small part of those remembrances.
Yet the stages of opera houses and concert halls - even the pipes of the grand organs in churches and cathedrals - have presented music which has withstood or which was born in times of ongoing hostitlites and unimaginable destruction. Composers and performers have sought to make sense of the challenging events of their times, to seek a bit of consolation amid the loss and to defy the onset of despair.
Tributes to the late Leonard Bernstein on the occasion of the centennial of his birth on August 26th reminded us of that. Along with lyricist Stephen Sondheim and choreographer Jerome Robbins, he once again brought us face to face with the timeless questions raised by the legendary tale of Romeo and Juliet in the musical West Side Story. And in December, 1989, he led performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, asking that the famous “Ode to Joy,” which is the subject of the choral finale of that work, be sung as the “Ode to Freedom”
Though there sometimes may be painful disruptions in the cultural life of any society, it’ll be back. As they used to announce on radio or flash on the television screen during momentary interruptions: “Please stand by.”