Ricordiamo Forlì (Let’s Remember Forlì) tells a family story. Since childhood I was very aware of the importance and emotional significance of these events for my parents. The central story is reserved for the last third of the piece. My parents (Alex and Tarcisia) met in a farmhouse at Malmissole in 1944 (today a small collection of houses in the outskirts of Forlì). She was evacuated there following Allied bombing of Forlì and he was an Allied soldier using the farmhouse as shelter. When my mother and her family moved back into Forlì after the city’s liberation, she and my father were able to continue seeing each other, since appalling weather meant that there was very little military advance in the winter of 1944-45. On one of those occasions my mother was to have visited her sister who had relocated with her children to a large apartment complex. Instead, however, she pleaded with her mother to be allowed to see ‘the New Zealand soldier’ and that day, at that time, the apartment block was bombed, killing two out of the three members of my family living there. The work as a whole aims to sketch a context around the providence of that single event.
The concept for this work grew out of my first visit to Forlì in 2002. It made a powerful impression on me, and many of the defining sounds and images of this environment gave me a strong sense of connection with remnants of the lived experience of my parents when they first knew each other in Forlì. This led me to search the archives of war correspondence reports held in New Zealand and in the UK for materials relating to the 1943-45 Italian Campaign and, more specifically, to events surrounding the presence of the New Zealand division in Romagna in 1944. I wanted to try and connect aspects of my direct experience of Forlì with the impressions made on me through my parents stories, their memories and interpretations of the events they endured, as well as to project, contextualise and ‘re-experience’ historical events through the use of war correspondence recordings and my father’s reminiscences. As well I wanted to amplify and dramatise the emotional web of the events that are described and suggested, through electroacoustic music derived from my own recordings made in Forlì and from the historical material. The resulting work is therefore part documentary, part radiophony and part electroacoustic drama.
Most of the contemporary referential materials in this work were recorded on three trips to Forlì, and are used to support key themes around the ambience and sense of location as experienced through sound. In particular, the bells of Forlì’s Duomo play a central role, both as a specific icon drawn from the town, but also for their more general symbolisms — a call to worship, sounds which define and express space and distance, sounds which express lament or jubilation. A further unifying musical device is the use of the ‘kiss’ theme from Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, presented on an out-of-tune upright piano. The theme is presented complete at various points in the work, but the notes are also reordered into a new thematic identity which seeps through much of the work.
A number of other supporting sound references are employed, for example weather (rain, thunder), bicycles, footsteps and record surface noise from the historical location recordings. These, along with the core sounds of bells, the piano and voices form a network of sounds that are transformed and interrelated using a wide range of processing methods, all of which are focused on the attempt to reveal and expand on the poetic potentials of the materials.
Two of the human themes of this work are death, particularly innocent victims of war, and hope. Whilst there are specific family incidents related in the interview with my father and in the narration — the bombing of my aunt’s apartment, and the earlier brutal death of one of my cousins, the strafing of civilians by fighter planes — war correspondence material was selected to amplify and contextualise these themes, such as the story of a farming family hiding in their cellar amidst a skirmish, and the procession of a small coffin recorded by war correspondent Douglas Willis en route to the 8th Army front in November 1944. Stories like this were selected from a large number of archival sound recordings made available to me by Radio New Zealand (through the New Zealand Sound Archives) and the BBC (through the Imperial War Museum Sound Archives). A further dimension to the theme of child death is provided by the reading by my mother of Giosuè Carducci’s poem Pianto Antico. This text has been memorised by many children in Italy over many years. My mother learned it at school in the 1930s and its raw sentiment drew me to find a place for it in the work. The text was offered by her in the manner of a spontaneously recalled memory in a recording made 25 years ago.
While Ricordiamo Forlì is historical in nature, and centred around a very specific family event, it was my intention to try and relate the story in a way that would demonstrate its universality — by emphasising the intimacy of people and places and the actuality of the events. But it’s more than that. As a boy I would occasionally put on my father’s outsized old battle jacket and felt protected by its connection to the story told in Ricordiamo Forlì and to sacrifices that I felt sure would not have to be made again. If only that were true.
Ricordiamo Forlì was realized in 2005 in the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre at De Montfort University (Leicester, UK) and premiered on July 25, 2006 on Radio New Zealand’s ConcertFM program. The recorded narrator is Franco Bianchini. The piece also includes material from a recorded interview with Alex Young made in January 2005. The 4th movement, Ancient Tear, incorporates the poem Pianto Antico by Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907); the recorded narrator is Tarcisia Young (née Fariselli). Thanks to the BBC and Radio New Zealand for permission to incorporate original war correspondence reports. Ricordiamo Forlì was awarded the 1st Prize (Programme Music) at the 34th Bourges International Electroacoustic Music and Sonic Art Competition (France, 2007).
Ricordiamo Forlì was realized during a period of research leave funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) with the additional support of: Radio New Zealand and the New Zealand Sound Archive, the BBC, the Imperial War Museum Sound and Film Archives, the Istituto per la storia della Resistenza e dell’età contemporanea della provincia di Forlì-Cesena, the clergy of the Forlì Duomo, Franco Bianchini, Paola Merli, Roger Smith, Kate Mead, Fiona Murray, Dmitris Moraitis, Rick Nance, Anne Marabini Young and, of course, Alex Young who shared his incredible story.
- July 25, 2006, ConcertFM, Radio New Zealand, New Zealand