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Nationalism, Chauvinism and Racism as Reflected in European Musical Thought and in Compositions from the Interwar Period


Andrzej Tuchowski

This book concerns the ways in which many different types of nationalism, chauvinism and racism penetrated into musical thought in the interwar period, and how the leading artistic personalities of that period reacted to these ideologies. The concept of "nationalism" is understood broadly in this book and covers the entire spectrum of its positive and negative aspects. The topics listed in the book’s title have been discussed on the example of selected four countries, significant with respect to population and territory and representing different social-political systems: Germany (mostly after 1933), Italy, Poland (after 1926) and Great Britain. This selection is also representative of the main ethnic groups in Europe: Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Latin-Romance and Slavic.

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VI. From the Myth of Romanità to Fascist Racism: Italian Musical Thought in the Face of Political-Ideological Changes in the late 1930s

VI. From the Myth of Romanità to Fascist Racism: Italian Musical Thought in the Face of Political-Ideological Changes in the late 1930s

While the traditional nationalist category of Italian-ness (italianita) drew on the community of language, culture, religion and historical traditions developed in the last few centuries, and on the Italian Peninsula’s natural and climatic conditions, the notion of ‘Romanity’ (romanità) provoked much wider associations. Apart from internal Italian context, Romanity opened up broader international perspectives which allowed Italians to look down on other countries with a sense of cultural and historical superiority. The broadest, pan-European perspective referred to ancient Rome’s civilising missions and its effects, beneficial for the entire continent (laying the foundations for many aspects of contemporary Western civilisation, a commonly known fact which fascist propaganda then emphasised). In his speeches, Mussolini never failed to remind his audience about the origins of the triumphal arches scattered across Europe, of the aqueducts found throughout the ancient Empire’s territories, Roman law, and cities founded by the Romans such as London or Cologne.

The second, much narrower perspective, derived from the community of Romance countries, the peoples that emerged from under the direct influence of Greco-Roman culture and spoke languages that were descendants of the complex known as lingua Romana. These peoples lived in the sunlit Mediterranean Basin and were referred to in the interwar period as the Mediterranean or Latin race (razza latina). Characteristic examples of apologies for this race can be found even in the writings of such (then) world famous artists as the composer and futurist painter Luigi Russolo. This is how he described (in 1933) the expressive qualities of Sardana catalana, the Catalan national dance:

“The gravity and dignity of gestures, the lightness and agility of movement, the solemnity of the ritual. The serenity of youth, joy of life, nobility of gesture. The noble and eternal youth of the race, the Latin race, which discovers so much beauty, cheerfulness, youthful spirit in itself, so many fresh modes of development. And despite all this, this ←193 | 194→race has been submitted to an invasion of American dances that can be described as an epileptic gift (regalo epilettico), such as the foxtrot, the Charleston, and the Black Bottom.”409

Later, in the same text, the author opposed the socially integrating model to some sinister ‘anti-model’, alluding to the “barbarian invasions” of Rome, and the later, equally barbarous treatment of ancient remains, which leads him to a rhetorical question: What is the fate that a race, submitted to constant invasions of the barbarians, must suffer410? Some talk of decadence, says Russolo, but what does this decadence really affect? Possibly the political institutions, but definitely not the physiological strength of the race itself. Human races, like every organism, seem to need sleep and rest. What comes after that sleep is an awakening. It may possibly be taking place right now, claims Russolo, and will let the race shake off all the “barbaric, parasitic growths,” because – he concludes – “though the names of the barbarians change, as do the continents and methods of invasion, they always remain one and the same thing – common barbarians.”

This way of thinking, very widespread in the 1930s, became a foundation that defined the inherently ‘Latin’ form of racism partially based on the works of Italian anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi and his concept of the Mediterranean race411. One cannot fail to notice, however, that the arguments quoted by Russolo have a very ←194 | 195→long history and look back to the beginnings of the conflict between Rome’s sophisticated culture and the ‘barbaric Germanic tribes’ as well as other invaders from the North. Notably a similar historiosophic model underlies the thesis promoted by Vincenzo Galilei and other prominent intellectuals of the Italian Renaissance – that the light of all the arts and sciences had only been restored by the Renaissance after Europe had been plunged into the ignorance of the Middle Ages and that the Renaissance awoke culture from the lethargy into which it had been pushed by the barbarian invasions of Rome412. We know that the North did not remain silent in this controversy. Already Martin Luther voiced his deep-rooted distrust of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution that was a transformed and disguised form of old Roman imperialism. However, the major offensive of the ‘Germanic North’ only took place three centuries later.

Aaron Gillette observes413 that it was early German Romanticism that rejected the claim of the fundamental significance of the Roman heritage for European culture. Herder promoted the thesis that nations had their collective psyches, which turned individual cultures into manifestations of the nations’ collective spirit (Geist). The myth of the Aryan race, from which the ancient Greeks, Romans and Germanic peoples had supposedly descended, is attributed to K.W.F. Schlegel. Since Germans dominated this field in the 19th century, it comes as no great surprise that in most cases they saw only Germans and possibly also Scandinavian and other Nordic peoples as representatives of the ‘true’, non-adulterated Aryan race. As Germany was turning into an economic power and the leader of civilizational-technological progress after the country’s unification, while at the same time preserving the status of the ‘land of philosophers, composers and poets’, the view that Germans were closer to ancient Romans than Italians was voiced more and more frequently. The eminent German historian, lawyer and writer Theodor Mommsen openly claimed that the noble and creative Hellenes and Romans had been of the Aryan race, while contemporary Italians are merely their degenerate copy that had lost its original qualities as a result of numerous racial mixes.414 Similar views were also expressed by the ←195 | 196→already mentioned ‘classics’ of racism: Gobineau and Chamberlain. The latter quoted the clear civilizational primacy of the Germanic North over the Romance South as an argument. At the turn of the 19th century, he wrote:

“The less Germanic a given country, the less civilised it is. From London to Rome one travels from mist into full sunshine, but also from sophisticated civilisation and high culture into a half-barbaric reality – dirt, ignorance, lies and poverty. Despite this, Italy has never ceased to be the centre of a highly developed civilisation, if we were to judge only by the convictions, attitudes and poses assumed by its inhabitants.”415

Chamberlain did not agree with the then popular view that these civilizational contrasts were the result of the decadence of the South. On the contrary, he saw Italian reality as a legacy of Roman imperial culture. The problem was, as Wagner’s brother-in-law and bard of Germanic nature concludes, that the backward South had stayed in the backwater of the local culture while the world had made significant headway416. Undeniably the view of the racial inferiority of Italians to ‘pure Aryans’ and the Germanic peoples as supposedly the only legitimate heirs of ancient Rome – is in complete defiance of the impressive artistic achievements of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque. Chamberlain attempts to explain these paradoxes with the aprioristic ideological assumption that, as he argues, many of the great Renaissance masters had descended from Germanic families that had settled in Italy.

Chamberlain’s theses were developed in 1905 by Ludwig Woltmann, whose work on the Italian Renaissance417 also continued to give rise to controversy and debates in the 1930s, dividing historians and theoreticians of racism in Germany and Italy. Naturally, the publications of apologists of Nordic culture as racially the most perfect of all Aryan cultures could hardly meet with a favourable reception ←196 | 197→in Italy. Italian nationalists such as Carlo Pisacane and Vinzenzo Gioberti were unshakeable in their view that the Italian nation was an heir to the three most civilised ancient European peoples: Greeks, Etruscans and Romans. It was emphasised that ancient Rome’s values and achievements had been saved from oblivion in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church, which – after the fall of the Empire – became the repository of Roman civilization. Italians also reminded their readers that Europe had plunged into chaos and ignorance as a result of barbarian invasions. Rome had given birth to a great civilisation, while the Huns, Ostrogoths and other barbarians only left ruins and charred remains behind418.

We have already explained that until the late 1930s racist doctrines played little role in the public life of fascist Italy, and anti-Semitism was not a social problem in this country. It did not go beyond common European resentments related to economy or religion. As in Poland, the teachings of the Catholic Church seem to have restrained the dissemination of racist doctrines. Also the fascist myth of the romanità did not facilitate the spread of racism, especially in its biological version advertised by the Nazis. In his speech in Forum Romanum delivered on 4th June 1924, Mussolini stressed that the fates of humankind had once been decided in that very place, and that Rome had put its visions into practice combining “power and wisdom.” The Empire, invariably tough and ruthless in times of war, once the enemy had recognised its superiority, received its opponents “with open arms,” bestowing on them Roman rights and citizenship, sharing the benefits of its civilisation, but also respecting the customs and religion of every people: “There is a place for each God in the Pantheon – including the unknown god…”419

This situation changed diametrically, however, in 1938, when it suddenly turned out that the Romans were racists after all. Strict racial segregation was introduced in all the colonies, separating the indigenous population, while in Italy itself the same kind of laws affected the Jews. In July 1938 the journal “Il Giornale d’Italia” printed an article entitled Fascism and the Problems of Race (Il fascismo e i problemi della razza), later known as ‘The Manifesto of Race’, which officially announced the new ‘findings’, supposedly confirmed by contemporary anthropological research. The traditional Mediterranean identity of Italians was replaced by Aryan-ness. The onset of a new type of anti-Semitism was also declared, in which cultural-religious criteria were supplanted by biological ones. ←197 | 198→The main author of this collective manifesto was Dr Guido Landra – head of the Expert Committee for Racial research, established by Mussolini in 1938. He was a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Rome, well known for maintaining close contacts with the Nazis. The Grand Council of Fascism soon passed the infamous racial laws that largely resembled the Nuremberg Laws. The new law forbid Jews to work in state enterprises, employ more than 100 workers in their own private companies, own more than 50 hectares of arable land, serve in the army, take up studies, and belong to the fascist party. “In defence of race” mixed marriages were also forbidden420.

The question is, what were the reasons and impulses for this sudden change? Until recently, most scholars believed that it was caused by German influence in the context of a formal alliance with the Third Reich. The latter alliance was the inevitable consequence of Italy’s isolation in the international scene after the invasion of Abyssinia. However, in the latest studies the role of internal factors is also taken into consideration. The first of these was the deteriorating economic situation after 1936, which led to social unrest and protests within the fascist party leadership itself. Mussolini responded with a campaign against the ‘bourgeois mentality’, embodied by the Jews. The second factor was, according ←198 | 199→to Andrea Giardina421, the need to prevent Italians from “fraternising” with indigenous populations in the new empire, and the last – the need to transform society into a nation of warriors and conquerors. Giardina’s opinion is corroborated by Dante L Germino422, who believes that identification with the Aryan ‘master race’ was to accelerate this process and erase the image of the old Italy from the nation’s collective memory. Aaron Gilette423 suggests that the imposition of a racial identity on Italians and providing them with an ‘anti-model’ in the form the Jewish race that was a threat to that identity (represented as a more or less openly acting, internal enemy) was to lead, in Mussolini’s intention, to the nation’s strong internal integration in the direction of an ideal fascist society grounded in the concept of the new uomo fascista. Mussolini naturally decided about everything, but – as Galeazzo Ciano commented – he was, despite all appearances, a wavering person, acting on impulse and yielding to the pressure of various party factions424. In this case, especially significant was the influence of a high official, journalist and publisher, Telesio Interlandi425, who was also a fanatical racist. Interlandi believed that the achievements of the German Rassenkunde represent modern scientific thought which the ‘backward’ Italian academics are unable to catch up with. He postulated a resolute modernisation project also in this area. His time came in the mid-1930s, when the young generation of intellectuals came to the fore. Many of them shared Interlandi’s admiration for what was happening in the Third Reich. One of these intellectuals was Giulio Cogni – a composer, music theorist and historian from Tuscany, who was also educated in the fields of philosophy and anthropology. During his studies in Germany, Cogni became acquainted with the racial doctrine and for some time was a pupil of the previously mentioned Hans Günther. Cogni wrote a number of texts on racist subjects, published in Interlandi’s magazines (“Quadrivio” and “Il tenere”). In 1936 Interlandi introduced his protégé to Mussolini. Most likely ←199 | 200→at the Duce’s personal suggestion, Cogni soon wrote two books (partly based on his earlier articles): Il razzismo (Racism) and I valori della stirpe italiana (The Values of the Italian Heritage, 1937). The former presented the principles of biological racism in Günther’s version and praised fascism for its defence of the Nordic race. In the latter he defended the thesis that the Italian nation was indeed a Nordic one, and strove to demonstrate the common roots of Germans and Italians. Notably, neither of these books contained any anti-Semitic accents, which Nazi critics saw as a major fault. Nor were his books favourably received in Italy itself. Elisabeth Cassina Wolff426 argues that many of the fascist activists did not like the overly pro-German attitude of the author and the ideas that he promoted, which were alien to traditional Mediterranean thought. The Italian intelligentsia received his ideas with indifference, but the Catholic Church resolutely condemned both publications as neo-paganism and placed them on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books).

Undaunted by Cogni’s failure, Interlandi employed several journalists of German origin and with them began an aggressive campaign of promotion for Nazi racist anti-Semitism. He also found himself a new protégé – the aforementioned Guido Landra, whom he introduced to Mussolini late in 1937. The Duce, who made up his mind to side with the Germans, soon ordered to prepare the public opinion for the racial laws. The formerly mentioned Expert Committee, chaired by Landra, began its work at the beginning of 1938, and in August of the same year an Office for Racial Affairs (Ufficio per la Razza) was established at the Ministry of Popular Culture. One of its first decisions was to provide financial support for Interlandi’s new fortnightly “La difesa della razza” (“Defence of the Race”), which became the main press platform for racism in fascist Italy. Its wide distribution was taken care of by the Minister of Education, Giuseppe Bottai, who was Interlandi’s friend. On the minister’s orders, subscription for the new fortnightly became obligatory for all university and school libraries in Italy427.

In this way, Landra and Interlandi (for whom racist propaganda also proved a real bargain) became Italy’s main promoters of ‘Nordic’ biological-type racism of German Nazi provenance, opposed to the national-Mediterranean type derived from the myth of the romanità and from Sergi’s theories. The latter ←200 | 201→view, however, based on cultural and not biological criteria, still enjoyed greater popularity in Italy and provoked less opposition in ecclesiastical circles. It soon turned out that, rather than integrating Italian society, the racial laws had the opposite effect. They provoked an internal conflict among the elites of the fascist movement, which divided the adherents of the two racial theories, while racial purges at universities and in state institutions created an unhealthy atmosphere of denunciation and intimidation428. Landra proved so zealous in his collaboration with Hitler’s machine of racial terror, including with Himmler in person, that it began to worry Mussolini. Eventually Landra was dismissed and replaced by an enthusiastic adherent of the romanità ideology – Sabato Visco.

Despite this apparent triumph of the Mediterranean orientation, the apologists of the Nordic race did not lay down their arms. They took advantage of Mussolini’s irresoluteness and his difficulties with reacting to the new political situation. The anti-Semitic laws were not withdrawn, but various loops were found in them which made it possible to evade them. For instance, those who could prove that at least one of their parents was Aryan and declared themselves as Roman Catholic, could avoid repressions in this way.

These ‘inconsistences’ drew sharp criticism from the followers of Interlandi and Landra, who published their texts in “Difesa della razza”. As Italy’s main platform for the Rassenkunde, this magazine printed, among others, Giulio Cogni’s extensive treatise on the relationship between race and music, largely influenced by Eichenauer’s Musik und Rasse (see above), though it represented an attempt at a compromise that could end the centuries-long competition of the Romance South and Germanic North for cultural hegemony in Europe.

The historiosophic model proposed by Cogni is based on the assumption that the key driving force of European music is the dialectic of opposites, represented by the two main centres of music composition on both sides of the Alps – the Latin-Romance and the Germanic genius. Mario Pilatti seems to have been the first composer and scholar who understood the laws of music history in this way, and in doing so he anticipated the later political Rome-Berlin Axis429. He wrote in 1933 that, despite true art’s ability to cross the boundaries of time, ←201 | 202→geographic and racial borders, Nordic art can hardly acclimatise itself in the warm Mediterranean, while Mediterranean art is unable to “warm up and light up the cloudy aura of the North.” Despite these obvious differences, there are some mutual dependencies between the two regions:

“The history of musical art may be viewed in most general categories as a constant mutual exchange between the Latin and the Germanic genius. Can anyone imagine Bach without earlier Italian vocal polyphony and organ music, without our oratorios, our violin and symphonic music? Or German instrumental music, from which the great symphonists were to emerge, without Italian harpsichordists and 18th- / early 19th-century Italian opera? If it is true that (…) now, also in the field of art, we are reviving the great traditions of our fatherland, which have long been forgotten, neglected or even denied – there is no doubt that we cannot disregard in our project the magnificent experiences resulting from two centuries of German hegemony in the field of pure music (musica pura).”430

Cogni’s concept is similar, but is presented in racial terms. He starts with the conviction – borrowed from his German preceptors – that music, as an art close to “the sources of the laws of life,” like no other art reflects the character of a given race. Cogni first looks at Italian music for those qualities that help authenticate his thesis (presented in earlier publications) of the common roots of Germans and Italians. He finds those roots in religious music. The Italian church, he claims, cultivated for many centuries431 the high and solemn traditions of ←202 | 203→Aryan-Mediterranean spirituality, based on the “Nordic sense of life,” which combined solemn and melancholy vastness (vastità) with “the brightness and serenity of horizons in the South.” Cogni also discovered a Nordic quality in the alleged prevalence of major keys in the Italian North; he claimed that as early as the era of the Ambrosian chant evidence of the use of the Ionian mode was documented.

These and many other arguments, claimed Cogni, testify to the common origins of Germans and Italians, which allows him to reinterpret Nazi historiosophic concepts as presented by Matzke and Eichenauer, transforming them into a ‘bipolar’ model of racial supremacy in the cultural map of Europe. Analyses of several church chant melodies of Italian origin as compared with J.S. Bach’s Fugue in C Sharp Minor from Volume I of Das wohltemperierte Klavier lead him to the conclusion that the ‘spatial’ quality of this music, resulting, among others, from its solemn character and slow tempi, is eminently favourable to contrapuntal and harmonic progressions, potentially already contained in the chant melodies. These “vast harmonic melodies are the true mothers of counterpoint,”432 he writes, and characteristically concludes that we should not forget their roots in “such a way of being and living in the world” as is typical of the Nordic spirit. Not all peoples have an equally developed spatial sense and imagination. The Aryans are particularly privileged in this respect, since they are sensitive to the laws of organic growth in nature itself. Nature does not create any life limited to just one dimension (una sola dimensione). Cogni considers the sense of harmony and counterpoint as the musical equivalent of the spatial sense, and he observes that the former is manifested in the music of different European peoples to a different extent. He describes complex polyphony as “the faithful image of a well-constructed organism, organised with the same expertise and sensitivity to the laws of motion that governs complicated engineering systems. Mechanics and counterpoint are two ways of expressing the same spirit.” Though talents of this kind are exhibited by all European peoples, Germanic peoples particularly excel in these areas since “the Germanic vision of the world is essentially organic, which means that each thing is viewed in terms of organisation.” In the field of music, this is reflected in excellent control over vast complexes of sound. So, for instance, a Greek temple exemplifies the typically Aryan ability to ←203 | 204→organise three-dimensional space, but it represents a simple type of organisation, based on the domination of a single line. Rome added a new dimension to this kind of spatial organisation, transplanting it also into the sphere of sound. This in turn inspired the medieval imagination of the Germanic peoples, thanks to whom polyphony gradually developed on a vast scale. The heritage of this tradition is present in the great sound complexes of Wagner, Reger and Strauss, to whom massive polyphony is just as natural as bel canto is to Italians.

It is highly characteristic, writes Cogni, that the era of polyphony was the work of the Germanic peoples, and the great symphonic tradition was a fruit of German culture. However, unlike Eichenauer and especially unlike Matzke, Cogni does not perceive this historical process in terms of “victory in the battlefield of spirit.” Italians, he claims, contributed to musical culture no less valuable elements which have been adopted worldwide. It was the Latin South, claims the Tuscan author, that invented all forms of monody from church chant to the accompanied vocal dramatic forms to classical homophony in which the melody dominates and determines all dimensions of musical structure. This finds its justification in the spiritual qualities of the race, or rather that branch of the Aryan race that has lived for many millennia in blazing sunshine. According to Cogni, the man of the South always sees music as monody. This type of perception is not limited to music only. In the Southerner’s way of viewing the world, a single horizontal line always dominates the whole picture. This line is, however, perceived in an Aryan fashion as a kind of ‘flight’ above the vast expanses of sound or visual stimuli. This is a quality that Cogni finds in Mediterranean architecture, where single horizontal lines tend to dominate over complexes that only exhibit scarce details but are characterised by classical simplicity and noble monumentalism. Graphic equivalents of homophony can be found in Roman architecture, in Italian Renaissance palaces and in contemporary buildings erected during the fascist era. In all of them, Cogni recognises “a breath of the Aryan spirit,” and all derive from the aesthetic model that inspired “great Aryan art” – namely, the Greek temple.

Thus in Cogni’s view, the greatest achievements of the European musical tradition are the result of mutual transmission and creative development of artistic values that originated in the Aryan genius of the South and the North. These values have been cultivated by nations on both sides of the Alps, which share common origins, but are very different in their perception of, and reactions to, the world. This interpretation, as I have already suggested, is consistent with Cogni’s earlier assumption that the mixing of Northern and Mediterranean Aryans was beneficial to culture. On the other hand, according to Cogni, one can hardly compare the Aryan Italian North with the South, whose inhabitants ←204 | 205→have just as much Aryan as Asiatic and African blood in their veins. This view may not be specially emphasised in Cogni’s work, but one can sense that the author, who represented the highly developed region of Tuscany, did not consider his compatriots from the South as his ‘racial equals’, and therefore also equally creative. Though he did not distinctly refer to Chamberlain’s theses, his stand was still not satisfying to the supporters of a nationalistic interpretation of the Mediterranean option, which did not mean to give up their claims. Taking advantage of Mussolini’s irresolution, the proponents of Sergi’s theory presented a definite and inflexible standpoint. Their leader was now Giacomo Acerbo, an influential party activist. In 1941, taking advantage of the institutional protection of the Consiglio Superiore della demografia e della razza (Supreme Council for Demography and Race), Acerbo and his people attacked the apologists of the cultural supremacy of “Aryans from the North,” and questioned the myth of the Aryan race, accusing their opponents of ignoring the findings of archaeology, ethnology, and anthropology. How, they asked, could the less numerous Northern hordes change the racial identity of the inhabitants of ancient Italy? Considering the obvious and overwhelming civilizational superiority of Greece and Rome over primitive Germanic tribes, they argued, the alleged ‘cultural debt’ of Italy is highly dubious.433

It might seem that the two camps of Italian racists focused on mutual conflict and never-ending polemics, and left the Jewish question aside. Cogni only mentioned this topic perfunctorily, echoing the tone of the German publications mentioned above (mainly Eichenauer). Thus Cogni draws a parallel between the “excessive chromatisation” which he sees as an evident symptom of decadence in early 20th-century Western music and a similar phenomenon that signalled the decadence of Greek culture in ancient times. In both cases he attributes these phenomena to the intermixing of races and to the influence of the Orient, from which Jewish culture also derives. He believes that flat melodies devoid of the Aryan tendency toward ‘spatiality’, which he describes as “cantilena melismatica del nomade,” might constitute an authentic and wholesome “call of the blood” in the East, but degenerate when transplanted onto Western soil. It should be remembered, warns Cogni, that the Jews as a race have a morbid predilection to all kinds of mixtures and hybridisation, which makes it doubtful whether they remain an authentic race.

Such conclusions provided ‘scientific’ arguments for a forcible ‘Aryanisation’ of Italian musical life that began in 1938. Soon after the racial laws went ←205 | 206→into effect, there began the exodus of composers of Jewish origin. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, who left his native Florence in the autumn of 1939, and (largely thanks to the support of Arturo Toscanini) managed to settle in the United States, where he later notched up successes as a composer of film music. The new legal framework proved less of a shock to his friend Vittorio Rieti, who had already resided in Paris for a long period. Renzo Massarani suffered the greatest internal drama and conflict434. This pupil of Respighi and great hope of Italian music in the 1930s was an important figure in the official musical life of the fascist state. He was a veteran of the fascist movement, had taken part in the famous march on Rome, and before that – fought in the Italian army during World War I. He considered himself as a patriot dedicated to the case of the ‘national awakening’. His major status in the Italian arts is evident in the fact that, as late as 1936, his Danza atletica for orchestra was performed during the Berlin Olympics. He was generally highly regarded by critics, who frequently wrote with approval about the ‘national distinctiveness’ of his music. As of the autumn of 1938, however, performances of his music in Italy were no longer possible. Marginalised and embittered, he emigrated with his wife and three children to Brazil, where he obtained citizenship in 1945 and stayed there until the end of his life. He broke all ties with his native Italy, withdrew all his works and did not agree to any performances, even after the war. It is a historical paradox that in the last several years Italian musicologists have been at the forefront of rediscovering the musical oeuvre of this composer, officially supported and favouritised until 1938. His personal motivation remains a mystery. It is possible that his embitterment had to do with the standpoint of Italian composers, of whom only Luigi Dallapiccola condemned the racial laws – and he did not do it publicly. Like most of his compatriots, Dallapiccola had previously backed up the fascist ‘national awakening’, but around this time he began composing his famous Canti di prigionia, usually interpreted as the first significant artistic protest against the racial laws. The composer himself suggested such an interpretation in 1953435, when he recalled Mussolini’s radio speech of 1st September 1938 (informing about the new regulations to be introduced) as a shock that provoked in him a need to protest, and turned into a creative impulse for the first part of the cycle – The Prayer of Mary Stuart (Preghiera di Maria Stuart). By 1941, he had completed the other two parts of his triptych: The Invocation of ←206 | 207→Boethius (Invocazione di Boezio) and Girolamo Savonarola’s Farewell (Congedo di Girolamo Savonarola). The enormous expressive power of this work, its extremely original contrapuntal combinations of the twelve-tone series with quotations from the medieval sequentia of Dies irae, and the theme of imprisonment (frequent in this composer’s output) – all speak in favour of his declaration made in 1953. Nevertheless, in recent publications some scholars have expressed their doubts as to the authenticity of these postwar claims436. The composer’s presentation of dodecaphony as a symbol of ‘opposition’ toward the regime is questioned, and critics point out the complete lack of any verbal references that could be interpreted as an expression of solidarity with the persecuted Jews. The composer’s personal disinterestedness is also put in doubt. His wife, Jewish by descent, had lost her job at the National Library as a result of the new laws, which must have painfully affected the home budget.

Regardless of some researchers’ doubts concerning the actual context of the creation of Canti di prigionia, it must be noted that the introduction of the racial laws did dampen the enthusiasm of many prominent Italian musicians for fascism. One of them was Alfredo Casella, who – like Dallapiccola – had a Jewish wife and so was as personally (though indirectly) affected by the restrictions. It was then, in the late 1930s, that the myth of romanità began to lose its credibility in the eyes of many Italians. Fascist propaganda attempted to ‘adjust’ it to the new political reality by opposing Italians (as contemporary Romans) to the Jews (as descendants of the Carthaginians)437. Romanity was presented as stability, patriotism, a sense of loyalty to and respect for the state, while the ‘Carthaginian’ Jews were to embody a cosmopolitan stance and stood in opposition to the above values. All the same, every observer of current political events would have had to ask, more and more frequently, how Rome could possibly accept secondary status at the side of a stronger ally. The real downfall of the myth came with the realisation during the war campaigns of the blatant discrepancy between the alleged imperial greatness of the ‘New Rome’ and its evident weakness resulting in compromising military defeat438. It was in that period that Mussolini began to be derisively described as a ‘Caesar made of plaster’, and modern Italians – as ‘stucco Romans’.

←207 | 208→←208 | 209→

409 “Serietá dei volti compostezza leggerezza agilitá dei movimento. Serieta di rito. Serenitá di giovinezza - gioia di vivere nobilta dei tipi e dei gesti dei movimenti. Nobilta eternamente giovane della razza. Eternita della razza latina. Questa razza che ritrova in se stessa tanta bella serenita di gioia, tanta giovenile e fresco maniera di espanderla, si è lasciata invadere tuttavia dalle danze - regalo epilettico d’America Foxtrot, Charleston, Black-Botton”. Luigi Russolo, La sardana catalana – a paper in manuscript, prepared for publication in “Dinamo Futurista”; the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved. Quoted after Gianfranco Maffina, Luigi Russolo e l’arte dei rumori, (Torino: Martano, 1978), pp. 295–296. See also: Carlo Piccardi, “La parabola di Renzo Massarani, compositore ebreo nell’ombra del facismo”, in: Music and Dictatorship In Europe and Latin America, ed. Roberto Illiano, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), p. 316.

410 Interestingly, a similar opinion was also expressed in 1926 by Mascagni, who wrote from a radically different aesthetic standpoint. He claimed that jazz was a “convulsive-asthmatic” product of “barbarism” similar to opium and cocaine. Cf. Vincenzo Alaimo, “La razza in musica nel ventennio fascista”, in: Illiano (ed.), Italian Music, p. 238.

411 Cf. Giuseppe Sergi, The Mediterranean Race: A Study of the Origins of European Peoples. (London: Walter Scott, 1901). According to Sergi’s theory, which opposed the theory of ‘Nordic race’ supremacy, the Mediterranean race was an autonomous one and not derived from the peoples of the North. It is to the Mediterranean race, he argued, that we owe the flourishing of the ancient world’s greatest cultures: Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It was also from that race, Sergi believed, that the peoples of lighter skin inhabiting the regions north of the Alps took their origin. As a result of migration and settlement in various parts of Europe, the Mediterranean race began to lose its original physical traits determined by the Mediterranean climate.

412 Vincenzo Galilei, Dialogo della musica antiqua e della moderna, ed. Fabio Fano, (Milano: Manuziano, 1947). Cf. Enrico Fubini, History of Music Aestethics, (London: Palgrave Macmillan 1991).

413 Aaron Gillette, Racial Theories in Fascist Italy, (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 11.

414 Gillette, Racial Theories, p. 12.

415 “…je weniger germanisch ein Land, um so uncivilisiert ist es. Wer heute von London nach Rom reist, tritt aus Nebel in Sonnenschein, doch zugleich aus raffinierter Civilisation und Hoher Kultur in halbe Barberei - in Schmutz, Ignoranz, Lüge, Armut. Nun hat aber Italien nicht einen einzigen Tag augehört, ein Mittelpunkt, hochentiwickelter Civilisation zu sein; schon die Sicherheit seiner Bewohner in Bezug auf Haltung und Gebärde bezeugt dies…”: H. S. Chamberlain, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderds, (München: F. Bruckmann Verlag, 1944), Zweite Haelfte, p. 693.

416 These conclusions can be taken as referring to the entire Mediterranean Basin because, Chamberlain concludes, there is more European-ness to be met in New York than in Athens or Seville.

417 Ludwig Woltmann, Die Germanen und die Renaissance in Italien, (Leipzig: Thüringische Verlagsanstalt, 1905).

418 Gillette, Racial Theories, p. 15.

419 Quoted after: Andrea Giardina, “The Fascist Myth of Romanity”, Estudos Avancados 22(62) 2008, p. 67.

420 More on the persecutions of Jews in fascist Italy after 1938: M. Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy: From Equality to Persecution, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000). Notably, the Polish press of that time commented on the Italian racial laws quite widely, and their assessment depended on the political bias of the given press title. Socialist and liberal journalists presented negative opinions about the new laws, while the extreme nationalist writers more or less openly approved of them. Some of the latter, for instance Karol Zbyszewski, even presented fascist Italy as a model for imitation, and sharply criticised the Polish authorities for the lack of similar restrictions in Polish law. Zbyszewski argued that the racial laws were proof that Italy joined the growing camp of ‘common sense’ – the group of countries that passed anti-Semitic acts, among which he listed Germany, England, Hungary, Turkey, and others. He writes with regret that “in the Polish state bureaucracy, not a single order or law has been passed against the Jews. Nothing! They can ride on trams, work in PAT (Polish Telegraphic Agency – note by AT), be heads of departments, and they are not obliged to wear the yellow patch. They can obtain subsidies, own all the tenement houses, establish secret unions, buy estates, make business, and represent Poland… anything that comes to their heads. The Sanation [Polish government – translator’s note] boasts that it has built the first strong and strict state authority in Poland since [King Stephen] Báthory. Indeed it has, but it is strict only for Poles, not for Jews.” Cf. Karol Zbyszewski, “Blok zdrowego sensu” [The Common-Sense Bloc], Prosto z mostu No. 39, 1938, p. 8.

421 Giardina, The Fascist Myth, p. 68.

422 Dante L. Germino, The Italian Fascist Party in Power: A Study in Totalitarian Rule, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 1959, pp. 27–28.

423 Gillette, Racial Theories, op.cit.p.4.

424 Cf. Roberto Illiano, Massimalo Sala, “Italian Music and Racial Discourses during the Fascist Period”, in: Western Music and Race, ed. J. Brown, Cambridge (UK) 2007, pp. 182–200.

425 Cf. Elizabeth Cassina Wolff, “Biological Racism and Antisemitism as Intellectual Construction in Italian Fascism: The Case of Telesio Interlandi and ‘La difesa della razza’”, in: Racial Science In Hitler’s Europe 1938–1945, ed. Roy Yeomans, Anton Weiss-Wendt, (Lincoln and London: Univeristy of Nebrasca Press, 2013), pp. 175–199.

426 E. Cassina Wolff, “Biological Racism”. p. 182.

427 This order was issued on 5th August 1938, the time of the publication of the fortnightly’s first issue. Cf.: Mostra “La difesa della razza” – ideologia e applicazione delle leggi anti-ebraice all’ Universita di Torino, 1938–1943, Archivio Storico Universita degli Studi di Torino, Torino: 2010. Accessed: 10.01.2014.

428 More about this atmosphere, clearly reflected in the correspondence between the composers, in official documents and ministerial orders, can be read in: Roberto Illiano, Massimiliano Sala, “The Politics of Spectacle: Italian Music and Fascist Propaganda”, Musikologija/Musicology, Belgrade, XIII, 2012, pp. 9–26.

429 more on planned cultural German-Italian Axis in late 1930s and early 1940s - see in: Benjamin G. Martin, The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture, (Cambridge (Mass) London: Harvard University Press, 2016).

430 “C’è ancora da osservare che, in grandissime linee, la storia dell’arte musicale potrebbe compendiarsi in uno scambio constante e alterno fra il genio latino e quello germanico. Potrebbe forse concepirsi un Bach senza la preesistenza della polifonia vocale e dell’arte organistica italiana, del nostro oratorio e della nostra arte violinistica e sinfonica? E lo strumentalismo tedesco da cui vennero I grandi sinfonisti, senza i nostri clavicembalisti e senza l’opera italiana del ‘700 s perfino del primo ‘800? Se è vero che (…) noi siamo finalmente sul punto di ritrovare anche in arte noi stessi nelle grandi tradizioni della patria – per tanto tempo dimenticate, o neglette, o addirittura negate – è indubbio che nel nostro lavoro di riconstruzione non si potrà prescindere dall’esperioenza grandiose accumulatasi in due secoli che viderono l’egemonia tedesca nel campo di musica pura.” The quoted text is an axcerpt from a paper given by Pilati at the conference on the 1st centenary of Johannes Brahms’ birth in Palermo (Conferenza tenuta al Circolo della Stampa di Palermo per l’Associazione Fascista Donne Professioniste e Artiste). Quoted after: Marta Poggesi, “Mario Pilati e l’ombra del regime, in: Arte, Musica e Spettacolo. Annali del dipartimento di Storia delle Arti e dello Spettacolo, Firenze, V (2004) pp. 30–31. See also:, access: 18.10.2018.

431 “[…] si continuo nella Chiesa l’álta e solenne tradizione dell’anima ariana mediterranea, che fonde al senso nordico della vita, la vastita solenne e melancholica, ma in fondo chiara e serena degli orizzonti del sud.” G. Cogni, “Razza e musica” (II), Difesa della razza V/8, 20 February 1942, p. 11.

432 “Sono dunque soltanto le larghe melodie armonioso le verte madri del contrappunto”, Cogni, “Razza e musica” (V),.No. 11 (V/11), 1942, p. 18.

433 Cf. Gillette, Racial Theories, p. 146–147.

434 Cf. C. Piccardi, “La parabola di Renzo Massarani”, pp. 171–330.

435 Luigi Dallapicola, “The Genesis of the Canti di Prigonia and Il Prigioniero; An Autobiographical Fragment”, Musical Quarterly, 39/3, 1953, pp. 355–372.

436 Cf. Ben Earl, Luigi Dallapiccola, pp. 200–202.

437 Giardina, “The fascist myth”, p. 67.

438 Giardina, “The fascist myth”, p. 68.