Tuesday, February 28, 2017


from Wikipedia
Pulcinella (Italian pronunciation: [pultʃiˈnɛlla]), a name derived from "pulcino," meaning chick, and "pollastrello," meaning rooster, is a classical character that originated in commedia dell'arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry. Engineered specifically to be the star of southern Italy, he is described as "the voice of the people, as the direct expression of a people as lively and spirited as the Neapolitans is never questioned." Pulcinella's versatility in status and attitude has captivated audiences worldwide and kept the character popular in countless forms since his introduction to commedia dell'arte by Silvio Fiorillo in 1620.


Pulcinella was raised by two "fathers," Maccus and Bucco, who were as different as two parents could be. Maccus is described as being terribly witty, sarcastic, rude, and cruel, while Bucco is a nervous thief who is as silly as he is full of himself. This duality manifested itself in both the way Pulcinella is shaped and the way he acts. Physically, the characteristics he inherited from his fathers attributed to his topheavy, chicken-like shape. He inherited his humpback, his large, crooked nose, and his gangly legs from Maccus. His potbelly, large cheeks, and gigantic mouth come from Bucco] Due to this duality of parental lineage, Pulcinella can be portrayed as both a servant and master depending on the scenario. "Upper" Pulcinella is more like Bucco, with a scheming nature, an aggressive sensuality, and great intelligence. "Lower" Pulcinella, however, favors Maccus, and is brilliantly described by Pierre Louis Duchartre as being "a dull and coarse bumpkin." This juxtaposition of proud, cunning thief from the upper class and loud, crass pervert from the servant class is one that is key to understanding Pulcinella's behaviors.

Duality is the name of the game with Pulcinella. He either plays dumb, though he is very much aware of the situation or- he acts as though he is the most intelligent and competent, though he is woefully ignorant. He is incessantly trying to rise above his station, though he does not intend to work for it. He is a social chameleon, who tries to get those below him to think highly of him, but is sure to appease those in positions of power. Pulcinella's closing couplet translates to "I am Prince of everything, Lord of land and main. Except for my public whose faithful servant I remain." However, because his world is often that of a servant, he has no real investment in preserving the socio-political world of his master. Nevertheless, he is always on the side of the winner, though he often doesn't decide this until after they've won. No matter his initial intent, Pulcinella always manages to win. If something ends poorly, another thing is successful. If he is put out in a sense, he is rewarded in another. This often accidental triumph is his normal. Another important characteristic of Pulcinella is that he fears nothing. Consequences are of no mind to him, as he will be victorious no matter what. It is said that he is so wonderful to watch because he does what audience members would do were they not afraid of the consequences.
Engraving of Pulcinella in 1700 (1860) by Maurice Sand, found in Masques et bouffons: comédie italienne.

Pulcinella is, however, the ultimate self-preservationist, looking out for himself in most every situation, yet he still manages to sort out the affairs of everyone around him. Antonio Fava, a world-renowned maskmaker and Maestro of Commedia dell'arte is particularly fond of the character in both performance and study due to his influence and continuity throughout history. Of him, Fava explained that "Pulcinella, a man without dignity, is nevertheless indespensable to us all: without [him] ... none of his countless 'bosses' could ever escape from the awkward tangle of troubles in which they find themselves. Pulcinella is everyone's saviour, saved by no one." This accidental helpfulness is key to his success. He goes out of his way to avoid responsibility, yet always ends up with more of it than he bargained for.

His movements are broad and laborious, allowing him to aggressively emphasize his speech and simultaneously exhausting him. He will also get excited about something and move very quickly and deliberately, leaving him with no choice but to halt the action and catch his breath. He is to be thought of as a rebellious delinquent in the body of an old man.


Always On Watch said...


-FJ said...

It is lovely!

FreeThinke said...

Thank you both. Stravinsky captures the essence of the remarkably durable character, as described in the text Farmer provided, remarkably well. The famous "clown" is both aristocratic and peasantine, graceful and awkward, comical yet wistful, athletic yet bumbling, graceful and maladroit, delicate and boorish, dignified and exultant. All of these contrasts are brought out with subtlety and brilliance in Stravinsky's charming suite of pieces for solo violin and piano adapted from his ballet called Pulcinella.

FreeThinke said...

We should list the movements in order to to understand Stravinsky[s work a little better.

I. Introduzione: Allegro moderato

II. Serenata: Larghetto

III. Tarantella: Vivace

IV. Gavotta con due variazione

V. Scherzino: Presto alla breve

VI. Minuetto e Finale: Moderato-molto vivace

Stravinsky evokes the contrasting characteristics described in the previous post with biting wit, tender compassion, decorousness and boisterousness with remarkable clarity in these six movements.

FreeThinke said...

One reviewer wrote of this recording:

Don't you just love the way Stravinsky interjects a "Jose Greco" foot stomping moment in the midst of the finale? An incredible touch of added humor –– really a stroke of genius –– in an already merry excursion into the realm of fantasy There are all kinds of subtleties in this suite one could easily miss the first time around. I highly recommend repeated listenings.

FreeThinke said...

He went on to say:

I'm not particularly find of Stravinsky, though I understand his value as a "revolutionary" who did much to usher in the modern era. Where was romanticism to go after Wagner, Richard Strauss, Mahler and Bruckner anyway?

That being said I find this performance charming, probably because it is not filled with the kind of brash, rude incisiveness we've come to expect from early "modern" music. These two performers play wth one voice.The ensemble here is remarkable. I like their Schumann too, and their Beethoven is at once warm, powerful and passionately sincere.

FreeThinke said...

Another reviewer wrote:

An elegant, delightfully understated, finely-detailed, affectionate reading of this curious work. This excellent performance is notable for its admirable lack of bombast. I appreciate the way [these gentlemen] presented the suite as intimate piece of chamber music that does not play to the grandstand as so many others have done.

The virtuosity here is all the more exciting for its subtlety. [These two one performers] have also given a passionate, fiercely energetic, no-holds-barred performance of the Beethoven Sonata, #7, Opus 30, #2 which no Beethoven aficionado should miss.

FreeThinke said...

Thank you, FJ, for providing so much background information about Pulcinella. I learned a good deal I never knew before, even though I'd performed this Stravinsky work many times in the past with aplomb. I might have done an even better job if I had known so much about Pulcinella's heritage.

Once could never know too much when it comes to understanding what "classical music" is really all about. I've aways felt I'd need at least ten lifetimes just to begin to cover it adequately. Yet, true genius comprehends these things instantly through the incredible power of INTUITION –– a gift given to very few.

How else could we explain the emergence of Bach and Mozart –– to name just two? They seem to have been BORN already knowing EVERYTHING.

Jersey McJones said...

It's amazing it's performed by just two players! You'd swear you hear three or four or five at at times!


-FJ said...

Thank YOU for sharing this perfomance with us, FT!

Gert said...

Commedia dell'Arte is great.

Reminds me of when we lived in Italy. Halcyon days...

FreeThinke said...

The only thing missing in Stravinsky's evocation of Pulcinella are the occasional hints of malice and menace that make up part of the famous clown's complex character.

Poe, of course, develops this theme to near perfection in Hop Frog, the story I recommended in the previous post featuring Charl Landsberg's woebegone poem Commedia dell' Arte.

In all good comedy there seems always to be an undercurrent of tragedy. Stravinsky brings this out most poignantly in the Serenata and to a lesser extent in the elegant-but-wistful Gavotta.