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Dear President of the Republic,
The Lord Cardinals,
Honourable Ministers and Distinguished Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
First of all, I greet the President of the Italian Republic, Mr. Giorgio Napolitano, and thank him for the intense expressions of goodwill addressed to me; in the past seven years - as he mentioned - we have met several times and have shared our experiences and reflections. I greet his lovely wife, the Italian authorities, as well as the Ambassadors and the many personalities present. A heartfelt thanks to the promoters and organizers of this evening, particularly the "Flying Angels Foundation", engaged in the field of solidarity.
The Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and its director, Zubin Mehta, need no introduction: both occupy an important place in the international music scene and tonight they proved it by giving us a moment of profound elevation of the spirit with the remarkable performance of Verdi's Symphony and Beethoven's Third.
Giuseppe Verdi's The Force of Destiny: a tribute to the great Italian musician in the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. In his works, one is always struck by how he managed to grasp life's situations and express them in music, especially the drama of the human soul, in such an immediate, decisive and essential way as is rarely found in the musical scene. It is always a tragic fate that befalls Verdi's characters, and one from which the protagonists of The Force of Destiny do not escape: the Symphony we have heard, from the very outset, made this clear. But addressing the issue of fate, Verdi finds himself facing directly the religious issue, dealing with God, with faith, with the Church; and there again the soul of this musician emerges, his restlessness, his religious quest. In The Force of Destiny not only is one of the most famous arias, "The Virgin of the Angels" a heartfelt prayer, but there are also two stories of conversion and approaching God: that of Leonora, who dramatically acknowledges her faults and decides to retire to an eremitic life, and that of Don Alvaro, who struggles between the world and a life in solitude with God. It's interesting to note that in the two versions of this work, that of 1862 for St. Petersburg, and that of 1869 for "La Scala" in Milan, the endings change: in the first, Don Alvaro’s life ends in suicide, after rejecting the religious habit and invoking hell; in the second, however, he accepts the words of the Father Guardian, to trust in God's forgiveness and the opera ends with the words "Ascent to God." Here we see the drama of human existence marked by a tragic fate and longing for God, his mercy and his love, which offer light, meaning and hope even in darkness. Faith offers us this panorama, which is not illusory but real; as St. Paul says, "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord "(Rom 8:38-39). This is the strength of the Christian, which comes from the death and resurrection of Christ, by the supreme act of a God who entered human history not only with words, but becoming incarnate.
A word also on Beethoven's Third Symphony, a complex work that marks a clear departure from the classical symphonic music of Haydn and Mozart. As is well known, it was dedicated to Napoleon, but the great German composer changed his mind after Bonaparte proclaimed himself emperor, changing the title to: "composed to celebrate the memory of a great man." Beethoven expresses musically the ideal of the hero bearing freedom and equality, who is faced with the choice of resignation or struggle, death or life, surrender or victory. The Symphony describes these feelings with a richness of color and theme hitherto unknown. I will not enter into a reading of its four movements, but will only mention the second, the famous Funeral March, a heartfelt meditation on death. It begins with a first section marked by dramatic and desolate tones, but contains, in the central part, a serene interlude played by the oboe and then the double fugue and the trumpet blasts: the thought of death invites us to reflect on the afterlife, on infinity. In those years, Beethoven, in his Heiligenstadt testament of October 1802 wrote: "O God, you look from above into my heart, you know it and are aware it's full of love for humanity and the desire to do good". The search for meaning that open to a firm hope for the future is part of the journey of humanity.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your presence. Thanks to the Director and to the Professors of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra. Thanks to the promoters and organizers and to all of you! Good evening!
[Translation by Peter Waymel]