There’s Vivaldi, who composed Four Seasons that the Japanese adore. There’s Salieri, who apparently was jealous of Mozart’s genius. The compositions of Boccherini come to mind when we think of delightful minuets. Rossini was a master of making joyful music. Paganini was a renowned virtuoso whose violin playing had a transcendent artistry about it. Verdi and Puccini created operatic masterworks. The list goes on and on.
With so many great composers coming out of Italy, you might think that music would be an intimate part of people’s everyday lives here. Surprisingly, it’s quite the opposite. Most Italians haven’t ever read a piece of music—which is to say that they can’t read it. As a cellist, I should be teaching the Italians who come to learn the instrument because they’re interested in it how to play it. Instead, the lessons are becoming about how to read music and rhythm. The Japanese love music, and the situation in Italy has made me realize just how fantastic and world-class Japanese schools are when it comes to musical education. I’ve heard that when Japanese passengers start singing along with the boatmen in Venice when they break into canzoni as they row, the boatmen turn speechless in amazement.
I did meet a pianist whom I was delighted to discover played music in the most unlikely places. I was watching a live broadcast of a national parliament in Italy on TV when I saw a person playing a miniature piano-like object with the familiar black and white keys.
Wow! I thought. Lovely music at a parliament? The Italians being as passionate as they are, discussions at national parliaments often get so heated up that some deputies start throwing blows. It appeared that the musician was there to perform soothing music that would have a relaxing effect. But the miniature piano player that I’m calling “the pianist” was in fact a stenographer.
An Italian stenography device has black and white keys that look just like the ones on a piano. It’s sometimes called a “Michela machine”. It was invented in 1878 by Antonio Michela Zucco and is still in use at meetings to this day.
The silly little Michela machine has twenty black and white keys total. The modern ones are computerized, but they still look exactly as they did in the old days. Apparently, they can be used to record more than 180 words a minute, but they consistently hold Michela machine contests where some stenographers clock more than 200 words a minute.
These “parliament pianists” have to work with a speed on par with that of a piano virtuoso… so I’d like to know if any of them are actually piano players as well. I’m going to look into it!
Wikipedia used for reference