The Seven Franchetti Songs are very much a child of the web. For several years I volunteered for Catherine Austin Fitts as a producer for her Solari Report, a subscriber based weekly podcast of financial news and the politics that impact financial markets. Each report featured a guest who Catherine interviewed, the guests ranging from Scott Rasmussen, founder of The Rasmussen Report (one of America’s most respected polling companies), to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, and it was my task to contact the guests and set-up the interviews. Catherine was deeply impressed by Jamie Johnson’s documentaries Born Rich and The One Percent and was eager to speak with him about his work and feature it on her report. Mr. Johnson graciously consented to be interviewed and his conversation with Catherine was illuminating, insightful, and entertaining.
I hadn’t seen the documentaries until Catherine tasked me with contacting Mr. Johnson. Like everyone who’s seen them, I found them remarkable but I was particularly struck by Cody Franchetti, the Italian baron who was featured in both films. Many of the films’ viewers commented on the Franchetti segments—mostly negatively—but I found their comments off the mark and naive, suspecting that they were missing not only a brutal, if uncomfortable honesty, but also a wry wit and a unique perspicacity.
My suspicions were confirmed when I turned to Franchetti’s recently launched web site. Besides eight years of elegant program notes for performances at Carnegie Hall, the site hosted a number of scholarly articles in disparate subjects denoting a polymath intellect: from a criticism of Foucault, to re-evaluations of both the much maligned Frederick the Great, to a collation between Descartes and Pascal, to the relationship between capitalism and feudalism, to a literary reconsideration of James Thomson’s “The Seasons” published by Oxford UP’s Literary Review, clearly this was not the self-absorbed clothes’ horse with a fetish for telephones of Franchetti’s rather flat-footed critics.
But I was particularly struck by his translation of Dino Campana’s “To a Stark-Eyed Slut.” The powerful poem immediately reminded me of Catullus, that Roman poet being much on my mind as I was finishing my song cycle Carmina Catulli. I wrote Mr. Franchetti by way of his web site, commending him on his work and asking permission to set his Campana translation.
Mr. Franchetti generously responded with permission and that e-mail began a correspondence which grew into a collaboration and eventually—because we repeatedly discovered unities in taste and viewpoints, unities that impressed us as almost uncanny because of our quite dissimilar lives—a deeply treasured friendship.
Finishing the setting of the Campana translation, I asked Cody if he had other poems. He did. Some of the poems Cody gave me were old poems, others were freshly written. As with my settings of Catullus, the purpose of my music was to invigorate the Franchetti texts, but not in the sense of giving lifeless words new vigor but rather in the sense of taking what already lies in the texts and making them more readily understood through musical exaggeration. Poets understand this and are in their rights to be deeply suspicious of musicians and even resentful of them. A poet’s poem is a finished thing, complete in and of itself; a musician cannot “enhance” it, he can only make it something different from what left the poet’s hand. Setting the words of dead poets is a bit like grave robbing, the deceased cannot defend his property and you’re free to loot at will. But using the poetry of a living poet is a very different matter and allowing a composer to set your work—even when the right to do so is purchased—is an extraordinary act of artistic generosity.
Cody’s poems, although thoroughly of this century, are at the same time Roman Baroque in the dramatic range of their feeling, thought, and vocabulary. Their music needed to be similarly sweeping, mixing 18th-century tonal and modern atonal practices, lyric passages with disjunct ones, all without degrading into hodgepodge and pastiche. And through the process of composition I was repeatedly struck both by the similarity between this twenty-first-century Roman’s new texts and the words of the of the first-century BC Roman I had recently finished and an eerie sense of the long hand of fate. Life is very complicated and, plead as we might, Isis never lifts her veil.
To my delight, Cody greeted each finished song enthusiastically. When they were premiered along with the Carmina Catulli at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2014, the audience responded warmly to the works of the two Roman poets, sensing the relationship between them. I like to think that Catullus forgives my robbery in singing his words and is at the same time pleased that a fellow Roman honors and continues his tradition, knowing that both sets of songs are libations, humbly offered.
A second volume of songs set to Franchetti poems was completed in the summer of 2015.
by Michael Linton
Although Cody Franchetti was known to New Yorkers from the multi-storied advertisements of his modeling career, he first came to national attention as one of the most compelling figures in Jamie Johnson’s documentaries Born Rich and The One Percent. Raised in Rome, Franchetti came to New York to study at the Mannes College of Music, having received his early education in Rome and Paris. After being awarded his BA from Mannes, Franchetti went on to Columbia University, studying early modern European history (MA, 2012). His articles on James Thomson’s “The Seasons”, Frederick the Great, Foucault, Sombart, nominalism, and epistemology have appeared in scholarly journals such as Oxford’s University Press’s Literary Imagination, the Open Journal of Philosophy, and the International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities. He has been a regular contributor to Carnegie Hall’s Stagebill (program notes) and with Veronica Bulgari he co-chairs Carnegie Hall’s Notables Committee, a committee devoted to raising funds for musical educational programs in New York’s public schools. He is currently working on a book dealing with issues of postmodernism and the writing of history. Except for his translations of Dino Campana’s “A una troia dagli occhi ferrigni”, published in Vanitas (New York: 2009) and Ilka Scobie’s “All” (Milan: 2012), “Seven Franchetti Songs” is the first public presentation of Franchetti’s work as a poet.
David See has worked variously as piano teacher, organist, composer/arranger, keyboardist for the Symphony of the Mountains (Kingsport TN) as well as for stage and rock bands, and collaborative pianist for singers, instrumentalists and musical theater productions. The Symphony of the Mountains premiered his Piano Concerto in 2001. Other compositions of note include a Theme and Variations for cello and piano, Scrapbook Suite for chamber ensemble, a sax quartet and a series of two-piano works usually, if not always, performed with wife Lynn. He was adjunct professor of composition and staff accompanist at Middle Tennessee State University from 2005 to 2014. Now residing in New York City, he is currently a freelance pianist and is also a baritone in the avant-garde choral group C4. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin College.
Tenor H Stephen Smith’s performance as Don Jose in the Swedish Folk Opera’s production of Carmen at Brooklyn Academy of Music was praised by the New York Times for its “power and finesse.” Similar accolades have greeted his performances in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Great Britain, and Portugal and with American opera companies in New Orleans, San Francisco, Houston, Mobile, Tulsa, Sacramento, Austin, Augusta, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Chattanooga, Norfolk, Shreveport, Columbus, Boston, and Nashville. He was the central character in the full-length film adaptation of Ture Rangström’s opera, Kronbruden. Although particularly known for his performances of Verdi and Puccini, Smith is an enthusiastic proponent of contemporary music and has recorded with Musica Sveciae and Caprice Records the roles of Salvatorre in Franz Berwald’s Estrella de Soria, Atis in Joseph Martin Kraus’ Prosperin, and Cardinal Rohan in Daniel Börtz’s Marie Antoinette. A North Carolina native, Smith received a B.A. from Davidson College and music degrees from the Eastman School of Music. Smith serves as Professor of Voice at Middle Tennessee State University where he has premiered a number of Michael Linton’s songs.