Harp Guitar Player of the Month

Italo Meschi, 
the Last Italian Troubadour  

by Gregg Miner and Riccardo Sarti, October, 2005

Updated!  October, 2010

 


 

INTRODUCTION

by Gregg Miner

If the impressive sight of the harp guitarist in the striking photograph above brings to mind Jesus Christ himself, you are not alone.  His nickname was, in fact, “Il Cristo” (“The Christ”) – not just for his magnificent hair and beard, but also (quoting the daily “La Nazione” of June 6th 2004) “for his bearing, ascetic look, sweet inviting expression and smile veiled in a slight melancholy.”  His given name is Italo Meschi, and by all accounts he shared many other traits with his namesake – notably his messages of peace, his austere lifestyle and his deep spirituality.   But just who was this arresting musician, with the equally outrageous harp guitar?

Outside of Lucca, Italy, where he was born and died (1887-1957), Italo’s story is largely unknown.  With no recordings or direct descendants left behind, there are few today who would have any opportunity to come across the music, history or any mention of this unique performer.  Not unless one has a friend or relative who happened to catch one of Italo’s performances throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, in such major cities as London, Rome, Paris, New York and San Francisco.

I myself had never heard the name – not until I received the above image from Italo’s third cousin, Riccardo Sarti, who lives in Rockville Maryland and  works for the Washington office of Finmeccanica, Italy’s aerospace company.  Riccardo humbly asked if Italo might not be mentioned somewhere on the site.  I was too fascinated to let a mere mention suffice, so Riccardo and I, with invaluable help from Mr. Lilio Giannecchini ─ President of the “Istituto Storico della Resistenza e dell’Eta’ Contemporanea” in Lucca, ─ spent several months piecing together this remarkable story.  Information came from Riccardo’s own family history, along with priceless material collected in a unique book on Italo published by Lucca’s “Istituto Storico” (at right).  Meanwhile, I worked to collate all the clues to try to uncover the provenance of Italo’s instruments.

This unique collaborative project further resulted in the first “bi-lingual” article on Harpguitars.net.  This feature is certainly the first presentation on Italo Meschi in English, and, translated back into Italian by Riccardo, we proudly go full circle, sharing new information with Italo’s own countrymen.

Update, March, 2007:  In January of 2007, this online article was discovered by another part of Italo’s extended family.  In this case it was the family of Italo’s sister, Erina; specifically, her son, Al Braccini.  Al graciously provided new information and additional never-before-seen family photos from when Italo stayed with his family in Berkeley , California around the time of the 1937 San Francisco concert.  Italo was clearly looked at askance by the family; there was simply no one else like him at the time.  Al, who was then under ten, vividly recalls Italo doing his exercises in the back yard, barefoot and garbed only in his light linen – and this was in winter! 

Then, just as I was editing this article with Al’s new information, original co-author Riccardo emailed with some intriguing new information on Italo’s instruments.  Look for Updateand pink text throughout the article and Sources/Quotes page for new information.  There are several new photographs as well throughout the page.

Update, October, 2010: Riccardo supplied a new photo of Italo with the surviving Mattei harp guitar (below), along with his new scrapbooks that collect Italo's Writings and his Life.

For me, the original reminiscences that Riccardo sent to me present an eloquent introduction and general picture of this remarkable man. Let us begin there.

"Italo Meschi : Musician, Songster of the Lucchese Earth. (Troubadour from the Heart of Lucca . Poems, Reflections and Accounts)"

(watercolor of Italo by Tista Meschi , Italo's second cousin)



click to enlarge images

ITALO MESCHI

by Riccardo Sarti

Italo Meschi - my paternal grandmother’s first cousin…an exceptional man, a poet, and above all a harp guitar player par excellence.

In the 1930’s, Italo even had the honor of performing in front of the English Royal Court.  Yet, he refused to go after riches and maintained an ascetic and humble lifestyle.  For his concerts he accepted only small offers so that he could afford the bare minimum.   He wore sandals and linen clothes in summer and in the middle of winter.  He lived in a small, austere apartment on the top floor of a 12th century Saint Gervasio tower in Lucca, a well-preserved medieval city in Tuscany, surrounded by walls and buttresses.  Had Italo Meschi pursued fame, he would probably be well known in the world of past music performers…but that was unlike him.

In Italy and Great Britain Italo Meschi was described as the “Last Italian Troubadour.”  A London critic wrote: “Meschi’s playing and singing reveal a true artist of first rank and child of nature.”  Italo Meschi was tall and handsome with blue eyes and long reddish-blond beard and hair.   Another critic wrote that Meschi’s artistic attributes were quite as impressive as his appearance.  A San Francisco reporter in 1937 described his beard as a beard which “outbearded even the best ever seen in Oberammergau.”  Around Lucca he was also known as “Il Cristo” (“The Christ”). His poetry reveals a love of nature and particularly for his Tuscan countryside.

Italo came from a Tuscan family of modest financial means that, however, claimed a cousin who was a sculptor, another who was a painter, a third who was an early designer of  the legendary Vespa scooter and….if one wants to, my grandmother Assunta a controversial fervent idealist and leftist activist.

Meschi is said to have built his own harp guitar (which he called a “chitarpa”) with which he played and sang Tuscan folk songs, Italian 17th and 18th century classics, and Mozart, Schubert, Wagner, etc.  He transcribed the works of great masters into music that could be played on his chitarpa.  According to critics, his interpretation of these works was “sublime” and reflected his philosophy and lifestyle.

Meschi’s mere presence in Lucca irritated the Fascist authorities.  His messages of peace and non-violence ran counter to the political mainstream of the time.  My grandmother recalled that during one of his performances Italo, offended by the late arrival of the local fascist notables, abruptly left the stage at the great astonishment of the spectators, thus giving an example of courage in totalitarian times.

To make things worst for himself, Italo was also a fervent follower of the economist and idealist Agostino Maria Trucco (1865-1940) father of a school of economic thought known as Hallesism.  It called for the establishment of a Supranational Entity aimed at promoting public welfare through the fair and efficient regulation of international production and exchange, at the advantage of both sellers and buyers.  In 1928, in his book “The Fear to Enrich” Trucco foretold: “Without a great happening capable of creating a new economic and financial order, fatally and at the latest in 1938-39, the greatest world war, presently in gestation, will break out.”

Meschi was a deeply religious man, but with occasional lapses from the sacred to the profane. Certainly, he was not too enthusiastic of organized religion as shown in one of his writings in praise of Girolamo Savonarola, the monk burned at the stake for heresy in 1498.  My grandmother recalled her cousin’s irreverence toward the clergy, such as the time when the police showed up at his doorstep on top of the Saint Gervasio tower.  He had just been denounced by the nuns from the convent below for obscene behavior in public; actually for simply sunbathing in peace naked on the rooftop – in the middle of winter, by the way!  Furious, Italo asked the police to go and tell those [expletive deleted] to cast their eyes downward in prayer instead of sinning by peeping upward at naked men!!

Unfortunately, Meschi’s messages of peace, non-violence and equality were also misunderstood in the United States where, in 1936-37, he had been holding free concerts to “disempower” the rich and to allow the poor from all ethnic groups to attend.  Italo recounted that at one point ─ during what was to be his last U.S. tour as a “wandering minstrel,” ─ he had been holding more public meetings than concerts. Perhaps, this is the reason behind an attack by hooligans that resulted in his harp guitar being torn to pieces and his subsequent extradition while in San Francisco.  

A heartfelt thanks from Gregg Miner and I goes to the “Istituto Storico della Resistenza e dell’Eta’ Contemporanea in Provincia di Lucca and to its Presidente Lilio Giannecchini for having kept alive Italo’s legacy by publishing in 1993 his poems and writing found scattered in the tower after his death on October 15th, 1957.  The collection of  “poems, reflections and eye-witness accounts” provides a precious insight into Meschi’s personal life, including his love for an elusive woman.  The 95-page volume includes articles from French, British, American and Italian newspapers such as Lucca’s “La Nazione” praising the art as well as “the sincere and incorruptible spirit of Maestro Italo.”

Italo in St. Peter's Square in 1948.  His poem reads:

And here I sit
peacefully illuminated
by the August sun,
in front of the church
where I would have 
married you.

It was noon
in Saint Peter's Square.

Over my shoulder
there is a fountain
and in the background
the Christian Basilica.

Rome, August 1948

The tower of Porta San Gervasio, where Italo spent his last years, is part of Lucca’s 12th century walls.  Italo lived in the left tower, while his cousin Alfredo lived in the right.


 

ITALO'S  CHITARPA

by Gregg Miner

Buried within the many quotes, articles and stories that he translated from the book on Italo Meschi, Riccardo discovered one I found especially intriguing.  It concerned Italo’s years in elementary school where he studied music, particularly singing.  Further, Italo had “kept alive inside himself the hope of one day touring the world accompanied by a guitar.” And he had “also come to study modifications to the normal guitar, something that could be  used for open-air serenades or at country inns, to make it an instrument of an altogether different look and melodic capabilities."  What was the youngster dreaming up? Could young Italo have been aware of harp guitars from the very beginning?!  There is no way to know. He was clearly enamored of the guitar, purchasing his first instrument at the age of 14. The price was 11 lire, “one of which he earned at the rate of one half-penny a night carrying sacks of flour for a corn merchant,” the remaining cost being paid by Italo’s uncle. A music store is mentioned as the source, and it is likely that this was a simple, inexpensive 6-string.  

Eventually, according to family and public lore, Italo either A) built, or B) designed and commissioned his own harp guitar.  Unfortunately, details are nearly absent, and we are left with only tantalizing and conflicting clues.  These clues, mostly from specific quotes in the book on Italo are fully detailed at the end of this article, along with my observations and theories about each.  Some of the sources contradict each other, and it may be that we may never come close to resolving the provenance of Italo’s curious instruments.  The only hard facts at hand are (were) the photographs, which show that Italo had at least two harp guitars throughout his career – an original, likely one-of-a-kind, early instrument, and later, the unmistakable “ala di aquila” (eagle’s wing) model produced by famed Italian luthier Luigi Mozzani.

Update:  Make that at least three harp guitars.  As it turns out, Italo may have indeed designed and commissioned one of the earliest hollow arm harp guitars in Italy at the age of twenty-three!  By several accounts (referred to in Sources), Italo was directly involved in the creation of this instrument.  Claims that Italo built his "chitarpa" are likely misinterpretations - but the anecdotal evidence suggest that he likely designed his first harp guitar.  The latest corroboration comes (by way of Riccardo Sarti) from Italo's nephew Innocenzo Meschi of Lucca.  Innocenzo (the son of Italo's brother Mario) insists that all of Italo's instruments were designed by Italo himself and built by two different luthiers.  The maker of Italo's first harp guitar has now been identified, as Innocenzo is in possession of the very instrument, which still has its label!  The maker is one Bruno Mattei of Spezia (Spezia is a town approximately 50 miles NW of Lucca) - about whom nothing else is known other than that he built two instruments for Italo - this one, and a similar instrument known previously from the 1920s photograph below.  The surviving instrument, handed down through the family, is in fantastic condition, and is dated (presumably in Mattei's own hand) "July 5, 1911."

Above: Still in fine condition, displayed in the home of Italo's nephew Innocenzo is the instrument we now believe to be Italo's original chitarpa - designed by Italo and built by Bruno Mattei.  Note the interesting shapes of the bridge and arm, the "rope" binding, and unique "cutaway" on the upper right bout. 

A newly discovered (Fall, 2010) photograph captures Italo with this very instrument


Curiously, the instrument has only three sub-bass tuners, yet has a hole in the bridge for a fourth siring. 

The label reads: Bruno Mattei Fabbricante di Chitarre da Concerto Spezia 5 luglio 1911

In 1913, Italo moved to the growing Lucchese community in San Francisco, to continue his oldest yearning - the desire to see the world.  It is not known whether he took his guitar with him, but the book hints that he did not.  Regardless, he did carry a wealth of songs in his head - traditional peasant songs of his native Italy, accumulated throughout his two dozen years.  In the San Francisco Public Library, the 26-year old Italo now learned to capture this music, teaching himself how to read and write musical notation.  Italo returned to Italy after the first World War (after November, 1918).

The San Francisco Public Library where Italo learned how to read music - today an Art's Museum.

Soon after his return, Italo apparently commissioned a second Mattei harp guitar.  This is the one shown in the photo at right, believed to be from the early 1920s.  It is clearly by the same maker, with a few differences in the bass arm termination and the lack of the "cutaway."  It was also provided with a playing stand, which by this time had become a somewhat popular and common occurrence among Italian harp guitarists.  This instrument was fitted with four bass strings.

Originally, the clues pointed to this instrument being the first and that it was a custom commission for Italo.  Our original text explained how this instrument came about after Italo’s return to Italy when he was about 31.  Italo spent this period in early 1919 recovering from a pulmonary inflammation brought on from breathing coal dust on the “Duca d’Aosta, while shoveling coal to pay for his return voyage. One source states that while recovering, he not only began to grow his hair and beard again, but also "bought a guitar that he had built custom-made."  We have to make the assumption that this statement should be interpreted as meaning "another guitar...".  The tricky English translation we now assume to mean "...that he had custom built."  Other problematic sources include a reference to Italo's chitarpa as an “original guitar which he conceptualized and built,” while another says Italo “invented” it.  Riccardo’s own family members always insisted that Italo built his chitarpa.

With the new evidence of the existing 1911 Mattei harp guitar and this second near-duplicate, it now seems clear that the various claims of Italo "building" his own instrument(s) are clearly false.  It should be made clear that we don't think that Italo himself ever made these claims - but that the facts were misinterpreted, embellished or corrupted over the years by over-zealous reporters and confused family members.

The one fairly consistent motif from the many sources is that Italo christened his instrument the “chitarpa.”   I believe he created the catchy and poetic name for his first and second Mattei instruments, and later used it to refer also to the Mozzani (Mozzani would have sold his “Aquila” model as a chitarra-lyra, another poetic but less than ideal name for a one-arm harp guitar).

Was Italo a woodworker or guitar builder?  If either one, there seems to be no other mention of it, outside the “built his chitarpa” stories.  When writers state that Italo “invented” the chitarpa, the meaning may have originally been that Italo created an “original harp guitar,” or perhaps simply that Italo “invented” the term “chitarpa.”

Italo with his second Mattei chitarpa, early 1920s.

One might expect that the history and provenance of Italo’s final harp guitar – the outrageous Mozzani “ala di aquila” – would be less of a puzzle.  Unfortunately, there are a few mysteries surrounding this one.  We could lay to rest the question of whether Italo built or invented this one, if we accept that all such stories refer to the earlier Mattei harp guitars above.  Unfortunately, even though the Aquila is clearly a “production model” from the Mozzani workshops - one of at least four specimens I’ve cataloged on this site (see Mozzani's Harp Guitar Forms: Single Arm) - there is evidence that Italo was indeed involved in its design and/or "invention."

Italo's Mozzani Aquila survived until his death in 1957, when it was handed down to Riccardo Marasco, who still owns it.

When this model was first introduced, and when Italo acquired his are key questions I have been yet unable to answer.  There is a fascinating theory presented by the guitar’s current owner, Riccardo Marasco, who was given the Aquila by Italo’s brother Mario following Italo’s death.  Marasco tells me: “Based on facts that I gathered, Luigi Mozzani built that instrument on a design inspired by Italo Meschi, who loved living in the woods playing to the plants and the animals, solitary like an eagle; and for this reason he named [his instrument] “eagle’s wing.”  Though this story sounds decidedly romantic, it is by no means implausible.  Did the two men know each other?  Could Mozzani have known Italo well enough by reputation, or revered him personally or artistically enough, to create a special instrument for him?  I’d guess that a Mozzani Aquila model would be just about the fanciest, most expensive harp guitar one could find in Italy.  Did Italo, in sandals and linen, wander into the Mozzani showroom and plunk down the lire for a new instrument, or was this a bequest from one artist to another?  Was it, in fact, the first Aquila prototype – created specifically for Italo? 


This basically identical Aquila specimen was purchased by Mozzani's disciple Mario Maccaferri in 1947 when the Mozzani shop liquidated its remaining inventory.

Update:  Though Italo's nephew Innocenzo is unfamiliar with Mozzani or any history of this instrument, family lore maintains that, in addition to the Mattei instruments, Italo also designed and commissioned a harp guitar from " a maker in Bologna."   As this is where Mozzani was located during the period of Italo's acquisition of the Aquila, this further supports the theory that Italo did indeed commission. the Aquila model, though the details of the collaboration may never become known.  Italo may have helped with the design, or merely suggested it - or it may have been Mozzani's own design "inspired by" Italo, as alluded to above.  Such tantalizing history!  


Flyer 
for the 1937 San Francisco concert.

There are (or were) two other mysteries concerning the Mozzani.  One is the question of which harp guitar he toured with when.  The other is whether there was a second Mozzani Aquila.  Both questions arise from a remarkable story told by Guglielmo Lera in the Italo book.  In it, he describes an encounter with a “strange seller of musical instruments” while searching for guitar strings at Italo’s request.  These were “Pisastro Yellow Label” strings – a very specific brand that Italo favored, but apparently no longer available.  The seller brought out a guitar with “twelve strings” on it, which he proceeded to remove, explaining that they were the very strings from the guitar Italo last played in his 1937 San Francisco concert!  The “strange seller” had apparently attended this concert, where afterwards he had “removed (the strings) from ‘his’ guitar in San Francisco, torn to bits by some hooligans the day when, after the last concert, he was forced to leave America.  Though we have found no news articles about vandals destroying Italo’s guitar, he was, in fact, “kicked out” of the U.S. shortly after this last concert.  Could the story be true?  How the mysterious vendor came to be in San Francisco to salvage Italo’s strings (not to mention the passion for Italo’s music that he would go to the trouble) seemed to me a remarkable story and incredible coincidence!  But his presence there and later presence in Lucca is not all that unusual.  As Riccardo explains, “Italian-Americans tended to immigrate in certain areas in the U.S.: Sicilians in New York, Abruzzesi in Cleveland and Lucchesi in the San Francisco area and the wine country.  Though many did return to Tuscany, there is still a large Lucchese community in northern California.”


The Scottish Rite Auditorium today - the site of Italo's last U.S.  concert.

If this story is true, then which harp guitar was destroyed in 1937?   At first it seemed  obvious: the second Mattei instrument, whose whereabouts are now unknown.  A reporter from the San Francisco News interviewing Italo for the upcoming concert even provides a description: “an especially built instrument with four extra strings, the whole mounted on a wooden stand.”  The reporter must have gotten this description either from Italo, or from seeing the actual instrument in the room.  Case closed?  However, another reporter, well known music critic Alfred Frankenstein, actually attended the concert (which is clear from his detailed review).  He describes Italo’s harp guitar as “a guitar that looks like a wing of the roc that carried Sinbad on its back.”  Surely this could only have been the Mozzani Aquila!

Update, 1/20/2007: And so it was!  Proof finally came from another family member, nephew Al Braccini, who supplied the photograph at right showing Italo at Al's Berkeley home in  the winter of 1936/1937.  This was a short ride across the bridge from San Francisco, where Italo would play on Jan 10.   He is seen with a Mozzani Aquila that appears to be identical to the one he holds in his later photograph.  Braccini is fairly certain that Italo had only the Mozzani, and does not remember a stand (though its presence cannot be 100% discounted).  So what is the answer to this riddle?  Of my original hypotheses, we can now discount Italo touring with two guitars (his original and the Mozzani).  He clearly played the Mozzani, and therefore we must discount the first reporter’s wrong description (the only real explanation for which would be if he was mistakenly provided an older photo of Italo with his first instrument on the stand).  The only remaining question then is whether there were two identical Mozzanis.  There are two possible simple answers: Yes – if the story told by the “strange seller of strings” is true; No - if we discount it.  So far, there is no way to prove or disprove it.  I find no real weight for choosing either possibility.  I will say that I find the condition of the Mozzani seen in the last photograph remarkably pristine for an instrument of such age that had seen extensive touring.  Even more remarkable is that the instrument is still in use and in great condition.  After Italo passed away (in 1957), his brother Mario gave the Aquila to singer-guitarist Riccardo Marasco, who performs with it to this day.


Italo around the time of his 1937 San Francisco concert, in the backyard of his sister Erina's home in Berkeley.


Alfonso Braccini and his sister Lidia with their extremely eccentric (by 1937 standards!) uncle Italo.  


ITALO'S MUSIC 

by Gregg Miner

Beyond his general elementary school studies in music and singing and learning to read and write music in the San Francisco Public Library in his mid-to-late ‘twenties, Italo never took a music lesson.  Presumably, he was completely self-taught on the harp guitar.  Surviving guitar notation (below) proves that Italo utilized his sub-bass strings, in the standard Mozzani tuning of D-C-B (descending from the low E on the neck).  His first custom instrument had a fourth sub-bass string, likely an A.  Judging from many “ear-witnesses,” he was undoubtedly a very expressive player, getting a dynamic range of tone out of his instruments:

 

(see Quotes for sources)

“Italo Meschi’s guitar renders an almost new sound that recalls the sweetness of a violin and, at times, the softness of the harp.”

 (Sound of his guitar) like a “delicate harp or of a violin pizzicato of the highest quality.” 

And not just tone, but technique, as judged by many critics:

 “…undoubtly the greatest guitarist in the world.”

 “…a wizard of his guitar…”

And final testimony from the “strange seller of musical instruments” who allegedly salvaged the strings from Italo’s destroyed guitar:

“He is the greatest living guitarist, capable of evoking emotions in kings as well as fruit vendors…”

Italo’s concerts consisted of both an instrumental segment and a vocal section.  At least while using his first custom harp guitar with its incorporated stand, Italo performed standing (and was once quoted as saying, "I sing best standing up.”).  Less critiques of his vocal performances are preserved, but one gets a sense that his voice perfectly complemented his harp guitar:

"Meschi's playing and singing reveal him a true artist of first rank and child of nature." 

“…proved once again how harmony is innate to the Italian temperament.”

(He sang) “old Italian songs and airs, hauntingly beautiful things, rendered still finer by his troubadour’s full, sonorous voice and reverent manner.”  


Italo's 1937 San Francisco concert announcement includes his complete program.

Italo sang and played a wide variety of music, his concerts consisting of equal parts vocal music and harp guitar solos.  His preferred material ranged from famous Italian composers of the 16th and 17th centuries to works by his favorite classical composers; Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart.  Specific pieces mentioned in his earlier performances are Italo’s own Nocturne, a Berceuse by Bonacorsi, Manon’s Reve, a Scarlatti aria, Castagni’s Serenade and Petite Melancholy by Sor.  A similar and varied program survives of his final 1937 concert in San Francisco (at left).  The majority of Italo’s harp guitar transcriptions were his own arrangements, and he also composed original music on occasion.  A surviving manuscript of one of these is shown below.


Italo proved to be a unique and popular performer, not only in his own country, but through Europe and abroad.  His performances began soon after his return to Italy after World War I, and the subsequent building of his first harp guitar. Performances began in the main cities of Italy and France, and then progressed to London (where Italo would play for the English Royal Court) and other European cities.  In a January 1926 concert, where Italo "repeated his success of four years ago," a reviewer notes his “notably improved instrument.”  This would strongly suggest that Italo was using his custom harp guitar in 1922, and by 1926 had switched to the Mozzani.  1927 through 1936 appear to be quiet years for publicized concerts.  Though Riccardo found no record of an earlier U.S. tour, Italo apparently gave a concert in New York in June, 1929, as a recording from the concert was released on Brunswick Records.  In 1936, Italo began his (presumably second) tour of the Untied States, beginning in New York, and “proceeding state to state.”   He finished the tour in San Francisco in January, 1937, after which he was finally extradited for his radical ideals.  In the following years Italo spent much of his time in the Alps, playing in local inns while keeping a low profile from the authorities.  In 1943, he retired to a home in the Lucca countryside at La Cappella, where writer Guglielmo Lera mentioned seeing a "guitar with a wing with lively feathers.” (the Mozzani, naturally).  Finally, in 1950, Italo moved to the tower of Porta San Gervasio, part of Lucca’s 12th century walls.  On October 15th 1957 Italo passed away at age 70, leaving his Aquila harp guitar and his tower room full of personal poetry and music.  One of these pieces, in Italo’s own handwriting and notation, is presented here.  The music is written for harp guitar in standard tuning with three sub-basses, tuned D-C-B (descending), while the lyrics were written for Italo’s nephew, Pietro Meschi. 

Ninna Nanna by Italo Meschi and Gino Carter.

Dormi dormi bambarin la la la la la la la
Dormi dormi coccorinoin braccio di tu ma’ dormi e sogna tombolin
Nicchi nacchi nacchi nicchi dormi e sogna il befanin che porta i secchi
Fai la nanna  tamprussin che tu ma’ doppoti da un cavallo di festin e un melo da succhia’
Ninna nanna pi-to-rin. Po’ tu ma’ ti mette a ceccia e di da un palloccorin di farina neccia 

Sleep, sleep, little baby la la la la la la
Sleep, sleep, sweetie in your mother’s arms sleep and dream [about] Tambolin
Nighty night, nighty night, sleep and dream [about] little Santa who brings pails. [literal translation?]
Sleep Tamprussin, that later your mother will give you a horse [shaped] cookie and an apple to suck on
Nighty night, little one. Later your mother will sit you down and give you a chestnut flour treat

(tranlsation by Riccardo Sarti)

Tombolin, Befanin and Tamprussin are fables characters.  The lullaby is written in Lucchese dialect, which is very similar to the official Italian language.  The Italian language is in reality the Tuscan dialect as spoken in the nearby city of Siena. - RS


 

La Cappella (The Chapel)

For eight years, Italo kept a low profile living in the Alps in a stone cottage underneath the chapel.  Riccardo Sarti visited the area and returned with photographs of the cottage and area today.  Italo's niece is planning to re-structure the house.

Below: a view from the inside and outside and (right) of the Apuan Alps in the clouds to the right of Italo's  house.  Wonderful place for a hermit. The home had a fireplace and a stable, where he kept sheep. -RS

Guglielmo Lera mentioned how Italo had planted fruit trees from California at La Cappella.  Quoting Italo: “I brought this one from Los Angeles.  That one there comes from San Francisco….how sweet were their marmalades.” 

La Cappella ("The Chapel") which you can see over Italo's roof.
-RS


At right: The Medieval city of Lucca, which is completely surrounded by thick walls. In the background, right arrow, the hills where Italo worked in his orchard mentioned in the poem  and , left arrow , "Carignano" where he is now  buried.  The higher mountains are part of the Appennine chain, but due to their high elevations and snow white marble color they called the Apuan Alps. According to Riccardo , it is an excellent locale, only ten miles from the Ligurian sea.
Photo by Andrew Lucas

 

This photo from the early 1950's shows Italo in his mid-sixties in his favorite place, the woods and olive groves.  The picture comes from Mrs. Ida Meschi Mungai of Santa Cruz, California, whose father just  happened to also bear the name Italo Meschi!  Ida's cousin Angelina (Angie) Battistini (pictured) and her husband, John Battistini, visited Italy often and, according to the story, met the guitarist at a picnic - and because his name was the same as her uncle, the photo was taken.  Alas, Ida does not believe there is any relation.

     

 

My Youth’s Desires

To walk
for knowing
and to contemplate.
To read
for the love of knowledge. 

Justice, Truth, Love.

Freely
to work,
to sing, play music. 

To love
for procreation
only bound
by natural duty. 

To live isolated
in an old abandoned
cabin,
near a meadow
between the woods
and the orchard,
working the land,
the instrument
playing.
And in the evening, singing 
in the small room
close to the fireplace.
The hours of life
thus spending,
whilst waiting for
that invisible hand
that will take me far.

The hours have passed
the hopes vanished,
Time and illnesses
have almost exhausted
my strength.

Only,
in the depth of my heart,
there is still a yearning
for Justice, Truth, Love. 

Farewell! Generous orchard,
you kept me industrious
and gave me
the sweet, fragrant fruit.
Farewell enchanted woods,
your shadows
the silent green;
much desired.
Farewell! Green carpet
of a flowery meadow,
scented of hay, much appreciated.
Farewell forever!
Everything is over! 

Italo Meschi’s last poem,
Lucca, 8th of August, 1956

 

A handsome young Italo,
year unknown

Italo's parents


Chronology of the Life and Times of Italo Meschi

(compiled by Riccardo Sarti and Gregg Miner. Includes dates of all known concerts)

Date Age

   Event

December 9th, 1887 0 Italo Meschi born in Lucca, Tuscany.
1893-1898 5-11 Attended Elementary Schools. Studied music, particularly singing.
1901 13 "Bought his first guitar for 11 lire."
1909 21 He grew his beard for the first time and found employment as a Customs agent in Lucca.
July, 1911 23 R. Mattei builds what is believed to be Italo's first harp guitar, designed by Italo.
1911-1913 23-25 Dreaming of visiting Florence, he joins the Italian State Railways.
1913-1918 25-30 “The Great Jump:America” He learned to read music at the San Francisco Library.
Soon after Nov 18th, 1918 30-31 Returned to Italy.
Early 1919 31 Back in Italy with a pulmonary inflammation brought on from breathing coal dust on the “Duca d’Aosta” during his return voyage from New York to Genoa.  While recovering he began to grow his hair and beard again. Most importantly, he "bought a guitar that he had made in his own way."
c.1919 31 Went to London.
October 10th, 1921 33 Concert in Livorno, Tuscany.
c.1922 34 Concert in Paris.
April 16, 1923 35 Concert in Pisa, Tuscany.
1922-1925 34-37 Photo of Italo with second Mattei harp guitar.
March 1, 1925 37 Concert in Rome.
January 30, 1926 38 Concert in Paris.
Presumably after the above guitar was in use, but before it was possibly destroyed in San Francisco ? Obtained Mozzani chitarra-lyra “Aquila” model (while Mozzani was in Bologna, DATES).
March 5, 1926 38 Concert in Rome.
July 3, 1926 38 Concert in London.
June, 1929 41 Though no records of a U.S. tour at this time are known, a Brunswick recording was made of of a concert Italo gave in New York in June 1929.
1927-1936 39-48 He most likely spent most of this ten-year period in Lucca and the surrounding area.
1936 48 (second?) U.S. tour starts.
Jan, 1937 49

Last concert in San Francisco, then immediately extradited. His guitar (or one of his guitars) was supposedly destroyed after his last concert.

1940 52 Back in Lucca (Notice from the Fascist Authorities).
1943-1950 53-62 Lived in the Lucca countryside at “La Cappella."
1943-1944 53-56 Wrote anti-war letters and poems at La Cappella.
1945-1950 57-62 Writer Guglielmo Lera mentions in his account a "guitar with a wing with lively feathers" in Italo’s country home at La Cappella.
1950-1957 62-69 Moved back to Lucca center in his “Tower."
October 15, 1957 69 Italo Meschi died. Buried in Carignano, 5 km in the hills NW of Lucca.
1967   Italo's brother Mario gave the Mozzani Aquila to Riccardo Marasco.

Sources: Quotes and Notes

Special thanks to: 

The “Istituto Storico della Resistenza e dell’Eta’ Contemporanea in Provincia di Lucca and its President Lilio Giannecchini.

Laura (Meschi) Bedini, Italo's niece who gathered  the material  published by the Istituto. 
"The intention and the desire have been to render immortal Uncle Italo, for me an outstanding man." —Laura Bedini.
 


 

 

About the Authors

The two authors, who share a love of history and the arts, also both happen to work in the Aerospace industry.

Riccardo Sarti is Italo Meschi’s third cousin.  He is the Director for Research and Information of the Washington office of Finmeccanica , Italy’s defense and aerospace company (the same company that early in 2005 won the Presidential Helicopter bid in partnership with Lockheed Martin). 

In Lucca, 2004

Pretending he's in Tuscany with his Mozzani, 2005
(his backyard)

Gregg Miner is the creator and editor of this site.
His daytime employer is Northrop-Grumman, where he works as a Manufacturing Engineer in the Guidance Systems area.  Recently, his group saw their new Hemispherical Resonating Gyro successfully get NASA's Deep Impact flyby spacecraft to it's rendezvous with the comet, Tempel 1. 
Finmeccanica's subsidiary "Alenia Spazio, for which he still works, was also involved in many U.S. and EU space missions, including Cassini Huygens.  From 1997 to 2002, he was Alenia Spazio's rep in Washington, a very challenging task dealing with NASA and with the Office of Defense Trade Controls.  Riccardo jogs daily and loves kayaking and bicycling. He is constantly at work in his off hours researching, writing, corresponding, collating and publishing everything related to the harp guitar, besides other musical instrument projects.  Occasionally, he gets around to playing some of his nearly 200 rare instruments.
Al Braccini is the son of Italo's sister Erina, who settled in Berkeley, California.  Al is a woodworker in Bend, Oregon.

If you enjoyed this page, or found it useful for research, please consider supporting Harpguitars.net so that this information will be available for others like you and to future generations. Thanks!

 

Sources:
Quotes and Notes

Italo Meschi,  the Last Italian Troubadour

Versione
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