Italy Marks 80th Anniversary of WWII Massacre with Stirring Symphony Performance

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In the heart of Italy, the 80th anniversary of a monumental calamity was remembered poignantly. Italy harked back to one of the darkest chapters of World War II when German soldiers, on a bitter day in Rome, embarked on a massacre that scarred the nation’s psyche. The grim occasion was commemorated through stirring performances and solemn ceremonies, paying honor to those who perished.

The iconic Italian conductor, Riccardo Muti, took the lead in a deeply symbolic gesture, helming the Italian premiere of William Schuman’s Ninth Symphony, known as “Le Fosse Ardeatine.” This powerful musical composition was the handiwork of the notable New York-born Jewish composer Schuman, who penned this symphony in 1968, following a profound visit to Rome’s Ardeatine Caves.

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It was within the chilling echoes of these silent caves, on March 24, 1944, that the imperishable horror unfolded. As swift retaliation for a partisan attack that eliminated 33 of their ranks on the streets of Rome, Nazi solders exacted their vengeance by executing 335 innocent lives.

Julius Caesar himself might have echoed Muti’s sentiment, as the maestro explained, ahead of the performance, setting the tone for the event. He shared how the ghastly experience of visiting the caves had fundamentally shaken the composer, Schuman. Muti went on to say that the relevance of performing the symphony, in Italy, was especially poignant.

“Every day we learn of new tragic events befalling our world. This is a cataclysmic tale that our youth, in particular, must understand, and the symphony ‘Le Fosse Ardeatine’ can serve as a sobering wake-up call,” Muti stressed, adding, “The mournful toll of funeral bells, embodied in the score, should remind us not to forget.”

Muti, it’s important to note, is no stranger to this symphony. In 2019, he led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through its soaring refrains in a tribute to the 75th anniversary of the gross act. This year, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary, Muti was at the helm of the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, an orchestra he both founded and directs. His skilled baton also directed musicians from the Carabinieri Orchestra, at Rome’s Parco della Musica auditorium.

This anniversary also saw Premier Giorgia Meloni issue a reminder, stating the importance of acknowledging the dark episodes of the past. Describing the massacre as “one of the most profound and painful wounds inflicted on our national community,” her message was a call not to forget.

Ahead of Sunday’s commemoration, President Sergio Mattarella visited the hallowed Ardeatine Caves themselves, now a memorial commemorating the 335 lives abruptly extinguished. Here, tombs etched with names, and in some cases, photographs, are silent testaments to the victims.

In accompanying notes to the symphony’s original recording, Schuman stated that the piece did not attempt to rehash the events of 1944. But Schuman, who passed away in 1992, made it clear that his visit to the site was instrumental in sculpting the emotional architecture of the composition—echoes from the unfulfilled promises and the brutally uprooted lives of the martyrs.