The Florence symphony

A homecoming

Larry Basirico
March 3, 2016 - 15:00

Besides its unique look and unmistakable beauty, what is it about Florence that stimulates our senses and intellect and captures our hearts like nowhere else? That is the question that Larry Basirico, a professor of sociology who lived in Florence in 2013 while leading Elon University’s study abroad program through Accademia Europea di Firenze asked himself upon his return trip last summer. His answer: the sounds of Florence.


Click, clack Click, clack


The ‘look’ of Florence is what people notice about the city. The orange tile rooftops, views of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio at so many street corners, the billowy clouds above the Arno: the visual symbols of the Renaissance are inescapable. Those who are fortunate enough to stay longer become aware of the sounds of Florence, too. Like listening to a complex classical or jazz piece for the first time, one starts with an overall impression, but after listening to that same composition over and over, one hears the power and the subtleties and the motifs of the city.


Unmistakable in the Florence symphony are the city’s church bells, chief among them those of Giotto’s Campanile. Magical in their own right, their sound is especially poignant as they echo through the near-desolate streets early on a Sunday morning. Close to the Arno, one hears the gentle metronomic swish of rowers’ oars slicing at the water. In piazza della Signoria, the clickety-clack of horses’ hooves pulling carriages for tourists is offset by the contrapuntal sound of Italian boot heels rapidly crossing the pavement.


Vroom Vroom


Florence’s unique acoustics are shaped by the cobblestone streets and stone buildings, carrying the sounds of the city’s musicians, from the organists playing in the Santa Maria dei Ricci church on via del Corso, heard through the church’s open doors, to the singers and guitarists on the Ponte Vecchio, whose tunes waft like a whisper across the Arno from the adjacent bridges on a still evening. The jazz standards played by the Rom Draculas trio, the love songs caressed by Tadeusz Machalski or the soul-searching, heart-rending music of singer-guitarist David Vaggelli stationed in one of the piazzas are all part of the symphony. Surprised at first by the medieval parade passing beneath your bedroom window, it soon becomes a familiar and sought-after sound. 


Above the city’s melodies and percussion is the constant hum of the human conversation:

Buona giornata!
Anche a Lei!

Grazie mille!


Vuoi qualcosa da bere? Un bicchiere di vino rosso, per favore.


Ci vediamo!


Florence is more than the symphony of street sounds. It is also experiencing operas at St. Mark’s Anglican Church or Chiesa di Santa Monaca, recitals upstairs in Orsanmichele or Teatro Verdi, and the strains of a jazz performance during Notte Bianca, the city’s church bells, quieted from Good Friday to the first hours of Easter morning, suddenly pealing.  The sounds of Florence saturate your heart and mind. After a while you take them for granted. They become part of you. Making an analogy of how we take cultures for granted when we are within them, anthropologist Ralph Linton (1893–1953) remarked, ‘The last thing a fish would notice would be the water’. Much like the fish removed from water, you become acutely aware of the sounds of Florence when they are no longer a part of your life.


The true Italian cadence, perhaps, is the sound of Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman performing Francesco Sartori’s and Lucio Quarantotto’s ‘Con te partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)’ after you’ve left. Listening to it, it’s almost impossible to keep a dry eye.


Quando sono solo

sogno all’orizzonte

e mancan le parole,

Si, lo so che non c’è luce

in una stanza quando manca il sole,

Se non ci sei tu con me, con me.”


(“When I’m alone

I dream on the horizon

and words fail;

yes, I know there is no light

in a room where the sun is absent,

if you are not with me, with me.”)


Of course, the song is about a lost love. My point exactly.




Photos by Marco Badiani

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