As was the case with many other Italian musicians in the 19th century, Francesco Masciangelo entered the musical profession following what can actually be considered as set stages: the family, the Church, the Conservatory. He was born on January 3, 1823, the son of Teresa Sanese, originally from the island of Malta, and Raffaele Masciangelo, a cellist trained in Naples, as stated by the Commune of Lanciano Decurional Deliberations registers of 1804, and later a musician for the Santa Casa del Ponte (Lanciano’s cathedral) chapel choir. Francesco was not an only child: in 1858_ the family comprised Camillo, Ermindo, Giulia, Domenico, Carlo, and a maid, Mancini Francescapaola. This numerous middle-class family was dedicated to music for not only the father, but three of the sons: Francesco Paolo, Ermindo and Domenico played for the town’s musical institutions, although only Francesco Paolo went on to become a professional musician. Ermindo became a notary and Domenico, in 1863, founded the Masciangelo print shop, the first in Lanciano and one of the most important, boasting as an apprentice the young Rocco Carabba, who later founded his own publishing house in the town. Francesco was the sibling who manifested artistic tendencies, thumping out notes on an old, keyed dulcimer at only seven years of age, and playing the organ in local churches. When Raffaele Masciangelo realised how talented his son was, he sent him to study solfeggio with his fellow citizen, Carmine De Giorgio, and at the same time ensured Francesco received solid general teaching from Leone Luciani. Another important teacher in the early years of his life was Camillo Bruschelli, who had also been the choirmaster in the cathedrals of Lanciano and Teramo. At that point his next step could only be a standard course of studies at a prestigious Conservatory, at that time San Pietro a Majella, in Naples, for Abruzzo continued to be part of that Kingdom. As was usual at that time, promising but impoverished young artists would be aided by the Provincial district council (prompted by the commune). Thus, at the time that Saverio Mercadante was taking the post of director, the Minister of the Interior, Nicola Santangelo_, obtained admission to the Conservatory and hall-of-residence of San Pietro a Majella for the young man. On November 12, 1840_, “piazza franca” admission, that is to say free of cost, occurred or rather was ratified by a ministerial note dated 12 November 1840_. Although an annotation, on a Miserere for three voices in Masciangelo’s _ own hand, informs us that he entered the Conservatory at sixteen, i.e. 1839, and that some time passed before this young student’s position was regularised. In Naples Francesco Masciangelo was taught by the likes of Gennaro Parisi for the double-bass, Francesco Ruggi for counter-point_, who also awarded him the role of “a little maestro of counter-point ”, and Saverio Mercadante himself, who nurtured a great esteem and affection for the boy, and considered him one of his best students. Then again, the links between Mercadante and the town of Lanciano were not incidental. Apart from Mercadante’s friendship with Raffaele Masciangelo, in 1841_ he had written the oratorio Giaele for Lanciano’s choir, conducted personally by the second author, Giuseppe Bellini_. A credible affirmation since Mercadante was definitely in Lanciano in 1841 as he was sponsor to the young Francesco Masciangelo at his confirmation on November 7_. In 1845 Masciangelo was awarded a diploma in composition _. In the period immediately after the composer divided his time between Naples and Lanciano, and for the latter he composed his first oratorio in honour of the Immaculate Conception. Entitled Gli spettacoli della natura it was performed in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, in the Civitanova quarter where his family resided. He finally returned to his hometown in 1847 where his father Raffaele required him. The links with Naples, however, were not broken after the new graduate left the city, although apart from his constant contact with Francesco Florimo, Conservatory archivist, and some attempts to have his work performed in the Parthenopean capital, he was really concentrating on other horizons. Just a single episode could have brought Masciangelo definitively back to Naples. In fact, in 1876 the chair of counter-point and composition was vacant at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella: the administration announced a competition by qualification and examinations. Masciangelo was chosen as one of the few candidates suitable to take part in the selections. Towards the end of February 1877 the Lanciano choirmaster went to Naples but the commission decided to give the post to Maestro Nicola D’Arienzo. The outcome was unfavourable to the Lanciano composer and although he felt it to be an unmerited defeat, but he did recognise the worth of the winner_. Evidently it was not Masciangelo's destiny that he should leave his hometown, the town for which he had written his first works at such an early age. Nor was his father Raffaele's request unjustified, for at that time the music chapel of the Lanciano's Santa Casa del Ponte, a glorious institution that had been active for two centuries, was in a period of transition. A replacement was sought for the choirmaster's position which had been left open by the Neapolitan Vincenzo Fioravanti, who had been there since 1838_, first as organist and then as choirmaster from 1840. _Masciangelo, however, was not the only candidate interested in the vacancy: another application arrived from Ferdinando Taglioni of Naples, a well-established musician_. And it was Taglioni who had the best of the contest as he was nominated choirmaster and organist on September 23, 1843. Just two years later, however, in 1845, Masciangelo was nominated organist and finally, in 1850, he became choirmaster. From that moment for the next sixty years, without interruption, he held the management post of what was the town's chief musical institution and one of the most important in the Kingdom of Naples itself. Yet it was not just this, his ability and his commitment made of him a sure point of reference for all of Abruzzo's musical institutions. Masciangelo was often invited to direct the musical structures of other important towns including L'Aquila, Chieti, Penne, and he was not just the choirmaster of a prestigious institution, but also a sought-after scholar who had dozens of illustrious pupils. Amongst these there was also Ottino Ranalli of Ortona who became deputy maestro at the Teatro San Carlo of Naples and the successor of Mascagni as conductor of the band of Cerignola, Alfonso Cipollone, pianist, composer and singing teacher from Fara San Martino who composed numerous piano pieces, many of which won various awards_. Even Camillo De Nardis, often mentioned in the letters written by Masciangelo to Florimo, after the first musical teaching he received in his home town of Orsogna, reached the Conservatory of Naples in 1867 with a letter from Maestro Masciangelo for Mercadante himself, in which the musician of Lanciano stated “that the young De Nardis was really insuperable for his accurate tempo and notes, even though only ten years of age”_. Finally Giuseppe Dell’Orefice also had a debt of gratitude towards Masciangelo, if we are to give credit to an article written by the historian from Orsogna, Beniamino Costantini, published in Lo Svegliarino on April 8, 1906. So despite his musical talent and the opportunities that came his way, Francesco Masciangelo was ever bound to Abruzzo and especially to the town of Lanciano, which gave him a great deal but also limited his career extensively. The presence of the Frentano composer on musical occasions is always constant as is demonstrated by the articles in the local press, but his name actually remains tied to the religious circles that were the terrain in which he elected to work. At about the turn of the century he achieved excellent professional recognition and in fact, on March 12, 1894, King Umberto I of Savoy awarded him the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Italian Crown (no. 49280) for his artistic merits, yet another episode punctually reported in local chronicles_. The only regret was that of not having been able to affirm himself in the field of opera, for a touch of misfortune and his having remained in his home town, for no matter how attached he was to Lanciano and all the opportunities it afforded him, it could in no way compete with the great centres of Italian musical culture. On the other hand, there was a limited likelihood of Masciangelo cutting a niche for himself in the national panorama of the 19th century. The inevitable comparison that the so-called minors faced was with the likes of Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and, of course, Puccini. Masciangelo did, however, succeed in becoming a point of reference for musical culture of the period, despite being "confined" in his Abruzzo. This was particularly true for religious music, which actually owed quite a lot to theatrical culture, and Masciangelo managed to express his own most personal and unmistakable style, and amongst manifold compositions he presented his fellow citizens with the two Miserere that were composed over 100 years ago, but continue to be sung today in the towns of Lanciano and Ortona during the Holy Week rites.
Text by Gianfranco Miscia - Traslation by Angela Arnone