By Jon Caroulis
A chance encounter in Bucharest led a Mt. Airy resident on a new career path, combining two loves he now pursues as a La Salle University faculty member: examining the interplay between classic Italian writings and music.
In the spring of 1999, Marco Cerocchi, 39, had finished a piano recital at the Italian embassy in Romania when he was approached by a professor from a Florida college, who encouraged him to apply for both graduate school and as an instructor of Italian. Two years later, Cerocchi moved to the U.S., where he started to teach and do research in Italian Studies.
“I thought it could be a good experience. I took it as an opportunity to see what I could do,” said Cerocchi, who, with his wife, moved to Mt. Airy four years ago when he began teaching at La Salle. (Cerocchi also teaches a course at the Curtis Institute of Music.)
Building on his musical background, which includes a terminal degree (the highest academic degree in a field of study) in piano performance from the Italian National Conservatory of Music, and a B.A. and M.A. degree in Italian Literature and Music History from the University of Rome, Cerocchi developed a comprehensive understanding of topics related to Italian literature and music.
Throughout his graduate studies at Florida State and Rutgers universities, he analyzed how Italian poets and writers created a relationship between music and literature. He soon began to make presentations at conferences and then to publish papers on the topic in academic journals.
His research has led to a book, “The Semantic and Metatextual Functions of Music in Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio,” published by one of Italy’s leading academic publishers.
In his work, Cerocchi examines some of the most famous Italian literary masterpieces of the three authors, widely known as “the fathers of Italian literature,” Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.
The book begins by exploring the extraordinary psychological power attributed to music by Dante throughout the “Divine Comedy.” According to Cerocchi, the poet distinguishes two quite different kinds of music: “sacred” and “profane.” The former, which is dedicated to praising God, he thought capable of elevating human spirits to the highest. The latter, with its focus on purely human emotions and needs (such as love), Dante felt would corrupt the souls of individuals, distracting their attentions from eternal salvation.
Petrarch, writes Cerocchi, instead, allowed this danger to fascinate him, contemplating music’s uncanny and diverse psychological effects. The poet’s conception of music is quite evident throughout his major literary works, and their analysis clearly illustrates the poet’s awareness of the high value of music, even the secular one, in human beings’ lives.
Finally, Cerocchi illustrates how Boccaccio’s “Decameron” can be considered the first work to acknowledge the inherent dignity of secular music within contemporary society’s daily activities, for the first time unburdened by concern and shame.
A native of Latina, a town 40 miles southwest of Rome, Cerocchi found that his academic pursuits prevented him from dedicating eight hours a day to the piano, as he had when he played professionally. However, Cerocchi has found a way to effectively combine music and literature, his longtime passions. “Not only does my research let me spend time exploring subjects I love,” Cerocchi said happily, “but as a professor, I have the opportunity to share the things I learn with my students. Who could ask for more?”