How the Italian in the north swapped the mundane for musical acclaim

It has taken six years, but the career of Mauro Patricelli, a classical composer from Italy, is back on track

The Danes are known by their Nordic compatriots as the ‘Italians of the north’. This is supposedly because they are proud, a little bit temperamental, but ultimately don’t take things too seriously. It is also complete nonsense, or at least that’s the opinion of Mauro Patricelli, a composer from the old country who has lived in Copenhagen since 2007.

The key difference, says the 44-year-old Italian, is the countries’ relationship with the state, and in Italy, the state is the enemy.

“In Italy the state is always the enemy, and there is no unity in the nation or common culture,” he says.

“Whereas in Denmark, there is a completely different sense of the role of the state. People see it as a projection of their soul like a father or a big family.”

A true Italian
Originally from Ortona, Patricelli knows what he is talking about. Apart from having the most Italian-sounding name ever, he studied to become a classical pianist, he lived in Imola, the home of Italian Formula One, for 14 years and he even composes operas.

Nevertheless, the creative juices didn’t dry up when he followed his wife to Copenhagen six years ago, as he has just completed a video-opera, ‘Syng for fremtiden, Ingeborg!’, inspired by that most Danish of folk singers, Ingeborg Munch.

Despite his reservations about how much the two nations have in common, Patricelli admires his adopted country – most particularly its efficiency.

“In Italy people are always super busy and stressed, but they only get half of the work done that they would here,” he explained. “I like the Danish kind of effectiveness. Here there is a great balance between the opportunities that a big city brings and the quality of life.”

Difficult beginnings
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing from the start – initially Patricelli found it hard to settle.

“In Italy, we idealise the Nordic countries, but to be honest, at the beginning I have to admit Denmark was a disappointment,” he conceded. “It wasn’t anywhere close to the paradise for artists that I had imagined and many of my colleagues had described.”

But Patricelli knew that life as an artist is seldom easy.

“I am a realist,” he said. “In Italy, as in many other countries, life as an artist is very difficult. I was always looking for stability, but at one point I said to myself: ‘I need to implement my ideas’, so I decided to make the jump.”

While Patricelli was received warmly by fellow artists and musicians, he feels it might have been easier to move here in his 20s, not his 30s.

“It is easy to get ‘in’ if you follow the educational path because the network is so small,” he argued. “But if you come here as an accomplished professional, then it is very difficult because you don’t know the system or the language. Whilst it is true that the state supports culture and art, it doesn’t mean the day after you arrive you get grants and funding for your projects. You have to be known first of all.”

The opposite, Patricelli says, is true in bigger art cities like Paris, where he spends half of his time (after his wife relocated there for work), and New York. “In Paris or New York nobody cares if they don’t know you because of course there are many good professionals in the city,” he said.

“Whereas here, if you are not ‘known’, people ask: ‘Why don’t I know you?’ It is like you don’t exist. Of course you could say ‘I am not known because I arrived yesterday’, but for a foreigner it may as well be three years ago. In fact, after my second day here I realised that I wouldn’t have the same opportunities without learning Danish.”  

But things steadily improved
Patricelli accordingly got off to a slow, if somewhat mundane start, taking small jobs accompanying ballets, playing in churches and teaching, and learning Danish (and English). But there was an up-side. “It was a break in my life. It gave me a lot of time to focus on my ideas and compositional work,” he explained. “I could use a lot of time to implement and continue with my projects. I have no regrets.”

As his language skills improved and he became more ‘known’ on the scene, thanks to performances at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival and at the National Art Museum, Patricelli received his first grant.

This allowed him to take his ideas further and eventually become more positive about his inherited home.

“In Italy I definitely wouldn’t have had the same opportunities, especially in this period,” he conceded. “For me with an Italian background, what is amazing for me is the transparency of Danish institutions. State support is what gave me financial stability and allowed me to do projects I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

Patricelli’s video-opera will premiere on November 21 at Copenhagen’s Music Theatre. For more information, visit www.kobenhavnsmusikteater.dk.