Firenze (Melody for Richard & Mimi)
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1981 Spectrum, Portland, OR
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Baila Dworsky
Original Release: The Art of Dulcimer (KM217)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Richard Fariña's dulcimer playing did more to set the direction for my musical style than any other single influence. His free-wheeling, droning tunes like Dopico and V shaped how it is I thought about music long before I was an actual player. I certainly also aspired to be a songwriter and poet of his calibre but in terms of how I approached playing the dulcimer, those tunes were definitive.
In some sense, those compositions barely have recognizable melodies. They were more about rhythm and texture. Most of his other instrumentals were based on adapting melodies from traditional tunes. These weren't. In the sixties the composition style of Richie Havens, John Fahey and Ravi Shankar's Indian ragas influenced a lot of emerging players. They, like Farinã's work, also did so for me.
Firenze is my break-through tune in that style. Prior to composing it I was still trading heavily on folk and bluegrass tunes, interlaced with my original singer-songwriter compositions. As a player I had long been experimenting with varying my rhythm, cadence, pulse and accent. A lot of that energy went into single-melody-line licks. Firenze incorporates one such lead-line but does so building out of the context of two-stop chords, lots of drone, syncopated rhythm and full stops of dead silence.
In the winter of 1971/72 Albert and I were living in Munich, Germany. I was writing In Search and living near Englischer Garten in a fourth floor, cold water walkup I shared with my Finnish girlfriend, Mirja. Albert lived a floor below with girlfriend, Turid. Across the street was Roberto Detreé, an Argentine guitar player. As Gruppe Between, his band had just released Einsteig, from which Peter Hamel was to go on to later embody the emerging “new simplicity” musical movement in Germany.
Albert and I were playing at a few clubs and recording for the Czech department of Radio Free Europe, broadcasting “freedom dulcimer” over the Iron Curtain. After a few months of that Albert decided he should head to Morocco, or any other place that was warm, and escape the Munich winter. A longtime fan of opera, he thought a detour to Vienna and then on to Florence, Italy would suit him fine. He left.
Meanwhile Roberto and Peter, scheming on how to get their LP off the ground, had found some gigs for which they wanted Albert and I to open and then to be guest artists in their sets. “We need to go find him,” declared Roberto a few days before Christmas. We had just received a postcard that he was in Florence. So Roberto and I got into his Volkswagen van and drove to Florence. We took a pensione for the day and split up to look for him. Being an art lover we thought Albert might be at the statute of David or near the Ponte Vecchio. My job was to check music stores.
A few blocks from the pensione I found a small store with a beautiful hurdy gurdy in the window and thought, “He will come by here eventually.” I went back to the room on that sunny pre-Christmas day, opened the window and sat out on the ledge playing dulcimer in that wonderful Tuscany light. Firenze-- Florence-- was born of that light, that search, that certainty of finding him.
Roberto came back and reported no success. I told him what I had found at the music store. He asked where it was and I said I'd lead him there. As we turned the corner, there was Albert with his face pressed up against the store's window. This is a true story and is just as magical as it sounds. Albert went on traveling for a few more weeks and then rejoined us in Munich.
I taught him the new tune. Together we brought it to the dynamic is was to later have. It is the tune that brought us together and defined our double-dulcimer style. For years and years it was the opening tune at all of our performances-- our overture. If we could hit the timing on Firenze, all was good.