Pinocchio and Pulcinella: A Punch Worth Preserving by John Axelrod @2017

Composers are like parents.  They create something from nothing, giving all the love the music needs, and laughing and playing with their child, the composition.  A composer must always remain a child at heart to source the imagination.  Jung once wrote that children have all the answers and we spend the rest of our lives figuring out the questions.  Composers do just that.  Is it any wonder then that puppetry, marionettes and fables have inspired many a composer?

There are many solo works, like Schumann’s Kinderszenen or Debussy’s Golliwoggs Cakewalk, as well opera, from Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel to Rossini’s Cenerentola to Valtinoni’s Pinocchio to Jonathan Dove’s newer The Adventures of Pinocchio to Tchaikovsky’s fabled ballets that all take childhood fantasy to full fruition.  Ravel and Zemlinsky are among many other composers who musically portrayed fairy tales.  Leopold Mozart made use of toy instruments and Mozart created a singing bird out of a human puppet.

But perhaps when sourcing the theme of puppetry and marionettes in orchestral music, one must appreciate Stravinsky as our puppet master.  While Petrouchka may in fact be about a puppet, Pulcinella is the masterpiece that encapsulates the child in us all. This 1919 ballet finds its roots in the commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella or Punchinello, a mischievous archetype: playful, combative, fickle, undisciplined, troublesome, but unforgettable and charming: The essence of childhood itself.

The music of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, based on Pergolesi, other composers and Russian folk tunes that all remind us of the Renaissance, has within its neoclassical simplicity that innocence of childhood play.  The many solo instruments of the work function like the strings of a puppet, each one pulling the work in one direction or another.  The flute sings, the clarinet laughs, the oboe cries, the fagot trots, the trombone slides, the solo contrabass grunts, the solo violin speaks, and so on.   The narrative of each movement recalls the comic book storyline of puppet theater.  The result is a lightness and humor that brings comfort to the soul and never fails to bring a smile to the face.   Stravinsky described his musical goal as a “look for truth in a disequilibrium of instruments, which is the opposite of the thing done in what is known as chamber music, whose whole basis is an agreed balance between the various instruments.” Indeed, those strings on a puppet seems to work in an unbalanced way, but when pulled in the right direction, it becomes lifelike in its disharmony.

Would you believe there are wines named Pinocchio and Marionette that parallel this Stravinsky like quest for disequilibrium?  Wines, like music, are usually valued by their structure and relationship of the grapes to each other.  The idea of a wine out of balance is a recipe for bad headache.  And yet, in keeping with the Italian commedia, a Siciilian wine from Dievole, naturally called Pinocchio, has achieved what Stravinsky himself wanted: to find the truth in disequilibrium.  This is a wine of quality, albeit of a different tune. As the winemaker describes: “A glass half empty is half full. That’s true. But half a lie – can it ever be half the truth? There are those who live by what they know to be a lie, and those who live by what they believe, falsely, to be the truth. Only with Pinocchio’s wine glass will you be able to honor every truth by use.”

Big words, indeed.  And no strings to hold it down.  That is the truth.

This is a Nero d’avola with 13% alcohol that has a lightness that contradicts the dark skinned grape.  It is an intense deep ruby red with blue hints that nevertheless tastes like the mediterranean sun. The nose is deceiving. At first it smells tannic, but then reveals a delicious bouquet that will make your own nose grow long to smell the truth of ripe red fruit such as blackberry, strawberry and red currant as well as aromas such as toasted bread and sage. The palate has less mineral than expected, and is soft and young, like a good fairy tale.  The best quality of Pinocchio is its affordability.  It scores high on most ratings lists suggesting a big price and yet, for less than 10€, you can enjoy this happy wine that is full of spirit: a juicy, bright and truly amusing Sicilian red.

When compared with other red wines with names of comical nature, such as the Marionette, an award winning Spanish Shiraz-Monastrell blend, Pinocchio is perhaps the best value that retains its appeal, particularly because the nero d’avola grape harmonizes so unexpectedly in this particular wine.  Like Pulcinella, Pinocchio unexpectedly comes to life and, despite its contradictions, forms a coherent and homogenous whole.  Like Pulcinella, it is a punch worth preserving.  pinocchio-igt

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