Almidano Artifoni

Almidano Artifoni

In Brief

The sixth section of Wandering Rocks shows Stephen Dedalus talking in Italian with his voice teacher "Almidano Artifoni," who regrets Stephen's decision not to pursue what could be a profitable vocal career because of his belief that "the world is a beast." Artifoni was a real person, but he was not a musician and he never set foot in Dublin. He was simply a man who had done Joyce good and who should therefore be honored. In Ulysses Joyce seems to have overlaid Artifoni onto an Italian musician he did know from Dublin, Luigi Denza, just as in Stephen Hero he overlaid him on the Jesuit priest who taught him Italian, Father Charles Ghezzi. These layerings become still more complex when, at the end of Eumaeus, Leopold Bloom encourages Stephen to become a professional singer.

Read More

Almidano Artifoni was born in the city of Bergamo, in Lombardy, in 1873. He taught at the Berlitz School in Hamburg in Germany for five years in the 1890s, eventually becoming its director. In 1900 he moved to Trieste to open the local Berlitz branch, and a few years later he became important in the life of the penniless James Joyce, who arrived in Trieste in October 1904 with his partner Nora Barnacle pregnant. Artifoni lessened Joyce's hardships by assigning him a position as an English teacher at the branch office he had just opened in Pola, southeast of Trieste on the Istrian coast, and soon afterward in the headquarters of Trieste itself. In 1907 Artifoni left the direction of the Berlitz School in the hands of two other teachers. He taught accounting at the Revoltella Higher School of Commerce and helped Joyce to obtain the role of English teacher in the same institute from 1910 to 1913.

Joyce put Artifoni in Stephen Hero as the character Charles Artifoni, Stephen's Italian teacher at University College, Dublin: "He chose Italian as his optional subject, partly from a desire to read Dante seriously, and partly to escape the crush of French and German lectures. No-one else in the college studied Italian and every second morning he came to the college at ten o’clock and went up to Father Artifoni’s bedroom. Father Artifoni was an intelligent little moro, who came from Bergamo, a town in Lombardy. He had clean lively eyes and a thick full mouth." The physical details seem to have been inspired by Artifoni, but some of the personal qualities that Joyce assigned to the character, as well as his given name, came from his actual teacher at UCD—another sympathetic Italian man, this one Sicilian, named Charles Ghezzi. When Joyce reshaped his cumbrous early novel into A Portrait of the Artist, he let Father Ghezzi appear under his own name.

The Artifoni of Ulysses seems to have been modeled in part on the Neapolitan maestro Luigi Denza, professor of voice at the Royal Academy of Music in London and composer of the well-known song Funiculì funiculà. In 1904 Denza chaired the jury of the prestigious Dublin Feis Ceoil singing competition. Joyce, who had a beautiful but untrained tenor voice, had started taking singing lessons from an Italian teacher named Benedetto Palmieri but he ran out of money to pay for the lessons. John McCormack, the great Irish tenor who had won the gold medal at the Feis Ceoil in 1903 and who had seen his career soar as a result, beginning with a year-long scholarship to study voice in Italy, urged Joyce to enter the competition. Joyce did, and he sang splendidly, but he grandiosely refused to do the sight-reading exercise at the end because he had never learned that skill—even though he knew it was a requirement of the competition.

According to Ellmann's account of the evening, "The startled judge had intended to give Joyce the gold medal....The rules prevented his awarding Joyce anything but honorable mention, but when the second place winner was disqualified Joyce received the bronze medal....Denza in his report urged that Joyce study seriously, and spoke of him with so much admiration to Palmieri that the latter, who had made the mistake of refusing to help McCormack, offered to train Joyce for three years for nothing in return for a share of his concert earnings for ten years. But Joyce's ardor for a singing career had already begun to lapse; the tedious discipline did not suit him, and to be a second McCormack was not so attractive as to be a first Joyce" (152).

Ellmann's judgment seems overstated, because when he was living in Trieste Joyce continued to explore the possibility of training to become a professional singer. In October 1908 he enrolled at the Trieste Conservatory of Music and became a pupil of the maestro Romeo Bartoli, who had features similar to how Joyce describes Artifoni. Bartoli confirmed that he was gifted with a rather good voice and promised him that he would be ready to go on stage within two or three years. Joyce gave Bartoli some English lessons and it is possible that the two exchanged professional services in something like the manner described in Eumaeus and Ithaca, where Bloom envisions Stephen becoming a professional singer and Molly acquiring "correct Italian pronunciation," the two of them singing "duets in Italian with the accent perfectly true to nature." In reality, Joyce's singing career was limited to the performance of a quintet from Wagner's Der Meistersinger at the Conservatory's end-of-year concert on 3 July 1909.

Wandering Rocks presents a very warm interaction between Stephen and Artifoni on College Green as the latter stands waiting for a tram:

     — Ma! Almidano Artifoni said. [But!—i.e., Who knows!?]
      He gazed over Stephen's shoulder at Goldsmith's knobby poll.
Anch'io ho avuto di queste idee, Almidano Artifoni said, quand'ero giovine come Lei. Eppoi mi sono convinto che il mondo è una bestia. È peccato. Perchè la sua voce... sarebbe un cespite di rendita, via. Invece, Lei si sacrifica. [I too had these ideas when I was young like you. Then I was convinced that the world is a beast. It's a shame. Because your voice... it would be a financial asset, come on! Instead, you are sacrificing yourself.]
      Sacrifizio incruento, Stephen said smiling, swaying his ashplant in slow swingswong from its midpoint, lightly. [A bloodless sacrifice.]
      — Speriamo, the round mustachioed face said pleasantly. Ma, dia retta a me. Ci rifletta. [Let's hope so. But listen to me. Think about it.]
      By the stern stone hand of Grattan, bidding halt, an Inchicore tram unloaded straggling Highland soldiers of a band.
      — Ci rifletteró,
Stephen said, glancing down the solid trouserleg. [I'll think about it.]
      — Ma, sul serio, eh? Almidano Artifoni said. [But seriously, eh?]
      His heavy hand took Stephen's firmly. Human eyes. They gazed curiously an instant and turned quickly towards a Dalkey tram.
      — Eccolo,
Almidano Artifoni said in friendly haste. Venga a trovarmi e ci pensi. Addio, caro. [Here it is—i.e., the tram. Come visit me, and think about it. Goodbye, dear friend.]
      — Arrivederla, maestro, Stephen said, raising his hat when his hand was freed. E grazie. [Goodbye, Master. And thanks.]
      — Di che? Almidano Artifoni said. Scusi, eh? Tante belle cose! [For what? Excuse me, eh?—i.e., for having to run. So many beautiful things!—i.e., My best wishes!]

Amplified by association with no fewer than three other well-meaning and helpful Italian men, Almidano Artifoni represented for this Irish writer a positive figure that he wanted to remember in his works and, above all, in his masterpiece. The "clean lively eyes" of Stephen Hero become "Human eyes" in Wandering Rocks. Artifoni's touch is welcome to Stephen, and so is his advice. When he briefly returns in Circe as a hallucinated figment, he says somewhat aggressively, "Ci rifletta. Lei rovina tutto" (Think about it. You're ruining everything). But at the end of Eumaeus Leopold Bloom presents yet one more layered evocation of Artifoni, warmly human, physically supportive, and not at all accusatory. Bloom's efforts to convince Stephen to make money on the concert stage might seem merely ignorant and venal, were it not for the personal history that Joyce wove into the figure of Almidano Artifoni.

Marco Fulvio Barozzi and John Hunt 2021
Photograph of Almidano Artifoni taken ca. 1911. Source:
Photographic portrait, date unknown, of Luigi Denza made by the firm of Pilotti e Poysel, held in the Archivio Storico Ricordi, Milan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Photographic portrait of Romeo Bartoli, date unknown, held in the Museo Schmidl, Trieste. Source: John McCourt, James Joyce: A Passionate Exile.
1890s photograph of College Green held in the National Library of Ireland, showing Trinity College at top right, the Bank of Ireland on the left, and two trams, one of them part of the city's recently electrified fleet, passing by the statue of "King Billy." Source:
  1900 photograph by Robert French held in the Lawrence Collection of the National Library of Ireland, showing two trams passing by the "blind columned porch of the bank of Ireland" and a stream of pedestrians walking past the "Trinity gates" and the statue of "Goldsmith's knobby poll" inside the railings. Source: