The Statio Radiophonica Vaticana — better known in the English-speaking world as Vatican Radio –which reaches all continents with its news and programs in 32 languages, turns 90 today. The broadcasting entity of the Holy See, legally recognized by international courts, is an instrument of communication and of evangelization at the service of the Papacy. United in 2016, together with eight other Vatican entities, under the management of the Secretariat for Communication, it has been the task of Vatican Radio to record, amplify and distribute “the sound from all the Pope’s public activities, both within Vatican City and, through supervision, outside”; moreover, “setting up, safeguarding and managing the Papal sound archive” (cfr. Statuto della Radio Vaticana, September 1, 1995, art. 1).
After about two years of preparatory work, at 4:40PM on February 12, 1931, inside the Vatican Gardens, the great inventor Guglielmo Marconi, with not a little emotion, announces “that in only a matter of seconds” for the first time in twenty centuries the voice of the Supreme Pontiff would be “heard simultaneously over all the face of the earth”. Nine minutes later, Pius XI pronounces in Latin the first pontifical radio message in history, Qui Arcano Dei. The Bishop of Rome, who is the universal father, addressed his beautiful words to all creation, to God, to the ecclesiastical hierarchy, to religious orders, to missionaries, to the faithful, to infidels and dissidents, to governments, to the rich and poor, to workers and employers, and to the sick and afflicted.
Turning to the subject of music, the first Vatican Radio concert was announced for Christmas 1937, broadcast live from the Hall of Blessings (overlooking the portico of the Vatican Basilica) and re-broadcast by radio stations of 23 countries. “Tomorrow, December 25, the solemnity of Christmas, between 7 and 8 pm (Central European time) the Vatican Radio Station will broadcast with the new transmitter and on m. 25,55 an important orchestral and vocal concert featuring Msgr. Lorenzo Perosi, conductor, Beniamino Gigli, tenor, Gianna Pederzini, alto and Licia Albanese, soprano” (in L‘Osservatore Romano of December 24, 1937). The program included also the premiere of the cantata Natalitia and pieces from the oratorio Il giudizio universale by Perosi (1872-1956).
These music programs, with which I have had the pleasure of collaborating, are the flagship of Vatican Radio. I spoke about them with the double bass player Stefano Corato, who has been with Vatican Radio since 1990, and has, since 2008, served as their director of musical programming:
Massimo Scapin (MS): Apart from that performance by the then Maestro of the Sistine Chapel Choir, did the music programs start in 1950?
Stefano Corato (SC): Let’s say that the first music officially broadcast by Vatican Radio was that of a 78 RPM record containing passages from a Beethoven symphony, broadcast immediately after Pius XI’s radio message. The music programs, yes, begin in the Holy Year of 1950.
MS: With the organist and composer Alberico Vitalini (1921-2006), your first predecessor?
SC: In April 1950, maestro Vitalini was called as the first head of music programs, a position he held until 1987. In 1948 he founded the San Gabriele String Orchestra of Vatican Radio with which he recorded music he arranged: the famous interval signal, Christus vincit, by the Czechoslovakian composer Jan Kunc (1883-1976) — which on January 1, 1949, replaced the previously used metronome hits — and the music (by Paradisi and others) used by the Italian Television, RAI, in its television intervals, with the harpist Anna Palomba Contadino (1930-2005).
MS: Vitalini also composed a lot of liturgical music for Vatican Radio.
SC: Yes, many songs in Italian for the Sunday Holy Mass, broadcast in connection with RAI Radio1, are by him.
MS: Music transmission became more and more important.
SC: We start talking about serious music programming in the 70s. The great idea of Rev. John St. George, a 54-year-old American Jesuit from Connecticut, to offer high-quality music broadcasting, on June 2, 1974, became Studio A, a stereo music program receivable in and around Rome. It had its own editorial staff directed by Rev. St. George, based in the Palazzina Leo XIII (in the Vatican Gardens) until 1993, and dealt with the bulk of musical programming, covering all musical genres (classical music, opera, pop music, soundtracks). Announcements in Italian and English. Six hours a day, divided into three parts, and all in stereo when RAI (Italian Radio) was still in the experimental phase in this field. While the music programs continued their work of tape and record library in Palazzo Pio (at Castel Sant’Angelo), broadcasting only one hour a day. Now the two sections are unified.
MS: Many listeners and great success?
SC: Studio A was the first music broadcasts in the Rome area, highly listened to and remained famous among connoisseurs. So much so that in October 1974 a bimonthly magazine was born, with the complete schedule of the Studio A music program, accompanied by both original photographs and drawings and editorials and comments made by critics and experts; the duration of the recordings was indicated. It went on until 2000.
MS: The music programs of Vatican Radio also return many productions.
SC: The music programs archive holds the many music recordings, made both outside the Vatican, especially in basilicas and churches, and in the Pope’s City, in the Paul VI Audience Hall and above all at the Assunta Hall, the studio of the Vatican Radio in the Vatican Gardens.
MS: You organized a wonderful series of live broadcasts to enhance young musicians.
SC: Yes, within the Conservatories in concert project, in agreement with the Italian Ministry of University and Research, between 2005 and 2011 we hosted many Italian conservatories and music institutes.
MS: In the Assunta Hall, also a lot of jazz music.
SC: Big names in Italian jazz, such as Romano Mussolini and Giorgio Gaslini, participated in a series of programs dedicated to that musical genre.
MS: Do you have international relations?
SC: As regards music, Vatican Radio is an active and founding member of EBU – European Broadcasting Union, which in Geneva brings together 115 public servers broadcasters in 56 countries and another 34 associated in Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas. Every week we broadcast the concerts selected by the “EBU space” broadcasting entities.
Massimo Scapin, an Italian conductor of both opera and the symphonic repertoire, composer, and pianist, holds degrees in piano and choral conducting from the State Conservatory of Music in Perugia, in orchestral conducting and composition from the National College of Music in London, and in religious science (magna cum laude) from the Pontifical Lateran University. Massimo appeared as guest conductor and pianist in Europe, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, and the United States. He was also a Vatican Radio commentator and entertainer. He currently serves as Director of Liturgical Music at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago.