Franco Battiato and Astronomy (Astronomy)

The great Sicilian singer-songwriter passed away in the night between 17 and 18 May, after a long illness. His death leaves Italy and the whole world orphans of a visionary artist who has often been inspired by the sky and astronomy in his songs. We propose some verses of his lyrics, to remember him with us

The night between 17 and 18 May 2021 brought us sad and unfortunately long overdue news.

The death of Franco Battiato leaves Italy and the whole world orphans of a visionary artist who has often been inspired by the sky and astronomy in his songs. Through the unrivaled evocativeness of music and poetry, Battiato has allowed us for entire decades, and will do so for many generations to come, to travel to distant worlds and free ourselves – even if for those few moments – from the gravity of every existence.

In Battiato’s mysticism, astronomy played a non-secondary role, as demonstrated by the lyrics of some unforgettable songs.

“I know the laws of the world, and I will give them to you I will
overcome the gravitational currents
Space and light so as not to make you grow old”

These lofty love verses – whose lightness is worthy of Calvino’s “American Lessons” – are contained in the text of ” La Cura “, a masterpiece of music and poetry that punctually and incredibly moves us despite having listened to it hundreds of times. , perhaps because it focuses entirely on giving and not on asking and receiving. While remaining utopia, these verses refer above all to the fact that the world is governed by laws that have nothing to do with the courts but which are those of physics and what philosophers have always called “necessity”.

Space and light cannot fail to lead us straight to Albert Einstein, at the speed of light, to the concept of spacetime. In real life, spacetime represents the simple inevitability of the consummation of our lives but – as we can read on the site of the Italian Amateur Astronomers Union which collects astronomical quotes in music – if we imagined traveling at relativistic speeds, that is, close to that of light, the time would actually stop. And Battiato, like any passionate lover, would be able to stop time with love.

And, again on the same site, we find the quote from ” The birds “, another masterpiece that brings up the laws of physics:

“Flying birds fly
in the space between the clouds
with the rules assigned
to this part of the universe
to our solar system”

Battiato here sensed something extraordinary, namely that – despite astrophysicists from all over the world strive every day to find constants and laws that are the same for everyone – these laws of physics, which we have already found in “The Cure” as referring to the “world ”, They are probably not even the same for the entire universe, even if we are familiar with those of the Solar System. If this were not the case, we would have long ago solved the “dark matter” puzzle that is missing when astronomers observe excessive speeds of visible matter in distant stars and galaxies.

And it is to ours, instead, of the galaxy that the song, beautiful but not very well known, ” Via Lattea ” is dedicated , contained in an album whose title is once again turned to the sky, indeed to the thousand skies of ” Worlds far away ” .

In this song we imagine the interstellar travels that we as a human species will probably never do. However, listening to it, we can imagine the trips to the Moon and Mars on which we are really working in these years. The text is so beautiful that we offer it all:

“We got up when it was not yet dawn
Ready to transship
Inside an artificial satellite
That led us quickly
To the gates of Sirius
Where an experimental crew was
preparing for the
long journey.
Provincials of the Ursa Minor
Conquering interstellar spaces
And dressed in light gray
So as not to get lost.

We followed certain routes diagonally
Inside the Milky Way.

An Impression Center captain
Overwhelmed by exhaustion
He was soon sent into exile.
I was preparing for the
long journey
… in which you get lost.

We followed certain routes diagonally
Inside the Milky Way.”

But the history of astronomy also finds space in Battiato’s texts. In at least one case, in fact, we find an almost hidden historical quotation, of those that if we do not go into it, only mysterious evocations remain in our imagination. For example, in the song ” Permanent center of gravity “, a title that is already quite explicit, the ” Euclidean Jesuits dressed as bonzes to enter the court of the emperor of the Ming dynasty ” are not an artistic invention but a real group of religious led by Father Matteo Ricci who, on the threshold of 1600, before arriving at the emperor’s court in Beijing, spent about twenty years spreading Christianity but above all Western mathematical-scientific and astronomical thought, integrating it with Confucianism.

The accuracy of the Jesuits and their Euclidean calculations for the prediction of eclipses then led them to direct the imperial astronomical office from 1650 until almost the end of 1700, carrying out a profound revision of the Chinese calendar, the importance of which was fundamental for the taking of any imperial decision given that Chinese thought was historically steeped in astrological superstition.

A main belt asteroid discovered in 1997 by Francesco Manca and Pietro Sicoli at the Sormano observatory near Bergamo was also dedicated to Franco Battiato . Since 2003, the surname of the great Catania artist has been added to the small asteroid, also known as the small planet 18556 .

A more in-depth research could take us even further but today is the day of sadness and remembrance, we must therefore be content with remembering Franco Battiato while respecting the spaces and times that are granted to us.

Battiato really knew the laws of the world, at least those that in all of us are able to open the doors of the mind and heart without intermediaries.

And he gave it to us.

Featured image: Franco Battiato in concert at Teatro Circo Price, Madrid (2013). Credits: Juan Lupión

Provided by INAF

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