Piero Angela, Italy’s most famous science journalist and TV presenter, died earlier this week, at 93 years of age. A central figure in the country’s broadcast field, he was regarded as a knowledgeable, all-round science presenter and, more generally, as one of the most respected public figures in the country. When his son Alberto (who followed in his father’s footsteps and is also a science journalist and presenter – they have often worked together), gave the news of his passing on social media, many institutional figures issued statements filled with sadness and regret. “A great Italian has passed away; All of Italy is grateful to him”, said the country’s President Sergio Mattarella. “He united the country like few others have done”, also declared Prime minister Mario Draghi.
The life of Piero Angela
Piero Angela was born in Turin in 1928. He spent most of his career as a journalist and TV presenter in Italian public broadcaster RAI, working first as a correspondent and then as an anchor in culture and science programs. Son of an antifascist psychiatrist, he was passionate about jazz music and a talented piano player. He first joined RAI in the 1950s, contributing to a program on the history of Jazz, to then pass on to the national news program. Between the 1960s and 1970s he covered the Apollo Missions to the Moon.
Angela wrote several books, many of which together with his son Alberto. He also presented more than 30 TV programs over a career span of 70 years, on topics that ranged from space exploration, to the human body and dinosaurs. The show he is most known for is Quark, a one-hour science research program (still broadcasted today) whose name is a tribute to the particles that compose protons and neutrons inside the atom. As he explained, it was chosen to convey the idea that the show was meant to go “in the detail of things”. More generally, on science and the relationship with his audience, Angela used to say: “To understand things, I first travel an uphill road, a difficult road, among thorns. Precisely because I realize the difficulty, to my readers, I try to make them take this road downhill, among the roses.” This is why Angela’s programs were highly appreciated among the Italian public: while remaining highly informative, they also had a light tone and language, easily accessible by everyone.
One man, one show: the success of Quark
The first episode of Quark was broadcasted on 18 March 1981, and it was watched by 9 million people. The musical theme introducing the program is the Air on the G String by Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer Angela loved the most, in a version played by the French band Swingle Singers. The journalist explained the unusual choice of music with these words: “Bach is my favorite musician, the interweaving of the notes is extraordinary. The Swingle Singers managed to give it a jazzy rhythm without touching a single note, and that proves that Bach was a jazz musician”. He said he chose it because “Back then, theme songs were all triumphant, while what I wanted to say was, ‘calm down, relax.’”
Angela was talented for music, but, according to those who knew him best, he was well-versed in many other fields too, including drawing and sculpture. “It was like living with Leonardo da Vinci”, his son Alberto said in his speech during the funeral ceremony.
In the last statement he shared on social media, just a few days before passing away, Angela wrote: “Dear friends, I am sorry to no longer be with you after 70 years together. But nature also has its rhythms. These have been very stimulating years for me that have brought me to know the world and human nature. Above all, I was fortunate to meet people who helped me realize what every man would like to discover. Thanks to science and a method of approaching problems rationally but at the same time humanely. […] “It was an extraordinary adventure, lived intensely and made possible thanks to the collaboration of a great group of authors, collaborators, technicians and scientists. On my side, I have tried to tell what I have learned. Dear all, I think I have done my part. Try to do yours as well for this difficult country of ours. A big hug.”
Piero Angela was married for 66 years and had two children. During the course of his life, he received 10 honorary degrees. When, in an interview back in 2017, a reporter asked him whether he was afraid of death, he replied he considered it “a nuisance”. An asteroid and a kind of clam are named after him.