Italian Language Blog

Il Coro Degli Alpini Posted by on Aug 10, 2010 in Culture

In my recent article ‘Al Passo dei Due Santi’ I recounted the tale of our trip up to a pass in the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano mountains to listen to a concert given by a local Alpini choir. The concert was so enjoyable that I decided to phone my friend, whose husband sings in the choir, in order to find out a bit more about the group and, in particular, their songs.

As I wrote in my two recent blogs covering the subject, Gli Alpini are a specialized Italian mountain military corps. I Cori degli Alpini (the Alpini choirs) are all members of A.N.A. (Associazione Nazionale Alpini, ‘National  Alpini Association’), yet the singers, who are all male, don’t necessarily have to be former Alpini.  As a special concession, however, the non-Alpini are still allowed to wear the characteristic hat (see my ‘Gli Alpini’ blogs) when performing in public.

Coro Monte Sillara was founded in 1982 in the lovely little Lunigiana town of Bagnone in northern Tuscany, and take their name from the 1861 meter mount Sillara, which towers over the medieval town. In 1985, due to its repertoire of songs which are typical of the mountaineering tradition, the choir was accepted into A.N.A., becoming a strictly all male group. Since then it has taken part in most of the national Alpini conventions, giving concerts all over Italy, and even in Switzerland. From the beginning of 2009 the Coro A.N.A. Monte Sillara has been conducted by Maestro Ivano Poli, under the presidency of Ivano Duri.

The repertoire of the Coro A.N.A. Monte Sillara is mostly composed of songs dedicated to mountains and mountaineers, such as the moving Signore delle Cime (Lord of the Peaks), which was written in 1958 by Bepi de Marzi to commemorate the tragic death of his friend Bepi Bertagnoli who was lost in the mountains, or the very gentle Belle Rose du Printemps (Beautiful Rose of Springtime), which is written in French and commemorates the mountain guide Mario Puchoz from Valle D’Aosta (a region in the furthest north west corner of Italy where both Italian and French are spoken). Mario Puchoz died in 1954 during the Italian expedition to conquer K2, the second highest mountain in the world, lead by Ardito Desio.

Inspired by the First World War, Benia Calastoria (The Sung Story of Beniamino), tells the sad tale of the spoilt only son of a wealthy country family, who takes part in WWI. When he returns to his village after the war however, he finds only poverty, and is forced to emigrate to Belgium to work in the mines.

The very powerful and moving song L’Ultima Notte (The Last Night) describes the night of the 26th of January 1943, when the Alpini, after ten days of marching across the freezing steppe of Ukraine, finally succeeded in breaking through the encircling Russian Army near the railway bridge of Nikolajewka, to reach their own front.

More or less obligatory in any Alpini concert, is the song Valore Alpino (Alpine valor). This brano (piece of music) is considered L’Inno degli Alpini (The Alpini Anthem) despite the fact that it was originally a French anthem called Les Fiers Alpins. Valore Alpino is also known by the name of Trentatrè (Thirty three), for which there are two possible explanations. The first is that the name comes from the fact that it is traditionally the thirty third song in a concert! The second explanation maintains that thirty three is the number of steps that it takes to sing the anthem whilst marching (only the left step is counted).

But not all of the choir’s songs are related to the mountains or Alpini history, there is also a sprinkling of traditional folk songs. My favorite is La Strada Ferata (The iron road) written in 1857 to celebrate the inauguration of the railway station in Trieste in the north east of Italy. Written in the dialect of Trieste it was commonly sung in le osterie (the inns) after a few drinks, and was usually accompanied by train sound effects produced by the banging of forks and knives, the blowing of whistles, and so on. These days, when performing this song, Il Coro A.N.A. Monte Sillara do a fantastic vocal interpretation of a steam train gradually gathering speed along the track, at the end of each verse. Here are a couple of verses from La Strada Ferrata in the original dialect, translated into Italian and English:

Dialetto Adesso che gavemo la strada ferata
con bela giornata in gita se va.
Italiano Adesso che abbiamo la strada ferrata
con bella giornata in gita si va.
English Now that we have the iron road (railway)
on a nice day one can go for an outing.
Dialetto Adesso che gavemo la strada ferata
la boba in pignata mai più mancherà.
Italiano Adesso che abbiamo la strada ferrata
la sbobba in pignatta mai più mancherà.
English Now that we have the iron road
we won’t lack any more pigswill (grub) in the saucepan.
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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I think dialect is very interesting. I understand dialect as using different words than the national language uses and ‘accent’ as pronouncing the same words differently. For example in ‘La Strada Ferata’:

    When ‘gavemo’ is used instead of ‘abbiamo’ I see this as dialect; however, when ‘ferata’ is used instead of ‘ferrata’ and ‘bela’ instead of ‘bella’ and ‘pignata’ instead of ‘pignatta’, I see this as accent.

    Will someone who speaks the above dialect often forget when speaking Italian and pronounce words with a local accent? I would think it would be difficult not to. Given this I would also think that it would be very easy for a native Italian to tell where other Italians came from by their accents. For example, could you tell instantly if someone grew up in Venice? (Even I think I can tell when someone comes from Naples.)


    • serena:

      @Vince Mooney Ciao Vince, scusa per il ritardo, troppi impegni!
      Anyway, from what I understand, dialetto doesn’t consist of completely different words, otherwise it would be a different language. A dialect must share the same root as the main language, and will be a mixture of words that are completely different and words that are similar to the main language but pronounced and/or written differently.
      E.g., in our village they say ‘inghe che frad che fa’ (N.B. I’ve never seen it written, this is my phonetic transcription). In Italian the same sentence would be ‘oggi che freddo che fa’ (‘how cold it is today’). As you can see, ‘inghe’ is completely different from oggi, ‘frad’ is obviously ‘freddo’ with a strange pronunciation, and the other words are standard Italian (spoken, however, with a local accent).
      To answer your other question, yes, I usually recognize the different regional accents.

      Hope this helps, a presto, Serena

  2. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Thanks. That’s just what I wanted to know.



    Moltissime grazie per l’interessantissimo articolo e per tutti gli altri precedenti Molto grata Rita Sgro Kostopoulos

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