April 25, Resistance and Bella Ciao. A Musical Journey

Australians and New Zealanders will be celebrating ANZAC Day today, a national holiday which commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars and conflicts, with a particular focus on the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25 1915. Coincidentally, April 25 is also significant in the Italian calendar as it marks the Festa Della Liberazione (Liberation Day), also known as Anniversario della Resistenza (Anniversary of the Resistance), an Italian national holiday. Italian Liberation Day commemorates the end of the Italian Civil War, the partisans who fought in the Resistance, and the end of Nazi occupation of the country during WW2. In most Italian cities, the day will include marches and parades. Most of the Partisans and Italian veterans of WW2 are now deceased: very few Italians would have first hand memories of that era.

 

One of the more accessible documents from the partigiani era of the 1940s is the well-known song, Bella Ciao, which has been adopted by resistance movements throughout the world since then. The original Partisan version is included here. Open this clip: you can find the lyrics in English and Italian at the end of this post.

Many Italian versions, including this modern rendition by the Modena City Ramblers, have appeared over the years, while international adaptations include punk, psychedelic and folk versions in many languages. A Kurdish version was revived after an ISIS attack in 2014, and the Anarchist movement has also appropriated the song. Popular folk songs are often derivative and evolutionary: the history of Bella¬†Ciao makes a fascinating study in itself. There are two threads to follow here. The original version of this song dates back to the 1850s: the first written version appeared in 1906 which was sung by women workers in the risaie, or rice paddies¬†of Northern Italy. The lyrics concern the harsh working conditions of the Mondine. The fascinating rice workers version can be heard here by Giovanna Daffini,¬†recorded in 1962.¬Ļ

The Mondine or Mondariso were female seasonal workers employed in Northern Italy’s rice fields, especially in Lombardia, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto. Their task was to remove weeds that could stunt the growth of rice plants. Working conditions were extremely hard, as the job was carried out by spending the whole day bent over, often bare-foot, with legs immersed in water; malaria was not uncommon, as mosquitoes were widespread. Moreover shifts were long and women were paid significantly less than men. For these reasons since early in the 20th century,¬†mondine started to organise themselves to fight for some basic rights, in particular to limit shifts to 8 hours a day.’

From Mondine di Bentivoglio¬†. “Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar”. The boss stands with his stick and we bend down to work. Line from the Mondine version of Bella Ciao.

The other thread concerns the euphony of the song itself. The much older women’s version, a slower folkloric piece, reflects the plight of the women rice field¬†weeders in¬†their struggle for better working conditions.¬†The 1940s partisan version became more masculine and heroic, despite the sombre sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Most of the modern versions sound Russian, revolutionary, or defiant. Slower versions suggest Yiddish as well as gypsy roots, which may indicate the melodic path of this song during the 19th century. I’ve selected two more versions¬†which reflect these latter impressions. They can be heard here¬†and here.

An Italian partisan in Florence, 14 August 1944. Signore Prigile, an Italian partisan in Florence. Tanner (Capt), War Office official photographer.This photograph TR 2282 is from the collections of the Imperial War Museums and is available for use, with recognition.

The partigiani make fitting heroes for Liberation Day: no one would deny that their struggle was courageous and honourable. However, one might question the level of mytholgising when it comes to patriotic days such as Liberation Day. The day was initiated by Alcide De Gasperi, the Prime Minister of Italy between 1945 to 1953. It could be seen as¬†a very astute political move to create¬†a national holiday centred around liberation.¬≤ It signified a break with Italy’s fascist past, an era spanning 25 years, as well as assisting the new Italian government establish a stable democracy.

Parallels may be drawn between the idealisation of the Italian Partisans and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers of World War 1. The stories and the images of those struggles are often used to boost a sense of national identity and patriotism in both countries.

Anzac soldier at sunset, Invergargill, New Zealand

Postscript. I must add this link from the popular Spanish series, Casa del Papel. A wonderful addition to the historical and musical narrative of this folk song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spCdFMnQ1Fk

 

See also my previous posts on April 25, Anzac Day.

Notes

¬Ļ Giovanna Daffini¬†(22 April 1914 ‚Äď 7 July 1969) was an Italian singer associated with the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano¬†movement. Born¬†in the province of Mantua,¬†she started associating with travelling musicians from an early age. During the rice-growing season she worked in the rice-growing districts of Novara and Vercelli where she¬†learnt the folk-songs that afterwards made her famous.¬†In 1962 she recorded the song “Alla mattina appena alzata”, a version of Bella Ciao, for the musicologists Gianni Bosio and Roberto Leydi.

² http://www.informatore.eu/articolo.php?title=il-25-aprile-da-pia-illusione-a-volgare-a-menzogna

In the 1960s, the tune, with new lyrics, became a revered song of the Lotta Femminista, the Italian Feminist struggle.

Lyrics.

Partisan Version in Italian and English

Una mattina mi son alzato
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi son svegliato
Eo ho trovato l’invasor

One morning I woke up
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
One morning I woke up
And I found the invader

O partigiano porta mi via
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
O partigiano porta mi via
Che mi sento di morir

Oh partisan, carry me away,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Oh partisan, carry me away,
For I feel I’m dying

E se io muoio da partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E se io muoio da partigiano
Tu mi devi seppellir

And if I die as a partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
And if I die as a partisan
You have to bury me

Mi seppellire lass√Ļ in montagna
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Mi seppellire lass√Ļ in montagna
Sotto l’ombra di un bel fiore

But bury me up in the mountain
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
But bury me up in the mountain
Under the shadow of a beautiful flower

E le genti che passeranno
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E le genti che passeranno
Mi diranno: “Che bel fior”

And the people who will pass by
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
And the people who will pass by
Will say to me: “what a beautiful flower”

√ą questo il fiore del partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
√ą questo il fiore del partigiano
Morto per la libertà

This is the flower of the partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
This is the flower of the partisan
Who died for freedom

Bella Ciao, Versione Delle Mondine. In Italiano
Alla mattina appena alzata, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao, ciao,ciao
Alla mattina appena alzata, In risaia mi tocca andar
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, Un dur lavoro mi tocca far
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar
O mamma mia o che tormento
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
O mamma mia o che tormento
Io t’invoco ogni doman
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
Lavoreremo in libertà.
Mondine Version in English.
In the morning, just arisen, Oh beautiful ciao……
In the morning, just arisen, In the rice field I’m going to go.
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos, oh bella ciao….
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos. I have hard work yo do.
The boss is standing with his stick, oh bella ciao….
The boss is standing with his stick and we bend down to work.
Oh my mother what torment, oh bella ciao….
Oh my mother, what torment, that I call you every day
But the day will come, o bella ciao..
But the day will come, when we will work in freedom.

Anzac Day 2016. My Mantelpiece Shrine

My Shrine
My Shrine

I’m not particularly nationalistic and neither was he. Dad marched every year on Anzac day, mainly to catch up with his old mates from his WW2 army battalion, followed by a few beers together afterwards at a pub in the city, a once a year activity for him as he was not a pub person. As the years passed, the veterans’ numbers thinned, and then he passed too. I wonder if any men still remain from his unit.

My shrine in the living room shows Dad as a young digger in his army uniform. He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, of slight build and height, with a ready toothy smile. He also had graceful elongated hands. He wore that uniform for five years, the time he spent in New Guinea, but I don’t recall seeing it as a child. He did keep the hat. Dad wrote to my mother every day throughout the war. She would often receive 5 letters at once. He spent his evenings hand drawing and colouring little cartoons of everyday army life onto envelopes. He also drew extras to sell cheaply to other chaps who were keen to impress their loved one back home. Dad was so artistic. Mum stored all these wartime envelopes in an album and I loved looking at them as a kid. He also kept his old coloured pencils in his gentleman’s robe along with the medals and a few other small mementos from the war. I can still smell his wardrobe today, the faint whiff of tobacco, a slight musty aroma, and see the gleam of his war medals hanging from short lengths of colourful¬†striped cloth.

My mother recently had replicas made of my father’s WW2 medals – five sets in all – which were distributed to his five male grandchildren. The rest of us, his three daughters and three granddaughters, missed out! So I grabbed this little photo of Dad in his uniform and made my own shrine and surrounded him with some of the things that he loved- smalls rocks and gemstones and his ‘long life’ pendant, the one he wore every day for 29 years from the age of 60, the one I gave him for his birthday. ¬†I don’t know if Dad would like all the other paraphernalia close by, broken bits of a fire damaged Buddha and old Chinese wooden panels, probably not, but he would love those gemstones. I must add another little crystal to his shrine today. Sometimes I scatter the petals of a flower on the mantelpiece or light a scented candle.¬†There aren’t many solemn or mindful moments in my life but this is one of them.

Past Anzac Day posts:

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/anzac-day-2014-commemorating-slaughter-with-a-biscuit/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/that-man-in-the-picture-anzac-day-2015/