Carolling in Bagni di Lucca

The Christmas carols known to most Italians do not make for a large list. Apart from the ubiquitous “Tu scendi dalle stelle” – words and music written in 1732 at Deliceto in Foggia province by Neapolitan priest Don Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, (now canonized and a “Beato”), founder of  the Redemptorist missionary order – there is not much that follows apart from “You’d better watch out” and other modern American imports. A place is, of course, found for “Silent Night”, known here as “Astro del Cielo”, but I have yet to come across an Italian equivalent of “100 best carols “(Rutter and Willcocks) or “the Oxford Book of carols” (Dearmer, Vaughan-Williams and Shaw) in Lucca’s music shops and there is not a tradition of Carol concerts or services as in the UK.

This is a pity as I am quite sure there are some very attractive carols to be found in all regions of Italy. In particular, I am attracted to the zampognari tradition when shepherd came down from their pastures to praise the baby Jesus with their bagpipe tunes. I have found no local shepherds practicing their bagpipes while watching over their flocks today although I have come across a local duo who will play upon request and special events.

The drone accompaniment of the carol, “Tu scendi” is characteristic of bagpipes and it would be great to hear it with this accompaniment. “Zampogna” is the bagpipe and “Zampognaro” is the bagpipe player. It is the arm rather than the mouth that is used to pump air into the wind-sack. The Italian equivalent of the Scottish variety where one’s lungs supply the air is, in fact, called the “cornamusa” and is equivalent to the French “musette” which Bach imitates in that delightful piece of the same title in his notebook for second wife Anna Magdalena:

There are several other pieces from those two sublime pinnacles of western music, Bach and Handel, imitating the Zampogna tradition: the pastoral symphonies from the” Christmas Oratorio” and “Messiah” are the best-known. But the imitation of the Zampogna occurs throughout western music (even Beethoven’s Symphony no 6’s scherzo has one, for example).

Here are pictures of both types of Italian bagpipes:

Although there were no bagpipes in Circolo square, Bagni di Lucca yesterday there was an enthusiastic local choir from Corsena church performing under the baton of Ennio, the ex-trout man, (see Anna Blundy on him at http://journalisted.com/article/7ily – I once gave Ennio a CD of that Schubert quintet…) and the well-mittened hand of the choir’s Hastings-hailing accompanist.

Here are some snippets from what they sang:

The singing was welcomed in the scenario of Christmas stalls including that of magical local artist Kety Bastiani and, of course, the Alpini with their feathers which, incidentally, are not always black but which are coloured according to rank: crow black for privates, brown eagle for NCO’s and white duck for higher ranks.

PS The sunset yesterday was particularly poignant for me, especially as I came home to the entrails of Bianchina, my free-range rabbit doe, eaten by a hungry fox while I was away and leaving three just-born mewling kits (name for baby rabbits) which our local friend from Mobbiano has taken away to see if they will feed from his doe who also has given birth.

End of free-ranging rabbits then?

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