SONGS AND WAR
The First World War (1915 – 18) provided a unique opportunity for the emergence of a national repertory that was common to the whole of the country, from the Alps to the island of Sicily. At the outbreak of the war, only 24% of soldiers spoke Italian, 90% of whom were officers. Songs were instrumental to the spreading of the Italian language and cultural values shared by different social classes. Traditional Alpine chants and military songs combine a popular repertory and one proposed by the dominant culture, divided into several sub-genres: 1) songs extolling warlike values and patriotic self-abnegation; 2) light-hearted songs to accompany marches and lulls in military action, which included regional repertories as well as remakes of popular songs; 3) songs of resignation, anguish and pain; 4) songs of anger, protest and ridicule – the anti-militaristic vein. The soundtrack to the war also included a minor repertory consisting of songs of imprisonment, barracks songs, mountain songs, patriotic hymns and ballads that became hit records like 'O surdato' nnamurato
(The soldier in love) (1915) and La Leggenda del Piave
(The legend of the Piave river) (1918). Unlike the Second World War (1940-45), which was not dominated by trench warfare and thus did not create much opportunity for long-drawn-out social interaction, the First World War was also a sung war; that heritage, rather than becoming extinct at the end of the conflict, spread in the places that civil society reserved to entertainment and conviviality: hymns and songs that had emerged from the Risorgimento filled taverns and cafés, theatres and barracks, conscripts’ parties and veterans’ gatherings, to then become part of the repertory of bands, country bands, and philharmonic societies, and finally resound in modern places such as cabarets or popular institutions like the Alpine choirs. Whereas World War II only produced songs of propaganda suitable for radio broadcasts, the Resistance made an important contribution to the genre. Partisan songs (eg. Bella Ciao
) born of a mixture of peasant folklore, artisan tradition, popular songs and urban ballads, would survive in the golden age of protest songs along with the vast Alpine song repertoire.