Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Alpini (Italian Mountain Troops) Song Was Pope Francis Referring To?

He was an Alpini

Pope Francis, in a recent appearance in front of children--an appearance that is quickly becoming notorious for the many eyebrow raising things the Pope did and said--claimed that:
There is a lovely song that the Italian Alpine troops sing: in the art of rising up, victory does not lie in not falling, but in getting back up.
Now, the Italian mountain troops or Alpini, initially formed in 1872, are actually famed for their songs as well as their combat prowess. Many of these songs are explicitly Catholic. Mahound's Paradise does not necessarily doubt that the Pope was referring to a particular actual song. On the other hand, we wouldn't be surprised if it turned out the Pope was mixed-up or even slightly fibbing, as he often is or does in his "off-the-cuff" remarks. But the question is, what song was he referring to?

Here is perhaps the most famous Alpini song, Signore delle cime (Lord of the Peaks):

God of heaven,
Lord of the peaks,
You called our friend from the mountain.
We beseech thee, we beseech thee:
Up in heaven, up in heaven,
Let him go
Through thy mountains.

Holy Mary,
Lady of the Snow
Cover our friend, our brother
With a soft white blanket.
Up in heaven, up in heaven,
Let him go
Through thy mountains.

God of heaven,
The mountaineer has fallen
And rests in peace
In the breast of the mountains.
We beseech thee, we beseech thee:
Let an edelweiss
Fall from thy hands.

(The edelweiss is a Alpine flower, famously referred to, among other places, in a song from The Sound of Music. See end of post.)

This is a beautiful song. But there is no reference to falling down and getting up.

Here at Mahound's Paradise, we are of course fluent in 23 distinct languages and are conversant in at least 50 more. We are also highly knowledgeable about the history of music, including the Southern European folk tradition.

Nevertheless, to give others a chance, we will here offer an excerpt from Wikipedia, summing up the focus of the most well-known Alpini songs. Strip to a t-shirt, open your windows (if it's cold) or turn on a fan or the air-conditioner, to get the full effect:

  • Aprite le Porte. An upbeat choral calling on people to open their doors and have a look at a column of advancing Alpini.
  • Bersagliere Ha Cento Penne. This song begins by telling the difference between the single, long black feather which distinguishes the Alpini's cap from the Bersaglieri, who have a lot of smaller feathers on their cap. It goes on to tell why being an Alpino is harder than any other soldier's job, and says that the Alpini don't fear death because they die among the flowers of the Alps.
  • Cosa Fai, Mio Bel Gin Gin. This song tells the story of a wife, who awaits the return of her husband, but is told by retreating Alpini, that her wait is in vain.
  • Di qua, di là del Piave. A song about a beautiful girl.
  • E Cadorna Manda A DireGeneral. Cadorna calls on the Alpini to advance and guard the frontier; alas they know they are on their way to guard the frontier for eternity.
  • Era Una Notte Che Pioveva. A single soldier stands guard in the middle of a snowstorm on a mountain summit, dreaming of his beloved at home.
  • Il Testamento Del Capitano. The Captain of a Company is mortally wounded and asks to see the rest of his Alpini a last time; they come, even though they have no shoes to walk. He asks them to cut his heart into five pieces: one for his homeland Italy, one for the battalion, one for his mother, one for his love and the last one for the mountains, which will surround it with roses and flowers.
  • La Montanara. A song about the beauty of the Alps, very famous and often considered as the hymn of the Alps.
  • La Si Taglia I Biondi Capelli. A young girl cut off her blonde hair to enlist in the army and thus able to follow her first love to the front on the Piave river.
  • La Tradotta. “The railway that begins in Turin, doesn’t stop in Milan anymore, but goes directly to the Piave - cemetery of youth. In 29 we left home, only in 7 we returned, the other 22 all died in San Dona. Dear nun, I’m wounded, tomorrow I won’t see, my mother will not come; put a flower on my grave. A cross is in Nervesa, my brother is buried there, I wrote Ninetto on it, and so mother might find him.”
  • La Valsugana. The dream of returning home.
  • Lassù in montagna. A inspirational song about that even when alone in the mountains all of Italy stands besides the Alpini.
  • Monte Canino. The Alpini arrive on the front after days of transport in railways wagons.
  • Monte Cauriol. The wind brings the news to a family that their son has died on Mountain “Cauriol”.
  • Monte Nero. The 3rd Alpini regiment is on its way to conquer Mount “Nero”, but the attacks ends in such a massacre, that the regiments Colonel sits amid his dead soldiers and weeps.
  • Monte Pasubio. A long column of Alpini is on the way to Mount “Pasubio”, a column of those that will never return, that go to die on Mount “Pasubio”. But the Alpinis are not afraid; they will not return/ turn around. (In Italian the used verb has this double meaning)
  • Quel Mazzolin Di Fiori. A young woman collects flowers she will bring to her love.
  • Signore delle cime. A prayer for a man who died in the mountains. It prays God to let him climb the mountains of Paradise - this famous song is a recent song (1958) written by Bepi de Marzi, an italian composer who wrote many songs drawing inspiration from popular tradition.
  • Stelutis Alpinis. In Friulian language. A dead soldier tells his beloved where he is buried: "up among the rocks" under a clearing full of Edelweisses. He tells her to come and pick one flower, and hold it when she prays for him, so he will still be with her.
  • Sul Cappello Che Noi Portiamo. A hymn on the black feather that the Alpini carry on their hat.
  • Sul Ponte Di Bassano. On the famous "Bridge of the Alpini" in Bassano del Grappa the Alpini say goodbye to their loved ones, before departing to the nearby front.
  • Sul Ponte Di Perati. On the bridge of Perati a black flag of grief flies for the Alpinis of the Alpine Division Julia, who goes to war, goes under the earth.
  • Ta - Pum! After 20 days on Mount Ortigara, the battalion descends and has no soldiers left; they are all in the cemetery by the river, where the battalions remaining soldiers will soon stop by too.

Well, no falling down and getting up in those songs either (unless it's hidden in the full lyrics).

There is only, well, falling down and never getting up...in the snow, and the cold, amidst the rocks and swirling wind, alone, presumably done in by an Austro-Hungarian or French sniper or whomever, while your beautiful love back home picks a mountain flower to remember you by...

I hope I'm not being too flippant. I find the Alpini to be heroic. But you have to admit most of the songs are a bit...melancholy.

So, I'm still curious. What song was the Pope referring to?


If you read this far, you deserve a clip from the Sound of Music. Edelweiss.

1 comment:

  1. I was just about to make an edelweiss comment. Thanks for beating me to it.