Piemonte and Valle D’Aosta (Sept. 27-Oct. 7, 1954)
Liguria: Baiardo and Imperia (Oct. 9 & 10, 1954)
Liguria: Polyphony of Ceriana (Oct. 12, 1954)
Alan Lomax, music historian, archivist, genius, began to record folk songs of different cultures throughout America and the Caribbean with his father, John Avery Lomax, in the 1930′s. In the 1950′s, Alan set his sights on Europe and in 1954 he made his way to Italy, which resulted in the series known as Italian Treasury.
Three of the albums that are named after the regions they were recorded in are Piemonte and Valle D’Aosta, Liguria: Baiardo and Imperia, and Liguria: Polyphony of Ceriana. The albums’ booklets are well annotated with information regarding the regions and cultures, Lomax’s time in the regions and very detailed song notes, which list the performer when known, instruments played, the song’s history, and the lyrics along with their Italian translation.
The songs are fascinating because of the common humanity they show. Some of the songs are as much as hundreds of years old, yet they deal with common themes of love, lust, loss, regret, betrayal and the differences between man and woman that we are still writing about today.
One of my favorite songs is “Povero Merlo Mio (My Poor Blackbird)” from Liguria: Baiardo and Imperia, a fun, silly children’s song about a blackbird who loses pieces of himself. Each piece is added to the next verse, so the verses get longer and longer. Some of the women can be heard laughing as they forget what body part comes next.
The people in Piemonte and Valle D’Aosta play a lot of short songs with nothing over three and a half minutes. On the Liguria discs, they had some epics like the 14-minute “A barca (The Boat),” a part of a longer ballad cycle. In Piemonte and Valle D’Aosta, they have more songs with instruments where the people of Liguria were known for their polyphonic singing, sometimes in choruses as large as 100 people. Because of their proximity to the Alps, some of the music from Piemonte and Valle D’Aosta has an oom-pa-pa sound common in German polkas and Swiss yodeling and not what you would expect to find in Italian music.
These albums are for serious musicologists who can appreciate the history and significance of these recordings and for people who are curious about the stories and folklore of other cultures, such as fans of Joseph Campbell.
My grandfather used to play his Italian records at family get-togethers, so I had an extra fondness towards these albums from the memories they brought forth that others who aren’t of Italian heritage wouldn’t be able to achieve.