From Dialects to a Language. Cesare Caravaglios and the Melodies in the World War I Trenches as Songs of the Italian Nation

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After the territorial unity of Italy in 1861, romanists, ethnographers and musicologists addressed their efforts in collecting poems and folk music, aiming to demonstrate the interconnection among different regions. At the end of the nineteenth century, the impulse to identify the unity of the country through dialects became a dogma, in order to consolidate the unachieved “Italianness”. Alongside to this presumed linguistic similarity, an obsessive mix of nationalism and irredentism provoked the political campaign, which brought to the war in 1915. Cesare Caravaglios (1893-1937), a band conductor and a scholar, devoted his research on Neapolitan songs and cries of street vendors. Influenced by the Berlin’ school of ethnomusicology, during the 1930s he promoted the pioneering method of recording folk music by means of “phonofilm”. In his book "The Songs of Trenches, a Contribute to the War Folklore" (1930), Caravaglios emphasizes the importance of war songs, collected from several regional traditions, either as a way to encourage soldiers in the trenches, or to reaffirm the concept of a national cultural unity. In this regard, he remembers his own experiences with the 39th Regiment, and his involvement in the battles near Gorizia against the Austrian troops. As suggested by modern ethnomusicology, his book records twenty songs without harmony, respectively classified in three fields: anonymous songs in various dialects as a common patrimony of soldiers, written folk songs made popular by soldiers, contrafacta or songs derived from the nineteenth-century Risorgimento sources.Captain Caravaglios’ proposal was close to the Fascist mythography that celebrated WWI as the authentic link among Italians, despite the categories of people and nation, viewed as spontaneous phenomena by previous Liberal policy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Great War (1914-1918) and Music. Compositional Strategies, Performing Practices, and Social Impacts
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameMusicological Proceedings


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