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Sardegna, Confraternita delle voci

Review of Four CDs by Ignazio Macchiarella, UniversitÓ di Trento


1. Sardegna, Confraternita delle voci - Castelsardo, Canti liturgici di tradizione orale. Recorded by Renato Morelli, Commentary by Pietro Sassu, Nota CD 2.07, Udine 1993 (notes in Italian, English and French).

2. Sardegna, Confraternita delle voci - Orosei, Canti liturgici di tradizione orale. Recorded by Enzo Favata, Commentary by Martino Corimbi, Nota CD 2.09, Udine 1994 (notes in Italian, Sardinian, English and French).

3.Sardegna, Confraternita delle voci - Cuglieri, Canti liturgici di tradizione orale. Recorded by Valter Colle and Renato Morelli, Commentary by Pietro Sassu, Nota CD 2.16, Udine 1995 (notes in Italian, English and French).

4. Sardegna, Confraternita delle voci - Santulussurgiu, Canti liturgici di tradizione orale. Recorded by Valter Colle and Renato Morelli, Commentary by Francesco Salis, Nota CD 2.18, Udine 1995 (notes in Italian, English and French).

All four CDs are produced by Renato Morelli and Valter Colle. They are available from Micromedia, P.O. Box 187, I-33100 Udine, Italy.

Sardinia maintains a large repertory of traditional oral polyphonic songs. Generally they may be divided in two sets: secular songs and religious chants. The former includes the Tenore  songs (four-part polyphony, typical of the shepherds in the central region) and various other kinds of songs, in four or five parts, with freely satirical texts or ones concerned with love. The religious set includes liturgical and paraliturgical chants with Latin texts tied to the practices of various Brotherhoods (Confraternite) and many songs of piety with Italian or Sardinian texts. Nearly all this repertory is performed by male choirs. Only a few of the songs of piety may be performed by female groups.

The differences between secular and religious songs are not substantial as regards musical structure; in fact the whole Sardian polyphonic repertory shares a structure based on a falsobordone  system (i.e., a sequence of chords based on complete triads in tonic position). The main differences between secular and religious songs are to be found in the rhythmical patterns: secular songs usually feature a fast rhythm, while religious chants employ a very solemn rhythm with frequent sustained notes. Other remarkable differences are those regarding vocal emission and other stylistic elements.

The four CDs give a very meaningful outline of Sardinian polyphonic repertory apart from the Tenore  songs and the female piety chants. At the same time, they document four living musical traditions connected with different villages among the most representative of the whole Island.

Each CD is devoted to the repertory of a single Brotherhood and features first religious chants, then secular songs.


Photo 1
Santulussurgiu: S'iscravementu

Most of the religious chants are tied to the ceremonies of Holy Week. These are shaped by complex rites, like s'iscravamentu  (the Deposition of Christ on Good Friday, using a statue of the crucified Christ with jointed arms) and various processions on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Photo 1 shows the apostolii  (the Brothers who play the apostles) depose Christ. (Photo: Pietro Sassu)

Photo 2
Castelsardo: Luni Santu

For every ritual context a specific polyphonic chant is performed by a four-part choir featuring selected Brothers. The choir stands just beside the Statues or the ritual symbols that are carried in procession. Photo 2 shows the evening procession: the choir sings beside the statue of the Crucified Christ.

Photo 3
Cuglieri: the beginning of Good Friday procession

During the procession the chants are performed standing still and the singers form a circle.  Photo 3 (photo: Renato Morelli)

Photo 4
Castelsardo: Luni  Santu

Special importance is attached to the rite of Luni santu (Holy Monday) in Castelsardo. This rite has no counterpart in any other area of Italy and represents the death and passion of Christ through a very complex procession that begins at dawn and ends late in the evening. Photo 4 shows the beginning of the procession: a Brother with symbols of the crucifixion: hammer and pincers (photo: Pietro Sassu).


Audio 1
110K or 580K au

In all cases the liturgical texts are sung in Latin. The two most important chants, featured in every local repertory, are the Miserere and the Stabat  Mater. Audio 1--Santulussurgiu: Miserere

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Audio 2
Miserere quaresimale
83K or 670K au

Audio 3
Miserere del venerdý  santo
90K or 530K au

The CD illustrates how different versions may exist of the same text. An example is the case of the four versions of the Castelsardo Miserere  (one for the Fridays of Lent, two for different contexts within Holy Week, and one for sepulchral ritual). Similarly, there are two versions of Cuglieri Stabat Mater  (each for a different procession). Audio 2 (Castelsardo: Miserere  quaresimale--Miserere  of Lent) and Audio 3 (Castelsardo: Miserere  del venerdý  santo--Miserere  of Good Friday)


The commentary included in the four CDs describes the exact context in which every chant is performed. These descriptions are concise but detailed enough to give an idea of the corresponding traditions.

Other religious songs included on the four CDs are connected with various yearly ceremonies (such as suninnu , a Christmas cradle song of Santulussurgiu, or sa perantunada, a song for the feast of Sant'Antonio Abate, the protector saint of Castelsardo).

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Audio 4
Ottava trista
120K or 570K au

Among the secular songs represented on the CDs are love songs and farewell songs. Audio 4--Cuglieri: Ottava  trista  (farewell song)
There is also special group of "didactic" songs (d'istudiantina) devoted to instructing the young Brothers in their learning of the oral traditions.

In conclusion, these are four important CDs, recommended for the high musical quality of the traditions under consideration. They also provide a basic idea of the close relationship between oral and written musical traditions that is a salient feature of certain Sardinian and southern Italian polyphonic repertories (Macchiarella 1995).

Macchiarella, Ignazio
1995. Il  falsobordone fra tradizione orale e tradizione scritta.. Libreria Musicale Italiana, Lucca, pp. XXXIII-333.

About the Author

Ignazio Macchiarella earned his doctorate from Bologna University in 1991 and is currently serving as visiting professor of Ethnomusicology at University of Trento for the 1996-97 school year. He has conducted field research in Sicily, Sardinia and southern Italy. Since 1996 he has been working on an ethnomusicological study of traditional music of the Alpine Region.

Additional credits

The musical examples and photos were digitized and edited courtesy of Centro Tecnologie Multimediali, Dipartimento de Scienze Filologiche e Storiche, UniversitÓ di Trento

Cynthia Barlow and Erica Reiter assisted the review editor in the preparation of these web pages.

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