In Holland there is a famous hymn called ‘Spirit from above’. I loved singing it as a child because of its beautiful melody. Only years later did I find out that in the Dutch church we sang the song about three times too slow. The melody is actually a dance song from the early baroque era, a balletto. I think this is quite surprising as the Dutch protestant religion is famous for being stern, strict & sorrowful. On the other hand, I just checked my little red Dutch book of church hymns and the lyricist turns out to be a 20th century poet who was particularly active in the sixties. There you go. A hippie hymn.
But what a hymn it is in the original language! Thank you Giovanni Gastoldi (1550-1622) for L’inamorato (‘the suitor’). The happy and bouncy ode to the god of love has a churchy vocabulary about it, so that may be why it attracted the Dutch church fathers’ attention. There is, for instance, a sentence that recurs at the end of each verse in a slightly different form: ‘Let’s give praise to such a Lord’- Signore in Italian. If you write Signore with a capital S, it would become God. If not, it can refer back to the subject of the poem, Amor the god of love.
Before you continue to read, it might be an idea to listen to the song. I found this delicious version on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwRxJNqPvqk. Close your eyes and enjoy.
Finished? Good. Music history lesson continues. Gastoldi was a sort of best selling artist in his day. He was tremendously popular in the Netherlands also, and apart from the 20th century hippie hymn mentioned above, his works were translated into Dutch even during his lifetime. Apart from being a dance song, it is also an example of a subgenre of the madrigal (lit.: song in your mother’s tongue) with the nonsense syllables falala to serve as a refrain. That is why we call these songs falalas. Hugely popular during the late Renaissance period, a group of English composers published a special edition of madrigals, amongst which are a lot of falalas, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I who loved music and was an accomplished musician and poet herself.
Back to Italy. The poetic idea of this brilliantly happy and energetic song is ‘Life is short, so let’s enjoy life, and to live is to love.’ Perfect. What more would you want than to hear these words pronounced in the most beautiful language in the world? Here we go. The lyrics are below.
Now play a little. Read the words out loud, slowly, deliberately, in your best Italian. Even if you don’t speak Italian, just go for it and have fun. For an accent, think of Pavarotti speaking English. Italian is easy to pronounce. The r is rolled. And much unlike English, each vowel has the same pronunciation, always. The syllables with the ridiculous surplus vowels have the stress.
A lieta viiita, Amor c’inviiita, Fa la la
Chi gioir braaama,se di cor aaama,
Donerà il cooore a un tal Signooore, Fa la la
Or lieta homaaai, scacciando i guaaai, Fa la la
Quanto ci reeesta, viviamo in feeesta
E diam l’onooore a un tal Signooore, Fa la la
Ne fuggir giooova, ch’egli ognun trooova*), Fa la la
Veloci ha l’aaali, e foco e straaali
Dunque s’adooore un tal Signooore, Fa la la.
*) best pronounced as [kel-yon-yun troooova]
Translation: To the happy life Love invites us. One who delights in desire, if he loves from the heart, Will give his heart to such a master. The hour of happines is here, driving out trouble. Whatever remains of our lives, we live it celebrating, Giving praise to such a master. Happiness is fleeting, as everybody finds. It is fast, and it has wings, fire and lightning bolts, So let’s give praise to such a master. What an explosion of joy! Of course this song is also on the programme of our July Singing Holiday.
Now all this talk about that fun-loving Italian God of Love on the one hand and the stern religion of the Low Countries on the other, is doing something to my brain. I keep being reminded of a calendar I once saw. To be quite honest, the kind of particularly inspiring calendars like the type that grace the office walls of car workshops. Only in this one the models had clothes on and they were Italian men. The fascinating thing was that they were all Catholic. Priests, to be exact. No, I haven’t smoked anything, thank you. For several years now, the Vatican has been issueing the so-called Calendario Romano, popularly known as the “hot priest calendar”. All the models are genuine priests, photographed in the streets of Rome during the Holy Week. The Vatican insists that it is purely, I repeat PURELY intended to promote the city of Rome and the Vatican. To account for this, the line-up of extremely handsome young men ends with a few pages of insignificant morsels of historical information about the Vatican. Indeed. I’m afraid I cannot put an example photograph on for copyright reasons, but go to Google, type ‘priest calendar rome’, and enjoy. A lieta vita.