I want to introduce one of the greatest singer-songwriters ("cantautore") in Italian music history. Fabrizio de André has an extraordinary style; a deep and tender voice which gives his immersive songwriting a nostalgic undertone. Don't think that by not speaking Italian you only get half of the experience. Listen to how his words and rhymes harmonise with his voice and the gentle guitar tunes. Some of the themes in his songs concern the Italian village life, blind and lost love, fading moments of attraction to another person, the impact of nature on human condition and even witty profiles of figures in society (doctor, judge, fisherman). He is a true lyricist who uses words like paint to build his rich (sometimes romantic, other times satirical) experience of love and social life. His ballads and poems sometimes remind me of the great poets of the Italian Renaissance such as Petrarca or Bocaccio. But, when I first listened to him it oddly felt like "Minnesang", the songs by medieval singer-songwriters who went from door to door to convey news from the town or messages from the king or queen. This is an odd impression, not only because Minnesang was only active during the medieval but also mainly in Germany. Well, it might be just me, but the songs "Il testamento di Tito", "Un giudice" and "La cittá vecchia" contain quite similarity with Minnesang, the flute, the rhyme pattern and overall pace. It feels like he would announce something, standing on the townsquare with his guitar and locals gathering around him.
Another interesting aspect of his career is his collaboration with the Italian Prog Rock band PFM (Premiata Forneria Manconi). PFM is a very good Italian Prog Rock band. Have a listen to their earliest albums if you are into Prog Rock! De André produced a live album with them in which they perform his most famous songs with a prog rock reinterpretation; absolutely worth listening.
Now, talking more about a particular album of his, Canzoni. The lyrics of many songs on the album are not originally his but translated by him into Italian. Despite not being his original songwriting, which you can experience in his more popular songs (Bocca di Rosa, La guerra die Piero, Il pescatore), I find the songs on Canzoni delightful in terms of the interplay between his voice and the instrumental composition. And, the lyrics harmonise beautifully with them. What I found out recently was that the album contains a cover of the song Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. The basic structure of the song does not change much but De André manages to incorporate his unique style which flows wonderfully with the original melody, and it makes it seem like a classic De André song. In my opinion, this is also partly because of the fact that Leonard Cohen and Fabrizio De André have quite a lot in common in terms of their vocal profile and rhythmic patterns. It would not surprise me if Leonard Cohen was a significant inspiration for De André's musical development or maybe also vice versa, who knows.
My absolute favourite song of the album is "Le passanti". The lyrics are a translation of a French poem by Antoine Pol. The motif is really moving and affective. It's about the short moments in daily life of seeing passersby that profoundly attract your attention through a smile, eye contact or just their presence. You linger in these moments and cherish the mystery and fantasy of the random encounter. But as these moments soon fade away, you are merely left with a mental picture of how a deeper emotional connection could have developed with that person, if that moment had been longer. But, passersby remain passersby and you reminisce in solitude. While the song certainly has a melancholic mood, the description of the short moments between two strangers is filled with such rich metaphors that you deeply relate to the narrative and recall the precious moments you had with a passerby.
This song gives us words of solace in the current time of my writing. The COVID-19 crisis forces us to stay at home, often in solitude, deprived of genuine social interaction. We can only reminisce about the phenomena Fabrizio de André so warmly sings about. One of many reasons to give the whole album a listen, to slow down, have a coffee or tea and to recall the short and unexpected encounters with strangers; and to embrace those which await you.