The celebration of Calendimaggio in Assisi

English version by Benedetta Tintillini

calendimaggioThe story of Assisi’s most important festival of the year. The origin of this festival is very old, but the way in which it is celebrated today is entirely new and original. To give you some short informations we can say that the celebration was held for the first time in 1927: singers of various “chapels” of the city gathered under the direction of the band master to sing serenades inspired by ancient customs. It was suspended during the Second World War and resumed in 1947. In 1954, some intellectuals gave to the festival the current structure. The city is divided into two parts “Upper Part” and “Lower Part” and the two will compete to win the “Palio”. This division echoes the struggles between the two iltartufo-di-paolofactions contending for power over the city between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, until it was exhausted. But today’s game has become a “friendly” challenge, although very lively, based on the comparison between the polyphonic choirs of the parties, the costume parades success and expertise in representing scenes of medieval settings in the most characteristic sites of the city. A comparison between the parties “De Sopra” and “De Sotto” in which they try to make the most of the skills acquired in about fifty years of tradition of Calendimaggio, whose experience has left knowledge in various fields: music, theater, dance. It’s important for the outcome of the game the singing skills of the choirs, the consistency of costumes, music – live performed with reproductions of ancient instruments – and performances invented, rosatiwritten and performed. The event is settled between the thirteenth and fifteenth century. The jury to award the prize is composed by historians, musicologists and musicians, show business experts (directors, actors). The nowadays celebration formula is totally invented, but the inspiration from which it was born and the spirit that gives it life, certainly is not. In it are all the essential components of the party, the fun, the competition never exasperated, the disguise.

The attitude of those who participate in Caledimaggio games should not be very different from that of those people who, singing and dancing, were participating in the “maypole” raising in S. Rufino square, in past centuries. It is not easy to explain what Calendimaggio is. Clearly, for the citizens of Assisi, it is easier to live rather than to explain, so great is the difference between what people are throughout the year and what they become in these three days, and the mpicciaarranging period indeed. Usually light-hearted, a little apathetic, reluctant to be involved, in these three days when everything is turned upside down and everything changes, the natives give full energy to come together and realize the “springtime dream” beyond wealth, culture and age divisions. So the festival begins: think up, search in the library or archive, in order to avoid as far as possible anachronisms and to recreate the “fabulous Middle Age”. Middle Age, the era where Calendimaggio is settled, ancestral call for those who are born in this city, is a Middle Age without strict chronological references, but for three days swallows us into the vortex of frantoiohis fascinating mystery, because despite it’s a long time away from the present, draws everyone closely, because every stone of this city speaks about it. Finally comes the “scenes” night, it is not easy to describe what it feels like; fiction is lost in reality, “jeans” gives way to the tights, the coat to the “pazienza”, and hat to the “camauro”. Illuminated only by the torches dim light, the streets are no longer the same, streets of a country that exists once a year and lives once and never again. The garage becomes a craftsman’s workshop, the garden a harem, a street turns into a market and squares become kitchen, tavern, brothel… Those alleys become the true ceremonial dress, the dress of the party, sewn and decorated with great patience and finally worn naturally as the most convenient and acceptable clothe. Sensuality, desecration, transgression are the salt of Calendimaggio season, and not only on stage, everyone feels that strange state of restlessness and desire to have fun , and drinking one more glass of wine it’s not a sin, even for the most moderate of the citizens. The music accompanies every act of the game, the Calendimaggio began as a duel challenge of singing and polyphonic choirs in the Piazza del Comune and the climax is the hymn that the parties turn residence-serenato spring. The vocal and instrumental music performed during the scenes and processions is drawn from the repertoire of European Medieval and Renaissance music, but it is also includes, because no one loses the memory, the music heritage of the oral tradition of the fertile local country, the so-called “canto a recchia” interesting reminiscence of old melodies with lyrics committed to memory and inventiveness of the singers. All this becomes the tradition of the Parties, another element that aggregates into one body. In the taverns prepared for the festival period now they sing, in the best way, some Carmina Burana or Chanson Boire of the fourteenth century, repeated several times by the choirs, as well as “foils” in praise of wine and love, but also “tease” directed against “those” of the other Part. Or you can hear the songs with which Calendimaggio was born, such as master De Lucia’s “In the dark black night “, not really medieval, but that make the older partaioli and partaiole hearts tremble and through them, it entered into all the common parts emotions and feelings. Still the music helps the partaioli who witness from the stands, who because of age or work are not in costume to join the party: well, they are the festival too, singing along with those who are in the Piazza del Comune, but also in the tavern through the narrow streets, a song that will become the common heritage of all the partaioli, the party is not party if it is not “choral”, this is one of the fundamental differences between the Calendimaggio and the various’ re-enactments of the Middle Age “who were born everywhere. What happens in Assisi during the three days of Calendimaggio is not just fiction. The characters you see perform their story between shifts and vicissitudes, during the scenes or in the parades, the citizens personify themselves. So the people of Assisi are dressed in medieval clothes, meeting in the Piazza del Comune: they are the citizens who live the dream that every year come to free them from the small annoyances of everyday life. The festival of Calendimaggio, in short, is not a represented party, it is lived intensely, totally, in a free zone without categories of time, space and social conventions of every day and everywhere reality


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