O Ce Biel
From the Friulan song "O Ce Biel Cjiscjel a Udin"
Memories of 1970s Friuli
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There are strong folk traditions in Friuli permeating the culture. High on the list is song, usually performed by one of the many choirs. Two songs stand out, which you can hear at church concerts, in restaurants after meals, wherever people are gathered.

A word about language. These songs are written in Furlan, or Friulano in Italian. It's a Romance language related to Ladin spoken with great passion, a defining feature of the region, core to the Friulan sense of identity. According to a study undertaken by ARLeF (L'Agjenzie Regjonāl pe Lenghe Furlane) in 2015 there were about 600,000 speakers.

The first song is "O Ce Biel Cjiscjel a Udin" - "Oh what a beautiful castle in Udine". It's an anthem for Friuli known to all Friulani. It binds people together in the pride of homeland. It can be a rousing, table-thumping, foot-stamping song, although it is also performed as a more delicate close-harmony choral piece. On the demerit side, as I've said in "Return" the castle isn't really very beautiful; in fact, it's a palace not a castle. And what's all that malarkey about kissing an ugly girl, the second time as a penance? That's surely going to put off some participants. The song is repetitive, albeit in the words rather than the music which accompanies them and varies with each repeated line. Mind you, the repetition is also a benefit. There are fewer words to remember. If you don't know the next verse, you can listen to the first line and join in as it is repeated. I know, I'm missing the point. The Friulani are lucky to have such a recognisable song with which to celebrate their region. Unifying stuff. It was certainly the first (and maybe only) song we learnt back then, testament to its accessibility. Most versions have five verses, although I'm sure I have heard more.

O Ce Biel Cjiscjel a Udin

O ce biel, o ce biel cjiscjel a Udin Oh what a beautiful castle in Udine
O ce biel, o ce biel cjiscjel a Udin ...
O ce biel cjiscjel a Udin ...
O ce biele zoventūt Oh what beautiful youth

Zoventūt, zoventūt come a Udin Youth as in Udine
Zoventūt, zoventūt come a Udin ...
Zoventūt come a Udin ...
'No si cjate in nissun lūc Can be found nowhere else

A bussā, a bussā fantatis bielis In kissing beautiful girls
A bussā, a bussā fantatis bielis ...
A bussā fantatis bielis ...
'Nol č un fregul di pecjāt There is no trace of sin

Ind'ai bussade, ind'ai bussade une brute I kissed an ugly girl
Ind'ai bussade, ind'ai bussade une brute ...
Ind'ai bussade une brute ...
E il plevąn a mi ą cridāt And the parish priest shouted at me

E mi a dāt, e mi a dāt par penitince The priest gave me the penance
E mi a dāt, e mi a dāt par penitince ...
E mi a dāt par penitince ...
Di bussale ancje doman Of kissing her tomorrow too

Here's a recording of "O Ce Biel" by Coro Alpini di Passons. Male voice choir, performing the first three verses above.

"O Ce Biel Cjiscjel a Udin" - Coro Alpini di Passons

The second song is very different, a slow elegy of loss. It tells the story of a fallen soldier through an imaginary posthumous conversation with his lover. The mountain edelweiss flower is used as a device which he hopes will keep alive his memory. "Stelutis Alpinis" or "Edelweiss" was written and composed by Arturo Zardini (1869-1923) during the First World War, when the author, a schoolmaster of Pontebba, was living as a refugee in Florence. It was adopted by the Friulan "Alpini" as a symbol of the Alpine troops, then by all the people of Friuli, a land that after World War One experienced emigration, deportation, another war and more violence. There is extensive use of diminutives, common in written and spoken Friulan.

Stelutis Alpinis

Se tu vens cą sł ta' cretis If you come here among the rocks
lą che lōr mi ąn soterāt where they buried me
al č un spląz plen di stelutis there's a meadow covered with edelweiss
dal miņ sanc l'č stāt bagnāt with my blood it was bathed

Par segnāl une crosute As a sign a small cross
jč scolpide lģ tal cret is carved there in the rock
fra che' stelis 'nąs l'erbute among the edelweiss small grass grows
sot di lor jo dłar cujet I, below, rest in peace
fra che' stelis 'nąs l'erbute ...
sot di lor jo dłar cujet ...

Ciol, su ciol, une stelute Pick, come on, pick an edelweiss
che ricuardi il nestri ben to remind you of our love
tu 'i darās 'ne bussadute you will give it a warm kiss
e po' pląsile in tal sen then hide it in your breast

Quant' che a ciase tu sźs sole When you are alone at home
e di cūr tu preis par me and in your heart you pray for me
il miņ spirt ator ti svole my spirit will be floating around you
jo e la stele 'o sin cun te the edelweiss and I will be with you
il miņ spirt ator ti svole ...
jo e la stele 'o sin cun te ...

Ma 'ne dģ quant che la vuere But when the war
a' sara un lontan ricłard is a faraway memory
tal to cūr, dulą ch'al jere in your heart, where there were
stele e amōr, dut sara muart edelweiss and love, all will be dead

Restarą par me che stele That edelweiss will stay with me
che 'l miņ sanc a lą nudrit fed by my blood
par che lusi simpri biele so that it shines always beautiful
su l'Italie a l'infinit above Italy forever

Here is a version of "Stelutis Alpinis" by Coro della SAT (Societą degli Alpinisti Tridentini). So Trento rather than Friuli, but it is in the mountains, and about the best I can find. The last two verses above are omitted.

"Stelutis Alpinis" - Coro della SAT

© Charlie Lewis (additional text only) 2021
Email: charlie_c_lewis@hotmail.com