The polyphonies of holy week

The manifestations of Holy Week are by far the most important of the religious calendar. These are great moments of piety and popular fervor. They are the most interesting from a musical point of view. Some small towns are particularly famous, especially in the northwestern part of the Island: Aidomaggiore, Bonnanaro, Cuglieri, Santu Lussurgiu and especially Castelsardo, which concentrates the greatest number of brotherhoods and the richest and most original repertoire.

Polyphonies in Holy Week

Polyphonies in Holy Week

These brotherhoods are very old and known at least since the 17th century. According to Tonino Cabizzosu (Chiesa e Società, Cagliari, Edit. 3T) the brotherhoods are “an associative form bringing together lay people and having as their primary goal their personal formation. This is expressed in two ways: through devotional forms and through a service of social charity ”.

Their activity is concentrated around the practice of singing on many occasions: religious ceremonies of the liturgical calendar and funerals, and the administration of the brotherhood. This one elects, during its assemblies, its Prior, welcomes its “novices”, organizes the exercise of singing and the transmission of the repertoire.

From December to Palm Sunday, all the confreres meet on Sunday afternoon in their church for a rehearsal, the “prova”. This lasts at least two to three hours, washed down with wine and often accompanied by local products: bread, sausages, cheeses ...

The choir is open but the role of the Prior is preponderant for Holy Week because it is his mission to select, on the Sunday before Palm Sunday, those who will sing on this occasion. This choice is delicate because it must meet both quality and experience criteria, but also prepare for the future by integrating young people and maintaining a certain social balance.

During this Holy Week the repertoire is performed by group of four singers according to a natural register from low to high: bassu, contra, bogi, falzittu (these are the names given to Castelsardo, the names may change depending on the location) . The great moments of Holy Week are Monday (Lunissanti) and Thursday, Friday takes an exceptional form in the form of a particular Miserere which is sung while walking fast, fuggi fuggendo, (while fleeing) during which two choirs , not limited to four performers, answer each other alternately.

The Prior and all the colleagues are very rigorous on the quality which requires on their part to be a good singer: to have an ear (the songs are transmitted orally and the singers know all the voices even if they are specialized in the performance of a), a good voice, a great discipline (regular presence), a great rigor not to change part during the performance. When the choir is in perfect harmony, a fifth fusional voice called “quintina” appears. This is in the register of female voices. This intangible voice is highly sought after by singers. It enters into the symbolism of Holy Week.

Most of the songs are in Latin and take up liturgical texts, such as the "Miserere" (psalm 50), the "Stabat Mater", a Stabat Mater is attributed to Jacopone da Todi (died in 1306), in Castelsardo a " Jesus” of unknown origin, sometimes the Latin text has undergone some alterations due to oral transmission. Some hymns are in Sardinian.

Castelsardo, Holy Monday, France Musique program on Monday April 30, 2012.
Cuglieri, Maundy Thursday, France Musique program from Monday, May 7, 2012.
Cuglieri, Good Friday, France Musique program from Monday, May 7, 2012.

These songs accompany the processions and the scenes which illustrate the Passion which are played at the end of the service either inside the church itself, or on the route between two churches. The great Easter Sunday mass puts an end to these events. Easter Monday, Pasquetta, is a family and friendly celebration that gives rise to a meal, often a picnic during which we eat spit-roasted meats: suckling pig (porchetto), lamb, etc. washed down with good wines, which ends with dolcetti sardi (cakes with marzipan or cheese or honey, etc.).