La buona novella

From Seeds of the Word
La buona novella
Fabrizio De André - La buona novella 1970.png
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 1970
Recorded1970
GenreFolk
Length35:27
LanguageItalian, Latin
LabelProduttori Associati
ProducerRoberto Dané
Fabrizio De André chronology
Vol. 3°
(1968)
La buona novella
(1970)
Non al denaro non all'amore né al cielo
(1971)
Alternative cover
Alternative cover of the original release
Alternative cover of the original release
Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
Allmusic4.5/5 stars[citation needed]

La buona novella [i.e. The Good News] is the name of the fourth studio album by Italian singer-songwriter Fabrizio De André, released in 1970. Its plot revolves around the New Testament apocrypha, particularly the Gospel of James and the Syriac Infancy Gospel (as can be seen in the cover notes).

Following the style of Apocryphal literature, the narration in the album focuses more on the human and less on the spiritual aspects of some of the traditional biblical personages (such as Saint Joseph), and gives more consideration to minor personages of the Bible, who become the protagonists (for example, Titus and Dumachus, the thieves crucified alongside Jesus (in other apocrypha such as the Gospel of Nicodemus, an apocryphal gospel of the the 4th century A.D., the thieves names are Dismas and Gesta).

Fabrizio explained the inspiration for this album during a concert in the Brancaccio Theatre:

I wrote "La buona novella" back in 1969. It was a time when there were student protests, and those who were less attentive - that is to say, the majority - companions, friends, peers, considered that album as anachronistic. They would say to me: "How is it that we are protesting the abuse of power in and around the universities, and you come along telling a story - which among other things we already know - from the preaching of Jesus Christ." They hadn't understood that in reality La Buona Novella was intended to be an allegory - was an allegory - of the comparison between the better and more sane elements of the sixty-eighters, and those other elements that were perhaps more spiritually elevated but from an ethical and social point of view were very similar, that were advocated by this man 1,969 years before against abuses of power, against abuses of authority, in the name of egalitarianism and universal brotherhood. His name was Jesus of Nazareth, and according to me he was and is the greatest revolutionary of all times. I didn't want to explore paths such as metaphysics or theology, which are quite arduous for my tastes, and of which I know little; and yet I have always thought that if God didn't exist we would have to invent Him[1]. Which is precisely what man did when he set his foot on earth. I took inspiration from the so called apocryphal evangelists. Apocryphal means false, and they were in fact men that existed in flesh and bones. The Church, at least until a few centuries ago, frowned upon those who were not christians and who yet wanted to talk about Jeus. We're talking about writers, historians, Arabs, Armenians, Byzantines, Greeks, who when they touched upon the issue, when they spoke about Jesus of Nazareth, did so with deference, with great respect. Even today Muslims continue to consider Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest prophet who ever existed, even before Abraham, although second to Mohammed. Whereas Catholics continue to consider Mohammed less than a scoundrel. And I would say that this a score for Islam. Don't get me wrong, here we're talking about serious Islam.

— Fabrizio de André, Concert in the Brancaccio Theatre (February 14th 1998)

Tracks

  • All lyrics written by Fabrizio De André.
  • All songs composed and arranged by Fabrizio De André and Gian Piero Reverberi, except where noted.

All tracks are written by Fabrizio De André, except where noted.

Side one
No.TitleLength
1."Laudate dominum"0:22
2."L'infanzia di Maria"5:01
3."Il ritorno di Giuseppe"4:07
4."Il sogno di Maria"4:06
5."Ave Maria"1:54
Side two
No.TitleMusicLength
6."Maria nella bottega del falegname" 3:15
7."Via della Croce" 4:33
8."Tre madri" 2:56
9."Il testamento di Tito"De André, Corrado Castellari5:51
10."Laudate hominem" 3:26

Narrative

In the songs of this album, Jesus is presented as a provocative and revolutionary figure, with more focus on his humanity than on his divinity, looking through the lens of the apocryphal gospels which were chosen as the basis for the storyline of the songs in the album. Fabrizio had already touched on the life of Jesus in Si chiamava Gesù ("His name was Jesus")[2]. In this album however Jesus Christ is mostly referred to indirectly, recounted by those personages who had some relationship with him in one way or another; he is however the main character in the song Via della Croce ("Way of the Cross").

"L'infanzia di Maria"

("Mary's Infancy")

The short opener "Laudate dominum" ("Praise the Lord"), sung by an operatic (church-like) choir, introduces to the first song, which is about Mary's childhood.
Mary is taken away from her mother at the age of 3 and lives a segregated existence in a temple until, at age 12, she is banished by the priests when "her virginity is tinged with red",[3] making her unpure. Afterwards, a search is organized among the unwed to find a man for the child to marry, regardless of her will, effectively "making a lottery out of a virgin's body".[4]
The chosen man is Joseph, an old carpenter, who is saddened by the decision, deeming that Mary has been given in marriage to "a too-old heart that is already resting".[5]
Nevertheless, the carpenter takes his newly-wed bride to his home, and subsequently leaves to attend works outside of Judea.

"Il ritorno di Giuseppe"

("Joseph's Return")

Eight years after his departure, Joseph is shown is on his way back home on a donkey, crossing the desert just as the first stars appear in the sunset sky. As he draws closer to Jerusalem, he takes out a wooden doll he made for Mary, thinking how she missed playing with toys in her early childhood. Upon his arrival, he is greeted by a crying Mary, who he sees is pregnant with child. She explains to her husband a strange dream she had.

"Il sogno di Maria"

("Mary's Dream")

The scene of Mary's story takes place in the temple, where an angel would visit her in her dreams, and teach her new prayers. One night, the angel "turns her arms into wings"[6] and takes her with him to a place far away. Meanwhile, the voices of the priests in the temple bring Mary back from the dream, and as she sees the angel "turn into a comet",[7] she is awakened by noises in the streets. Though confused, the angel's words still echo lingering in her mind: "They will call him the Son of God". She then realizes that she has become pregnant.[8] As her story ends, she starts crying again, and Joseph sympathetically caresses her forehead.

"Ave Maria"

("Hail Mary")

The song represents Mary's transition into womanhood as she becomes a mother, a mix of both "joy and sorrow, in the season that lightens the visage".[9] It is also a tribute to motherhood, to those who are "women for a day and then mothers forever".[10]

"Maria nella bottega del falegname"

("Mary in the Carpenter's Workshop")

From the joyful atmosphere of the previous song, the story is now taken to a carpenter's workshop, where Mary asks the carpenter what he is working on, and if he is making crutches for the survivors of war. He replies that he is actually making three crosses, "two for those who deserted so they could go sack, the biggest for the one who taught to desert war".[11] When Mary asks him who is going to be upon the crosses, he answers saying that the crosses "will see the tears of Titus and Dumachus" and "the biggest one will embrace your son".[12]

"Via della Croce"

("Way of the Cross")

The song describes the reactions of the onlookers as Jesus carries his cross to Calvary. The first onlookers are the fathers of the children killed by the fury of King Herod, and they insult him and mock him, saying how they would rather kill him themselves. His disciples instead follow him silently, overwhelmed by terror in fearing that exposing themselves would lead to the same fate. The priests who condemned him are now satisfied and consider him "dead enough"[13] to be sure that he is indeed human. Lastly, the two thieves are described as having "a place of honor" but, unlike the priests, not pleased in any way by Jesus' pain. In the end, the only ones left under the crosses are the mothers of the three condemned.

"Tre madri"

("Three Mothers")

As the three condemned stand crucified, their respective mothers stand under the crosses to comfort them. The other two women tell Mary that she has no reason to cry, since she knows that her son will "return to life on the third day",[14] while theirs will never return. The heart-rending song ends with Mary's words: "Had you not been the son of God, I'd still have you as my son".[15] The Sardinian singer Elena Ledda recorded a cover of the song with Sardinian lyrics, titled "Sas tres mamas", for the 1995 tribute album Canti randagi.

"Il testamento di Tito"

("Titus' Testament")

Probably the album's best-known song, it revolves entirely around Titus, the "penitent thief". While on the cross, he explains the Ten Commandments from his point of view, saying that even though he didn't respect any of them, he never felt any sorrow or guilt, because the events of life, which the Commandments don't take into account, drove him to do it. In some way, Fabrizio De André is expressing his own sentiments from his life experience. Before dying, Titus tells his mother how, through the sorrow for the fate of "this dying man" (Jesus), he has learned love[16].

The journalist Andrea Monda, director of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, notes that this last song in the album is in reality a hymn to the mercy of Jesus. In fact Fabrizio De André himself said, during an interview with Giampaolo Mattei[17]:

No one can take away from me the idea that Jesus Christ would have saved both of the thieves who were crucified alongside him, yes, even the impenitent one.

— Fabrizio De André, interview with Giampaolo Mattei

This long acoustic ballad, which has ten verses each of which is dedicated to one of the Ten Commandments, tells the story of the life and death of the "good thief" Titus, and yet from the lyrics Titus doesn't actually seem all that "good". He is an angry and wounded man, and he expresses resentment and vindication. A bitter irony, ready to fall into sarcasm, is in his words, even when speaking about God, with whom he speaks by reminding him and even taunting him about His Decalogue. At the eighth commandment Titus makes his greatest accusation: «They know divine law by heart, / but they always forget about forgiveness». Titus condemns pharisaism, in other words the hypocrisy of those who preach a formal compliance with the law but never exercise mercy. A criticism of religion which does however reveal the search for a true, sincere and believable faith. A search which doesn't reveal itself explicitly in the song, but is surely present in the finale, which sheds a whole new light on the rest of the song.

It is in fact in the finale that the song accomplishes a breakthrough and turns the ballad into a dizzying emotion: in these ten verses about the Ten Commandments, there is a sort of an interruption after the ninth, and even the guitars stop in order to bring our attention to the voice of the songwriter, and as though he were speaking directly to those listening, he hints in this last verse at those two other commandments, the ones that sum up all the others of the old law, to use the words of Jesus. After having spit out all the bitterness within him, Titus looks up, overcoming the weight of his head crushed down to his chest from his torment, and finally looks beyond himself and sees the person next to him, Jesus: «seeing this man as he was dying, / mother, I feel sorrow». Up until that moment he had been an “homo curvatus” to use the expression of Saint Augustine, he had been closed in on himself, and now he emerges from his solipsism and opens himself to someone else finding in this other person someone who is similar to him, someone who is in his own condition, and he admits that he feels a sorrow for this man like no other he had ever felt before, having always angrily and arrogantly shut it out.

Titus feels compassion, in that moment he discovers his humanity and he discovers that he is alive. He is “born” in that precise moment in time, after an existence that only apparently could be called “life”. His hardness of heart starts to melt and slide away. There on the cross he starts to understand that the secret of a truly human living is in that mysterious thing called love, which he hadn't understood until that moment («perhaps I exchanged pleasure for love» he sang in the sixth verse). The last verse quite clearly redeems his bitter scale in a definitive manner: «In that compassion that gives not way to spite, / mother, I learned love». And perhaps it's not just pure chance that he repeats exactly two times the word “mother” (is it Titus' mother, or perhaps Mary?), a mother who thus becomes a ray of light in the midst of the darkness of Golgotha. From there Titus, though he is dying, has a chance to start over again, because «There is no life that hasn't at least for a moment been immortal. Death is always a little bit later than that moment» (W. Szymborska).[18]

"Laudate hominem"

("Praise the Man")

The last song has an antithetical title to that of the opener and is a reprise of its theme.
A choir who represents the poor tells about how Jesus is to be praised not as a God, but as a son of man, therefore a brother of mankind.

Footnotes

  1. This is a typical Italian expression, when something is found to be ingenious.
  2. Brunialti, Alessio (2007). "Concept: 100 album fondamentali". Mucchio Extra (in Italian). Stemax Coop.
  3. Original lyrics: "[...]la tua verginità/che si tingeva di rosso[...]".
  4. Original lyrics: "[...]del corpo d'una vergine/si fa lotteria[...]".
  5. Original lyrics: "[...]a un cuore troppo vecchio/che ormai si riposa.".
  6. Original lyrics: "[...]e le mie braccia divennero ali[...]".
  7. Original lyrics: "[...]poi vidi l'angelo mutarsi in cometa[...]".
  8. Original lyrics: "[...]"Lo chiameranno Figlio di Dio" / Parole confuse nella mia mente / Svanite in un sogno ma impresse nel ventre[...]".
  9. Original lyrics: "[...]gioia e dolore hanno il confine incerto/nella stagione che illumina il viso[...]".
  10. Original lyrics: "[...]femmine un giorno e poi madri per sempre[...]".
  11. Original lyrics: "[...]due per chi disertò per rubare, / la più grande per chi guerra insegnò a disertare.".
  12. Original lyrics: "[...]vedran lacrime di Dimaco e di Tito[...], / il più grande che tu guardi abbraccerà tuo figlio".
  13. Original lyrics: "[...]il potere, vestito d'umana sembianza / ormai ti considera morto abbastanza[...]".
  14. Original lyrics: "[...]sai che alla vita nel terzo giorno / il figlio tuo farà ritorno[...]".
  15. Original lyrics: "[...]non fossi stato figlio di Dio / t'avrei ancora per figlio mio".
  16. Original lyrics: "[...]io nel vedere quest'uomo che muore / Madre, io provo dolore[...]".
  17. Mattei published this and other similar interviews in the volume Anima mia (1998)
  18. Monda, Andrea (2020-04-10). "Misericordia e riscatto". L'Osservatore Romano.