How can you accelerate the speed, accuracy, and quality of learning songs for performance situations?

On this blog I share my 'learning adventures' as I continue to improve my performance as a singer.

I share web resources I find helpful, and reflect on my experience using various technologies and ideas.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Searching for a foreign language song: a detective story

On New Year's Eve last night my Hungarian friend asked if I knew a duet that she proceeded to sing. She wanted me to take the role of a soldier singing a song of adoration. Unfortunately, she did not know the title or text of the song: she knew just how to sing it.

The song she believed was in Italian, and we guessed the first line was:

"Quelle mazzo l'in de fiore".

I sing a little Italian and have a better knowledge of French. Another friend in the room spoke Spanish. A quick Google search using that title found no song with the title. However, the words 'quel', 'di', and 'fiore' did appear.

Re-specifying the search with just 'quel', 'di', and 'fiore' returned the song we looked for: 'Quel mazzolin di fiori'. Both a lyrics and YouTube result.

Here are the lyrics for the first verse, from www.istrianet.org
Quel mazzolin di fiori
che vien dalla montagna
bada ben che non si bagna
chè lo voglio regalar,
bada ben che non si bagna
chè lo voglio regalar.
You'll find a melody on that site, plus the full text of the lyrics. Hint: you need to scroll down the page to find the listing for 'Quel mazzolin...'.

An audi version of the song
Here's a site from which you can obtain a free download of the song 'Quel mazzolin di fiori', from ez-tracks.com: (All the male soldiers are singing this version!). You have to sign up for this website, but it has many free downloads.... and ringtones for your phone.

You might find some other audio versions using FoxyTunes here...
Quel Mazzolin Di Fiori
via FoxyTunes
There are many productions of the song on YouTube. Here's one reasonable professional recording with some pretty pictures.

Translating and understanding the lyrics
When you intend to perform from memory a song sung in a foreign language, it is essential to understand three elements:
  1. the broad story of song,
  2. the sense and emotion phrase by phrase
  3. the literal translation phrase and word by word
Accordingly, some investment of time is required to research these elements.

I noticed the following alarming comment on YouTube as I beganb this task:
"The lyric is not in proper Italian...in fact it is sung in dialect from Trentino which is a region in the north on the border with Austria."
I enter the search request into Google: "translate 'quel mazzolin di fiori'".

I found the site All Experts Italian. On this site someone requests help with understanding a small part of the song. The response to the request from the expert reveals that the soldier is double dealing: the soldier has two lovers! But the woman in the duet so loves the soldier she will still pursue him with a bunch of flowers!

Here's a small selection from the correspondence on All Experts about the song. (My copy-editing in square [brackets])
Ciao Ken,

This song is singed [sung] by a girl that is in love with a man that is unfaithful. This man, as you understand, go[es] to see his other girlfriend Rosina instead of the singer...

Your questions are good... see below:

"how can the singer know what will happen in the future?" No, the singer know[s] that this evening his boyfriend will come to her but she know, also, that Saturday (probably yesterday) he was to meet Rosina.

... [more]
A big CIAO from Italy!!
You could use the All Experts site to request a full translation. Lets' leave that to a last resort.
According to the Google search for a translation, there is a translation on the istria.org site mentioned above. But so far, it eludes me after some search. I have examined the Indexes on istria.org and found that the song was composed in 1904, and is described thus:

"Questa è una di quelle canzoni che, nate sui monti, si sono fulmineamente divulgate per tutta la Penisola. Essa è certo ora, una delle "beniamine" di tutte le brigate, montanare o no, desiderose di stare allegre anche....quando cantano una storia triste."

Canto degli alpini - Arm. A. Pedrotti Più che popolare, questo canto, si potrebbe definire universale. Nel solo Trentino sono note tre versioni assai vecchie. Versioni più musicali che poetiche, poiché il testo é pressoché identico. Meravigliosa la musica a tempo di marcia.

Please put your translation into the comments for this posting!

The musical score
As a by-product of my searching for the translation of the lyrics, I found the score here on www.istria.org

Jackpot: the lyrics, translation, score, and music all in one place.
After almost 90 minutes working on this project, I am starting to get frustrated. But then I struck a golden jackpot. In a last spot of desperation I followed the unpromising Google search result to: 'Searching for family - Cercando famiglia', and found these comments:

[S]tumbled across your site looking for the tune to "quel mazzolin di fiori". ... I spent five years (out of the ten i spent with the us army) in the tenth (mountain) division, and, perforce, I had to learn a bit about Italian military history. I just wanted to thank you for including the mp3, as well as the lyrics, on your site.
BUT WHERE IS THE SONG!? There's no link back from the comments! But the song is on the website somewhere...

I visited the Cercando famiglia home page I examined all the top line menu items, and beneath 'Current generations' I found 'songs'.... And THERE was the first song on the page: Quel mazzolin di fiori: 'Little bunch of flowers'.
Quel massolin di fiori
Che vien dalla montagna.
Quel massolin di fiori
Che vien dalla montagna.
E guarda ben che non si bagna
Ché lo voglio regalar.
E guarda ben che non si bagna
Ché lo voglio regalar.

That lil' bunch of flowers
From the mountainside.

That lil' bunch of flowers
from the mountainside.
Don't let the raindrops on it

For it's a gift I want to make.

Don't let the raindrops on it

For it's a gift I want to make!

Lo voglio regalare
Perché l'è un bel mazzetto
Lo voglio dare al mio moretto
Questa sera quando 'l vien.

A gift I want to make
For it's a pretty bunch

I want it for my dark-haired boy

This evening when he comes.

Stasera quando 'l viene
Gli fo la brutta cera
E perché sabato sera
Non l'è vegnù da me.

This evening when he comes
I want to know the why

That Saturday, that Saturday

He didn't come to me.

Non l'è vegnù da me
L'è andà dalla Rosina!
E perché mi son poverina
Mi fa piangere e sospirar.

He didn't come to me
He went to see Rosina!

And 'cause i'm but a simple maid

It makes me sob and sigh.

Mi fa piangere e sospirare
Sul letto del lamenti.
E cosa mai diran le genti
Cosa mai diran di me.

It makes me sob and sigh
Upon my bed of tears.

And now what will the people say
What will they say of me

Diràn ch'io son tradita
Tradita nell'amore!
Ed a me mi piange il core,
E per sempre plangerà!

They'll say that I've been jilted
Been jilted by my love!
Oh how, oh how my heart weeps.

And 'll weep for evermore!
Here's a site where you can upload your own translation of the song ... and hear a sung version and view the lyrics: www.lyricsmode.com. I might complete that task later, after I have thanked Cercando Famiglia.

And here you can find some images of Italian alpine flowers. The source of the image at the top of this posting is: Campanella Istriana. Loris Dilena e Giuseppe Jurzi, Fiori dell'Istria, MGS Press (Trieste, 1998)

My next tasks for this project are:
  1. Decide if I want to learn the song.
  2. Create a backing track using Smartscore.
  3. Learn the text.
But that's enough work for a while. I hope you've learned some useful detective tips for using the internet to find the lyrics and translations for songs you want to sing.

QED: Quod erat demonstrandum!


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  2. I've been trying to learn more about this song, as it is very popular in my home town of Jessup, PA USA, as part of the St. Ubaldo Festival, a tradition brought over from Gubbio Italy.

    Thanks for the info.