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Dumka

In 2016 I bought a tent from Decathlon, large and comfortable, in the eventuality of using it in Sicily. Instead it sat there waiting, for two years, until this summer I took the car for a five-day trip to Slovenia. And this was the first camping trip of my life, in the sense that for the first time I had to pitch my tent and take care of everything without depending on others.

The tent lived up to expectations, withstanding a couple of stormy nights, the last of which was particularly violent: I was impressed to hear the heavy rain and the strong wind, and at the same time I was reassured to feel that the structure protecting me was solid.

During the long walks I took in the heart of nature, among rivers, countryside, hills and small villages somewhat resembling the small one in the Marche region where my father was born, I listened to a 2008 audiobook by Paolo Rumiz, “Trans Europa Express”: a journey beyond the former Iron Curtain, in what was once the “other world”, and is instead an important and undervalued part of our Europe. Indeed, one of the reasons that makes Rumiz’s books so important to me is their search for the true soul of Europe, this continent that seems to have no soul anymore and that for too long we have identified with economic potentates (thus fomenting the unhinged anger of populists).

In another book dedicated to the First World War and entitled “Like horses sleeping on their feet”, Rumiz says that “it is time to turn our European identity inside out”: in fact, this seems to be his true underlying mission beyond the individual topics he deals with. In this case, the author looks for the stories of the thousands of Italians ‘born on the wrong side’, from Trieste and Trento, who had to fight for the Austrian Empire in the First World War. Mocked and despised by both sides, more than 25,000 lost their lives on the Russian and Serbian fronts, but not even their names remain because the Austrian archives were destroyed after 1918. These were uncomfortable stories that no one wanted to tell until today.

At minute 9’15” of the audiobook, Rumiz observes that in his part of the world ‘the passage from joy to melancholy is instantaneous, like that of the gypsy violinists of the Danube’. This reminded me of the dumka, a musical genre originating in Ukraine and spread throughout the Slavic countries. Although the word ‘dumka’ means ‘thought’, this genre is actually characterised by sudden changes of mood, from melancholy to exuberance. A form that is therefore an expression of the irrepressible emotionality of these peoples, which in fact we can extend to Rumiz’s north-eastern Italy.

Many classical composers have used folk patterns to infuse their compositions with vitality, and the most famous to do so with the dumka was Antonin Dvorak. Indeed, his Trio Opus 90 in E minor consists of six movements, each of which is a dumka (which is why the work is sometimes called the ‘dumky-trio’). There is an academic article published in 1993 which analyses precisely the relationship between Dvorak’s dumka and the more general concept of nationalism in music.

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