Born in a blue-collar neighborhood of Rome, as one of his songs also reminds us (’51 Montesacro), Baglioni debuted in 1969 and achieved large-scale success in 1971 with the concept-album Questo piccolo grande amore. In the politically loaded climate of the 1970s, Baglioni’s love lyrics were often considered too désengagé and unaligned to political themes to be worthy of critical acclaim. However, his songs display complexity and original solutions in both words and music.
Baglioni’s artistic inspiration includes references to such writers as Gabriel García Márquez, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Elsa Morante. Baglioni’s vocal style has evolved from the stornelli of the Roman folk tradition to pop and rock style with operatic notes.
Claudio Baglioni (by Cathy Ann Elias, De Paul University)
The best way to understand Baglioni’s lyrics is to quote the title of his second official album, Un cantastorie dei giorni nostri (A story-teller of our days, 1971). Through his career, Baglioni recounts fragments of the poignant and mundane moments of his life, sometimes in a straightforward fashion, sometimes through pictorial illusions inspired by the emotions he has created in composing the music. Baglioni is a builder of the narrative, focusing his lens on the moment, then shifting to the past, and moving to the future. His lyrical style is always undergoing changes. It becomes more sophisticated, and is, as we shall see, radically different among different albums.
Baglioni uses the word cantastorie (with roots in the Trecento) rather than cantautore so commonly used by his contemporaries. For Baglioni, the music is what creates the text, it is not a text that he sets to music. Baglioni mostly composes the music first, and the emotion of the music results in the words. He complains that he struggles with the words. In a lecture at New York University he said “. . . the music is a mysterious world, like a liquid, almost metaphysical while words have a meaning and a dimension and this makes them difficult. . . . What comforts me and allows me to complete my works isn’t my wish to narrate something that happens, or that I feel but, to use words to add more music to the music that is already there through the fluidness of the notes, the melodies, of which there is never just one.” His music and his lyrics undergo substantial changes. What remains constant is his retelling of his life, and of his changing vision of a changing world.
His concept album, Questo piccolo grande amore (1972) provides us with a lens into a youthful Baglioni struggling with his feelings with straightforward emotional stories in songs, including “Una faccia pulita, “Con tutto l’amore che posso,” “Mia libertà,” “La prima volta, and “Questo piccolo amore.” His portrait of “Porta Portese” defined the feel of the place for a generation:
È domenica mattina, si è svegliato già il mercato[…] / C’è la vecchia che ha sul banco foto di papa Giovanni, / lei sta qui da quarant’anni o forse più /e i suoi occhi han visto re scannati /ricchi ed impiegati capelloni ladri artisti e figli di […] /vado avanti a gomitate fra la gente che si affolla / le patacche che ti ammolla quello là!
(Sunday morning, the market has already woken up […] / There is the old woman selling photos of Pope John, / she’s been here for forty years or maybe more / and her eyes have seen slaughtered kings, / rich men and employees, hippies, thieves, artists, and sons of […] / I’m elbowing my way through the packed crowd,/ the junk that guy fobs off!)
In contrast, his concept album Strada facendo (1981) presents songs with lyrics of a different nature like “Ragazze dell’Est” after his trip to Poland and “I vecchi,” moving away from overheated teenage disappointment and his immediate neighborhood, but not abandoning it with songs like “Uno” or more commonly known as ’51 Montesacro” where his life began.
In 1985 we see a shift in both musical style and lyrics. Baglioni creates another concept album unfolding over a day beginning with “Un nuovo giorno o un giorno nuovo” and ending at night with “Notte di note note di notte.”the poetic language takes on a new linguistic style involved in sharp colorful images woven together to create more of an atmosphere than a specific story. Intricate complicated fragmented images of moments are put together eloquently as more than just lyrics but as poetry as in “Notte di note note di notte” (1985).
“I vecchi” from Strada facendo (1981) and “Uomini persi” from La vita è adesso (1985), two songs on the same topic, lonely old people illustrate the shift in his linguistic style, and as scholars have pointed out, the incorporation of allusions to poets like Pavese and Pasolini. The earlier work tells a story with some abstractions, while the later one is full of small abstract poetic images that suggest thoughts and appeal to memories, instead of telling stories. Comparing small passages from each will make this clear:
I vecchi che si addannano alle bocce/ mattine lucide di festa che si può dormire / gli occhiali per vederci da vicino a misurar le gocce/per una malattia difficile da dire . . .
(the old men who go play bocce/ bright holiday mornings when one can sleep /eyeglasses to see up close, to measure the drops /for a disease hard to pronounce)
“I vecchi,” alludes to small images that are part of Baglioni’s craft, to very literal events: bad eyesight, drugs to treat the illnesses of old people, bright mornings that are only used to sleep in.In “Uomini persi” the images are more abstract, the language more poetic, the message is transmitted through allusions and evocation, rather than actual stories:
. . . vento / che spazza via le foglie del primo giorno di scuola / Raggi di sole che allungavano i colori sugli ultimi giochi / tra i montarozzi di terra/e al davanzale di una casa senza balcony / due dita a pistola/Anche quei pazzi che hanno sparato/ alle/persone /bucandole come biglietti da annullare/hanno pensato che i morti li/coprissero/perché non/prendessero freddo e il sonno fosse lieve …
(flying in the wind / which swept away the leaves from their first day of school / sunbeams which prolonged the colors of their last games / between the ground knolls / and, from the windowsill of a house with no balconies, / two fingers in the shape of a pistol. / even those crazy ones who have shot at people/ making holes in them like tickets to be punched / they thought that the dead ones would’ve covered them / to keep them from getting cold, and to grant them a sweet sleep)
In 1991 Baglioni creates a masterpiece with the album Oltre. Baglioni explores even more his new preoccupation with and mastery of sophisticated poetic techniques that use words for their sounds to enhance the atmosphere of the words to create images of a moment in time. A good example is “Io del mare” referring to the idea that he was conceived at the beach. Filippo Maria Caggiani points out that images are formed by the word “mare” and the songwriter “saturates the lyrics” with words like amare, stremare, calmare, ansimare, domare, infiammare . . . concluding the song with “quel mare che fu madre che non so.”
As a cantastorie, Baglioni continues to write and rewrite his life with his albums Io sono qui (1995), and Sono io. L’uomo della storia accanto (2003) looking back and forward at the same time.
In 2009 Baglioni went back and retold his story with a book, a film, and a performance called Q.P.G.A. of which I had the pleasure to see at Torre di Lago. Baglioni reworked the story of the early part of his life described in his concept album of 1972, Questo piccolo grande amore. Songs from this album were reworked and woven into a musical extravaganza with recitatives, preludes, interludes, new pieces and so much more. Like a true cantastorie (troubadour) he continues to recount the tales of his life. . . . and his ballads continue as he travels from Rome to Lampedusa with Con Voi and so much more.
Caggiani, Filippo Maria, Oltre: Storia e analisi del capolavoro di Claudio Baglioni, N.p.: Lulu.com, 2010.
Ciabattoni, Francesco. “A Collage of Literary Subtexts in Claudio Baglioni’s La Vita è adesso” in Musica pop e testi in Italia dal 1960 a oggi, edited by Andrea Ciccarelli, Mary Migliozzi e Marianna Orsi, pp. 113-121.
Elias, Cathy Ann. “Claudio Baglioni, the Apollo of musica leggera” in Musica pop e testi in Italia dal 1960 a oggi, edited by Andrea Ciccarelli, Mary Migliozzi e Marianna Orsi, pp. 95-111.