Ivan Della Mea: the Personal is Political

Towards the end of the 50s I’d sent some of my songs to Cantacronache but they’d been rejected. However Gianni Bosio had learnt about these songs from my brother Luciano and he wanted to hear them. So one evening my brother fixed an appointment for me at Roberto Leydi’s house in via Cappuccio. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to go in and I wandered round the outside of the house for ages until a blonde woman came up to me, very courteous and attractive. This was Sandra Mantovani. ‘You must be Luciano’s brother. I’m Roberto Leydi’s wife. We’re still expecting you.’

So I decided to go up. Up there I found Roberto Leydi, Gianni Bosio and Umberto Eco. I was a bit embarrassed about my songs. I didn’t want to sing them. ‘My stuff’s a bit peculiar.’ Then I secreted myself round a corner, where there was a piano, and I sang (doing so was a liberation) these Ballads about Violence Great and Small, autobiographical material drawn in part from my brother’s experience and in part from my own. Even though I’d never thought of using them to present a representative sample of the great violence of fascism through the smaller violence of my father. It came to me more as an urgent need to liberate myself from my family by way of warding off misfortune and to shout out my availability to a thousand and more other families to seek out and to find.

Then I emerged from my corner with the air of a cat that’s wondering, ‘What the hell will happen to me now?’ and they began to argue. I remember only the initial verdicts of Roberto Leydi on the general import of my pieces: ‘This is a typically anarchico-syndacalist approach.’  And that of Umberto Eco: ‘Here we are faced with an archetype.’ Gianni Bosio, on the other hand, stayed silent.

They discussed all this for ages and I went to sleep on the couch. When I woke at 4.00 they were still discussing it. So then I went home.

(Ivan Della Mea, taken from Cesare Bermani: Una storia cantata)

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