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Wolff’s Second Foreword to his “Kingdom of Fanes”

This second foreword is compeletely devoted to Wolff’s, and others’, attempts to revive the traditional Ladinian “popular theater” performance, that should have included the staging of the whole Fanes’ legend. Anyway, as far as the research on the legend is concerned, we would be much more interested in the list and the evaluation that Wolff provides upon his sources. Unfortunately, however, reserves and ambiguities prevail on clarifications. See also my short remark at bottom.


2. The Ladinians’ Festival

Your traditions hover on the whole area of the Pale Mountains
like the noble mourning of a defunct who deceased
long ago, like the restless dream of a kingdom of old

Hubert Mumelter, “The Kingdom of the Pale Mountains
(A Programme for a Work to Come)
", “Voice over the
Mountain”, Innsbruck 1953, p.114


On June 17th, 1951 the Ladinian people revived its ancient festival, that had been dormant for a century and a half and had almost been forgotten, and staged it again in the village of Wengen (La Valle in Badia), with a large concurrence from the valleys nearby. All presents got the impression that a millennium-old tradition had suddenly returned to life, and wondered about having heard so little of it until now. But in the past only a restricted circle of sages had considered its remembrance as precious and kept it alive. The first writer who reported something of it was the Northern Germany geologist A. von Klipstein, who over one century ago roamed the Dolomites and studied them in deep, with a predilection for the Group of Fanis. From him we learn, as an instance, the the pass of Rit, in Marebbe, was also named in the past “Glamba”, as none does today any longer (A Contribution to the Geological Knowledge of Eastern Alps, Giessen 1843, p.45). Klipstein didn’t care of legends and traditions, but his daughter did. She was always with him in his trips and survived him long. In her letters to Alberta Bauer (Hamburg) and to dr. Max Kuntze (Arco) one can find several hints to a great and remarkable “cycle of legends of Fanis” and to a show of the popular Ladinian theater that had this saga as its subject, but nothing more comes up. Dr. Kuntze, who wrote several texts about Arco, Gries and Merano, took an active part in this exchange of messages and made several trips all over the Fanes mountains area, but couldn’t ascertain anything; more so, in those places people constantly confirmed him what the well-known legend researcher J.A. Heyl had verified a short time earlier [i.e., that the area was very poor of legends, Transl.’s note].
The best informed people came from Fassa and were Franz Dantone (a photograph and mason master from Gries, deceased 1909), Tita Cassan (a teacher at the Professional Institute of Bolzano, deceased 1905) and Hugo von Rossi (who worked at the Post Office at Innsbruck and died 1940). Their notions, however, concerned specially Lidsanel’s song “L’ultimo dei latrones” [The last of the Latrones]. About the ancient and connected legend cycle of the Fanes, at first I couldn’t obtain a clear picture. In detail, in the first decades all my efforts, addressed to the people from the valleys of Gardena and Marebbe, yielded no results. Dr. Alois Vittur, the chronicler of Marebbe, only knew about the “Morin di Salvans”, the “Dwarfs’ mill” concealed in the heart of the Fanes’ Dolomites. When we visited together the upper Fassa valley, we met a man from Canazei who was acquainted with “Doresilla” and indicated us the stronghold of Cerceneda under the walls of the Sella, saying that the princess had lived long there, until going back to Fanes – dr. Vittur was as stupefied as myself at that.
About year 1900 I met with a student from Gardena named Wilhelm Moroder-Lusenberg, whom his comrades called “Wili da Zhumbyerk”. He was a very wide-cultured guy and an enthusiast at local history. Among the notions about the Rhaetians, he was specially attracted by their legends, and I must thank him for his several important communications. One day he told me: “We Ladinians preserve e primeval epos, which is connected with the mountains of Fanes and was once put on stage in the form of a festival in popular theaters and dance floors: it disappeared since the beginning of the war against Frenchmen, i.e. about 1796; we must put this show back into honour”. His destiny, however, pushed my friend into Bohemia, and then into the First World War, from which he never came back.
Other people, however, helped me to go further, and in 1915 I was able to offer an overall presentation of that ancient cycle of legends in the issues from 19 to 22 of the “Mitteilungen des Alpenvereins”, titled “The Dolomitic epos”. It was shown almost only from the Fassa side, as I was wholly depending on Hugo von Rossi.
Roughly at the same time, miss von Klipstein had persuaded Rudolf Lorenz, a theater director from Northern Germany, to investigate on the Fanes’ legend in order to use it as the subject of an open-air show in the Dolomites. Lorenz breathed fire, came to Bolzano notwithstanding the war and hurried up the Dolomites, but obviously couldn’t get anything done. Among the places I suggested him for his planned open-air stage, he liked most the field of Confin, under the Sassolungo. During my military leave in summer, 1916 I had several long talks with Lorenz. I showed him all my material and he extracted a nice sketch for his festival. However, one year later he was compelled to return home, where he soon died because of the war. I mourned him together with a peculiar lyric poet from Tyrol, Arthur von Wallspach, who since long had eyed the Fanes’ saga and was aware of a few details that were completely new to me. He believed that the festival couldn’t be revived any longer and exhorted me to write down at least all the available material, so that it could be preserved.
In December, 1918 I published most of this material on the “Bozner Nachrichten”, and on this subject I received several letters, among which one from the poet and scholar Rudolf Pannwitz, from Northern Germany, and one from the Viennese composer Emil Petschnig. Pannwitz had heard, through miss Alberta Bauer, of the existence of a lost epic poem and a popular theater of the inhabitants of the Dolomites, and asked for my publications in order to elaborate on them. This way he developped his poem “Ladinian Legend” (published by Hans Carl at Munich-Feldafing in 1920). This work, that appeared, so to say, without any advertising, unfortunately went totally unnoticed.
Emil Petschnig got in touch, on my advice, with Hugo von Rossi, wrote the libretto himself and created a three-act opera. He chose to name it “The Promised Time”. Petschnig moved the core of the action on the tournament that Lidsanel gained, but remaining deprived of its prize, and on the last scene, when the Queen and Lujanta row on the lake of Braies in a small boat. At the end, Luyanta turns to the audience and says:

“The good times of old will come back,
There will be no more slaves nor bullies,
When they all will resurrect to a new life,
Those who have suffered in the mountains”

Now, as in the year 1928 the traders from Innsbruck wished to hold a festival for the townfolks, Hugo von Rossi and Petschnig proposed the just composed opera. It was able to gain some influential authorities. Therefore, on May 14th, 1928, “The promised Time”, in the form of a Tyrolean festival, was staged at the Concert Hall of Innsbruck in front of a chosen invited audience. The committee that promoted the work was composed by the gentlemen: Franz Fischer (deputy Mayor of the Town of Innsbruck), dr. Josef Dinkhauser (responsible for Popular Culture in Tyrol), dr. Karl Senn (music expert), Kurt Blaas (opera singer), Hugo von Rossi (retired Captain and Post officer, as representative of the Ladinians), Wilhelm Waldmüller (representing the town Theater), dr. Franz-Egon Hye-Kerkdal (director of the Urania of Innsbruck), Alois Sprenger (vice-president of the League of the Tyrol inn-keepers) and dr. Paul Weitlaner (Director of the Passion show at Thiersee). The music was generally appraised; as far as the subject was concerned, on the contrary, the majority of the traders of Innsbruck stated that it was too much alien to Northern Tyroleans; and, as a consequence, the work was rejected. Much saddened, Petschnig went back to Vienna, where he persevered years long in his efforts to bring his work back to the public attention, until he died at the beginning of the second World War. Text and music have likely been lost.

In a gloomy Autumn evening, upon invitatio by mr. Arthur von Wallspach, a dozen people met at Chiusa, among which was my modest person, in order to debate about the fiasco at Innsbruck and to find new ways to put all its parts together and properly stage that ancient popular drama. Big difficulties existed. The meeting was also attended by the Northern Tyrolean poet reverend brother Willram, who was always an unfaltering enthusiast at such things. When he realized that we all were rather downhearted, in his steadfast good temper he banged his hand on the table and cried: “Gentlemen, this way you are going to let hope die! Patience and perseverance bring to results; remember then Virgil’s words: ‘tantae molis erat romanam condere gentem’ (founding the Roman people was so difficult)!” We laughed, but the spirits remained low and we split to no outcome. We were certain, anyway, that brother Willram was right, and a positive turn was already in the making.

In the 1921 year’s issues of the “Schlern” I had dealt with the “dolomitic poetry”, giving a short summary of the Fassa tradition about the “Last of the latrones” and mentioning the Fanes’ saga as well. As a consequence, I received a letter from reverend Karl Staudacher, a regular contributor to the “Schlern”, who liked most dealing with the Badia valley, its inhabitants, their language and their traditions. Staudacher informed me that he knew the Fanes’ cycle of legends since long, and that he was deriving an epic poem in verses out of it. We joined our efforts by reciprocally exchanging the materials we had collected, a fact that was very useful to us both. We agreed, furthermore, that I would compile everything in prose. When I did, Staudacher received a copy, and I shipped a second one to Petschnig in Vienna. At this point, we would have liked to wait until the opera was staged in Innsbruck. As this was delaying, I published my work in Munich.
Staudacher, who was a parish priest, in the meanwhile had been retired because of a serious eye desease and had been transferred to Bressanone, where he lived at the Cassianeum. Here I payed him several visits, and each time he allowed me to peep into his poem, that he had chosen to title “Fanneslied”. Three years long he completely devouted himself to this epos, for which he, who was quickly getting blind, had himself helped by a goodwilling writer of Merano, Henriette von Pelzel. When he completed his work, Staudacher knew his whole poem by heart and often recited it to a group of young students of Bressanone, to the theologians of the Church seminary and to other auditors. Reverend Staudacher deceased at Bressanone in 1944; his manuscript (368 typed sheets) must be still there, in good hands. A copy exists at Brunico too. [It was published in 1994: see bibl., Transl.'s note].
About 1935 a poet from Berlin, Eberhard König, came to Bolzano and lived there for a long time. He already had heard by miss Alberta Bauer that in the Dolomites a noteworthy and ancient cycle of legends existed, therefore he put in touch with me. I showed hime my material and he found it quite proper for an excellent dramatic elaboration. Indeed, in the following years he extracted from it a dramatic legend, “Aurona”. In 1941, I received the manuscript to revise and I excerpted two beautiful passages, that I have reproduced here in the form of citations. Eberhard König also has departed in the meanwhile.

In the eighth issue of my “Dolomitensagen” (1944) I published the cycle of legends of the “Fanes’ Kingdom” with all those supplements for which I must thank reverend Staudacher, quoting also his work several times. Until that moment, there had be no way to dramatize and stage again the ancient popular festival, as I dreamed since 1905. However, from the same cultural circle of Bressanone where Staudacher had played an important role, the young poet came who was to give the Ladinians back their festival under a new form. He is a Ladinian himself, born at La Valle [La Val], named Angel Morlang, and studied theology at Bressanone. Anointed as a priest, he came back to his home valley and became an assistant priest at La Valle, where in his free time he could write down the popular festival he had since long in his mind. But the matter was not over with the completion of the manuscript. Morlang had just pushed to the point where we others had already arrived. But Morlang went further: he wanted the enactment on a stage; if this couldn’t be obtained at Innsbruck, then why not at La Valle, maybe with greater rights and significance – La Valle, where the descendants lived of those ancestors whose remembrance and whose existence the festival was claiming – La Valle, at the feet of those lonely and silent Dolomites of Fanes, whose rocky ring had guarded that mysterious cycle of legends. Morlang overcame all difficulties. He designed and planned the opera, wrote all parts in Ladinian language, looked for suitable actors among his country people, taught them, built a stage, had costumes sewn according to appropriate drawings, even found among his people adequate musicians; finally, he painted himself the required wings, and he made them so beautiful and true to nature, that one could really believe to be within the represented scenery. The name “Fanes da Tsakàn” [Fanes of Old], that Morlang gave to his show, is pure Ladinian and, for those who know something about this language, really has a sacred flavour. Rehearses lasted four months. The most important actors were: Angela Kastlunger (from Colfosco, all others from La Valle) in the role of the Queen of Fanes; in that of the King of Fanes, Pire Tolpeit; the Prince of Fanes was Tomesch Dapòz; the role of Dolasilla was acted by Teresa Nagler, that of Luyanta by Maria Altòn and that of Ey-de-Net by Karl Valentin. Most song texts were written by reverend Angel Dapunt; they were sung by several local music lovers, like Hans Rubatscher, Edi Pizzinini, reverend Angel Frener, Rudolf Pizzinini and others. The Music Chapel of the Badia valley was charged of the instrumental accompaniment. The musicians were: Edi Pizzinini, Hans Rubatscher and Hans Valentin. Three longer speeches, that were delivered at the theater, had been written by Josef Moling, schoolteacher at La Valle. Reverend Angel Morlang himself was the general director of the show.
The performances took place on June 17th, July 8th, 16th and 29th and August 25th, 1951. The show lasted every time over four hours; during intervals, a musical entertainment was offered. The generally dominant sensation was that the show wasn’t only an old popular festival refurbished anew, but that this wholly special and lively drama had a great significance for the style of the future cultural life of the Dolomites; that it was no theatrical performance like any other, but the national festival of the Dolomitic Ladinians, eventually revised and brought to a new life.

Footnote: in the Calendario Gardenese [Calendar of Gardena] for year 1952, the drama “Fanes da tzakàn” was carefully described in Ladinian language. Several writers, who unfortunately for an excess of modesty only signed with their initials, found a way to depict the whole story in several short pictures, what they did beautifully. In detail, I must praise the lively description of the high mountains world of the Fanes, signed S.U.P. Several very nice drawings by miss Resi Gruber increase the value of this publication, that represents an important moment of the Ladinian cultural life.



*) In the wishes of the Foreign Ministry in Vienna, this passage should be cancelled.


My remarks

What really Staudacher passed to Wolff about the Fanes’ legend, and what he learned from other undisclosed sources, remains obscure. The suspicion that cannot but arise is that Wolff, having discovered that in Fassa little was known, and only from a local point of view, in Gardena and Badia they knew nothing, and in Marebbe very little, had retrieved his informants in Ampezzo and in the surrounding area, but he never explicitly mentioned them for “political” reasons, i.e. for not relinquishing the paternity of the legend into the hands of the traditional foes of the Marebbans. It is still to be understood, anyway, why neither Alton nor Wolff, contrary to Staudacher, ever found any trace of the legend in Marebbe! Maybe the “nanny” who told the whole story to the priest-to-be, and who he stated (see Foreword 1) to be coming from Marebbe, learned of the legend by a man from Ampezzo?
Finally, as Staudacher passed most informations to Wolff not by letter, but during vis-à-vis meetings, maybe we shall never know what would have been most important, i.e. whether, and how much, Wolff added or modified of his own over the anthropological data that the genuine tradition had handed to him.