I treni di Tozeur

I treni di Tozeur

Infobox ESC entry
song = flagicon|Italy "I treni di Tozeur"

caption = The original 7 inch single sleeve (Italy)
year = 1984
country = Italy
artist = Carla Bissi, Franco Battiato
as = Alice & Battiato
with =
language = Italian
languages =
composer = Franco Battiato
lyricist = Giusto Pio,
Rosario Consentino
conductor = Giusto Pio
place = 5th
points = 70
lyrics = [http://www.diggiloo.net/?1984it from Diggiloo Thrush]
clip =
prev = Per Lucia
prev_link = Per Lucia
next = Magic Oh Magic
next_link = Magic Oh Magic

"I treni di Tozeur" (English translation: "The trains of Tozeur") is an Italian song, written by Franco Battiato, Rosario Cosentino and Giusto Pio. It was the Italian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 1984, performed in Italian (with some lyrics in German) by Alice and Franco Battiato.

In a studio version sung only by Battiato, the song was later to be included on his album "Mondi Lontanissimi" (1985) and was also recorded in English and Spanish language versions as "The trains of Tozeur" and "Los trenes de Tozeur" respectively. In 1994 Battiato recorded a classical interpretation of the song with a symphony orchestra for his live album "Unprotected".

Alice has also recorded solo versions of the song, included on albums "Elisir" (1987) and "Personal Jukebox" (1999). The original 1984 duet version of the song is currently available on the 2005 EMI compilation "Studio Collection", in effect making its debut on an Alice album twenty-one years after its recording.

Lyrics, historical background

The song is a midtempo ballad, with the singers describing what they see and think in "the frontier villages" as they watch the trains to Tozeur, an oasis in the Sahara and the capital of the Tunisian governorate of the same name, passing by. They describe their past lives and their desire - apparently unfulfilled - for a different life.

The train line referred to in the lyrics runs from Metlaoui in the north through the Gorges of Seldja in the Atlas Mountains to Tozeur on the border of the Sahara desert in the south, the frontier mentioned is subsequently the Tunisian-Algerian. The track was built in the early 1900s at an enormous cost of both state finances and human lives so the Bey (king) of Tunisia could travel in grand style to his winter palace in the oasis town of Tozeur. There was originally only one train set, built in Paris, France and this was an official gift from the state of France to the Bey of Tunisia when the country was a French protectorate. With all cars painted deep-red it was named 'Le Lézard Rouge' (The Red Lizard) by the oppressed and empoverished Tunisian people and was seen as a symbol of both the emperor's power and extravagant life-style and the French imperialism.

After the bankrupt Tunisia became an autonomous republic in 1957 and the Bey had lost both his political influence and his enormous wealth the train set with its luxurious interiors of brocaded armchairs, overhead antique-globed lighting, brass fittings, mahogany panels and panoramic windows was due to its symbolical value stored in a depot and left to its destiny. After some thirty years in decay it was however restored by the Tunisian state and today the Red Lizard and the train line Metlaoui-Tozeur, often referred to as the North-African Orient Express, is again running and one of the country's greatest tourist attractions.

The lyrics contain further political and historical references about Tunisia and the Maghreb. In the second part of the song one line goes "Shelters and spaceships for interstellar journeys are set up in the abandoned churches."; The Christian churches in the muslim country of Tunisia were built by the French, and often served as sanctuaries for African refugees seeking asylum either in Tunisia, France or other parts of Europe. Furthermore, the Hammaguir space range in the Sahara Desert was a French missile-testing centre at Colomb Béchar. It was here that the first French sounding rockets and space vehicles were launched in the early 1960s. The very first French atmospheric test of nuclear weapons took place on 13 February 1960 in what at the time still was the French Sahara, at Reggane, 700 km south of Béchar, and continued even after the demise of the French empire in Africa, until 1967.

The line "in una vecchia miniera, distese di sale" is also an allusion to something that exists in real life; the dried-out salt mines can still today be found near the oasis of Tozeur. Phosphate-mines and oases in deserts are well-known sources of the naturally-occurring optical phenomenons of mirages, in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky. For thousands of years these had mostly been interpreted as caravans of camels, in the early 20th century in the regions of the Tunisian-Algerian border it was more likely the image of the Bey's train in the distance on its way to Tozeur.


multi-listen item
filename=Alice & Battiato - I Treni Di Tozeur chorus.ogg
title="I Treni Di Tozeur" (duet) (1984)
description= The vocal duet section of a song participating in the Eurovision Song Contest based on Mozart's "The Magic Flute".

The German language part of "I treni di Tozeur" performed by three female opera singers, "Doch wir wollen dir ihn zeigen/Und du wirst...", is a quote, or to use a modern term, a sample from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera or singspiel The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), Act II Scene 7, in its original only a mere second in duration, 3 bars long, in 6/8 time, usually sung by three young boys - and barely recognisable unless you study the actual sheet music. The full sentence goes: "Doch wir wollen ihn dir zeigen, und du wirst mit Staunen sehn, daß er dir sein Herz geweiht". Translated: "Still we want to show him to you, and you will with astonishment see that he consecrates his heart to you".

The melancholy descending chord progression of this short excerpt forms the basis of "I Treni di Tozeur" and is most prominent during the two variations contrapuntally performed by the soloists and the violin section as "E per un istante ritorna la voglia di vivere a un altra velocità" and "Passano ancora lenti i treni per Tozeur", instrumentally mirrored by the violins. (See Counterpoint.) Translated: "And for a moment the desire to live life at another pace returns" and "Still the trains to Tozeur slowly keep passing" respectively. In 1981 Alice had won the San Remo song contest with another Battiato composition, "Per Elisa", which in turn both musically and lyrically was a paraphrase of Beethoven's "Für Elise".

multi-listen item
filename=Herbert Von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker - Bald Prang Der Morgen...(The Magic Flute).ogg
title="The Magic Flute" (quote)
description= Part from Mozart's "The Magic Flute", the actual quote being the second phrase.

multi-listen item
filename=Alice & Battiato - I Treni Di Tozeur opera.ogg
title="I Treni Di Tozeur" (choral section and prelude) (1984)
description= The quote directly taken from "The Magic Flute", "Doch wir wollen dir ihn zeigen und du wirst..." followed by the prelude of the song.
From a technical or musicological point of view "I treni di Tozeur" is generally believed to be one of the most advanced compositions to have taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest, also because of its unusual time signature during the opening vocal passage, the recitative "Nei villaggi di frontiera guardano passare i treni le strade deserte di Tozeur", in fact one continuous phrase, which is written in alternating 4/4 and 6/8 bars. While this is a technique fairly common in 'classical' music, either by Baroque or Renaissance composers such as Handel, Vivaldi, Bach or the aforementioned Mozart, it is relatively rare in contemporary rock or pop because of its irregularity, and most unusual in the context of the Eurovision Song Contest.

The different parts of the composition, performed both as individual solo pieces for the two vocalists and as a duet, are also founded on the operatic and poetic use of stanze, with individual compartments or 'rooms' intertwining and building a greater entity. The word "di" of the opening recitative, sung in unison on the same note by the soloists - Battiato a countertenor and Alice a contralto - connects the first stanza with the following, stylistically contrasting one sung by Alice solo, which is in 4/4 bars and lyrically divided into four separate and brief phrases.

In laymans terms the song could be described as a miniature opera within the space of three minutes, including the basic classical structure a) instrumental overture establishing the main themes of the work, hence the unusually long intro (thirty seconds of a total of three minutes), at least by contemporary and most certainly by Eurovision standards, b) male aria, in this case clearly an aria recitante c) female aria, closely resembling an aria cantabile in structure, d) duet, e) duet in counterpoint with violins, in contrast to the cantabile and the first duet part a cabaletta f) trio, choral crescendo and g) prelude.

One of the few technical resemblances to music of the 1900's is that the song repeats the parts b)/c), d) and e) (in modern terms verse, bridge, chorus) before the trio and the prelude. The composition also uses the ternary form structure mechanism, with the two lines "Si ricorda di me, come un incantesimo", part d), in effectively contrasting and ascending keys to the rest of the piece.

The libretto of The Magic Flute also shows certain common denominators with " I treni di Tozeur", with its setting in a distant land - the Pyramids indicating North Africa - the serpent and the Red Lizard, the Three Boys and the three opera singers, the temple and the palace in the oasis, the mention of "tua madre" (translated as "your mother") which could be a reference to the Queen of the Night, suggesting that the parts sung by Alice and Battiato are those of Pamina and Tamino.

Unusually also for the pop songs traditionally entered in the Contest, "I treni di Tozeur" does not contain a regular chorus, which is a natural result of its segmented classical structure, one of the very few entries ever to do this. Neither does it follow the popular Eurovision formula of finishing with repeated choruses. The finale is in fact the first half of the opening recitative, thus creating a so called deceptive cadence. Despite its many atypicalities "I treni di Tozeur" is regarded as one of the stronger entries of the 1980s, appearing on the CD set of "winners and classics" produced to coincide with the Congratulations special of late 2005 as well as on the DVD.

Eurovision performance

From a visual or scenic point of view the entry is also highly notable in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest for its use of its backing singers. The three classically trained mezzosopranos, on the night of the contest in Luxembourg dressed in elegant green, white and red evening gowns, the colours of the Italian flag, stood silent for two minutes and thirty-five seconds until they performed their four bars from The Magic Flute; eight seconds in all.

The recorded version of the song features renowned American opera singer Marilyn Horne performing all three harmonies and also the string section of the La Scala orchestra in Milan. The B-side of the single, the instrumental "Le Biciclette Di Forlí" (translated: "The bicycles from Forlì"), is a reference to Alice's birth place, the Italian small town Forlì.

The song was performed eighteenth on the night, following Switzerland's Rainy Day with "Welche Farbe Hat Der Sonnenschein" and preceding Portugal's Maria Guinot with "Silêncio E Tanta Gente". Despite receiving the coveted "twelve points" from countries as diverse as Spain and Finland, at the close of voting it had received a disappointing 70 points, placing it 5th in a field of 19.


Despite not winning the actual contest "I Treni Di Tozeur" proved to be the biggest commercial hit of the year's entries in Continental Europe. The single even turned out to be a Top 20 hit in Sweden, the country that won the contest with "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley". The song is also one of the very few Italian Eurovision entries ever to become a commercial success in Italy itself, even topping the Italian singles charts, the country has not participated in the contest since 1997.

In 1985 Alice followed up the duet single with a whole cover album of Battiato's best known songs called "Gioielli Rubati - Alice Canta Battiato" (translated: "Stolen Jewels - Alice Sings Battiato"), which included her version of "Prospettiva Nevsky", which was another a hit single in Continental Europe and Scandinavia, as well as "Luna Indiana" ("Indian Moon"), a song loosely based on Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14, popularly known as the "Moonlight Sonata".

Alice and Battiato have continued to work together ever since the early eighties and in 2002 the two recorded the duet "Come Un Sigillo" for his album "Fleurs 3".

"I Treni Di Tozeur" was succeeded as Italian representative by Al Bano & Romina Power with "Magic Oh Magic".

ee also



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Magic Flute


* "Centro di Gravità permanente", Macale Maurizio, Bastogi Editrice Italiana.
* "Tecnica mista sul tappeto", Franco Pulcini, EDT publications Italy.
* "Franco Battiato. Pronipote dei padri del deserto.", Luca Cozzari, Zona publications Italy.
* "Evoluzione. Evoluzione. Evoluzione.", Enrico Carbone, Bonanno publications Italy.
* "Franco Battiato. Un sufi e la sua musica.", Guido Guidi Guerrera, Editrice Loggia de' Lanzi.
* "Fenomenologia di Battiato", Enzo Di Mauro and Roberto Masotti, Auditorium publications Italy.
* [http://www.fenice.info/start.asp?p=/battiato/_varie.asp Site about the origins of the song and the classical influences on Battiato's music.]

* [http://www.ottantaedintorni.it/eurofestival.asp Italian Eurovision site.]

* [http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco_Battiato Italian Wikipedia's biography of Franco Battiato.]

* [http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_%28cantante%29 Italian Wikipedia's biography of Alice.]

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