Italian music is broad and bold and has always been open to exploration. Other than during the Fascist years of the ’20s and ’30s when the regime tried to make music a tool of the State, Italian musicians–with the exception of some sacred vocalists who had to answer to the Pope–have always welcomed the influence of genres from all over the world, taking pride in their interplay with French, Spanish, Slavic, Greek, Arab and other musical cultures. While Italy is known for its being at the heart of sacred Church music as then for its pivotal role in the development of opera, the nation takes great rightful pride in its many types of composers and performers. Let’s meet some of them.

For almost two thousand years Italy has been at the center of Christianity–Roman Catholicism, to be specific–and, for just as long, Italy has been at the center of Christian sacred music. At the end of the 6th century Pope Gregory I was Bishop of Rome and, according to tradition, he either originated the type of all-in-unison Latin language chanting that became known as “Gregorian Chant” with the help of divine inspiration or at least ordered church music be simplified and organized. (Historians now believe Pope Gregory didn’t actually either originate or even first notate the type of “plainchant/plainsong” that bears his name.) Gregorian chanting was the Church’s central form of music for many centuries; only in the Renaissance (the 14th to the 17th centuries) did Church music develop to include voices singing various complementary notes at the same time, though still in Latin. Italian Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is the best-known composer of what has come to be known as “Sacred Polyphony.” In the 1800s the Church accepted music that was more operatic, marginalizing Gregorian chanting and Renaissance-era polyphony, though at the end of the century the Cecilian Movement aimed to revive this kind of music. Actions of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) of the early 1960s led to the removal of much Latin-language music from the liturgy.

More information: differentiates Gregorgian chant from sacred polyphony from hymondy | Wikipedia on the Gregorian chant | Listen to some Gregorian chanting on YouTube | “Stairway to Heaven” as a Gregorian chant? |’s biography of Giovannia Pierluigi da Palestrina | “The Tallis Scholars Sings Palestrina” | A discussion about the Cecilian Movement | Not everyone likes Catholic Church music since Vatican II: “Post Vatican II “La La La” Music: Unworthy of the Catholic Church


Though opera, which we’ll discuss below, is at the center of Italy’s contribution to the annals of Western classical music, there have been several influential Italian instrumental composers, most notably the Baroqe-era Domenico Scarlatti, who himself was son of noted early operatic composer Alessandro Scarlotti, and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), whose “Four Seasons” is still popular today. (Watch Itzhak Perlman perform “Spring”–you’ll absolutely know this one.) Opera ruled the Italian classical music scene until the early 1900s, but after dominant opera composer Giacomo Puccini passed away in 1924 instrumental music experienced a modern revival, in great part due to internationally respected Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), who had much success early in his career as an operatic conductor but later focused on instrumental work. (Toscanini conducted at Milan’s La Scala opera house, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, with the New York Philharmonic and, most notably in the U.S., he conducted NBC Symphony Orchestra, broadcast on radio from 1937-1954.) Toscanini was particularly a proponent of Italian instrumental composers such as Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909), whose Second Symphony has become known as “the starting point of the renascence of non-operatic Italian music.”

More information:’s biography of Vivaldi, complete with a portrait of him holding a violin like he’s poised to use it for an Eddie Van Halen-style solo | introduces us to Domenico Scarlotti | Vladimir Horowitz performs Scarlatti’s Sonata L33 | A short biography of Martucci–could he be the composer with the best mustache ever? | Listen to Martucci’s Second Symphony in F. Major (1904) | ToscaniniOnline’s introduction to Toscanini

On the surface opera seems to perfectly match Italy’s national persona–romantic and bold, brimming with joy, politically passionate, comedic but within the context of inevitable tragedy that’s beyond the scope of humankind, the work of troubled gods. Below the surface….yeah, that’s pretty much it. Opera first came together as an art form in 1597 when composer Jacopo Peri, in Dafne, tried to revive the classical Greek drama within the context of the Italian Renaissance. The score of Dafne has since been lost, but in it many of the elements of opera were present such the libretto (the text of the work) and the aria, in which characters express emotion in within a more structured melody.

In opera so many elements must work together to achieve a successful production–appealing libretto, a larger-than-life plot, grand costumes and sets and certainly an adept orchestra. Of course the most elemental of these elements is the singing, which became increasingly intricate and challenging as the form developed. By the 1700s, composers the most popular form of opera called opera seria (serious opera) required their vocalists to have such ability to execute all the embellishments they wrote into their arias that only a small number of vocalists could accomplish the feat. At the time two new types of vocalists emerged–the castrati, rigorously trained male singers who had undergone a “procedure” before they reached puberty into order to help them keep reaching the highest of the high notes, and the prima donna, the female lead.

Beyond the lead vocalists most operas have a vast number of supporting cast members and members of the chorus, each of whom is usually a talented and trained singer in his or her own right. Most often cast members were only offered particular kinds of roles depending on their vocal type. For example, males fall into four general vocal types, listed here from those who sing the lowest notes to those who are most accomplished in the higher registers:

bass: Watch bass Michael Schmidberger sing “Ombre di mia prosapia” from La Gioconda
baritone: Watch baritone Andrey Grigoriev perform “Song of the Venetian Guest” from Rimsky Korsakov’s Sadko
tenor: Watch The Three Tenors, plus Zubin Mehta, practice “Marechiare
countertenor: Watch countertenor David DQ Lee sing “Va tacito” from Julius Caesar

Female vocal roles include:

contralto: Watch contralo Eula Beal sing Bach’s “Erbarme Dich
mezzo-soprano & soprano: Watch this video which explains and demonstrates the difference between the mezzo-soporano and the soprano (the vocal examples start at 1:08)

In classical opera, for the most part, basses and baritones portray villains or perhaps the father in an operatic narrative, while tenor and countertenors are the heroes and young, handsome leading men. Female vocalists with lower, contralto voices, often portray older female villains (sometimes witches) and mezzo-sopranos were relegated to roles supporting the beautiful young, soprano-singing heroine.

While many legendary opera composers throughout Europe wrote in Italian, Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries wrote some of the most beloved operas of all time:

Gioachino Rossini
Gioachino Rossini, “The Italian Mozart,” started writing operas in his teens and found immediate acclaim from composers and opera-goers alike. Rossini, who lived from 1792 to 1868, wrote 39 operas in a flurry in his early years–he stopped writing operas when he was just 37–and then went on to compose sacred music, chamber music and instrumental pieces. He was known for his tremendous sense of melody and his arias that challenged sings to engage in ever more dramatic vocal flourishes. For this, Rossini was known as the primary composer of the “bel canto” (“beautiful singing”) style. [What exactly is “bel canto?” Good question.] Opera scholars consider Rossini the first composer of the Italian Romantic period, which emphasized emotions and narrative imagination over the tedium of pragmatic plot.

Rossini wrote many operas that opera-lovers consider to be masterpieces. Among his most beloved are:
— The Barber of Seville: (1825)
Rossini wrote The Barber of Seville, the comedic story of a Spanish count–referred to in the opera, for the most part, just as “The Count”–who tests the love of the beautiful Rosine by disguising himself as a poor student who vies for her affections. When Rosine’s guardian, Doctor Bartholo, locks Rosine in his house with his own plans to marry her, the Count enlists the help of his ex-servant, Figaro, who, in his work as a barber, can access the Doctor’s home. Does the Count win Rosine at the end? No spoilers here…go see the darned show! In class we’re going to sing Figaro’s aria from The Barber of Seville, one of the most famous, and fun, arias of all time.

William Tell: (1829)
Written in French and retelling the legend of 14th century Swiss hero William Tell–potentially based in some fact, but more likely just a legend–Rossini’s opera relates the story of Tell and his overthrow of the oppressive Austrian governor, Gessler. The opera includes the well-known story of Gessler forcing William Tell, a renowned marksman, to shoot an apple off his (Tell’s) son’s head. When William Tell premiered it was over four hours long and required so much of vocalists that most modern companies that perform the show consolidate it into something more manageable. Even in truncated form the opera’s theme–insurrection!–rankled authorities in nations where autocrats ruled, resulting in a more spotty performance history for the opera than for Puccini’s other well-known works.

Even though Rossini lived for forty years after writing William Tell, this opera was his last. [Everyone knows “The William Tell Overture,” this version is probably more familiar.)

Giuseppe Verdi:
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) followed Rossini’s as the most influential opera composer of the Italian Romantic era. Over the course of his long career the prolific Verdi pushed the boundaries of the operatic form, essentially continuing the bel canto style of Rossini, but he also engaged the orchestra in unprecedented ways to enhance the emotion of the narrative and embracing political and heroic themes (he was a favorite of Italian nationalists). His final opera, Falstaff (1893), was not as popular at the time as some of his others, but composers and scholars of opera point to it as a work that blasted many previous conventions of the form, featuring vocals that conformed more to the cadences of ordinary speech that those of previous works.

Of Verdi’s many great operas, three of the most enduring came from his “middle years”:
— Rigoletto (1851)
Set in Italy in the 1500s, Rigoletto is the tragic story of the Duke of Mantua and his hunchback jester, Rigoletto, both of whom have been cursed Monterone, an elderly nobleman. The Duke woos Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda (not knowing she’s his daughter), and Gilda falls in love with her, but Rigoletto knows the Duke will not be faithful. Rigoletto plots to kill the Duke to defend the honor or his daughter but the plot goes terribly awry, resulting in Gilda’s tragic death. Fun!! Watch Pavarotti sing the most famous aria from Rigoletto, and one of the best-known arias of all time, “La Donna È Mobile.’ (We’ll listen to this performance in class.)

— Il Trovatore (1853)
Set in Vizcaya (Biscay) mountains in the Spanish region of Zaragoza in 1412. In Il Trovatore Count di Luna loves Leonora, a lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Instead, Leonora loves the troubadour Manrico. Tragedy ensues. (And, oh, MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT. Manrico turns out to be the Count’s brother.) Watch Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora and Roberto Alagna as Manrico perform “Miserere” in the snow.

— La Traviata (1853)
The tragic story of the on-again/off-again love between Violetta, a French courtesan, and the nobleman Alfredo. Verdi based La Traviata
on the autobiographical Alexandre Dumas novel that explored his scandalous relationship with a Parisian courtesan. Verdi identified with the tale because he himself had encountered society’s scorn when he lived in Paris in the late ’40s and early ’50s with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, who at the time was his mistress. Later, she became his wife. Read more about the story behind Verdi’s La Traviata. Watch a cinematic performance of “Brindisi.” (The lyrics, both in Italian and English, are in the video description.)

Giacomo Puccini:
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was a post-Romantic composer, an artist whose works didn’t trifle with the larger-than-life heroes and heroines of an earlier age, but instead focused on the heroic actions of real people who faced the complexity of life at the turn of the 20th century. Puccini’s vocalists sang in short, conversation-style phrases (“canto parlando”) and he very consciously used his orchestrations as a way to enhance themes within the narrative and indicate the development of characters. While some critics saw this as manipulative, his melodic and dramatic talents most often prevailed.

Some of his Puccini’s most famous operas are:
— La Bohème: (1896)
Based on a novel that was a loose collection of stories about young bohemians living in Paris, in the Latin Quarter, in the 1840s, Puccini’s La Bohème centers on the love story between the poet Rodolfo and Mimi, a seamstress, who suffers from and, (spoiler alert!,) ultimately dies of tuberculosis. The 1996 musical, Rent, is a modern reinterpretation of La Bohème. Watch Pavarotti sing the La Bohème aria “Che Geldia Manina.”

— Tosca: (1900)
Puccini based Tosca  on an 1887 French play by Victorien Sardou. It’s a drama set in Rome in June 1800, when French general Napoleon invaded Italy and threatened the Kingdom of Naples’ control of Rome. The opera tells the story of the tragic love between singer Tosca and liberal painter Mario Cavaradossi. Tosca is suspicious of Mario, always questioning his love, but ultimately tries, and tragically fails, to save him from imprisonment. Watch Placido Domingo perform an aria from Tosca, “E lucevan le stelle

— Madame Butterfly: (1904)
Based on a 1898 short story and also potentially based on real events that took place in Nagasaki, Japan, at the turn of the century, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is the tale of American Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton who marries the geisha, Cio-Cio-San–a 999-year marriage contract with a monthly renewal option. Cio-Cio-San, known as “Madame Butterfly,” loves Pinkerton deeply, and for a while he seems to love her, but he goes away for three years and returns with an American wife. Devastated, Madame Butterfly takes her own life. Tragedy! Watch Renata Tebaldi perform the Madame Butterfly aria, “Un ben di Vedremo.”

And what would Italian opera be without superstar Italian opera singers? Since the early days of opera in Italy, dynamic vocalists have enthralled the world, generating tremendous excitement for the art form and, in the process, themselves.

Anna Renzi:
Anna Renzi was the leading Italian opera singer of the mid 17th century and is considered to be the first prima donna. The press and populace alike praised her not only for her singing but her her acting ability. “She silently observes the actions of others,” wrote Guilio Strozzi in his introduction to a 1644 volume about Renzi, “and when she is called upon to represent them, helped by her sanguine temperament and bile, which fires her (without which men cannot undertake great things), shows the spirit and valor learned by studying and observing. Whence the heavens were propitious in providing her with such an admirable and singular intelligence.” Now that’s a good review. Read more about the astounding talent of Anna Renzi.

Enrico Caruso:
Enrico Caruso was the first opera star of the modern age. Born in 1873, Caruso was the son of a Southern Italian mechanist and a foundry worker who started his career singing on the Neapolitan streets. He worked his way up the opera ladder over several years, appearing in more and more prominent productions until 1903 when he debuted in a starring role in Rigoletto at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Caruso had much vocal talent but he became a global superstar as much for his voice as for his business sense. Caruso was one of the first musicians to recognize the power of a new medium–sound recording. Throughout his career he made nearly three hundred records, and those records sold to an increasingly adoring public. Though he died relatively young, in 1921, Caruso lives on today through his recordings, almost all of which are still commercially available.

More information:
Hear Enrico Caruso sing “Vesti La Giubba,” the first record ever to sell a million copies. | A 1940’s Newsreel, created upon the occasion of his funeral in Naples, describes Caruso as “the life of every party he ever graced” and says his vocals “joined amazing power with sweetness.” | Welcome to the Enrico Caruso Museum of America | Caruso makes his initial record on April 11, 1902–a day that “will go down as the day that changed the recording industry” because of Caruso’s impact as the first international recording star

Luciano Pavarotti:
Pavarotti was the greatest opera star of the late 20th century. (Sorry Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, fellow members of The Three Tenors–Luciano wins this one.) Luciano Pavarotti was born in 1935 in northern Italy; his father was a baker (and amateur tenor) and his mother was a cigar factory worker. He abandoned his early ambition of being a soccer goalie to focus on singing–wise choice–and he eventually performed more and more important roles until his extraordinary vocal agility and his boundless personality took him to New York’s Metropolitan Opera where he debuted February 17th 1972. That night he wowed the crowd by hitting nine high Cs with little effort. Don’t know how impressive this is? Let’s just say the audience demanded he return for a record seventeen curtain calls. For the next 35 years, until his death in 2007, Pavarotti was not only famous in the opera world but an international pop superstar. He appeared in TV commercials, in movies, at the heart of charity concerts, and of course with Domingo and Carreras as the iconic Three Tenors. Sometimes he sang in these appearances, sometimes he didn’t, but he was always an ambassador for the operatic arts.

In class we’re going to listen to Luciano Pavarotti perform “La Donna È Mobile” from Rigoletto.

More information:’s bio of Pavarotti | Watch Pavarotti sing one of his signature arias, “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turnadot | Visit Pavarotti’s official site and hear the man sing, sing, sing

Andrea Bocelli:
Andrea Bocelli was born in 1958 and grew up on a farm in the small Tuscan town of La Sterza. Bocelli demonstrated a passion for music from his earliest youth and learned how to play several instruments. He also had poor eyesight from birth and lost his sight completely after a soccer accident when he was twelve, but when he was fourteen he won a local singing competition and began to pursue a career as a vocalist. (Though not exclusively–he first earned a law degree.) In 1992 Italian rock star Zucchero was looking for a tenor for a demo of a song he wanted to sing as a duet with Pavarotti. Bocelli got the job, made the tape, came to the favorable attention of Pavarotti, and toured with Zucchero. He soon became a solo artist in his own right, recording album after album that achieved unprecedented commercial success, selling over 75 million albums worldwide, making him the biggest-selling solo artist in the history of classical music. His 1997 pop album, Romanza, sold 20 million copies and became the best selling Italian album of all time.

Being the most popular classical singer in the world may have many perks, but Bocelli also has his critics. Does Andrea betray his operatic talent by singing pop music just to make money? Is Andrea “too commercial?” Maybe “Celine Enthusiast” Bruno Oliveira, addressing Andrea’s admission that even he thinks he has spent too much time on profit-making enterprises in this discussion of Bocelli on “Celine Channel Forum: Your Central Source For All Things Celine!” doesn’t think so, but it’s a matter open for debate. What is not up for debate is the extent to which the Italian star has become internationally beloved. Not only has he been awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the highest honor of his home nation, but he has also been granted the principal order of the Dominican Republic (the Order of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella), a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame….even a spot in the 1998 edition of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People.

More information:
Watch Bocelli sing “O Soave Fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Bohème | Watch Bocelli sing one of his many non-operatic hits, “Bésame Mucho” | Let’s just say AKirchner is a big Bocelli fan. (this post features links to many Bocelli YouTube videos) | The Muppets love Bocelli too

Like the other continental European nations we’ve explored so far, folk music in Italy has a distinct identity that depends on the region of its origin. Music of the North has a Celtic flavor, hinting at cross-continental communication. Italy’s center is an urban heart of the nation and, while it has fewer honed folk traditions, has been a hub for the modern folk revival. Judging from their shared forms of group a capella folk musicians on the island of Sardinia communicated less with the mainland than with nearby Corsica. Southern Italians interacted with their passionate Mediterranean neighbors to create music that has many influences from the region, like North African minor key melodies and bold Slavic brass.

Thanks to National Geographic’s overview of the Regional Folk Music of Italy for its helpful introduction to many regional Italian musical traditions.

Let’s start our tour of Italy in the north, where there are bagpipes and fiddles and exuberant dances. The music here reminds one of Celtic culture, and modern northern Italian bands such as Fiamma Fumana embrace the connection. [Watch Fiamma Fumana perform live in Winnipeg, Canada. Watch Fiamma Fumana perform live with the Northern Italian choir Coro Delle Mondine di Novi. Note the bagpipes and flutes and other Celtic sounds.] The northern Italian city of Genoa is the home of a specific form of tavern singing called trallelero, a type of polyphony (multiple voices singing different notes at once) that is more like the group singing found in Corsica and Sardinina, which we’ll discuss below, than the bounding Celtic sounds of other parts of the region. Enjoy some trallalero from Genoa! (And some more!)

Central Italy is the most urban part of the country and has long been a hub of the Italian music industry. Much of the folk music here is of the “secondary source” variety–not necessarily homegrown, but folk music that more contemporary artists draw from original sources and reinterpret their own way. For example, during the folk revival of the late 1960s. Italian folk musicians like Gastone Petrucci and Sara Modigliani were central to this movement, added new life to centuries-old music recorded in the 1950s by curious ethnomusicologists such as American Alan Lomax.

If you’re looking for Italian folk music that actually originated in central Italy you need look no further than ottava rima, which is a chanted form of poetry that follows a specific rhyming pattern–if you’re curious, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ottava rima, “[t]he ottava rima stanza in English consists of eight iambic lines, usually iambic pentameters. Each stanza consists of three alternate rhymes and one double rhyme, following the a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c pattern.” Got it? No? Well, in any case, you can see one example here, recorded in someone’s backyard, and another example here, recorded in Abruzzo. You’ll also find that even though it originated in Naples, the leaping “saltarello” dance became popular here. [See the saltarello in a shopping mall. See a bunch of guys with little accordions singing saltarello.] If you like central Italian organetto music–and you know you do–you’ll want to check out Riccardo Tesi who takes this playing of this melodeon to new heights (the song starts at 0:50).

The music of Sardinia, an island off the Western Italian coast, developed in relative isolation from the music from the rest of Italy. Nowhere else do people play the launnedda pipes, for example and only in nearby Corsica is there a similar tradition of tenores, quartets that sing songs about rural life. Here’s an example, goat milking and all. You will also enjoy the singing of professional tenores, such as Tenores di Bitti and Tenore di Orosei (the singing starts at 1:20).


Though there are a lot of folk songs in southern Italy that support the tarantella, the music of Southern Italy also has developed in communication with other Mediterranean genres. For example, Slavic-style brass bands have become very popular in Puglia. Listen to Banda Ionica’s “Raissa” for an example. In Naples, politically-tinged Neopolitan-dialect music called Neopolitan song (“Canzone Napoletana“) is a folk/classical hybrid that sprouted in the rural areas and sometimes even included scythes and barrels used as percussion instruments. Neopolitan songs often switch back and forth between major keys and minor keys familiar to the Arabic music of North Africa. Listen to Canzone Napoletana artists Mario Maglione and crooner Sergio Bruni to hear some Canzione Napletana.

(Want to see some pretty funky Southern Italian bagpipes? Try the zampogna.)

Italian popular music has always been full of energy, full of humor, full of life. Italy’s popular music has also always been in open and active conversation with music from around the Mediterranean, and, since the advent of instantaneous communications, from everywhere in the world. After the mid-20th century Fascist era, during which the government very consciously attempted to create a unified “Italian” musical identity that would inspire devotion to the State, Italian pop has been the realm of troubadours, prog-rockers, and pop-star wannabes looking for global fame, most overflowing with personality and individual flair.

In the late 1950s Italian cantautori–singer-songwriters (cantante means “singer,” autore is “writer”)–began to sing about people on the margins of Italian society, first developing the light Italian pop form known as “musica leggera,” but soon embracing  independence movements in the late 1960s that challenged state authority. Some popular contaurtori of the ’50s and ’60s include:

Domenico Modugno, whose 1958 “musica leggera” (Italian light pop) song “”Nel blu dipinto di blu” became an international hit known as “Volare.” [Watch Modugno perform the song as the Italian entry in the 1958 Eurovision competition. Listen to the Gipsy Kings’ modern “Volare.”]

Giorgio Gaber, who became popular in 1958 with his feel-good rock hit, “Ciao ti dirò” (“I’ll say hi to you”) though he went on to include more and more social commentary in his songs. Throughout his career Gaber pioneered the genre of “Il teatro canzone,” or “song theater,” which paired non-musical dramatic readings with equally dramatic songs. [Watch Gaber perform “La libertà” | Watch Gaber perform the “Ciao te dirò” live in 2001 along with Adriano Celentano, who we’ll meet below | Watch Gaber perform the teatro canzone-style “Il comportamento” (the music begins at about 2:40)

Fabrizio De André, who embraced libertarianism, anarchism and pacifism in his ’60s era songs that questioned both government authority and the Catholic Church. [Watch De Andre performing “Dolcenara‘ live in 1998 | (this link for grown-ups only) Reading summaries of songs on De 1967 album “Volume 1” will give you a sense of his lyrical frankness. | Learn about and listen to 32 antiwar songs by De André, with translations in many languages.]

In the ’70s Italian musicians, like musicians all over the world, reacted against the didactic and often volatile political songwriting of the ’60s by emphasizing musicality over social commentary and by embracing international genres like jazz, funk, blues, progressive rock, electronica and eventually hip hop. For example, La Orme became popular in the ’70s playing intricately orchestrated progressive rock. The band soon turned even more completely to classical music, eventually sounding more and more like a chamber orchestra before returning in the early ’90s to their prog-rock roots. [Watch La Orme perform “Il tuono e la luce” live, somewhere in Pennsylvania.] In the ’80s, Italian pop found a favorite son in Zucchero Fornaciari, known primarily as just Zucchero (“Sugar”), whose pop/rock/blues swagger propelled him to international fame, primarily through collaborations with musicians like Sting, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello and even, as mentioned above, Luciano Pavarotti and young upstart Andrea Bocelli. [Watch a very hard-working  Zucchero perform “Diamante” in 1995.]

In more recent years Italian music has become an eclectic mix, embracing multiple genres, some international and some more organically homegrown, always treating them to an idiosyncratically Italian twist. From pop-punk/rap artists like Articolo 31 to tehcno deejay Gabry Ponte, from “Irish, Italian, punk, reggae” artist Modena City Ramblers to Southern Italian/Lucanian folk-rock band Tarantolati di Tricarico, from “avant garde” world fusion artists Luigi Cinque Tarantula Hypertext Orchestra (enjoy the African-inspired vocals which start at about 3:45) all the way to globally lauded film composer Ennio Morricone (listen to his masterpiece “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly“), Italian popular artists demonstrate a distinct ability to engage non-Italian musical forms but to not lose their own selves while doing it.

In class we’re going to listen to one of the most unabashedly eclectic and funniest Italian musicians of all time: Adriano Celentano. In his over forty year career as a popular Italian artist Celentano has released dozens of albums that have sold millions of copies, appeared in an almost infinite number of TV programs and has directed and acted in movie after quirky movie. There are so many Celentano songs worth singing in class, such as the politically inspired (and Elvis-inspired) Svaluatation, a song about the interminably sorry state of Italian politcs, but the one we chose was “Yuppi Du,” partially because any song that can inspire a person to dance like this must be a great song. In class we’re going to listen to the unique “Prisencolinensinainciusol” a rock song in nonsensical mock-English. According to the Wikipedia entry on the song, “Celentano’s rationale for the song was that, after releasing albums about ecology and social issues, ‘having just recorded an album of songs that meant something, I wanted to do something that meant nothing’.”

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