Music of Italy


Since Romantimes, Italy has been one of the cultural centers for all of Europe. It was the home of the Italian Renaissance, as well as many of the most influential composers of later centuries. It also incorporates multiple regional styles of folk music as well as a burgeoning record industry that supports a wide variety of rock, pop, hip hop and opera musicians.

Folk music

In the 1950s, American Alan Lomax and Italians Diego Carpitella, Franco Coggiola and Roberto Leydi recorded many regional traditions in folk music. Carpitella later worked with Ernesto de Martino to study the magical aspects of Italian music, especially the tarantolati. The Instituto de Martino, named after Ernesto de Martino, was founded in the early 1960s to document Italian culture, and soon founded the Nuova Canzionere Italiano, an organization that promoted musicians like Giovanna Marini. Later, artist Dario Fo became affiliated with the institution and helped unite the traditions of Italy's diverse regions.

Italy can be divided into four cultural regions. The island of Sardinia is unique, while the Celtic-influenced major mode North contrasts with the minor modes and strong melodies of the south. In central Italy, multiple influences combine, while indigenous traditions like endecasillabo singing (using phrases of eleven syllables) remain.

Northern Italy

The northern regions of Italy show a strong Celtic influence in their culture, which has largely disappeared during the 20th century. Roots revivalists have revived traditional songs, though, from Piedmont (La Ciapa Rusa), Lombardy (Baraban) and Padua (Calicanto). The Genoese docks were the birthplace of trallalero, a polyphonic vocal style with five voices, one of which imitates a guitar. It arose in the 1920s and includes modern groups like La Squadra -- Compagnia del Trallalero and Laura Parodi.

Central Italy

The highly urban provinces of central Italy are best-known for the midieval sung poetry ottava rima, from Tuscany, Lazio and Abruzzo. Ottava rima is performed by the poeti contadini (peasant poets) who use the poems of Homer or Dante, as well as more modern lyrics which address political or social issues. It is often totally improvised, and sometimes competitive in nature. The saltarello dance is also popular throughout the region. Canzioniere del Lazio is the biggest name from central Italy during the 1960s roots revival. With socially aware lyrics, this new wave of Italian roots revivalists often played entirely acoustic songs with influences from jazz and others. More modern musicians in the same field include Lucilla Galeazzi, La Piazza and La Macina.

Southern Italy

Naples .Naples is best-known for its canzone napoletana song tradition, which is said to date back to the song "Te voglio bene assaie" from 1839. It drew upon the rural villanella tradition of the 16th century, and it has been popularized by performers like Enrico Caruso. Canzone napoletana featured often satirical or incisive lyrics with polyphonic harmony and elements of classical music. More modern performers include Roberto Murolo, Sergio Bruni and Renato Carosone. Tammorra drums and pop love songs called neomelodici are also popular. Other Neapolitan artists include Daniele Sepe, Rita Marcotulli, Nanda Citarella and Ciro Ricci. Sepe is perhaps the most influential, known for using protest songs from all over the world and for his skills as a percussionist, flautist and saxophonist. Tarantella, a 12/8 dance which exists with variations throughout the country, is popular in Naples and across Southern Italy.

Calabria and Puglia. At the southern tip of Italy, Calabria and Puglia are heavily rural. Zampogna bagpipes are comon, and other traditions include the tarantolati and Puglian brass bands. Re Niliu is a group that has done much to popularize Calabrian traditions since 1979, reviving ancient lira (an indigenous violin) as well as composing songs in Calabrese and the other immigrant languages, Greek and Albanian. A folk dance called the tarantella is still sometimes performed. It was performed to cure the bite of Lycosa tarantula, usually with female victims dancing until exhaustion. Performers used varying rhythms according to the exact kind of spider. Antonio Infantino has explored the percussion-based tarantolati healing rituals since 1975, when he formed the group Tarantolati di Tricarico. Puglia is also home to brass bands like Bando Ruvo di Puglia; this tradition has led to collaborations with jazz musicians like Matteo Salvatore, Battista Lena, Eugenio Colombo and Enrico Rava. Southern Italy also includes a number of love songs with poetic lyrics and intricate rhythms and melodies.

The ethnic Greeks living in Salento (Puglia) and Calabria have their own distinct dialects (Griko and Grecanico, respectively). They have lived in the area for an undetermined amount of time, possibly as early as Ancient Greece or as late as the Middle Ages. The community has been largely assimilated by the Italian nation, but there remain speakers of the dialects and other aspects of the culture. There was a roots revival in the 1970s in this area, paralleling similar developments across continental Europe, including Brittany and Catalonia. Folk musical traditions in the area include a religious piece, Passiuna tu Christý, which recounts the Passion of Christ. The Passion is performed by street accordionists with two singers.

Sicily. Sicily is home to a great variety of Christian music, including a cappella devotional songs from Montedoro and many brass bands like Banda Ionica, who play songs from a diverse repertoire. Harvest songs and work songs are also indigenous to the agricultural island, known as "Italy's granary". Fratelli Mancuso and Ciccio Busacca are among the most popular musicians from Sicily. Busacca has worked with Dario Fo, like many Italian musicians, but is perhaps best-known for his setting the poems of Ignazio Buttitta, a Sicilian dialect poet. Fratelli Mancuso (brothers Enzo and Lorenzo Mancuso) have fused traditional Sicilian peasant songs (lamentazioni), monodic chants (alla carrettiera) and other indigenous forms to create a uniquely Sicilian modern song style.


Probably the most culturally distinct of all the regions in Italy, Sardinia is an islated island known for the tenores' polyphonic chant, sacred songs called gozos and launeddas, a type of bagpipes. Launeddas are used to play a complex style of music that has achieved some international attention, especially Dionigi Burranca, Antonio Lara, Luigi Lai and Efisio Melis; Burranca, like many of the most famous launedda musicians, is from Samatzai in Cagliari. An ancient instrument, dating back to at least the 8th century BC, launeddas are still played during religious ceremonies and dances (su ballu). Distinctively, they are played using extensive variations on a few melodic phrases, and a single song can last over an hour.

Rural polyphonic chanting of the tenores is related to Corsican music and is sung with four vocal parts. They are bassu (bass), mesa boghe (middle), contra (counter) and boghe (leader and soloist). The most popular group is Tenores di Bitti. Sacred gozos, or sacred songs, can be heard during religious celebrations, sung by choruses like Su Cuncordu 'e su Rosariu. Other influential Sardinian musicians include Totore Chessa (organetto), Maria Carta (singer), Mauro Palmas, Elena Ledda and Suonofficina, Cordas et Cannas and Gesuino Deiana (guitar).




  • (solisti)  Giovanna Marini Laura Parodi Lucilla Galeazzi, Daniele Sepe, Rita Marcotulli, Nanda Citarella and Ciro Ricci Antonio Infantino Ciccio Busacca Dionigi Burranca, Antonio Lara, Luigi Lai and Efisio Melis; Totore Chessa, Maria Carta, Mauro Palmas, Elena Ledda Gesuino Deiana

  • (gruppi) La Ciapa Rusa Baraban Calicanto La Squadra  La Piazza and La Macina Canzioniere del Lazio Re Niliu Tarantolati di Tricarico Banda Ionica Fratelli Mancuso, Tenores di Bitti. Su Cuncordu 'e su Rosariu Suonofficina Cordas et Cannas


  • (cordofoni) lira

  • (aerofoni) Zampogna launeddas

  • (ancia libera)

  • (membranofoni)

  • (idiofoni)


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