Music of Italy

From Academic Kids

Since Roman times, 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. Template:Italianmusic



The most ancient examples of plainsong, a monophonic, liturgical music also known as chant come from Italy in the 4th century. Chant is sung a cappella and without time signatures. Saint Ambrose of Milan codified these chants, which became known as Ambrosian chant. This repertory of chant, probably influenced by Byzantine and Greco-Syrian music, survived the reforms of Pope Gregory I in the 6th century which created the unified Gregorian chant; it remains one of the only non-Gregorian repertories in Europe.

Musical notation

Modern Musical notation may have begun in Italy, although the oldest surviving examples of music notation are from Regensburg in Germany, and the point is much debated by scholars: notation may have been invented in Frankish monasteries during the time of Charlemagne. Certainly the diffusion of notated manuscripts took place under the guidance of the popes in Rome, beginning around 800. It should be noted that Ancient Greece had music notation (a surviving example is the Seikilos epitaph), but the art was lost around the 4th century and not recovered until the Carolingian Renaissance.

The earliest notation arose from the neumes of plainchant. Each neume described several notes originally, with more complications added over time. In the 10th century, a horizontal line was added to represent the F tone (the origin of the staff). More lines were added soon afterwards, as described by Guido d'Arezzo), ranging up to more than eleven, though modern notation has settled on five. Bar lines, tempo markings, and other innovations were added by the 17th century.

Pop music

Italian pop stars have included Lucio Dalla, Adriano Celentano, Gianni Morandi, Fabio Concato, Pupo, Mina, Eros Ramazzotti, Umberto Tozzi, Andrea Bocelli, Ornella Vanoni, Vasco Rossi, Luca Carboni, Francesco De Gregori, Fabrizio De André, Francesco Guccini, Giorgio Gaber, Gianni Togni, Laura Pausini, Claudio Baglioni, Angelo Branduardi, Michele Zarrillo, Riccardo Cocciante and Toto Cutugno. Modern pop music tends to be sentimental ballads with a crooning vocal style, though it used to be unique in its blend of Mediterranean folk rhythms with pop forms. These folkier pop artists included Lucio Battisti, Vasco Rossi and Pino Daniele. Beginning in the 1980s, pop grew more heterogenous and more in line with international sounds.

Zucchero is the leading band of Italian rock, and has played with domestic stars like Luciano Pavarotti and international performers like Sting and Queen, while pop-folk singer Vasco Rossi has also experimented with rock and his 1999 hit "Rewind" was a popular rock song. Other prominent rock bands include Litfiba.

During the 1960s and 70s, Italian popular music changed by incorporating Latin and Anglo musical traditions, especially Brazilian bossa nova and American and British rock and roll. The same period saw diversification in the cinema of Italy, and Cinecittà films included complex scores by composers like Franco de Gemini, Francesco de Masi and Riz Ortolani. This popular film music remained popular in the 70s, and then underwent a revival in the 1990s.

Cinecittà soundtrack music and bossa nova were major influences on Nicola Conte (Bossa Per Due), an influential downtempo performer of the later 20th century. In 1995, Neri per Caso brought a new style of popular a cappella music to mainstream audiences after winning in the Sanremo Festival with their hit song "Le Ragazze".

Hip hop

Main article: Italian hip hop

The Italian hip hop scene began in the early 1990s with Articolo 31 from Milan. Their style was mainly influenced by East Coast rap. Other early rap groups are typically politically-oriented crews like 99 Posse (who later became influenced by British trip hop. More recent crews include gangster rappers like Sardinia's La Fossa.


There are many bands in Italy that play patchanka style music. This is characterized by a mixture of traditional music, punk, reggae, rock and political lyrics. Modena City Ramblers are one of the more popular bands; they mix Irish, Italian, punk, reggae and many other forms of music. Other bands that are worth checking out are Casa Del Vento, Mau Mau, Banda Bassotti, Africa Unite, La Famiglia Rossi, Yo Yo Mundi, Pseudofonia, Folkabbestia, I Ratti Della Sabina, Fratelli di Soledad, Tupamaros, Radici Nel Cemento and Aprés La Classe.

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 Istituto Ernesto de Martino was founded by Gianni Bosio in 1962 to document Italian oral culture and traditional music. The istituto soon begat the Nuovo Canzioniere Italiano, an assemblage of musicians and composers including Giovanni Marini which made its first major public appearance at the 1964 Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi, generated a large number of records and concerts. Later, artist Dario Fo became affiliated with the group and helped unite the traditions of Italy's diverse regions. Beginning in the 1970s, an increasing number of musical groups began to research and contemporize the Italian folk music traditions, often combining traditions from various regions and sometimes incorporating influences from other countries.

With regard to folk music, Italy is often divided into four cultural regions. The Celtic-influenced major mode North contrasts with the Arabic and Greek-influenced 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. The music of the island of Sardinia is distinct from that of the rest of Italy, and is best known for the polyphonic chanting of the tenores.


Main article: Music of 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". Franco Battiato, 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. Note that many linguists see Sicilian as a separate language, as is Sardinian, evolving independently of Italian, with similarities being in virtue of the fact that they have similar Latin influences to the other Romance languages, such as Catalan, French, Romanian, and others. 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.

Sicily has the most vibrant jazz scene in the country, based out of Palermo and including Enzo Rao and his group Shamal, who have added native Sicilian and Arab influences to American jazz. Sicily is also home to Franco Battiato, a popular musician and composer who fused rock and roll with traditional and classical influences, beginning with 1979's L'era del cinghiale bianco, a popular landmark album.

Central Italy

The highly urban provinces of central Italy are best-known for the medieval 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 completely improvised, and sometimes competitive in nature. Tuscan folk poetry is closer in form and style to high-culture poetry than is typical elsewhere in Italy.

The saltarello dance is also popular throughout the region. Canzioniere del Lazio is one of the biggest names from central Italy during the 1970s 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.

Genoa and North Italy

Main article: Music of Genoa

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.

Calabria and Puglia

Main articles: Music of Calabria and Music of Puglia

At the southern tip of Italy, Calabria and Puglia are heavily rural. Zampogna bagpipes are common, 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. Al Darawish, a multicultural band led by Palestinian Nabil Ben Salaméh. Southern Italy also includes a number of love songs with poetic lyrics and intricate rhythms and melodies.

Ethnic Greeks

Main article: Music of Greece

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 Christù, which recounts the Passion of Christ. The Passion is performed by street accordionists with two singers.


Main article: Music of 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.

Tamura 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.


Main article: Music of Sardinia

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 similar to the Greek aulos. 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.

The otava, or eight-line stanza, is a common lyrical form in Sardinia, one which allows the perfomer a certain amount of improvisation and is not unlike the stornello of south-central mainland Italy.

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, Paolo Fresu (trumpet) and Gesuino Deiana (guitar).


  • Download recording of "Addio, mamma" from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed a cappella by Louis Brangone on May 7, 1939 in Woodside, California
  • Download recording of Sicilian folk song "Olivi, salati" from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed by Francisco Sanfilippo on February 11, 1939 in Martinez, California


  • Surian, Alesso. "Tenores and Tarantellas". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 189-201. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

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