Italian Music

"The music of Italy ranges across a broad spectrum of opera and instrumental classical music, the traditional styles of the country's different regions, and a body of popular music drawn from both native and imported sources. Music has traditionally been one of the cultural markers of Italian national and ethnic identity and holds an important position in society and in politics. Italian innovation in musical scales, harmony, notation, and theatre enabled the development of opera in the late 16th century, and much of modern European classical music, such as the symphony and concerto.
Instrumental and vocal classical music is an iconic part of Italian identity, spanning experimental art music and international fusions to symphonic music and opera. Opera is integral to Italian musical culture, and has become a major segment of popular music. The Neapolitan song, canzone Napoletana, and the cantautori singer-songwriter traditions are also popular domestic styles that form an important part of the Italian music industry, alongside imported genres like jazz, rock and hip hop. Italian folk music is an important part of the country's musical heritage, and spans a diverse array of regional styles, instruments and dances."

Some Americans seem to equate Italian music with O Sole Mio and Funiculi Funicula.Meaning no disrespect to these great songs, Italy has a popular music tradition that provides strong competition to popular and rock music from other countries such as the United States and England.
I would divide Italian popular music into four different categories (that overlap to some extent).


Opera originated in Italy in the late 16th century during the time of the Florentine Camerata. Through the centuries that followed, opera traditions developed in Venice and Naples; the operas of Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Scarlatti, and, later, of Gioacchino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gaetano Donizetti flourished. Opera has remained the musical form most closely linked with Italian music and Italian identity. This was most obvious in the 19th century through the works of Giuseppe Verdi, an icon of Italian culture and pan-Italian unity. Italy retained a Romantic operatic musical tradition in the early 20th century, exemplified by composers of the so-called Giovane Scuola, whose music was anchored in the previous century, including Arrigo Boito, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, Pietro Mascagni, and Francesco Cilea.
After World War I, however, opera declined in comparison to the popular heights of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Causes included the general cultural shift away from Romanticism and the rise of the cinema, which became a major source of entertainment. A third cause is the fact that "internationalism" had brought contemporary Italian opera to a state where it was no longer "Italian".[8] This was the opinion of at least one prominent Italian musicologist and critic, Fausto Terrefranca, who, in a 1912 pamphlet entitled Giaccomo Puccini and International Opera, accused Puccini of "commercialism" and of having deserted Italian traditions. Traditional Romantic opera remained popular; indeed, the dominant opera publisher in the early 20th century was Casa Ricordi, which focused almost exclusively on popular operas until the 30s, when the company allowed more unusual composers with less mainstream appeal. The rise of relatively new publishers such as Carisch and Suvini Zerboni also helped to fuel the diversification of Italian opera.[8] Opera remains a major part of Italian culture; renewed interest in opera across the sectors of of Italian society began in the 1980s. Respected composers from this era include the well-known Aldo Clementi, and younger peers such as Marco Tutino and Lorenzo Ferrero.[8]

Clasical Music

Italy has long been a center for European classical music, and by the beginning of the 20th century, Italian classical music had forged a distinct national sound that was decidedly Romantic and melodic. As typified by the operas of Verdi, it was music in which "...The vocal lines always dominate the tonal complex and are never overshadowed by the instrumental accompaniments..."[21] Italian classical music had resisted the "German harmonic juggernaut"[22]—that is, the dense harmonies of Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Italian music also had little in common with the French reaction to that German music—the impressionism of Claude Debussy, for example, in which melodic development is largely abandoned for the creation of mood and atmosphere through the sounds of individual chords.[23]
European classical music changed greatly in the 20th century. New music abandoned much of the historical, nationally developed schools of harmony and melody in favor of experimental music, atonality, minimalism and electronic music, all of which employ features that have become common to European music in general and not Italy specifically.[24] These changes have also made classical music less accessible to many people. Important composers of the period include Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Luigi Dallapiccola, Carlo Jachino, Gian Carlo Menotti, Jacopo Napoli, and Goffredo Petrassi.

Sacred music

Italy, being one of Catholicism's seminal nations, has a long history of music for the Roman Catholic Church. Until approximately 1800, it was possible to hear Gregorian Chant and Renaissance polyphony, such as the music of Palestrina, Lassus, Anerio, and others. Approximately 1800 to approximately 1900 was a century during which a more popular, operatic, and entertaining type of church music was heard, to the exclusion of the aforementioned chant and polyphony. In the late 19th century, the Cecilian Movement was started by musicians who fought to restore this music. This movement gained impetus not in Italy but in Germany, particularly in Regensburg. The movement reached its apex around 1900 with the ascent of Don Lorenzo Perosi and his supporter (and future saint), Pope Pius X.[25] The advent of Vatican II, however, nearly obliterated all Latin-language music from the Church, once again substituting it with a more popular style.[26]
Instrumental music
The dominance of opera in Italian music tends to overshadow the important area of instrumental music.[27] Historically, such music includes the vast array of sacred instrumental music, instrumental concertos, and orchestral music in the works of Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Gabrieli, Tomaso Albinoni, Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Luigi Boccherini, Luigi Cherubini and Domenico Scarlatti. (Even opera composers occasionally worked in other forms—Giuseppe Verdi's String Quartet in E minor, for example. Even Donizetti, whose name is identified with the beginnings of Italian lyric opera, wrote 18 string quartets.) In the early 20th century, instrumental music began growing in importance, a process that started around 1904 with Giuseppe Martucci's Second Symphony, a work that Malipiero called "the starting point of the renascence of non-operatic Italian music."[28] Several early composers from this era, such as Leone Sinigaglia, used native folk traditions.
The early 20th century is also marked by the presence of a group of composers called the generazione dell'ottanta (generation of 1880), including Franco Alfano, Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Ildebrando Pizzetti, and Ottorino Respighi. These composers usually concentrated on writing instrumental works, rather than opera. Members of this generation were the dominant figures in Italian music after Puccini's death in 1924.[8] New organizations arose to promote Italian music, such as the Venice Festival of Contemporary Music and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Guido Gatti's founding of the periodical il Piano and then La rassegna musicale also helped to promote a broader view of music than the political and social climate allowed. Most Italians, however, preferred more traditional pieces and established standards, and only a small audience sought new styles of experimental classical music.[8]


Italian contributions to ballet are less known and appreciated than in other areas of classical music. Italy, particularly Milan, was the European center of court choreography as early as the 15th century in the form of such things as ritual masked balls. Early choreographers and composers of ballet include Fabrizio Caroso and Cesare Negri. The style of ballet known as the "spectacles all’italiana" imported to France from Italy caught on, and the first ballet performed in France (1581), Ballet comique de la Royn, was composed by an Italian, Baltazarini di Belgioioso,[29] better known by the French version of his name, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx. Early ballet was accompanied by considerable instrumentation, with the playing of horns, trombones, kettle drums, dulcimers, bagpipes, etc. Although the music has not survived, there is speculation that dancers, themselves, may have played instruments onstage.[30] Then, in the wake of the French Revolution, Italy again became a center of ballet, largely through the efforts of Salvatore Viganò, a choreographer who worked with some of the most prominent composers of the day. He was made the balletmaster of La Scala in 1812.[29] The best-known example of Italian ballet from the 19th century is probably Excelsior, with music by Romualdo Marenco and choreography by Luigi Manzotti. It was composed in 1881 and is a lavish tribute to the scientific and industrial progress of the 19th century. It is still performed and was staged as recently as 2002.
Currently, major Italian opera theaters maintain ballet companies. They exist to provide incidental and ceremonial dancing in many operas, such as Aida or La Traviata. These dance companies usually maintain a separate ballet season and perform the standard repertoire of classical ballet, little of which is Italian. The Italian equivalent of the Russian Bolshoi Ballet and similar companies that exist only to perform ballet, independent of a parent opera theater is La Scala Ballet, which is under the direction of Frèdèric Olivieri. Since 1979 there has existed in Italy a modern dance company, the Aterballetto, based in Reggio Emilia. The company performs worldwide under the leadership of choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti.