The multi-cultural origins of Italian traditional and popular music.
Italy is a young country, after all. It only unified in 1861, a century and a half ago. We are used to consider pre-unification Italy as a political melting pot of states and principalities, often ruled over by foreign powers.
What we may not consider is the cultural influence that such fragmentation had imposed upon the peninsula for centuries. A fragmentation which, in fact, is still mirrored in many forms of local expression, from customs to language, from cuisine to music. Yes, traditional Italian music is not one and unified, but rather multifaceted.
The diverse and different influences
Italian traditional music has been influenced by the country’s political divisions. This helped harboring independent forms of cultural and artistic development. In fact, Italian traditional music embraced, throughout time, geographically-based differences.
North vs South
Its northern regions, physically part of continental Europe, propose a traditional musical heritage steeped with celtic and slavic tones, especially when it comes to its strong tradition of coral or group singing. This is in stark opposition with the monodic singing style of Southern Italy, well rooted in its ancient Greek heritage. The South’s melodies and sounds are rich in arabic and oriental reminiscences, the result of centuries and centuries of cultural cross contamination. Traditional music of Central Italy carries both traditions, but has also a marked medieval accent to its compositions, especially those of Tuscany, Lazio and Abruzzo.
Music critics of the past were not always kind to Italian traditional music. They often considered it the product of a lesser culture, it lingered in cultural limbo for decades. Only to be rediscovered, as it happened with dialects, as a precious representation of Italy’s heritage and social history.
Learn more about Italian music with our history recap: