There are few other countries that have contributed more to the field of classical music than Italy. Many musical terms are in Italian (allegro, legato, rubato, forte, crescendo, etc.). Italian art songs and opera songs are among the staples of any serious voice student’s repertoire. Much of the development of Western classical music, such as harmony, notation, and scales, were developed in Italy. And the Italians take all of this with pride. So, it’s no wonder that music is such an integral part of Italian culture.
Opera is by far the genre most associated with Italian music and is particularly close to their hearts. The first opera in a form as we know it (there were other forms of music utilized on the stage before this) is widely attributed to Claudio Monteverdi. Generally, Naples and Venice were the main cities where these traditions grew out of and developed. Throughout the centuries vocal styles and composition styles changed, and of course each composer added his own contributions, but essentially the core of this tradition remained true to itself. Some of the most well-known opera composers include Alessandro Scarlatti, Aldo Clementi, Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini.
There was also quite a bit of instrumental music written as well. Many of the same opera composers also wrote other styles of work. There were several different types of instrumental compositions that were developed by Italian composers. These styles became commonly used in the canon of classical music and intensely studied. However, composers were also influenced by the music from other musical capitals of Europe. Some of these instrumental compositions include concertos, symphonies, string quartets, and others. Italian composers of note who primarily wrote instrumental music include Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Luigi Cherubini, Domenico Scarlatti, and Ottorino Respighi.
Of course for a country where the Roman Empire and the Vatican is based in, it shouldn’t come to any surprise that there is a plethora of sacred music here as well. From its earliest days, sacred music has remained an important part of Italian music. Gregorian chants and Renaissance polyphony are often studied and still performed as great examples of Italy’s early music traditions. Almost all of this music is sung in Latin, the language of the church during this time. Giovanni da Palestrina is one of the more influential composers of early music in Italy.
Believe it or not, Italy doesn’t really have a national folk music style. Opera is about as close as you’ll find to a “national” style, but it’s not folk music. Each region and town in Italy has its own styles of folk music and folk dancing. There are even different terms for things in towns that are only separated by less than a mile. However, ballads, lullabies, and other styles span across the land in its broadest terms. Probably one of the most well-known forms of dance is the tarantella. This dance characterized by its quick 6/8 steps was once thought to cure the bite of a tarantula spider. One really great example of a tarantella is in the wedding scene of the movie Godfather (1972).
I found a ton of Italian rock musicians listed (as well as other genres), and many of these were available on Spotify. I just picked a few to listen to in genres I generally enjoy. One band I listened to was Afterhours. They have a progressive rock feel to their music, coupled with a kind of ambient/psychedelic sound at times. I like their sound.
Another band that I really like—I’ve known them for years— is Lacuna Coil. They are a hard rock band with a gothic sound and a female lead singer. I absolutely love this style of music. They remind me of the band Evanescence at times. I really wish there were more bands out there like this.
I listened to the band Gabin. It’s kind of a mix of electronica with dance but with elements of blues and funk. I was immediately drawn to this. The album I listened to was Soundtrack System, and I thought it was interesting and intriguing.
And then we have Negrita. The name alone reminds me of the alternate term for the Brazilian dessert brigadeiros (which are awesome no matter what you call them. I usually call them “gone”). They have a pretty standard rock feel to their music. I really liked what I heard. I also noticed they sing mostly in Italian but with a little English mixed in as well. Of course. It’s only the cool thing to do. Embrace it.
Finally, time for some Italian punk music from Punkreas. I love all genres of punk music; this band had a lot of elements of the classic punk bands of the late-1980s and early-1990s. I loved what I heard. It’s definitely the kind of music you want to play loud in your car.
Rhapsody of Fire is a folk metal band, and I have to give them dap for some nice classically inspired string parts. They were definitely an interesting listen that didn’t leave me disappointed, albeit I felt like I was listening to the soundtrack of a 1980s B-movie horror musical. But if this were the soundtrack, I’d at least maybe give it a shot.
Le Orme gave me the impression of being Italy’s version of Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground all rolled into one. I love both of those bands, so I was super into this. And it was sung in both English and Italian. It had every element of the 1970s in it: harmonious background vocals, an organ, a tambourine, rhyming the words “summer” with “lover.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I’m a sucker for bands that use certain instruments, and organs are one of those instruments (the piano and accordion are the other two). Alphataurus is another band that is kind of in this same category. I really liked what I heard from them, too.
There were several Italian hip-hop artists I came across. One was called Articulo 31 who mixed hip-hop with rock. There were some good things going on here. Sangue Mistro was kind of hard to place. Their music reminded me of a cross between Cypress Hill and Atmosphere. I kind of liked this, and I think I need to listen to this more. Fabri Fibra is definitely more hard-core and mainstream American-style (actually, I think he probably uses a little more elements of French-style rap rather than American-style). Clementino is another rapper who actually reminds me of Beanie Man and a few other dancehall musicians. And finally, I listened to Caparezza. I kind of liked what I heard. There are some subtle elements borrowed from electronica music in his music, but he also uses acoustic instruments as well. It gives his music an interesting feel to it, and I like it.
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