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Down in the groove of Italian music.

In the opinion of many Italians, music belongs to what is called 'second education.' Italians learn the basics in the few hours of musical education in elementary and high school. Yet, if they want to practice music--without becoming a conservatorio student at an early age--they must look for opportunities outside formal education, take lessons or attend evening classes in private or city schools, join a brass band or a choral confraternita, buy an instrument and learn by themselves, or watch their friends play and steal a few chops. Music has always had a paradoxical role in Italian society. Though highly prized as entertainment, intellectuals with a literary education have disregarded it for centuries as nothing more than manual practice, and we cannot say that their attitude has drastically changed in recent times.

Around 1820, Stendhal observed that Italians flocked to the opera as a way to avoid conversation. The same might have been said about Germany, where the musical evenings of the bourgeoisie were often a sophisticated way to kill off any controversial topic that might arise. Yet music education in Germany has always been held in high esteem, while the Italian literary intelligentsia, especially after the Renaissance, has looked at music as an amusing accessory, ultimately too 'popular' to be taken seriously. If you are conversant with music, good for you. If you are not, and even if you admit your complete ignorance of it, no one will think that your education is less complete.

As a result, public authorities are highly dismissive of music and are content with funding (badly) a few renowned theatres. Musicologists and music historians, on their part, are often snobbish and conservative. Luckily, some Conservatori di musica are now opening up to the changes in the landscape of music and the related job market. There are some promising signs, yet for the time being 'the most musical people in the world,' as the stereotype goes, have very few internationally recognized orchestras and no composer that has taken up the mantle of the great generation that came to the forefront in the 1950s. For lack of anything better, and just to keep the stereotype alive, the musical reputation of Italy abroad hangs largely on the latest incarnation of the 'Italian tenor.' Rock, jazz, and folk-inspired musicians, not to mention songwriters, struggle to gain the international recognition they often deserve. There are exceptions in every field, from Cecilia Bartoli to Paolo Conte and Stefano Bollani, not to mention well-known orchestra conductors who often work abroad, since it is the nature of their profession, but they do not compensate for all the music produced in Italy, which remains the best-kept secret of today's Italian culture. For music in Italy is very much alive, thanks to people who love it, practice it, and perform it passionately, regardless of bureaucratic red tape and non-existent budgets. Then what about the discourse on music, the public conversation going beyond the ritualized cheering of stars at the opera or in a rock concert?

I grew up in Italy at a time when music was the supreme cultural mediator all over the Western world, a box of communicative tools, a 'life form' that put you immediately in contact with the people with whom you had most in common. Music was the Facebook of my generation. It was the app you downloaded the first time you found yourself in the smoky room of some schoolmate who had just bought the latest album of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Soft Machine, Fabrizio De Andre, Charlie Mingus (or Maurizio Pollini, for that matter), and you became instantly friends with all the other guys who sat around listening to it.

That time is gone and it will not come back. Public conversation has now largely narrowed down to scholarship. That would be a reason for complaint, were it not that the scholarship is good. Music is less discussed within society, except when it comes to idolizing celebrities or worshiping dead stars, yet research on the social relevance of music has progressed, and an excellent selection of it is available in this volume. When Professor Mario B. Mignone asked me if I wanted to be the guest editor of a Forum Italicum special issue, I immediately thought of music and society, a subject I had addressed only sporadically in recent years but was a great part of my life before I came to the USA almost 30 years ago. And, because life is made of meaningful coincidences, while I was editing the volume you are reading now, the Bologna-based publisher Odoya expressed its interest in putting on the market a new, expanded edition of my first book, Musica e pubblico giovanile (Music and Young Audiences), published by Feltrinelli in 1980 and long unavailable.

To work simultaneously on a new introduction to my first book and on Forum Italicum meant that I was thrown back and forth in time. I went from the old 'debate on music' of the 1970s, which involved politics, ideology, passion and a great deal of partisanship, stubbornness and even obsession, to the current scholarship trying to make sense of the past. Of any past, to be sure, and not just the one that the recent generations have shared. My hope in sending out several calls for papers was that I might receive enough material to put together a composite portrait of the Italian musical civilization without barriers of time, period, genre, and style. This hope was fulfilled far beyond my expectations. In a short amount of time, I received an astonishing number of articles, either good or very good. The selection you have in your hands does not mean that the remaining articles have been discarded. For reasons of thematic continuity, this volume focuses on the larger history from the Renaissance to the present, while the articles not presently included (I am positive I will find a good place for them) deal more extensively with contemporary songwriting-and pop groups.

This special issue is therefore a good overview of current scholarship on the presence of music in Italian culture and society from the 16th to the 21st centuries. Scholars, independent researchers, musicians and authors from Italy, France, Switzerland and the USA have participated in the project. Classical music, opera, folk music, pop and rock music, jazz, songs, music of minorities and immigrants--all genres and modes of music production have been given equal room and relevance. Scholarly articles are flanked by memoirs and stories by musicians and authors that bring to life the personal and social experience of music as it is lived in Italy. Besides editing, I have limited my contribution to this introduction, yet I feel that this issue of Forum Italicum, which is exactly the portrait I had in mind, is in many ways a continuation, a correction, and a validation of the book I published 35 years ago.

This volume is comprised of two major sections, 'Articles' and 'Notes, Stories, Memoirs.' The first part follows a chronological order and it can be divided into three sub-sections. The first ten articles (Salvatore, Dona, Briatore, De Rosa, Zidaric, Scaramuzza, Bombara, Cecconi, Lisciani-Petrini, Ricco) move from the Renaissance to the beginning of the 20th century, exploring topics as diverse as upper-class bias against popular music in the 1500s(!), the 'politics of acoustics' of the 1600s, orientalism in the 1700s, and the changing aesthetics of opera in the 1800s. The next eight articles (Sorce Keller, Cerchiari, Zucconi, C. Serra, Ivaldi, Carbonelli, I. Serra, D'Amato) dig deep into the 20th century music-society nexus, covering politics, racism, class struggle, Mediterranean music versus American influence, and the rules of the market. The concluding three articles (Martellini, Mazzucchelli, Portelli) deal with the songs and lyrics of emigration from Italy and immigration to Italy, thus creating a bridge between the century that has ended and the new one in which we are living.

The 'Notes, Stories, Memoirs' section gets more personal. I made a point of expanding the call for papers to practitioners, musicians who are also musicologists and writers who have stories to tell about music--because music is a 'life form,' as I said before, and, primarily, a way of life. When it needs to be analyzed, scholars are good at that; but it also needs to be narrated, and people who have lived through it or are passionate enough about it to put their passion into beautiful words fully belong to the discourse about music. (As Gabriel Garcia Marquez once reputedly remarked, the only thing that is better than music is talking about music.) I will now describe the articles in detail.

Gianfranco Salvatore provides the opening salvo by pointing out that the Renaissance distinction between polyphonic music (which was intended for the true cognoscenti) and music for voice and one accompanying instrument, which was sung and played virtually by anybody and therefore had no 'artistic value,' mirrors the current bias against songs and popular music. Yet villanelle and other forms of popular song, which owe little to the import of Northern European polyphony, are very much an Italian national art that has never ceased to renew itself up to the present. Massimo Dona plunges into the mysteries of the Baroque to argue that the ambiguities and theatrical elements in Caravaggio's paintings point toward a refusal of simplistic mimesis in favor of rhythmic and musical elements (a detailed analysis of the presence of musical instruments in Caravaggio's works supports his thesis). Samuele Briatore deals with the complexities of the Jesuits' research on the nature and transmission of sound and explores the fascinating link that Jesuit theatre establishes between the word of the actor or singer on stage and the ear of the Prince in the audience. Guido De Rosa takes us on a tour of 18th-century Orientalism in opera at a time when news about the East was so scarce, and its mythical allure so powerful, that virtually anything out of the ordinary could be represented in an opera provided the word 'Chinese' was added to the title or costumes.

Walter Zidaric analyzes Giuseppe Mazzini's Filosofia della musica, a work usually more hastily quoted than read. For sure, it does not carry the same weight as other treatises on the aesthetics of music published in the 19th century. Yet Filosofia della musica is a crucial document of the time in history that coincided with Rossini's early retirement, Bellini's death, Mercadante's temporary move to Spain and Donizetti's rise to fame, just a few years before Verdi (whom Mazzini never liked, as Verdi's politics were too moderate) made a name for himself. Speaking of Verdi, Gabriele Scaramuzza traces the 'aesthetics of ugliness' in Verdi's uncanny sense of theatre. Uninterested in the neoclassical worshiping of the beautiful, Verdi treated beauty and ugliness, decorum and the lack thereof as tools the only function of which was to support and enhance the drama.

The four articles of Daniela Bombara, Annamaria Cecconi, Enrica Lisciani-Petrini and Renato Ricco address the so-called 'decadent' period of Italian literature and music. First, we have the scapigliatura literature in its problematic relationship with music. Then the abject crisis of masculinity in Puccini's II tabarro (far removed from the verismo style to which many think it belongs), and the triumph of androgyny in Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien, the massive 'mystic mystery' that D'Annunzio wrote in French for Ida Rubinstein, enlisting no less than Claude Debussy to compose the incidental music. If the D'Annunzio-Debussy team did not manage to recreate the troubling magic of Wagner's Parsifal, they nonetheless fashioned a neglected yet convincingly 'modern' masterpiece. The role of music in D'Annunzio's brief reign in Fiume after World War I is also analyzed: a truly fascinating chapter in the history of music and politics, with conductor Arturo Toscanini in the supporting role.

The next articles investigate the legacy of the 20th century. From an ethnomusicologist's point of view, Marcello Sorce Keller asks why there are virtually no studies on Jewish-Italian music when in fact a case could be made for a vital contribution to Italian music coming from Jewish musicians and the presence of Jewish culture in Italy. In the author's opinion, what prevented Italians from gaining a better awareness of Jewish culture was the 19th century Italian nation-building project, which imposed an artificial notion of unified national culture upon a patchwork of local traditions. Jazz historian Luca Cerchiari chronicles the career of the multi-talented artist and impresario Anton Giulio Bragaglia, who shared with his fellow Futurists an ongoing ambivalence toward African-American music and dance and remained equally divided between fascination and racist rejection. It is not difficult to guess which of the two inclinations put him in a favorable light with the increasingly racist Fascist regime of the 1930s, thus benefiting his career.

Benedetta Zucconi's article on the fate of II disco, the first Italian music magazine that treated recorded music seriously, reads like the other side of Cerchiari's story. While Bragaglia was appointed director of an important theater in Rome, Renato Levi, founder of II disco, a rare example of cultural innovation and international scope in a music magazine, was rounded up by the SS during World War II and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Carlo Serra's article focuses on the role of electronics in popular music by choosing an electronic piece of jazz-rock group Area as an example of the musical and political implications of noise. Making ample use of archive material, Federica Ivaldi traces the literary genealogy of Fabrizio De Andre's Creuza de ma, the 1984 seminal record that singlehandedly created the still lingering utopia of 'Mediterranean music.' Guendalina Carbonelli analyzes Fabrizio De Andre's subsequent album, Le nuvole (1990), in the light of the social changes in the 1980s that marked the end of political utopias in Italy and the beginning of more disenchanted or even cynical attitudes.

Ilaria Serra offers a detailed analysis of an overlooked episode in the complex history of music and politics: the feminist songs written and sung in the 1970s by the women of the Committee for Domestic Salary in the Veneto region, whose aim was to establish the principle that women homemakers must receive compensation. The experience did not end in the 1970s and the use of women's songs as a tool for political struggle is still alive today. Francesco D'Amato trains his sociological eye on the phenomenon of music in department stores and on the in-store radio companies that provide the sonic background for shopping and consumption.

The next three articles cover the double issue of emigration and immigration. Amoreno Martellini deals with the theme of internal migration from South to North in the cantautori songs of the 1960s--a theme that in the 1970s was expanded to include emigration to Northern Europe and the American continent, albeit with a language and style very different from the century-old songs of emigrants. Chiara Mazzucchelli addresses the emigration-immigration theme by looking at the presence of John Fante's novels, characters and themes in Italian songs. Fante is perhaps the only Italian-American writer who has a true following in Italy, and tracing his influence in Italian songs as well as in American culture leads to interesting discoveries about the cross-pollination of literature and lyrics. To conclude, Alessandro Portelli brings us a fresh, up-to-date report on the music that recent immigrants are making in Italy, mostly to comment on their marginalized condition, but also to affirm their role as active members of the society where they now live.

The second part of the volume includes seven 'Notes, Stories, Memoirs.' My intention in creating this section was to convey an idea of shared passion, of music as something that must be thoroughly 'lived through,' and I hope that readers will be left with the same impression. Ivano Fossati, one of the most celebrated Italian songwriters, with a career spanning four decades, gives us his carefully measured opinion on the eternal debate about whether songs are poetry or not. Poets and songwriters have different jobs, Fossati says, but that does not mean that they cannot take a walk together at times. Giovanna Marini, the most significant folk singer, composer, and ethnomusicologist to emerge from the 1960s folk revival, offers a mosaic made of four transcribed speeches that she gave between 2007 and 2012. As a brief expose of the aesthetics of canto contadino, a term that is almost impossible to translate ('vocal emissions of the peasantry' will not do), her reflections are also a perfect introduction to the far-reaching body of work and thought that Marini has produced in her lifetime.

In his double role as musician and musicologist, and with five interconnected 'pieces' spanning almost half a century of Italian history, Franco Fabbri recollects the main critical junctures in the complex relationship between music and politics since the 1960s. Songwriter Maurizio Bettelli takes one of his compositions (the 1978 ballad, 'Joe Mitraglia') as a starting point for a recollection that unites the mythology surrounding the lives and actions of the World War II partisans, including those who turned bad after the war ended, and the dark years of 1970s terrorism. Aldo Gianolio, who has written many short stories about music, tells the tragi-comic tale of a guitar-hero wannabe--a fiction that reads very real for anyone who has first-hand experience of the passions and rivalry among grassroots musicians. Carlo Testa takes a trip down memory lane back to 1965 when the airwaves were full of a song his father Alberto Testa had written and that became the soundtrack of the author's first journey through Italy.

The last author included in the volume, Marc Zimmerman, has only a tangential (but intense) relationship with Italy. Yet his autobiographical recollection of how Sinatra's voice affected his life as a Jewish-American young man growing up in New Jersey, tells a story all Italians can relate to, including those who were not even born when Sinatra, to quote the author, was king of the 'intimate pangs of being that many of us felt.'

I have added to this introduction a short bibliography of recent texts in English and Italian that the inquisitive reader may want to check out for further research. It is just the tip of the iceberg, but it shows that the scholarship on all genres and styles of Italian music is a healthy enterprise and never stops producing engaging works.

As I approach the end of my introduction, I need to pay my dues. I am very thankful to Giorgio Mobili of California State University, Fresno, for his invaluable editorial assistance, to the Ugo Di Portanova Italian Studies Development Fund for financial help, and, of course, to Professor Mario B. Mignone for giving me the opportunity to put together this worthy collection of writings on Italian music.

DOI: 10.1177/0014585815583263


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Alessandro Carrera

University of Houston, USA
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Carrera, Alessandro
Publication:Forum Italicum
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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