Tarantellas

  1. gus garelick
    gus garelick
    I'm new to this group, but certainly not new to Italian music. I noticed a list of tarantellas posted here (but I'm not sure exactly how to reply to the post). I thought it might be worth opening a new topic on the subject.

    I think the tarantella is the most easily recognized form of Italian music. I know lots of polkas, mazurkas, waltzes, tangos, etc, but people always perk up when they hear the tarantellas. Ah, that's Italian! But is it? Do we know exactly how far back these tunes go? I think everyone knows the "mythical" history of the dance and its connection with spider bites (apparently a folk tale). I've read about the trance music of 16th Century Taranta, which is probably a more likely origin of the music. But after playing a lot of tarantellas and then switching over to Celtic mode (with my Irish/Italian guitar player), the double jigs of Irish music seem to blend perfectly well with the tarantellas. The lure of the 6/8 meter. The Irish-Italian connection.

    Of course, there are tarantellas for dancing and tarantellas for listening, and for challenging the technical abilities of musicians. The last movement of Mendelsohn's Fourth Symphony (the "Italian") contains a tarantella at breath-taking speed. No one can dance to that for very long! My own band plays a variety of tarantellas and we're often criticized for playing too fast for dancing. I just started working on a tarantella by Bernardo da Pace, the "Capriccioso." One has to be a virtuoso to play that one fast, but it's probably great for dancing. And I've been working on a tarantella by Mazas written for violin. It's in one of his books of studies for violin. Not too difficult, but more of a classical violin piece than a folk tarantella.

    I'd be interested in other comments about tarantellas and specific tunes. I do the usual "Wedding Tarantella" and the "Fisherman's Tarantella" that everyone recognizes, both Sicilian tunes. I learned a lot of tarantellas from old LPs, recorded either in Italy or in New York in the 1950s. "Stella Adorata" was found in a collection of old records at a garage sale. I recorded it with my band, The Hot Frittatas, and a transcription of it found its way into the "Mandolin Melodies" collection by Sheri Mignano. Friends traveling in Italy and Sicily often brought me back cassette tapes of various folk music, where I discovered other tarantellas, some of them quite anonymous and nameless.... With my band, we took a tarantella by Rossini (I believe it was called "Francischella") and rewrote it with the theme of the old TV show "Leave it to Beaver." We call it "Beaver's Tarantella." We never knew Beaver was Italian!

    Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts about tarantellas. What are yours?
  2. wundo
    wundo
    http://archive.wongawillicolonialdan...patunebook.php
    has a free copy of Quadriglia Tarantella

    Martin Jonas posted here some videos with some nice tarantellas.

    The Mel Bay book on Southern Italian music has some too.

    And of course the Calace Tarantella is a favorite.
  3. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Good to see you here, Gus. I really like what you're doing with the Hot Frittatas!

    As far as tarantellas are concerned, I enjoy playing them a lot as long as I can get into the proper 6/8 groove -- quite a few of the "presentation piece" tarantellas are too technically difficult for me to play at anything approaching tarantella speed, and in any case lack the quintessential simplicity that makes a tarantella work in the first place. So, I prefer actual traditional tarantellas, or ones that are kept primitive enough to blend in. There are a number of nice ones in the La Barbera book.

    I feel differently about waltzes and mazurkas, where the best tunes are composed ones that nobody would confuse for traditional dances, so this is not just about folk music vs composed music, but the tarantella as a genre does not stand excessive sophistication.

    Martin
  4. gus garelick
    gus garelick
    I was very interested in some of the tarantellas in the new Mel Bay publication. They are definitely more "folk" oriented than some of the tarantellas I've learned from recordings or other printed sources. They're quite simple, in fact, whereas a lot of the ones I've worked out with my own band are a little more complicated, with more difficult phrasing, key modulations, arrangements, etc. There is art music and folk music, and I guess our band leans more to the art/performance end of the spectrum. Still, I appreciate the scholarship that went into the new book and I'm glad that it adds to the growing printed repertoire of Italian mandolin music.

    It's probably worth pointing out that a lot of the Italian mandolin music that was printed in America by Di Bella and other publishers in the early 20th Century-- a lot of that music entered the folk tradition over the years, although it was not exactly "folk" music to begin with. Most of those pieces (and so many of the tunes in the Sheri Mignano collection) had known composers. Luigi Canoro, for example, wrote tunes that were probably "best sellers" in their day, and are still played by hundreds of mandolin players, including myself. "Tra Veglia e Sonno" was such a standard amongst older mandolin players, I was surprised to learn that it was actually composed in America, and not brought over from the Old Country. Not that Di Bella was a Tin Pan Alley of Italian music, but with the popularity of mandolin orchestras at that time, the music got wide recognition. Not too surprisingly, there were some definite hacks cranking out Italian-style music back then (I'm sure the rejects from Sheri's collection probably outweigh the original anthology at least 4 to 1. )

    But getting back to tarantellas, one last point; the 6/8 rhythm can easily morph into a 4/4 march time, and this often confuses people. If you break down the march into groups of triplets, it's both a tarantella or a march, depending how you want to emphasize it. You can also segue into a double jig (very helpful if you're playing an Irish/Italian wedding.) People invariably start clapping along to tarantellas, if they're not dancing to them, and they tend to clap right on the beat, in 4. So, why aren't they notated in 4? Maybe I'll leave it at that, if any of you out there have some answers.
  5. harper
    harper
    Iím new to this group but wanted to comment on Gus's putting together a tarantella and jig in set.

    I play accordion in a contra dance band and we sometimes do something similar. For example, we have a set consisting of the Scottish jig "The Shepherd's Wife" in G, followed by "Sbrando" in G, and then the Irish jig "As I walked on the Road to Sligo" in Em. The sbrando, as I understand it, is a 6/8 circle dance for men that comes form the Piedmont. It's a lively tune like a tarantella that gives quite a lift to the set and the dancers.

    P.S. Gus, your CDís with Frittatas are a pleasure to listen to!
  6. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I'm reminded of this old discussion, as I've just come across a nice tarantella in an online collection of French folk tunes. The only title given is "Tarantelle", but despite the slight Frenchifying I would think this is of Italian origin. Does anybody have a fuller name for this tune? Interesting to see that it's notated in 6/4, not 6/8. The ABC I have learned this from is:

    X: 1
    T:Tarantelle
    R:Cercle
    N:tagafolk.abc
    O:France
    Z:anamnese@caramail.com
    M:6/4
    L:1/8
    Q:3/8=130
    K:C
    EAB cBc dcB c3 | ABc BAB dc Bc3 |
    EAB cBc dcB c3 | ABc BAB dc BA3 ::
    a2a e2e a2a e3 | ede f3 fgf e3 |
    cde d3 Bcd c3 | ABc BAB dc BA3 :|

    Video of me playing the tune on a Mid-Missouri:



    Martin
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