The term Tarantella groups a number of different southern Italian couple folk dances characterized by a fast upbeat tempo, usually in 6/8 time (sometimes 18/8 or 4/4), accompanied by tambourines.. It is among the most recognized of traditional Italian music. The specific dance name varies with every region, for instance tammuriata in Campania, pizzica in the Salento region.
The term "tarantella" originally referred to an exorcism ritual that existed in Greece around the year 2000 BC and was connected to the gods Dionysus and Apollo (the Greek gods of wine and music). It continued on in southern Italy, an area known as Magna Grecia (greater Greece).
History, past and today
During ancient times in the area around the Greek colony of Taranto in southern Italy, a type of poisonous spider was so prevalent that it took the name Lycosa tarantula. Its venom caused a hysterical condition known as Tarantism, the symptoms of which were an irresistible need for a wild and rapid whirling motion bringing the victim to the point of exhaustion, also known as Tarantulism. For long time, the local population believed that the only way to suppress the symptoms and to cure the bite was by using a very rhythmic and fast music. The music played for the cure became known as Tarantella. The older documents mentioning the relationship between musical exorcism for the Tarantella are dated around 1100. The tradition is still very present in the area, and is known as "Neo-Tarantism.” Many young artists, groups and famous musicians are continuing keeping the tradition alive. The music is very different, but has similar hypnotic effects, especially when people are exposed to the rhythm for a long period of time. The music is used in the therapy of patients with certain forms of depression and hysteria, and its effects on the endocrine system recently became an object of research.
Courtship vs tarantism dances
The stately courtship tarantella is danced by a couple or couples, is short in duration, is graceful and elegant, and features characteristic music. On the other hand, the supposedly curative or symptomatic tarantella was danced solo by a supposed victim of a "tarantula" bite; it was agitated in character, lasted for hours or even up to days, and featured characteristic music. However, other forms of the dance were and still are couple dances (not necessarily a couple of different sexes), usually either mimicking courtship or a sword fight. The confusion appears to arrive from the fact that the spiders, the condition, its sufferers ("tarantolati") and the dances all have similar names to the city of Taranto.
The first dance originated in the Naples region and spread next to Apulia, Basilicata and Calabria, all part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Neapolitan tarantella is a courtship dance performed by couples whose "rhythms, melodies, gestures and accompanying songs are quite distinct" featuring faster more cheerful music. Its origins may further lie in "a fifteenth-century fusion between the Spanish Fandango and the Moresque 'ballo di sfessartia.'" The "magico-religious" tarantella is a solo dance performed supposedly to cure through perspiration the delirium and contortions attributed to the bite of a spider at harvest (summer) time. The dance was later applied as a supposed cure for the behavior of neurotic women ("'Carnevaletto delle donne'").
The original legend tells that someone who had supposedly been bitten by the tarantula (or the Mediterranean black widow) spider had to dance to a upbeat tempo to sweat the poison out.
There are several traditional tarantella groups: Officina Zoé, Uccio Aloisi gruppu, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, Selva Cupina, I Tamburellisti di Torrepaduli.
The tarantella is usually played with a mandolin and an accordion, but sometimes a guitar, a flute, a fiddle or a clarinet can be added.
Reportedly, victims who had collapsed or were convulsing would begin to dance with appropriate music and be revived as if a tarantula had bitten them. The music used to treat dancing mania appears to be similar to that used in the case of tarantism though little is known about either. Justus Hecker (1795–1850), describes in his work Epidemics of the Middle Ages:
A convulsion infuriated the human frame....Entire communities of people would join hands, dance, leap, scream, and shake for hours....Music appeared to be the only means of combating the strange epidemic...lively, shrill tunes, played on trumpets and fifes, excited the dancers; soft, calm harmonies, graduated from fast to slow, high to low, prove efficacious for the cure.
The music used against spider bites featured drums and clarinets, was matched to the pace of the victim, and is only weakly connected to its later depiction in the tarantellas of Chopin, Liszt, Rossini, and Heller.
While most serious proponents speculated as to the direct physical benefits of the dancing rather than the power of the music a mid-18th century medical textbook gets the prevailing story backwards describing that tarantulas will be compelled to dance by violin music. It was thought that the Lycosa tarantula wolf spider had lent the name "tarantula" to an unrelated family of spiders having been the species associated with Taranto but since the lycosa tarantula is not inherently deadly in summer or in winter, the highly poisonous Mediterranean black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) may have been the species originally associated with Taranto's manual grain harvest.
The Tarantella is a dance in which the dancer and the drum player constantly try to upstage each other by dancing longer or playing faster than the other, subsequently tiring one person out first.
Grand Tarantelle ballet
The Balanchine ballet Tarantella is set to Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 67 (ca. 1866) by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, reconstructed and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. The nimble quickness of Tarantella provides a virtuosic showcase. The profusion of steps and the quick changes of direction this brief but explosive pas de deux requires typify the ways in which Balanchine expanded the traditional vocabulary of classical dance.
- It has appeared in feature films such as The Godfather. In The Godfather II, Frankie Pentangeli tries to get the wedding band (who are not Italian) to play a tarantella. They end up playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" instead. It is also in the soundtrack to Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino.
- It has appeared in the musical version of Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby and is danced by Captain Hook and his band of pirates, illustrating the above mentioned occasional association with swordfights vis a vis the metaphor of pirates. In this performance, which is available on film or dvd also, the context is silly fun.
- Felix Mendelssohn wrote a piece called 'Tarantella' in 1845, otherwise known as Opus 102 No. 3. Moreover, the final movement of his Italian Symphony is in the form of a tarantella.
- Benjamin Britten wrote a Tarantella as the third movement of his Sinfonietta for Chamber Orchestra, Opus 1.
- A performance of the tarantella was central to the plot of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.
- David Popper wrote a piece called "Tarantella" Opus 33 written in 6/8 time.
- William Henry Squire wrote a tarantella for cello in D minor.
- Franz Liszt composed a piece called "Tarantella, Venezia e Napoli" (No. 3 from Les Années de Pèlerinage, 2nd Year: Italy), which is in a rapid tempo also in 6/8 time.
- Frédéric Chopin wrote a piece called "Tarentelle" (Opus 43) with the characteristic 6/8 time signature.
- John Corigliano wrote a Tarantella as the fourth movement of his Gazebo Dances.
- Leopold Godowsky transcribed Chopin's Etude Op. 10, No. 5 "Black Keys" into a tarentella for the piano.
- Sergei Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17, features a tarantella for its finale.
- Gioacchino Rossini's song "La Danza" is a Neapolitan tarantella.
- Henryk Wieniawski composed a well-known violin masterpiece, called Scherzo-Tarantella (Op. 16)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien" ends in a frenzied variation of a tarantella.
- Claude Debussy wrote a piece called "Danse (Tarantelle styrienne)."
- Pablo de Sarasate composed a piece for violin, Introduction and Tarantella.
- The last movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Camille Saint-Saëns is a tarantella.
- Tarantella for Piano and Orchestra was composed by American composer Michael Glenn Williams for pianist Sean Chen
- The last movement of Malcolm Williamson's Sinfonietta (1965) is a tarantella.
- Mark-Anthony Turnage composed a violin concerto entitled Mambo, Blues and Tarantella in 2007, with the tarantella being the finale.
- The 4th of Prokofiev's 12 easy pieces for piano "Musique d'Enfants" Op 65 is a Tarantella,
- The 3rd movement of Stravinsky's Suite Italienne is a tarantella.
- Schubert's C Minor Sonata, last movement, is a tarantella/rondo.
- ^ Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0415974402.
- ^ Morehead, P.D., Bloombury Dictionary of Music, London, Bloombury, 1992
- ^ Traditional Southern Italian Mandolin and Fiddle Tunes, John T. La Barbera, 2009, p. 11
- ^ Toschi, Paolo (1950). Proceedings of the Congress Held in Venice September 7th to 11th, 1949: "A Question about the Tarantella", Journal of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 2. (1950), p. 19. Translated by N. F.
- ^ Ettlinger, Ellen (1965). Review of "La Tarantella Napoletana" by Renato Penna (Rivista di Etnografia), Man, Vol. 65. (Sep. - Oct., 1965), p. 176.
- ^ Hecker, Justus. Quoted in Sear, H. G. (1939).
- ^ Sear, H. G. (1939). "Music and Medicine", p.45, Music & Letters, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Jan., 1939), pp. 43-54. Note that Sear may mistake the Neapolitan and Apulian tarantellas and that those by Romantic composers to which he refers may have been intended as Neapolitan.
- ^ a b Rishton, Timothy J. (1984). "Plagiarism, Fiddles and Tarantulas", The Musical Times, Vol. 125, No. 1696. (Jun., 1984), pp. 325-327.