Classical Music Around The World: Italy

Continuing a tour of the world’s best classical music, we arrive in Italy. There is no doubt that Italian composers have led the way in the world of classical music. Most major musical developments through the 1700s came from Italian composers. 

In the previous post on German music, I mention how language has affected the creation of melodies. Specifically, I noted that german melodies are typically shorter because the vowels are often harsh. In Italian, the vowels are soft and flow freely, and due to this difference in language, the melodies tend to be longer and more flowery. 

I want to highlight several Italian composers through the four main periods of modern music. In the Baroque period, Antonio Vivaldi stands out. He is now well known for the Four Seasons Violin Concertos. (The first movement of Autumn is included in the playlist) Vivaldi was a Catholic priest and a virtuoso violinist. His primary assignment was to lead the Conservatorio dell' Ospedale della Pietà. This conservatory was a girls orphanage in Venice and noted for its exceptional orchestra program, which Vivaldi led.

For the classical period, I have included a symphony by Muzio Clementi. Many piano students play his Sonatinas, but his symphonies are seldom heard. In the late 1700s, Italian music took a different turn from what happened in German-speaking countries. Italian composers started to shift their focus away from instrumental music and more toward vocal music, especially opera. An opera is like a play, but all (or most) of the dialogue is sung. Italian opera has always been influential, and until the late 1700s, composers only wrote opera in Italian. George Frederick Handel premiered an Opera in London, England sung in Italian. I imagine most of the audience didn’t understand the opera, but because it was an opera had to be in Italian. 

Composers in the 1800s reflect this focus, and most notable composers include Gioachino Rossini and Guiseppe Verdi. The overture to Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville is included in the playlist. For fun, try to locate a video of the Bugs Bunny version, The Rabbit of Seville.

The 1900s continued to see this trend of Italian composers focusing on vocal music, and Giacomo Puccini became one of the most famous opera composers of all time. He surrounds his audiences in a world of stunning visuals with powerful, dramatic music. His song, “O mio babbino caro.” from the opera Gianni Schicchi is an excellent example of how powerful Puccini’s music can be. Another powerful song is titled Nessun Dorman.

Last, I do want to highlight the music of two modern, instrumental composers, Ottorino Respighi and Ennio Morricone. Respighi was an Impressionist, and his work, The Pines of Rome, will thrill you with its vivid colors. Morricone is known for his film music in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, especially westerns. Enjoy these musical selections on this trip around the world, exploring how culture and language influence classical music.