I love playing at weddings, and it’s even more fun when you have things to make the wedding more interesting. This weekend, I had the pleasure of playing at a wedding where a substantial part of the family was Italian, and they wanted to hear the Tarantella. Since I had never played the Tarantella before, and didn’t know that I had heard it (it was a request at the reception so we didn’t have any chance to listen to it beforehand), they were going to just play it on their ipod.
We didn’t have the cables to connect their iPod into the PA, so, I ended up playing a youtube video on my phone into the microphone, which was obviously less than ideal. After a couple of times through the melody, I told them that I thought we could take it from there, and they were thrilled. Our camera man was having a ball, and bouncing along to the beat, so you will have to bear with the bouncing camera. I had a ball playing the Tarantella Napolitana, and I think the joy of the Italian Wedding Dance will be contagious to you too.
Tarantella Napoletana according to Wikipedia
The “Tarantella Napoletana” is the tarantella associated with Naples. It is familiar to North American viewers from commercials and other content as a stereotypically “Italian” musical riff or melody.
Examples of its use include:
- The Godfather (1972)
- Rossini – “La Danza” from Soirées Musicales (1830–1835)
Tarantella From Wikipedia
The term tarantella groups a number of different 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, Sonu a ballu in Calabria. Tarantella is popular in Italy as well as in parts of Argentina.
In the Italian Taranto, Apulia, the bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula” after the region, was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. The stated belief in the 16th and 17th centuries was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism using a very rhythmic and fast music. The particular type of dance and the music played became known as tarantella. The oldest documents mentioning the relationship between musical exorcism and the tarantula are dated around 1100. John Compton has proposed that ancient Bacchanalian rites that had been suppressed by the Roman Senate in 186 BC went underground, reappearing under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims.
The tradition persists in the area, and is known as “Neo-Tarantism.” Many young artists, groups and famous musicians are continuing to keep the tradition alive. The music is very different—its tempo is faster, for one thing—but it 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 danced by a couple or couples, 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 danceperformed 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 an upbeat tempo to sweat the poison out.
There are several traditional tarantella groups: “Cantori di Carpino”, “Officina Zoé”, “Uccio Aloisi gruppu”, “Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino”, “Selva Cupina”, “I Tamburellisti di Torrepaduli”.
The tarantella is most commonly played with a mandolin, a guitar, an accordion and tambourines. Flute, fiddle, trumpet and clarinet are also used.
Trantasism, as a ritual, has roots in the Ancient Greek Mysteries. 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.