Tag Archives: Italy

Saltarello by Arte Factum


Miracle of the True Cross at the Bridge of S. Lorenzo, oil painting by Gentile Bellini, 1500; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.

The current COVID-19 crisis has been compared to the “Black Plague”, which ravaged much of Eurasia in the middle of the 14th century C.E.  Historians and scientists now believe the scourge first appeared in Western Asia in the 1330s, before storming into India and the Middle East via the legendary “Silk Road” and then into Europe and Northern Africa.  It even reached the Danish outpost of Iceland.  It’s a wonder, I believe, it didn’t make it to North America, as Viking explorers had already reached what is now Newfoundland.  Europe was the hardest hit region, with some 50 million estimated fatalities.  Overall, it killed roughly 350- 375 million people.  But, since they had no accurate population counting system at the time, the death rate very well could have been several times worst.

There are some chilling similarities to the COVID-19 debacle.  It began in Asia and seems to have struck Italy first.  Back then religious leaders convinced their ignorant, illiterate followers that the pestilence was God’s condemnation for whatever sins they’d committed.  On top of that, national commanders initially didn’t realize the severity of the pandemic and concocted whatever excuses sounded plausible.

Politics aside, one other element remains relatively unchanged: the love of music and dance.  We’ve seen people across the globe cope with isolation and mandatory quarantines by singing and dancing; playing music on their doorsteps or balconies for neighbors to hear; connecting with family and friends through cyberspace to share melodies.  Again, there are similarities with the “Black Plague”.

Medieval Europeans also often used music and song to celebrate life’s various events.  I find music from this time and place beautifully intriguing and even somewhat familiar to current musical trends.  As usual, Italians always rose to the occasion; creating a number of songs and dances to express the beauty of life.  The saltarello is a perfect example.  An Italian dance style dating to the 14th century, it involved leaping and skipping and was performed to music done in a triple meter tempo; usually accompanied by tambourines, guitars, and singing.  Saltarello survived into the 18th century and, by then, had become a popular folk dance.  Saltarello rhythm and energy bears similarities to tarantella; another popular Italian folk dance also often performed at weddings and dating to medieval times.  A well-known contemporary model appears in the final movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony.

Featured performance: Arte Factum

Image: SCALA/Art Resource, New York

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From a Lone Perch Above the City

Two men serenade their San Salvario neighborhood of Turin, Italy, with a guitar and a flute on a balcony, on March 13, 2020. Photo by Nicolò Campo, LightRocket.

Some Italian citizens – as perhaps only Italians could – reacted to a recent COVID-19 quarantine with music and song.  Until March 26, Italy had experienced the most confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China.  Initially, Italian government shut down the northern half of the country – but eventually, the entire nation fell to lock-down commands.  Isolated in their homes, several talented individuals retrieved musical instruments and their voices to sing to the quiet air.  The results have been magical – and have been spreading faster than the virus.

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Life Blooms Once More in a Canal

Clear waters support a gondola in a Venice canal on March 17, 2020 as a result of the stoppage of motorboat traffic, following the country’s lockdown within the new coronavirus crisis. Photo by Andrea Pattaro /AFP via Getty Images

Outside of China, Italy has mysteriously and sadly become an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With more than 35,000 documented infections and more than 3,000 deaths, health and government officials in one of the most uniquely European nations are embroiled in the worst health crisis in decades.

Yet, amidst the heartbreak and carnage, something beautiful, extraordinary and unexpected has occurred: dolphins and swans have returned to the famed canals of Venice; the ancient city of dreamers and lovers.  Because of its popularity, this beloved community has had to endure trash and pollution in its waterways.  But nationwide lockdowns have allowed the Venetian canals to refresh themselves.   In a Facebook group, “Venezia Pulita” (“Clean Venice”), locals are sharing pictures of the city’s water looking unbelievably clean.

Now dolphins and swans – two of nature’s most heralded and mystical creatures – have innocently made their way back into Venice.  It’s a bright spot in a world consumed with illness and tragedy.

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