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  • Writer's pictureDavid Winkler

Why Italian?

Have you ever wondered why so many musical terms are in Italian? We use Italian to describe the dynamic level of a piece of music ... forte, mezzo-piano, crescendo, etc. We use Italian to describe the mood or tempo of a piece ... Adagio, Andante, Allegro. Other Italian terms are common among musicians ... staccato, legato, ritardando, and on and on.

Here's the way I often explain this: Let's say you are an aspiring young musician from Nebraska or some other state in the U.S., with your main interest being in country music. You're quite talented, and have gathered a following from your local area. However, people tell you, "If you really want to make it in country music, you need to move to ..." Where? Nashville, Tennessee, of course! Music City USA, which for years has been the undisputed center of the country music industry.

Now go back in time, say to the early 1700s. You're a young musician on the continent of Europe. You've learned as much as you can where you are, but to really advance you need to move to ... where? Why, the center of art and culture since the Renaissance ... Italy! It is in Italy that many important musical forms were developed, such as opera, concerto, and the sonata. Master craftsmen from Italy perfected instruments such as the violin, and invented new ones, such as the piano. The most prominent composers of the day were Italians ... Monteverdi, Corelli, and Vivaldi. Italy is also where modern musical notation was invented, and where many of the great Renaissance church music composers wrote their masterpieces.

An example illustrating the above scenario is seen in the life of George Frederick Handel. As a young man, he left his home in northern Germany to study and work in Italy. After some success writing Italian opera there, he moved to England, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. But there came a time when Italian opera was no longer popular in England, and Handel had to adapt. More about that in my next blog post ...

So now you know "Why Italian?" !!!

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