Neapolitan Villanelle of 16th Century
In light of the fact that the primitive canzone villanesca alla napolitana-a minor popular genre, according to the common, though imprecise, definition-existed on the border between written and oral musical tradition, any new handling of it necessarily foresees a correct and rational retrieval of the musical and poetic structures within which the genre developed. This, out of respect for a growing openness toward an anthropological view of music history. Such a view attempts, on the one hand, to focus on the “sonorous event” and to re-evaluate the social significance and means of making and transmitting music of the past, while, on the other, it looks closer at unwritten musical traditions and at the reciprocal influences between oral transmission and writing, especially in urban circles (all the more so if they are Neapolitan). It is well known that the musical circles of Naples under the Spanish viceroys may be analyzed from two different perspectives. Practices of polyvocal singing, detached and completely independent from cultured polyphony existed together with certain poetic and musical expressions connected to functions of everyday life (as documented by treatises, diaries, chronicles of travelers, and title pages of some collections of villanelle). Alongside these practices, cultured music was being written, with artistic aims which aspired to creating a product both elite and exclusive (the “grand” and “serious” musical tradition). Noble and lower social classes nonetheless shared analogous expressive forms in specific contexts–religious feasts, carnivals, taverns, “low class” establishments etc. –and when the two spheres interacted, hybrid musical products resulted which, irrespective of their artistic value, represented an extraordinary testimony of music-making in the past. The villanesca, without a doubt, was created in cultured circles where noblemen and amateur musicians looked “downward”, toward an awareness and entertaining rediscovery of a polyphonic language which was considerably distant from themselves and whose practice was to be regarded as little more than a game, of no importance.