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Summary of Italian Pop Music History
by Alex Cosper (1/30/13)

Italy is one of the most important nations of the world where classical and opera music developed, which is why those musical forms are engrained in the culture. The modern violin came from Italy, tracing back to the sixteenth century. Italians are credited by music historians for their involvement in developing certain elements of music theory and notation. Symphonies, concertos and operas commissioned by royalty were greatly influenced by native Italian musicians.

Claudio Monteverdi was a pioneer of opera music in the early 1600s. An early developer of concerto music was Antonio Vivaldi whose Four Seasons from the Baroque era lives on today as one of the most monumental works in classical music history. The Roman Catholic Church also had a huge impact on musical development. The country's musical heritage is taken very seriously and has helped define Italian cultural identity. Italy is also divided into many regions that each have their own loyal followings.

The first major musical star to emerge from the advent of recorded music in the early 1900s was opera singer Enrico Caruso. His 1904 single "Vesti la giubba" was the recording industry's first million seller. Caruso's career flourished until his death at age 48 in 1921. Some historians consider him to be the first international mass media superstar due to his countless opera performances and coverage in newspapers, magazines and films. His performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1910 marked the first American public radio broadcast.

The popularity of films began to overshadow Italian opera for entertainment by the end of World War II but opera and ballet remain part of the culture. Another Italian tradition that has never disappeared has been the tarantella, a group ritual dance set in 6/8 time. Jazz and other American influences became part of the eclectic mix of the 1920s onward, which was felt in the popular hits of Arturo Agazzi. Neapolitan Song was another traditional type of music, rooted in sweet melodic opera, that remained part of the culture. Starting in 1951 the Festival della canzone Italiana (known as the Festival di San Remo throughout the rest of the world) influenced the nation's popular music with song contests that have introduced new talent.

Even though Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Louie Prima were born in America, their family histories traced back to Italy and their music sometimes reflected Italian themes. Rosemary Clooney was also from America but tapped into Italian culture with her 1955 top ten U.S. single "Mambo Italiano," which was covered later by Dean Martin. Other American-born recording artists with Italian ancestry included Perry Como, Vic Damone, Al Martino, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Connie Francis, Henry Mancini, Chuck Mangione, Bill Conti and Frank Zappa.

Historically, Italian politics have intertwined with music, dating back several centuries. That's why it came as no surprise when Italian singer/songwriter Domenico Modugno became a member of Parliament years after championing hit recordings. In the 1950s he kicked off a string of hit songs, most notably the worldwide 1958 hit "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu," also known as "Volare," which has since been covered by many prominent singers including Dean Martin. Modugno's other hits included "Lazzarella," "Piove" and "Libero." He went on to become a star on TV and movies and sang operas before becoming involved with politics in 1986. One of the few American hits sung partly in Italian was a novelty record by Lou Monte called "Pepino the Italian Mouse" in 1962.

Rock, disco, electronica, punk and rap have helped shape modern Italian music in the second half of the twentieth century through the present. Notable popular acts have included Claudio Baglioni, Gianna Nannini, Zucchero, Lucio Battisti, Lacuna Coil, Ligabue, Afterhours, Vanilla Sky, Laura Pausini and Vasco Rossi. Meanwhile, some of the biggest names in Italian contemporary music have been in the opera vein such as Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli. In 1992 the Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana (FIMI) replaced the Associazione Fonografici Italiani (AFI) as the nation's music chart. In recent decades the Italian chart has mirrored the international pop scene. In 2011 Italy ranked number 10 in music sales around the world, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

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