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COURSE NAME: "Italian Music: A Modern Cultural History"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 4:30 PM 5:45 PM
OFFICE HOURS: to be agreed

This course will introduce students to Italian music from a social and cultural perspective. The course has a twofold approach: the first part explores the historical developments from national unification to date; the second part has a thematic approach and highlights a few emergent topics within critical cultural studies, at the intersection between Italian and popular music studies. Starting from the assumption that music is able to unveil many aspects of the present society by representing them in unprecedented forms, the aim of the course is that of presenting another perspective on Italy, in order to enlarge its understanding. The central role played by music in contributing to shape national character is tested through a constant comparison with other musical cultures and connections with other media and art forms (cinema, television, radio).

The course provides an interdisciplinary approach to Italian music, including sociology, economics, semiotics, cultural and gender studies. Music is both a mirror of society and a meaningful activity which participates in its construction. Therefore, crisscrossing the historical, the course introduces students to the most salient cultural, social and political configurations of modern and contemporary Italy as seen through the lenses of music. Students will be introduced to a variety of texts and popular music expressions and their mediation through media technologies and the resultant discursive construction of Italian identities. The course will be articulated through film and video screenings, listening sessions, reading assignments, lectures and discussions.  



By the end of the course students will be:

1        Familiar with the analytic and theoretical perspectives of popular music studies.

2        Asked to analyze, assess, and evaluate songs, poems and other musical forms that belong to a specific national culture. Once they are given the necessary basic information to place these works into national and international context, they will be able to understand what makes them relevant to national identity and at the same time what has made them appreciated and influential outside the national boundaries. An improvement in critical thinking will result from the appreciation of the historical distance and cultural proximity intertwined in cultural artifacts that are at the same time historically determined and timeless.

3        Able to demonstrate knowledge of Italian music cultural history as it relates to the development of the media, tastes, and markets.

4        Able to recognize various trends in the music production of Italy, be familiar with quite a few artists and performers that have characterized specific historical moments.

5        Able to confront expressions of Italian popular music with others coming from the USA and elsewhere.  

6        Able to increase their social responsibility: by being exposed to a significant segment of transnational culture, students will learn how to appreciate styles of storytelling and system of values they may not be familiar with. Approaching a different culture increases the awareness of how varied and interdependent our world is. Looking at how people from different cultures and background have coped with universal issues is critical to advancement in social responsibility.

 The course contributes to the following learning outcomes of the Major in Italian Studies:

  • LOS 2:  Identify, interpret, and explain the major developments and forces shaping Italian social, political and cultural history.
  • LOS 4:  Demonstrate extensive knowledge of contemporary Italian culture and society and the ability to function effectively within it.
  • LOS 6: Apply appropriate methodological strategies and information literacy skills to identify, use and document primary and secondary materials in full respect of academic integrity and ethical standards.
  •  LOS 7: Communicate information and analytical interpretations clearly and effectively in written and spoken English.

Final Exam: 25%; In-class exam with questions in form of short essays on all topics covered during the course, readings and screenings25%
Final PaperResearch essay of 1,500 to 2,000 words on an agreed topic.25%
Mid-term Exam: 20%; In-class exam with questions on readings and screenings20%
Homework One multimedia presentation and two to three reading assignments20%
Attendance and ParticipationNo more than five (5) absences allowed. Active participation is highly recommended. Laptops allowed only to take notes. Smartphones must be off.10%
Numerical scale for grades A Excellent: 94-100; A– 90-93; B+ Good 84-86; B- 80-83; C+ 77-79; Satisfactory C 74-76; C- 70-73; D+ 67-69; Poor but passing D 64-66; D- 60-63; F Failing below 60; INC Incomplete; Passing C or higher, NP Not Passing 

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course. A = 94- 00% A- = 90-93%
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments. B+ = 87-89% B = 84-86% B- = 80-83%
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings. C+ = 77-79% C = 74-76% C- = 70-73%
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail. D+ = 67-69% D = 60-66%
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant. F = 0-59%

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing!”, wrote Jacques Attali, who specified: “Music is more than an object of study: it is a way of perceiving the world”.

This course moves from this theoretical and methodological premise – shared by a long list of social thinkers, sociologists, economists and, more recently, media and popular culture scholars – to offer a different look on Italy.

This course moves from this theoretical and methodological premise – shared by a long list of social thinkers, sociologists, economists and, more recently, media and popular culture scholars – to offer a different look on Italy. You will make the acquaintance of artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Lucio Battisti, Mina, Raffaella Carrà, Adriano Celentano, Al Bano, Ennio Morricone and Maneskin; composers such as Luciano Berio, jazz pioneers such as Giorgio Gaslini. Iconic songs such as Nel blu dipinto di blu, Tu vuo’ ffà l’americano and Bella Ciao will be treated as case studies in the globalization of Italian music, as much as genres such as Neapolitan song, rock music and Italo-disco. Each unit includes listening to music examples and videos so as to reinforce the topics dealt with.


WEEK 1:   4 – 6 September

Music and National Character: Opera, an Italian brand

Music as a source for the understanding of Italian culture, history, and society. Some key concepts: music and cultural studies,, politics, gender, ethnicity, and generational issues. What is Italian music: features, genres, and fortunes. Its place within the international context, past and present. Naples, Rome, Milan: musical cities in history. A look from outside: accounts from foreign visitors and observers. The system of opera between art and industry.

WEEK 2:    11 – 13 September

Music and National Character: Neapolitan song, a second brand

The making of a nation: Risorgimento and the role of opera, hymns, and folk songs in constructing an Italian identity. Neapolitan song: a second home for Italians abroad. Neapolitan as a lingua franca for Italians. Migrant music: diaspora and the spread of stereotypes. Shaping Italian American culture: record labels, artists, venues. Caruso and the fortunes of ‘operatic’ pop, from Pavarotti to Bocelli.

WEEK 3:   18 – 20 September

Italian Pop: from “radio days” to the economic miracle

The Fascist era: music between escapism and propaganda. The birth of an entertainment industry: records, radio, cinema and the rise of Italian canzone. From Post war to the ‘fabulous’ Sixties: the Sanremo Song Festival and the centrality of TV in shaping a mainstream taste. First signs of a youth culture: Beat music and the cover record mania. Beach songs: a distinctive Italian vogue.

WEEK 4:  25 – 27 September

     The Sanremo Song Festival

The antecedents of all talent shows, going back to the 19th century, with the Piedigrotta Festival in Naples, followed by the Festival of the Roman Song. Origins of the most important tv program in the history of Italian media, from the beginnings as a radio show, to its boom in the Sixties. Sanremo as a staple of the Italian character, a major boost for the recording industry and an international showcase for domestic song.  

WEEK 5:    2 – 4 October

Jazz in Italy and Italian jazz

The Twenties and the early import of American music: how and when jazz came to Italy. Jazz under Fascism: radio and an Italian way to ‘swing’. From a mimicry phase to an original contribution: Italian musicians and the international jazz community. Umbria Jazz and other festivals. Jazz, rock and canzone: the multifaceted scene of nowadays.

WEEK 6:     9 – 11 oct.

Avant-garde and experimental music  

Italian instrumental music in the European context. Avantgardes in the early 20th century. Futurism and the ‘art of noise’. Electronic and experimental music from the Post World War II to date: major figures and works. Politically committed music and radical criticism. A comeback to tonality: post-minimalism, crossover and its relationship with popular music.

WEEK 7:    16 – 18 October

7.2. Course review

7.2. Mid-term exam


WEEK 8:  20 (Make-up Day for Wednesday, November 1) – 23 October

National icons: Mina and Celentano    

A portrait of the two most significant singers in the history of Italian song, whose careers begun in the late Fifties and still goes on nowadays, with increasing success. Through their recordings, TV and film participations we will shed a closer light on the media system, the music business and the taste evolution of three generations.


     WEEK 9:   25 - 30 October

Fabrizio De Andrè and cantautori  

The rise of singer-songwriters: popular song as poetry and as social message. The “Italian Bob Dylan”: aesthetics and ethics musing around the most loved of Italian singer-songwriters. From his early days as exponent of the Genoese School to his rise to fame as a major contributor to a Mediterranean world music.  

    WEEK 10: 6 – 8 November

Folklore, protest and political songs    

Dialects and regional songbooks, a geography of domestic folk song. From national anthems to protest songs. World War I and the making of a national songbook. From Resistenza to students movements: partisan songs to new political chants. Bella ciao, song of rebellion from Italy to the world. La Notte della Taranta and the pizzica revival.

    WEEK 11:   13 – 15 November

Americanization: from rock to rap

The impact of American music, between reception, assimilation, and rejection: jazz and Latin American dances, rock & roll. Hippy counterculture and the international opposition to Vietnam War exported rock music to Italy. In the Eighties it was disco fever. Eventually, the hip hop subculture took over while Italian pop tended to sound global.

    WEEK 12: 20 – 22 November

Geopolitics: relationships with European and Latin American music

The influence of other countries on domestic music: England, France, Spain and Latin America (Brazil especially) played a major role each in different decades. Music appreciation of cover versions of international hits recorded by Italian artists, compared to the originals.

Gender, identity and subcultures  

Articulating images of masculinity and femininity from musical practices. Mondine (riceweeders): an early female subculture. From divas to starlets: women in Italian music (classical to rock). A female look at record industry: Caterina Caselli, entrepreneur and talent scout. Queer pop: untold stories of forgotten talents. Urban subcultures: negotiating group and local identity from Beats to neo-Melodics.

    WEEK 13:        27  -29 November  

Film music

From silent to sound movies. Cinema under the Fascist regime: tenor stars and the pre-eminence of canzone (song). Musicarelli and the vogue of hit songs, romance and teen-stars. Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and their reception from Hollywood to the world. Other major composers: Ortolani, Umiliani, Piccioni, Piovani. The new generation: Pivio & Aldo De Scalzi, Theo Teardo.

 Dance music

Ballo liscio at the origins of Italian popular music. Disco music in Italy: the wind that swept away all previous dance forms. Italo-Disco, a successful trend in all Europe. Euro-disco: an Italian invention (Giorgio Moroder). Techno cultures, rave parties and the Riviera romagnola as the European pleasure drome. Latest trends in a globalized instrumental music.

    WEEK 14:  4 - 6 December

National-popular stars: icons of Italy abroad

Laura Pausini and her following in the Hispanic world. Al Bano & Romina and Toto Cutugno, a cult in Eastern European countries. Claudio Villa, big in Japan. Domenico Modugno: the first Grammy winner. Maneskin: from the Eurovision Song Contest to supporting the Rolling Stones. Andrea Bocelli, hosted by President Obama and King Charles III.

Final course review



Roberto Agostini, “Sanremo Effects: the Festival and the Italian Canzone (1950s-1960s)”, in Fabbri-Plastino 2014

Gianmarco Borio, “Music as Plea for Political Action; the presence of musicians in Italian protest movement”, in B. Kutschke and B. Norton (eds), Music and Protest in 1968, Cambridge Un. Press, Cambridge 2013.

Guendalina Carbonelli, “Fabrizio De André’s La buona novella: A Social Revolution in Disguise!” In La memoria delle canzoni. Popular Music e identità italiana, ed.by Alessandro Carrera, Pasturana: Puntoacapo, 2017.                                                                             

Alessandro Carrera, “Italy’s Blues. Folk music and popular song from the Nineteenth century to the 1990’s”, in THE ITALIANIST 21-22, 2001-2002.

Anna Harwell Celenza, Jazz Italian Style. From Its Origins in New Orleans to Fascist Italy and Sinatra, Cambridge Un. Press, Cambridge 2017.

Iain Chambers, “Some Notes on Neapolitan Song: From Local Tradition to Worldly Transit”, in THE WORLD OF MUSIC, Vol. 45, No. 3, Cross-Cultural Aesthetics, 2003.

Clarissa Clò, “Dagli Appennini alle risaie: Italian Glocal Soundscapes, Memory, History, Performance in the Voice of Women”, in Graziella Parati and Anthony Julian Tamburri (ed.by), The Culture of Italian Migration. Diverse Trajectories and Discrete Perspective, Farleigh Dickinson Un. Press 2011.

Clarissa Clò, “Disco Fever: Italian and American Diasporic Journeys”, in ITALIAN AMERICAN REVIEW vol. 8 (no. 2), 2019.

EPMOW 2017: Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Genres: Europe vol. XI, Bloosmbury: London-New York, 2017 – eds. Paolo Prato & David Horn

Franco Fabbri & Goffredo Plastino, Made in Italy: Studies in Popular Music, Routledge: London-New York, 2014.

Franco Fabbri, “Five Easy Pieces: Forty Years of Music and Politics from Bella Ciao to Berlusconi”, in FORUM ITALICUM Vol. 49 (no. 2), 2015.

Simona Frasca, excerpts from Italian Birds of Passage. The Diaspora of Italian Musicians in New York, Palgrave MacMillan 2014.

Rachel Haworth, “Mina as a Transnational Popular Music Star”, in MODERN LANGUAGES OPEN 2018 (no. 1), 25

Rachel Haworth, “Mina Celentano: Le Migliori. Popular Cultural Icons in Contemporary Italy”, in The Last Forty years of Popular Culture in Italy, ed. by Enrico Minardi & Paolo Desogu, Cambridge Un. Press, 2020.

Paolo Magaudda, “Disco, House and Techno: rethinking the local and the global in Italian Electronic Music”, in Practising Popular Music, 12th Biennial IASPM International Conference, Montreal 2003 Proceedings.

Tony Mitchell, “Paolo Conte: Italian ‘Arthouse Exotic’”, in POPULAR MUSIC vol. 26 (3), 2007

Goffredo Plastino, “Inventing Ethnic Music: Fabrizio De Andre’s Creuza de Ma and the Creation of Musica Mediterranea in Italy”, in Goffredo Plastino (ed.) Mediterranean Mosaic: Popular Music and Global Sounds, Routledge 2003.

Goffredo Plastino and Joseph Sciorra (eds), Neapolitan Postcards: the Canzone napoletana as transnational subject, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham-Boulder-NY 2016.

Paolo Prato, “Pop goes the Pope: religion and popular music in Italy”, in CHURCH, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE vol. 6 no.2, 2021

Paolo Prato, “Santa Claus is Coming to Italy: Updating the Debate on Americanization”, in The Last Forty years of Popular Culture in Italy, ed by Enrico Minardi & Paolo Desogu, Cambridge Un. Press 2020.

Paolo Prato, “Selling Italy by the Sound: Cross-Cultural Interchanges through Cover Records (1920s-to date)”, in POPULAR MUSIC 26: 3, 2007.

Jason Pyne, The Art of Making Do in Naples, Un. of Minnesota Press 2012.

Marco Santoro, “The Tenco Effect: Sanremo, Suicide and the Social Construction of Canzone d’autore”, in JOURNAL OF MODERN ITALIAN STUDIES, vol. 11 (no. 3), 2006.

Marco Santoro, “What Is a “cantautore”? Distinction and Authorship in Italian (popular) Music”, in POETICS 30, 2002.

Jacopo Tomatis, “Rediscovered Sisters: Women (and) Singer-Songwriters in Italy”, in The Singer-Songwriter in Europe, ed. by Isabelle Marc and Stuart Green, Ashgate 2016.