Program 71

MUSIC: Traditional Italian Tarantella performed by the Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet [Dorian DOR-93260, track 2] [1:15] [under the following]

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide Fred Flaxman, and during the next hour we're going to uncover the truth about "Tarantellas" the Italian spider dance that has bitten almost every composer with its rapid and ever accelerating beat.

The music in the background is a traditional Italian tarantella. It is being performed by the Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet on a Dorian compact disc. The ocarina is an ancient wind instrument which is made in many shapes and sizes. The ones pictured in the brochure which comes with this CD look like large, closed sea shells with holes in them and a mouth piece coming out off-center from the side. They are all in one piece and look as though they are made of bone or plastic, if not seashell.

But this is the only ocarina piece you will hear in this hour. The rest of the program is scored for more conventional instruments. Most tarantellas, it seems to me, were written for piano, though there are many which are played on the violin and a few which were created originally for the entire orchestra.

I'm going to start the hour with one of these pieces. It will serve as a kind of overture. It is by a contemporary Russian composer -- Valery Gavrilin [Va-LAY-ree Ga-VREE-lin] -- and is performed by the Russian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mark Gorenstein [GOR-en-SHTAIN].

After we listen to this, I'll tell you the truth about the origins of the tarantella.

MUSIC: Gavrilin: Tarantella [PopeMusic PM1015-2, track 9] [2:06]

Tarantella by Valery Gavrilin. Mark Gorenstein conducted the Russian Symphony Orchestra on a PopeMusic compact disc.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and in this hour we are exploring "Tarantellas" by composers all over the world.

But there is no doubt that the tarantella originated in Italy. Beyond that its history is less certain. According to the Oxford Companion to Music,the dance takes its name from the southern Italian seaport of Taranto. The tarantula spider is also named after the town because it is found in the surrounding countryside.

The bite of the tarantula was popularly believed to cause a disease which would prove fatal unless the victim performed a lively dance. But the dance itself caused "tarantism" -- a kind of dancing mania. The truth, however, is that the bite of the tarantula is relatively harmless.

In 1662 Samuel Pepys recorded in his famous diary a meeting with a gentleman who was a great traveler. This traveler reported that all harvest long fiddlers would go up and down the fields everywhere hoping to be hired by those who are stung.

From the 17th century to the 20th there were apparently great communal tarantisms, with entire towns suddenly giving themselves over to wild dancing. This provided a profitable time for musicians.

By the 19th century, musicians made more money out of tarantellas by their popularity as compositions. Every composer, it seems, felt compelled to write at least one, including Chopin, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, and Sarasate. Stay tuned and you'll hear every one of those pieces and more.

But we're going to begin with two tarantellas by composers you may never have heard of unless, of course, you were a piano student of Mrs. Toft's in Weehawken, New Jersey a half-century or more ago. If that is the case, as it is for me, you are likely to know every note of each of these pieces, especially if you had to memorize them for the student recital at the end of the school year.

The first is by Stephen Heller, a Hungarian composer with an American name who settled in Paris. He lived from 1813 until 1888. His Tarantella , Opus 85, No. 2 is performed by Julianne Markavitch on a Starlight Music AZ compact disc which is devoted entirely to tarantellas for piano.

The second is by Albert Pieczonka [AL-bairt PEE-ay-CHOH-nee-ka], a Polish composer about whose life no one seems to know anything, not even the dates of his birth and death. Even the first name is in question: It might be Alfred rather than Albert. The performance is by Philip Martin.

MUSIC: Heller: Tarantella, Op. 85, No. 2 with Julianne Markavitch, piano [Starlight Music AZ, track 17] [3:26]

MUSIC: Pieczonka: Tarantella in A Minor with Philip Martin, piano [Hyperion, track 15] [2:31]

Two tarantellas for piano. First you heard one by Stephen Heller performed by Julianne Markavitch on a Starlight Music AZ compact disc. Then we listened to the Tarantella in A Minor by Pieczonka [PEE-ay-CHOH-nee-ka] performed by Philip Martin on a Hyperion release.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and in this hour we are featuring "Tarantellas."

If you tuned in late and missed my lecture on the truthful origin of this dance, you can find the entire script with the click of a mouse at Look for Program Number 71.

When I say the word "waltz," I'm sure you can picture just what a waltz looks like when it's danced. But have you ever seen anyone dance the tarantella? It is done by a large number of people in a great big circle. They all go clockwise in time with the music until the music changes and becomes faster. Then they quickly change the direction to counterclockwise, and this continues several times, with the music becoming faster and faster. You can see this dance at authentic Italian weddings.

Let's pretend now that we are organizing a tarantella competition. We have asked several famous composers to write tarantellas, they have responded, and we are going to spend the rest of this hour listening to the results. I'll let you be your own judge and jury and select the winner.
First here's the entry by Frederic Chopin. Although Chopin wrote many waltzes, mazurkas, and polonaises, I think he only wrote one tarantella. It is in A-flat Major.

MUSIC: Chopin: Tarantelle in A-flat Major, Op. 43 performed by Idil Biret [Naxos 8.554539, track 24] [3:01]

Chopin's Tarantelle in A-flat performed by Idil Biret on a Naxos compact disc.

Next up in our tarantella competition is one by Gioacchino Rossini. Actually he cheated a little bit. This isn't a pure tarantella. It is what he called an Impromptu tarantellisé -- a tarantellized impromptu. The pianist is Paolo Giacometti.

MUSIC: Rossini: Impromptu tarantellisé performed by Paolo Giacometti [Channel Classics CCS 16098, track 11] [5:19]

Rossini's Impromptu tarantellisé performed by Paolo Giacometti on the piano.

You are tuned to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and during this hour we are sponsoring a pretend competition between composers to write the best tarantella. You are the judge. Whichever piece you select as the best is the best, in your own mind at least.

[optional 60-second break not included in total 57:33 timing for program]

Let's continue now with Felix Mendelssohn and his Tarantella, Op. 102, No. 3, performed by pianist Julianne Markavitch on her CD devoted entirely to the spider dance.

MUSIC: Mendelssohn: Tarantella, Op. 102, No. 3 performed by Julianne Markavitch [Starlight Music AZ 6-4297372262-8, track 14] [1:42]

Mendelssohn's Tarantella, Op. 102, No. 3 performed by pianist Julianne Markavitch.

Next in our tarantella competition is this submission by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. It is his Tarentelle, Op. 6 for flute, clarinet and orchestra.

MUSIC: Saint-Saëns: Tarentelle, Op. 6 performed by the Orchestre symphonique de la Radio et Télévision Belge, André Vandernoot, conducting; Marc Gauwels, flute; Guy Vanderborght, clarinet [Naxos 8.555977, track 4] [6:42]

Saint-Saëns' Tarentelle, Op. 6 performed by the Orchestre symphonique de la Radio et Télévision Belge, André Vandernoot, conducting; Marc Gauwels, flute; Guy Vanderborght, clarinet.

The next entry in our imaginary tarantella composition competition is also from France. His name is Georges Bizet, and his is the only piece entered so far which is for voice and piano. The voice we shall hear is that of Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano. The pianist is Myung-Whun Chung.

MUSIC: Bizet: Tarentelle with Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Myung-Whun Chung, piano [London 452 667-2, track 4]

Bizet's Tarentelle sung by Cecilia Bartoli; Myung-Whun Chung was the pianist. This was from a London compact disc.

Tchaikovsky has also entered our imaginary tarantella composition competition. I'll tell you right now that he would win for sure if there were a prize for shortest tarantella. His comes in at only 38 seconds. But in fairness to him I should point out that this is an excerpt from a much larger work -- his The Nutcracker ballet. That work is a bit better known for its waltz: the Waltz of the Flowers. In any case, here's Tchaikovsky's mini-tarantella as performed by the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel.

MUSIC: Tchaikovsky: "Tarantella" from The Nutcracker, performed by the Utah Symphony under Maurice Abravanel [Vanguard Classics SVC-53, track 11] [0:38]

Tchaikovsky's "Tarantella" from The Nutcracker, performed by the Utah Symphony under Maurice Abravanel.

Our next contestant is the Spanish composer Pablo Sarasate. He wrote this Introduction et tarentelle, Op. 43, for violin and orchestra.

MUSIC: Sarasate: Introduction et tarentelle, Op. 43; Orchestra of the City of Málaga; Jacques Bodmer; Gabriel Croitoru, violin [Limit RTAC 010/3, track 3] [4:51]

Sarasate's Introduction et tarentelle, Op. 43 with the Orchestra of the City of Málaga under the baton of Jacques Bodmer. The violinist was Gabriel Croitoru.

We conclude this hour of tarantellas with three more for piano. They are by the French composer Cécile Chaminade, the German composer Moritz Moszkowski, and the Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo.

MUSIC: Chaminade: Concert Etude VI: Tarentelle; Enid Katahn, piano [Gasparo GSCD-247, track 7] [4:24]

MUSIC: Moszkowski: Tarantelle, Op. 27, No. 2; Seta Tanyel, piano [Helios CDH55141, track 1] [5:00]

MUSIC: Leoncavallo: Tarantella; Marco Sollini, pianoforte [Bongiovanni GB 5578-2, track 16] [2:52]

Three tarantellas for piano to conclude our imaginary tarantella-writing competition. The first was by Cécile Chaminade, played by Enid Katahn. The second was by Moritz Moszkowski, played by Seta Tanyel. And the last, played by Marco Sollini, brought us back to the birthplace of the tarantella -- Italy -- with music by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Leoncavallo is best known for his short opera, Pagliacci.

Well it's time to vote. Which was your favorite tarantella? Which composer, in your mind, takes first prize in our imaginary tarantella composition competition? Please let me know! You can contact me, Fred Flaxman, through the Compact Discoveries website: The website has short descriptions and complete scripts for each Compact Discoveries program. There are also articles, a list of stations carrying the program, and a section for listener response. The website address again is

MUSIC: Traditional Italian Tarantella performed by the Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet [Dorian DOR-93260, track 2] [under the following]

Compact Discoveries is a registered trademark and production of Compact Discoveries, Inc. This program is made possible in part by the members of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

MUSIC: fades out and Program Ends at 57:33

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