Charivari and popular ritual in 17th-century Italy: a source and context for improvised performance?

Barker, Naomi J. (2013). Charivari and popular ritual in 17th-century Italy: a source and context for improvised performance? Early Music, 41(3) pp. 447–459.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/em/cat082

Abstract

Early improvisation practices, especially of instrumental music, are difficult to describe with any certainty today, as is music of any sort that was performed outside the literate aristocratic and church environments. This article explores a document by one of the lesser-known members of theAcademia dei Lincei, Francesco Stelluti, which describes a ritual he witnessed in the Umbrian town of Acquasparta, probably in the early 1620s. Stelluti, a member of the academy from its inception, was, with Cassiano dal Pozzo and Prince Federico Cesi, a staunch supporter of Galileo and a promoter of empirical scientific observation, evidenced in his acute observation of vernacular culture. The document, a letter to an unknown recipient, describes a charivari—a popular shaming ritual carried out to indicate disapproval of a second or other seemingly inappropriate marriage. Stelluti calls this ritual cocciata, cioccona or scampanata—words that may indicate an etymology similar to the ciaccona. In Stelluti’s description we can catch a glimpse of a context in which improvised music may have been performed within a popular context, but framed in a way that suggests it is a relic of antiquity and as such has value worthy of a written record.

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