Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 © Jeff Matthews   entry June 2003
Typical Musical Instruments

Two musical instruments closely associated with Naples are the typical Christmas instruments, the zampogna (bagpipe) and the ciaramella (folk oboe). 

Additionally, there is, of course, the Neapolitan mandolin, a selection of which you see in the photo on the left. The 18th-century Neapolitan mandolin is characterized by a pear-shaped resonating chamber, an open sound hole, and an angled top where the tuning pegs are located. The most typical feature is the set-up of the strings: four pairs of double strings, each pair tuned to the same note, allowing for the typical mandolin sound, the tremolo, when struck by the plectrum. The strings are generally tuned to g-d-a-e. 

The instrument developed in Naples in the 18th century and by now has a long history in popular as well as classical music, including a prominent role in Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787). The introduction of steel strings in the mid–19th century in Naples gave the instrument a more piercing sound particularly suited to the virtually non-existent acoustics of outdoor performances of popular songs. (See the above link to the main entry on the madolin.)

Among the percussion instruments widely used in folk and popular music in Naples is the so-called caccavella  (upper-left in photo collage, above). This  term can often be used in a non-musical context to mean "broken down old wreck"—for example, as applied to a car; the instrument is also known as the putipù, onomatopoeia for the "burping" sound the instrument makes when played. The instrument consists of a membrane stretched across a resonating chamber, like a drum. Instead of the membrane being struck, however, a handle is used to compress air rhythmically within the chamber; the air then spurts out of the not-quite-hermetic seal that fastens the membrane to the wooden body of the instrument. The sound is reminiscent of the sound you get when you cup the palm of your hand into your armpit and snap the upper arm down—(not that you would ever do such a thing).

Another percussion instrument is the triccaballacca —a clapper—(bottom right in photo). It has three percussive mallets mounted on a base, the outer two of which are hinged at the base and are moved in to strike the central piece; the rhythmic sound is produced by the clicking of wood on wood and the simultaneous sound of the small metal disks—called "jingles"— mounted on the instrument. 

Typical of Neapolitan folk music and much folk music throughout Europe is the hand drum known as the tambourine or, in Neapolitan, tammorra. It consists of a circular frame with a single drum head stretched across one side of the instrument. There are generally small metal "jingles", as with the triccaballacca, mounted around the perimeter of the instrument, that sound as the tammorra is struck by the knuckles or the open hand.

These photos were taken in the music shop of Giuseppe Miletti (the gentleman in two of the photos) at Via S. Sebastiano 46.

For another example of a typical folk instrument, see this link.

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