music was born in Napoli, Italy, in 1679, when Alessandro
Scarlatti composed his first opera, or even earlier, when
Francesco Provenzale coined the musical language that
Scarlatti popularized: light, lively and catchy. They
placed the emphasis on arias, clearly separated from the
"recitativo", and grounded the arias on a strong
sense of rhythm and melody. The Neapolitan passion for
melodic singing, as defined by Alessandro Scarlatti's
Griselda (1721), Giovanni Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona
(1733), Giovannni Paisiello's Nina pazza per amore (1789),
Domenico Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792), dominated
Western Europe for at least a century. Thanks to them,
the opera became a simpler, funny, popular form of entertainment,
and the style of singing evolved into a refined art of
its own, the "bel canto". The Italian audience
loved to sing the arias of Gioacchino Rossini's Il Barbiere
di Siviglia (1816), Vincenzo Bellini's Norma (1831), Gaetano
Doninzetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835). Few people could
afford to go to the opera, but many people would hum and
whistle and mimick the great opera singers. Even Giuseppe
Verdi, not exactly the lightest of composers, was sung
at barber shops and wedding parties. More arias were added
to the repertory by Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana
(1890), Ruggero Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci"
(1892), Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly (1904). The
opera was a complex work of art, but their catchy arias
served the less "sophisticated" taste of the
masses as well as any folk dance.
early example of how the aria of the opera transferred
to popular music is Eduardo Di Capua's O Sole Mio (1898),
one of the most recorded songs of all times.
Vienna: the Waltz
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the social upheavals caused by the industrial revolution
and by the American and French revolutions, the 19th century
witnessed two major revolutions that were both social
and cultural in nature: the rise of the bourgeoisie and
romanticism. They both emphasized the "popular"
element, a fact that did not take long to affect instrumental
social dance of the Western aristocracy (since 1650) had
been the minuet. The new social order required a new social
dance, a "popular" one. The waltz, derived around
1800 from an Austrian folk dance (the laendler), as well
as the mazurka from Poland and the polka from Bohemia,
served proved to be a good match for the new social mood.
The first dance hall for waltzing opened in Germany in
1754, but the waltz came into its own when it took Vienna
by storm at the turn of the century thanks to dance halls
such as "Zum Sperl" (1807) and "Apollo"
(1808). These dances were much more vibrant than the old
minuet. They allowed for more creativity. And they were
more "erotic" because they were "couple-oriented"
dances and the dancers were facing each other and embracing
each other. Where the minuet emphasized the collective
pattern, the waltz emphasized the man-woman interaction,
and left the couple free to interact or not interact with
the other couples on the dance floor. From the Middle
Ages on, the Church had discouraged this kind of "pagan"
folk dance, considering it too suggestive and too disorderly.
The age of romanticism rediscovered the jovial spirit
of the folk dance, although it recast it into the cold,
disciplined realm of uniformed officials and long lady
dresses. Replacing the peasant combo with an orchestra
helped make the folk dance palatable to the aristocracy.
The An der Schoenen Blauen Donau (1867), composed by Austrian
composer Johann Strauss Junior, marked the apogee of the
Paris, Vienna, London: the Operetta
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the theater founded in Paris in 1715 to stage popular
forms of entertainment such as comedy, dance and music
shows, descendants of the light entertainment provided
by itinerant troupes at medieval fairs, eventually gave
the name to a musical genre, the "opera-comique".
They were related to the opera only insomuch as they borrowed
the new styles made popular in Napoli, but their fragmented
structure betrayed their origin as, basically, a "variety
Offenbach created the "opera bouffe", such as
Orphee Aux Enfers (1858), as an extension of the same
concept. The songs were meant to be simple and catchy,
the rhythm engaging, the tone light and humurous, the
Viennese operetta, pioneered by Franz von Suppe in the
1860s and popularized, once again, by Johann Strauss Junior's
Die Fledermaus (1874) and Franz Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe/
The Merry Widow (1905), did something similar with the
English operetta was significantly different from the
operetta of Paris and Vienna. It descended from the "ballad
opera" a` la John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728),
a cycle of songs to accompany a an operatic parody. It
was, generally speaking, far less provocative. The prototype
was Henry Bishop's Clari or the Maid of Milan (1823),
which contained one of the most popular songs of the century,
Home Sweet Home. The genre peaked with the works of composer
Arthur Sullivan and librettist William Gilbert: The Sorcerer
(1877), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), one of the most popular
(Farewell My Own), The Pirates of Penzance (1880), premiered
simultaneously in London and New York, Iolanthe (1882),
the first operetta staged at D'Oyly Carte's super-modern
"Savoy" theatre (the first "electrical"
theater in the world), Princess Ida (1884), and The Mikado
(1885), influenced by the Japanese craze of the time and
probably their masterpiece (Tit Willow, Three Little Maids),
one of the first to be recorded (with a cast that included
the most famous pop stars of Britain, such as Peter Dawson
and Stanley Kirkby). Sullivan proved to be one of the
most versatile composers of his age, running the gamut
from waltzes to quotations from Wagner's operas, from
military marches to medieval madrigals. His style was,
de facto, an exuberant parody of the entire body of western
music. Gilbert, meanwhile, painted a social universe of
declining aristocracy, revered royalty and proud imperial
ambitions that "satirized" but did not "criticize".
In fact, it was largely devoid of the social and political
anxieties of those decades.
popular were Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas that impresario
Richard D'Oyly Carte built two theaters for them, the
"Savoy" (1881) and the "Royal English Opera
rival impresario George Edwardes, headquartered at the
"Gaiety" theater, responded with Alfred Cellier's
Dorothy (1886), including the hit Queen of My Heart, and
Sidney Jones' The Gaiety Girl (1893), featuring the "Gaiety
Girls", by far the greatest attraction of the decade.
mostly ignored (or despised) in the Continent, the English
operetta with its brisk pace, delirious wit and popular
melodies was highly successful in the USA.
Stuart's Floradora (1899), instead, belonged to the genre
of the musical comedy.
Paris: the Cabaret
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the Terror and the Napoleonic wars, the cafes that sprouted
all over Paris became a symbol of a more relaxed (public
as well as private) life. After the last major crisis,
the German invasion of 1870, was over, an event immortalized
by Pierre Degeyter's "L'International" (1888),
Paris began craving for entertainment after decades of
intolerance and wars. The cafes served alcohol, food and
fun. One particular kind was the cafe-concert.
theater was where the operas were performed with solemn
pomp, but the "cafe-concert" was the place that
offered a more casual environment for the bourgeoisie
to listen to the same arias while drinking a liqueur and
chatting with a friend at a table. Its performers were
often amateurs, but devoted ones, who could approximate
the styles of the opera. Most cafe-concert would also
offer other forms of entertainment, such as comedians.
Eventually, the singers of the cafe-concert began to write
their own material, and sing it in more regular tones
(not the tenors and the baritones of the operas). Since
their audience was the bourgeoisie, they addressed issues
that their audience could identify with, such as satirical
accounts of celebrated events. The success of the operettas
influenced a parallel evolution in the music, that became
more lively, hummable and rhythmic, with an emphasis on
a refrain that people could easily memorize. The "chanson"
was born. The genre and the locale helped each other:
people went to the cafe-concert to listen to the chansonniers,
but they also listened to the chansonniers because they
were meeting friends at the cafe-concert. The cafe-concert
was also one of the few places where the politically-motivated
intellectuals could hear political talk. It was the ideal
place for the artists to meet and exchanged ideas. The
cafe-concert soon became a reference point for the entire
cultural life of Paris. The cafe-concert was the place
where the social classes mingled: for the first time in
French history, the aristocracy and the lower classes
shared the same venue.
those years, the star of theater was Sarah Bernhardt,
an actress who became a myth, an "immoral" woman
who was one of the first feminists, jealous of her independence
and indifferent to traditional family roles. Public opinion
was against her when she ended her tenure at the "Odeon"
in 1872, but her cult was just starting.
the same time, the circus was becoming more than just
trained animals and pretty riders. Following the British
example, each French circus was adding acrobats, clowns
and singers to its parade of sensations. The result was
a more exhilarating experience that drew bigger and bigger
cabaret (originally the term for liquor stores) was born
in 1881 in Paris when Rudolphe Salis opened "Le Chat
Noir" in the Monmartre district, catering to that
colorful crowd of writers, artists and musicians. It was
the natural evolution of the cafe-concert, away from the
opera and towards the young decadents. The cabaret was
born for the artists to exhibit themselves: poets, comedians,
musicians shared the stage. The satirical element (both
of the politics and the customs of the day, and sometimes
of the intellectuals themselves) was much stronger. It
soon began to copy the format of the circus, adding acrobats
and clowns to its program.
of the early chansonniers created the two archetypical
styles. Aristide Bruant borrowed from folk music a plain
tone that fit his stories of the lower classes. Yvette
Guilbert, instead, the prototype of the "chanteuse",
adopted a melodramatic, half-spoken style that was more
influenced by Sarah Bernhardt than by folk singing. The
former and his disciples were much more successful among
the general audience.
first music hall of Paris had been opened by Joseph Oller
in 1875 (the "Fantasies Oller"), who also opened
the most famous, the "Olympia", in 1888, on
Boulevard des Capucines. In the following decade many
more opened, mostly in Montmartre, including the "Folies-Bergere",
mostly in the area around Boulevard de Strasbourg and
the Porte St Denis.
Bourgeois, better known as "Mistinguette", ruled
the stage of the Parisian music halls when recordings
made its stars famous world-wide: "Mon Homme,"
"La Rumba d'Amour", "Ca C'est Paris"
and especially "Mon Homme" (1920) were her "hits".
She is credited with pioneering the entrance from the
top of a spectacular staircase and the fanciful exotic
costumes that would become novelties around the world.
her legendary tenure at the "Folies Bergere"
in 1909, Mistinguette discovered Maurice Chevalier, a
young singer (13 years younger than her) who went on to
become the most popular French entertainer between the
two wars, and the quintessence of the French seducer for
the rest of the world, with songs such as Mimi, Louise,
Dans la Vie Faut Pas s'en Faire (1921), Valentine (1924),
Prosper (1935), Ma Pomme (1936), Ca Fait d'Excellents
Francais (1939). After the "Great War" (in which
he served and was wounded), he became the star of the
"Casino de Paris", where he entertained a crowd
of American soldiers. Thanks to that connection, Chevalier
became instrumental in bridging the world of the French
cabaret and the world of African-American music (jazz,
ragtime). He staged his first Broadway musical in 1922
and became the first foreign singer to star in a Hollywood
musical in 1929.
first dance halls, such as the "Moulin de la Galette",
were simply venues for people to enjoy the music and also
dance to it. But dancing soon took on a life of its own,
and a lifestyle of its own. The "Moulin Rouge",
opened in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, was
a dance hall that offered a wild and sumptuous environment
for the wealthy male audience to forget their families
and their work. There prevailed an explicit erotic element,
both in the attire of the singers/dancers and in the themes
of their songs. Fundamentally, it was a bigger and more
ambitious (and more dissolute) form of cabaret, mixing
music (played by a full orchestra) and dance (choreographed
like a ballet) in elaborate shows. The rhythm was frantic,
as epitomized by the "can can" that became the
soundtrack of this era.
prostitutes that used to hang out at the "brasseries"
(sort of restaurant-brothels) became the stars of the
cabarets. In fact, one could claim that the cabaret turned
prostitution into a form of art. Their fans ranged from
aristocrats to working-class students. The cabaret provided
the first public arena for social and sexual promiscuity.
in all, la "belle epoque" (Paris between 1890
and World War I) created the modern idea of entertainment.
Those were also the years of the first films, of the Art
Noveau, of the Impressionism, of Debussy, of the "Tour
Eiffel" (1889). The cabaret was where people celebrated
the "belle epoque". But the celebration ended
in a massacre: World War I.
the "Olympia" continued to dominate the night
life till 1928 (when it turned into a movie theater).
The main show was now starring the sexy and exotic African-American
entertainer Josephine Baker, who had arrived in Paris
with the "Revue Negre" in 1925 and became famous
wearing only a costume of bananas.
Berlin: the Cabaret
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French cabaret spread to Berlin. While it already produced
influential songs, such as Ernst von Wolzogen's Madame
Adele (1901), the prototype of the prostitute song, cabaret
music became a musical genre in its own only during the
1920s, at the times of the Weimar Republic, closely related
to the decadent atmosphere of night clubs as well as to
expressionist culture (Frank Wedekind's "Lulu"
or Josef von Sternberg's Der Blaue Engel). Unlike Paris,
where Bruant's mellow, melodious style was always more
popular, Berlin's cabaret music tended to follow the melodramatic
style of Yvette Guilbert.
music helped a repressed generation vent their frustration
into erotic themes and political satire. The stars were
almost always women, such as Marlene Dietrich, Margo Lion,
Zarah Leander, Fritzi Massary, Kate Kuhl, Lotte Lenya,
Lore Lorentz, Gisela May, Tatjana Sais, Helen Vita, Voli
Geiler, Ursula Herking, Trude Hesterberg, Greta Keller,
Hildegard Knef, Grete Weiser, Hanne Wieder, etc. The figure
of the fatalist "chanteuse" came into its own
in Berlin, not Paris.
1927 the classical composer Kurt Weill began a collaboration
with the playwright Bertold Brecht, incorportating jazz,
folk and pop elements (probably the first time that the
three genres had been merged) in the satirical-didactic
musical dramas Die Dreigroschenoper/ The Three-Penny Opera
(1928), based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728),
containing the swinging theme of Mack The Knife, and Aufstieg
und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny/ Rise and Fall of the City
of Mahagonny (1929).
cabaret died in 1933 with the advent of Hitler: the nazist
party did not like its display of German decadence.
the most typical song of the German cabaret will be Norbert
Schultze's Lili Marlene (1939), sung in German by Danish
cabaret chanteuse Lale Andersen, a tune that many interpreted
as an anti-war song.
Britain: the Music Hall
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equestrian circus (which had nothing in common with the
original "circus" of the Romans) was invented
in London in 1768 by Philip Astley. It later came to included
other trained animals besides horses. In 1859 it added
the flying trapeze. Soon, it also listed jugglers, acrobats,
magicians and clowns among its acts. Popular music was
for taverns. Comic plays were for the theaters. During
the second half of the 19th century these three worlds
started catering to the same audience. It was inevitable
that they merged.
"music hall" was a genre, not a place. Charles
Morton is credited with being the first enterpreneur who,
in 1840, added a saloon for entertainment next to his
restaurant, "St George's Tavern", in Pimlico.
The idea quickly spread to other parts of London, as the
lower classes liked the combination of food, beer and
performers. Unlike the French music hall, that catered
to all social classes and whose main patrons where from
the aristocracy, the British music hall was very much
a rowdy, lewd, unsophisticated low-class form of mass
entertainment. A respectable gentleman would not set foot
in a music hall, and a respectable performer would not
perform on the stage of a music hall. So a new kind of
performer was born, that harked back to the medieval fairs
and to the circus, and a new kind of audience was born,
one that appreciated a quick laugh and detested the pomp
of literature and classical music. Morton admitted women
to his new "Canterbury Hall" (1852), and soon
other music halls sprouted all over London. By the end
of the century, there were literally hundreds of them.
The demand for songs grew exponentially and fueled a boom
in songwriters. These songwriters were in charge of producing
songs that were catchy, rhythmic, worked in loud environments
and invited audience participation. The main inspiration
came from the popular dances, whether jigs or polkas,
but the melodies often mimicked folk ballads. The song
had to be easy to learn, because the audience was expecting
to sing along. The most famous song of the beginnings
was probably Champagne Charlie (1854), but the first notable
songwriter of the music hall was George LeBrunn, who wrote
Oh Mr Porter (1893), It's a Great Big Shame (1894) The
Houses in Between (1894). Stars of the music hall included
Marie Lloyd (1890s), Gus Elen (1890s), Larry Lauder (1900s),
and Harry Champion (1900s), the author of I'm Henry the
Eighth I Am (1911), each of them identified with a routine
of sketches and songs.
law meant to protect theaters forbade music halls from
presenting theatrical plays, so they had to limit themselves
to musical sketches (mainly sing-along routines). In 1907
the law was relaxed and the music halls began to stage
comic sketches as well. It still kept its identity, though:
the audience sat at tables, eating and drinking, while
the shows were performed on stage. The popularity of these
venues was such that in 1912 a revue took place in front
of the king himself at the "Palace" theater.
The music hall became more respectable (especially after
the prohibition of alcohol in 1909 and of food in 1914)
and found a new market: the middle class. It also expanded
its horizons, becoming more similar to French-style variety
shows that mixed acrobats, comedians, singers and clowns.
music hall had survived the competition of the cinema,
but did not survive the competition of the "British
Broadcasting Company" (BBC) that began broadcasting
a few months earlier, the French cabaret had taken London
Roma: the Canzonetta
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cafe-concert arrived in Italy already in 1890, when the
"Salone Margherita" opened in Napoli, the capital
of Italian pop music. It displayed the two elements that
would remain typical of Italian variety shows: foreign
singers marketed as "world stars" (although
often totally unknown in their country of origin) and
Neapolitan melody. The cafe-concert attracted classical
composers and poets, but never truly represented the spirit
of the Italian people.
in the north and in the south, Italian pop music of the
beginning of the century was a music of poverty, not a
music of entertainment. Bandiera Rossa (189#), the communist
anthem of the workers, Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire, the
lament of the emigrant, Leggenda del Piave (1918), a song
of soldiers, Stamattina mi Sono Alzata (1918), which became
famous during the following world war as the partisan
anthem Bella Ciao, were the real soundtrack of ordinary
lives. Mussolini erased the collective unconscious of
these poor emigrants and replaced it with triumphal songs
like Giovinezza (1926), the fascist anthem, and Mario
Ruccione's Faccetta Nera (1935), composed to celebrate
Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. Italian songwriters were
only free to sing romantic love. Thus it is not surprising
that the 1930s were the years of romantic songs such as
Andrea Bixio's Parlami d'Amore Mariu` (1932), sung by
one of Italy's most famous entertainers, Vittorio DeSica.
No matter what the purpose was, the Italian song remained
fundamentally anchored to the format of Napoli's "canzone",
in turn derived from the arias of the opera.
Mussolini could not fend the American influence. In the
age of Swing Jazz, the rhythm of many Italian hits betrayed
the African-American roots: Pippo Barzizza's Quel Motivetto
che mi Piace Tanto, Carlo Innocenzi and Alessandro Sopranzi's
Mille Lire al Mese (1939), sung by Gilberto Mazzi, Luigi
Astore and Riccardo Morbelli's Ba-ba-baciami Piccina (1940),
sung by Arturo Rabagliati, Gorni Kramer's Ho un Sassolino
nella Scarpa (1943), sung by Natalino Otto. The Trio Lescano
(three ordinary-looking young Dutch women in long skirts)
were the main hit makers of the fascist era: Signorine
Grandi Firme, Ma le Gambe (1938), Tulipan (1938), Gorni
Kramer's Pippo Non lo Sa (1939), Mario Panzeri's Maramao
Perche' Sei Morto (1939). Eugenio De Curtis' Non Ti Scordar
di Me (1935) and Odoardo Spadaro's Porta Un Bacione a
Firenze (1938) were in the traditional melodic style.
The fascist era was symbolically closed by Eros Sciorilli's
melancholy In Cerca di Te (1945), sung by Nella Colombo.
the war, liberated Italy lived its own "belle epoque".
Not only was the nation free to sing about their poverty,
but Italian television, inaugurated in 1954, created a
whole new landscape for entertainment, one that was viewed
as a second liberation by a people long gagged by fascist
censorship. The fervor of the reconstruction and the international
victories of epic bicycle riders Fausto Coppi and Gino
Bartali signaled a new national mood. There was still
a powerful force restricting free expression in Italy,
though: the Catholic Church, that retained its grip on
Italian politics and dominated moral issues, and made
it virtually impossible for Italians to adopt the "amoral"
stance of the French chansonniers. The new vehicle for
the romantic song was Sanremo's "Festival Della Canzone
Italiana", that debuted in 1951. Nilla Pizzi was
its first star, thanks to Panzeri's Grazie dei Fior (1951),
Bixio Cherubini's Vola Colomba Vola (1952) Panzeri's Papaveri
e Papere (1952) and Panzeri's Casetta in Canada (1957).
Domenico Modugno's and Franco Migliacci's Nel Blu Dipinto
di Blu (1958) was, by far, the greatest success of Italian
pop music, but Fred Buscaglione's Eri Piccola Cosi` (1959)
and Panzeri's Come Prima (1958) also scored abroad.
Sixties were the age of the economic boom. The "canzonetta"
absorbed the influence of American pop music (whether
the twist or the ballad) while retaining the emphasis
on simple melodies: Franco Migliacci's and Bruno Defilippi's
Tintarella di Luna (1960), sung by Mina, Nico Fidenco's
Legata a un Granello di Sabbia (1961), Adriano Celentano's
24 Mila Baci (1961) and Il Ragazzo della Via Gluck (1966)
Alberto Testa's Quando Quando Quando (1962), sung by Tony
Renis, Bobby Solo (Satti)'s Una Lacrima sul Viso (1964),
Mario Panzeri's Non Ho l'Eta` (1964), sung by Gigliola
Cinquetti, Bruno Zambrini's In Ginocchio da Te (1964)
and Non Son Degno di Te (1964), both sung by Gianni Morandi,
Pino Donaggio's Io Che non Vivo (1965), Renato 'Calibi'
Angiolini's Le Colline Sono in Fiore (1965), sung by Wilma
Goich, Don Backy's Casa Bianca, sung by Marisa Sannia,
Giancarlo Bigazzi's Lisa dagli Occhi Blu (1969), sung
by Mario Tessuto Franco Migliacci's and Claudio Mattone's
Ma Che Freddo Fa (1969), sung by Nada.
"underground" of the Italian canzone was represented
by the "cantautori", Italy's version of the
French "chansonniers", often headquartered in
the northern city of Genova. Luigi Tenco's Mi Sono Innamorato
di Te (1962), Ho Capito Che ti Amo (1965), Vedrai Vedrai
(1965) and Un Giorno dopo l'Altro (1966); Gino Paoli's
Il Cielo in una Stanza (1960), Senza Fine (1961), Sapore
di Sale (1963); and especially Fabrizio DeAndre`'s La
Guerra di Piero (1963) and La Canzone di Marinella (1964),
and Paolo Conte's Insieme a Te Non Ci Sto Piu` (1968)
and Azzurro (1968), the most memorable melody of the era.
music landed in Italy as the "beat", which most
Italians believed was an American/British genre when in
fact it was a native Italian version of the canzone adapted
to whatever dance craze was around. It was a movement
of renovation and rejuvination, in which young people
took control of their music (or so they thought). The
songs of the Italian beat were mildly irreverent and sexually
provocative. The first club for the beat was the "Piper"
in Rome, which opened in 1965, the same year in which
Gianni Boncompagni and Renzo Arbore debuted "Bandiera
Gialla" on national radio, whose eponymous theme
was an Italian version of Crispian St Peters' The Pied
Piper. Basically, the musica of the "beat" singers
amounted to the traditional melodic canzone performed
with the instruments of rock music (electric guitar, drums)
instead of the orchestra, and with a free spirit inspired
by the hippie revolution. The best of them all, Patty
Pravo, debuted with Ragazzo Triste (1966), a cover of
Sonny Bono's But You Are Mine, and Paul Korda's Se Perdo
Te (1967), and sang Franco Migliacci's and Bruno Zambrini's
La Bambola (1968) and Lucio Battisti's Il Paradiso (1968).
The beat also boasted the first Italian rock bands, but
Rokes, Equipe 84, Camaleonti, Corvi, Nomadi, Giganti,
Dik Dik were still very much in the melodic tradition.
the beat era, the Italian charts were still ruled by traditional
singers. The apogee of Italian romantic pop will be Claudio
Baglioni's and Antonio Coggio's Questo Piccolo Grande
Amore (1972), but Italian music in the 1970s was to be
dominated by a new generation of "cantautori".