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Popular Music in Florence 12/12/2010

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
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c. 1900

The old airs are difficult to catch, and still more difficult to note; but I have succeeded in making a considerable collection, some from the peasants in the country, some from friends, and others from hackney coachmen, masons, etc., in Florence. The inhabitants of the San Frediano and San Niccolo quarters of the town are reckoned the best singers, and a guitar is to be seen in nearly every house on the southern, or unfashionable side of the Arno.

New songs are composed by the people every year, and on fine summer nights one often meets a crowd of one or two hundred people silently following three or four men with guitars, and perhaps a flute. You ask an explanation. ‘E Oreste che canta’ (‘It is Oreste who is singing’) is the answer. Some of them have beautiful voices and sing wonderfully well. I know of a young mason with a tenor voice who was offered £400 – a large sum in Florence – if he would learn to sing for the stage; but he preferred his liberty, and refused.

As the singers pass slowly through the streets, you hear the noise of opening windows far ahead, and occasionally a loud bene! or bravo! comes from above, generally acknowledged by the little band stopping a few minutes to finish their song.

One of the well-known singers in Florence at the present moment unites the incongruous occupations of a butcher and a flower vendor. In winter he kills oxen and lambs, and in summer he sells flowers. When he sleeps I know not, as he sings nearly all night long in the people’s cafes, or in the streets with his companions.