Domenico Di Virgilio - Graziano Tisato
Pitch and Timbre Aspects of Folk Singing in Central Italy

The work that follows is part of a multimedia project dealing with folk singing in Central Italy. It has been supported by Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo (Pescara).

In this region, Abruzzo, folk singing is the expression of the cultural traditions of peasants and shepherds, traditions that in recent years have deeply changed or already disappeared, as results of modifications in the socio-economic conditions. We consider the research work on oral traditions and their rescue of much importance, and we think that the best way to do it, nowadays, is using the media technology and the intervention of the public institutions.

The singing repertoire we have dealt with includes recordings from the late forties to the present days: a time span of fifty years that gives us the possibility to consider the singing tradition in relation to the changing environment in which it develops.

The songs of this kind of oral culture are an essential and powerful expression of all the moments and aspects of life (birth, courting and marriage, working, religious festivals and fraternities, mourning). The harsh, scream-like, unadorned, sonic result is a voice of high, impressive timbre and significance ("le grain", as Barthes says). This vocal style is not strictly distinctive of Central Italy, but its evidences are available in all the Mediterranean and Balkan area.

The place where
recordings where made

So far we have completed a dedicated workstation located in the Museum, and we intend to realize a CD-Rom and Internet version of the work. The workstation is implemented as a travel across the singing tradition of Abruzzo by means of songs, videos, historical images and photos, texts, and real-time spectrograms.

A paper on the project was presented at the Fourteenth European Seminar in Ethnomusicology, held in 1998 at Jerusalem, Israel.

Singing Styles

We show here some aspects we have dealt with: how the material have been organised.

You can listen to an audio file with a song from the Good Friday in Farindola (Pescara).

A chapter is devoted to singing styles.

Occasions and manners

You can listen to audio files:

  • a monodic song from Farindola (Pescara) (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 145Kb);

  • a song with instrumental accompaniment from San Giovanni Teatino (Chieti). (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 845Kb)

A chapter illustrates "occasions and manners" of singing.

Presenting card

You can listen to an audio file in which a woman mourns the death of her husband (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 400Kb).

Each of the 84 songs has its own presenting card with information like: recording date and place, style of singing, singer etc. This slide relates to a marriage song. In the work the loudspeaker on the card allows you to listen to the song, the icon to get the sonogram; by clicking the underlined words you enter a particular argument.

You can listen to an audio file with a wedding song recorded in Carpineto Sinello (Chieti) (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 635Kb).

For some songs we have prepared:

  • transcriptions;
  • pitch contours;
  • sonograms

The following is the transcription of the first couplet from a song that whose usually sung while picking up olives, it was recorded in Carpineto Sinello (click to enlarge the transcription). You can listen to the same couplet. (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 415Kb)


Carpineto Sinello
"Vale cchiù nu giovine"


Carpineto Sinello
Pitch contour analysis (G. Tisato)

The following is the pitch contour of the same song and you can listen to the second couplet (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 390Kb):


Carpineto Sinello
Third couplet

Sonograms are obtainable real-time for all the songs.

The next one relates to the same song recorded in Carpineto Sinello, and you can listen to the third couplet (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 245Kb).



To enable the users to read and understand the sonograms a chapter of the works explains the acoustic phenomena, chapter 6 - Timbro e risonanza dei suoni vocali.

This helps us in explaining some characteristics related to the performance and to the timbre of this vocal style. For example the singing formant used by some singers.

You can listen to an audio file with a reaping song recorded in Lanciano (Chieti) (Download - QuickTime mp2 - 805Kb).
  We have also studied the patterns of the final cadences.


You can listen to an audio file with a reaping song recorded in Lanciano (Chieti) here the choir keeps the final note while the soloist vocalises a fioritura (on G3 we have a male and a female voices, on G4 the choir, on B4 the soloist).

(Download - Audio mp3 - 3,5Mb).

A book on these topics and with more information on this repertoire has been recently published (including CD): Domenico Di Virgilio, La musica di tradizione orale in Abruzzo. Unfortunately it is in italian but if you are interested in having and reading it contact me.

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