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
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.
2. added Aug. 2019. This is a passage from Marius Kociejowski's [MK] forthcoming book, The Serpent Coiled in Naples.
Aug. 2019. This is another passage from Marius
Kociejowski's [MK] forthcoming book, The
Serpent Coiled in Naples.
The index reference in the excerpts table (below) is "Boom", the same as the original chapter title in the book Thus:
An onomatopoetic word: a tourist guide dropping a heavy stone onto the surface of Solfatara, an explosion in a factory making stuff it ought not to, the sound the tammorra makes, a big man’s voice. This journey begins with a familiar thumping against sun-dried goatskin stretchedover a circular wooden frame. This is not to suggest the tammorra was born here. Some variant of it can be found going all the way back through ancient Greek, Egyptian and Sumerian cultures, and it accompanied the Dionysian rites that were alive and well in Magna Graecia.
What those old revellers aimed for in their music and dance may have changed spiritual clothes but not their substance. The distance between the “Great Mother” Cybele, black goddess of the earth, and the Black Madonna of Montevergine is not as great as some Christians might like to think, although if time were to go into reverse, devotees of the former would probably remove some of the latter’s monotheistic traces as not adequately reflecting the plurality of existence.Those ancient dances were ecstatic, sometimes quite beyond the pale. BOOM. Another purpose for the instrument was its employment in physical and spiritual healing ceremonies.
The tammorra was the instrument that addressed, and in turn was addressed by, the soul of the people. So it was then, so it is now. It is at the very heart of the tammurriata, which, as with Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, is a celebration of fertility and sexual love. BOOM BOOM. The dance is as erotic as it is chaste, a dynamic that has been all but forgotten in modern culture, the man’s and the woman’s bodies never touching, although the lyrics to some of the songs they dance to leave no one in doubt as to their sexual import. There are even masculine and feminine approaches to the playing of the instrument, the men holding it in the right hand and the women in the left, which is how the ancients perceived the division of the sexes, the right side for men and the left, the sinister side, for women.*
Paola Gargiulo at the Officina della Tammorra on Vico San Severino is a maker of the instrument, a seller of it. She also gives musical workshops. Some nights you hear the thumping when you pass her place. Troubling though the idea of such workshops can be, and in many eyes signalling the death-knell of popular culture, there can be no doubting her sincerity. She has a peculiarly Catholic take on the history and playing of the instrument, but her religious exclusivity is not a barrier to absorbing the points she makes. If anything what she says is an amplification of what already resides in this rather pagan heart of mine. She brings the distant past into the present without sacrificing her religious principles. So I feel no contradiction whatsoever between past and present: the tammorra was put in the service of the gods and so
These are my words, not hers: I’ll take the brunt of whatever she wishes to throw at me. She also has a deep distrust of what she calls an intellectual approach to the instrument, which I took to be a quiet warning. We began with the instrument itself and as she spoke, a wealth of experience in her passionate voice, it became incumbent on me to remember I am but a trespasser on an ancient turf she struggles to protect, which she knows is subject to contaminants from outside. One thing bothered me — the souvenir tammorras with painted scenes on them that she sells to tourists, but then she told me she needs to do so in order to survive. Anyway they are unplayable and admittedly, at times, I am too much the aesthete at other people’s expense.