When he was growing up in Catania, Sicily, Bellini undoubtedly heard the peasants from the far side of Mount Etna who came to town every Advent with their zampogne (bagpipes). The young prodigy was influenced by these traditional musicians in several ways.
The bagpipers’ improvisations helped to shape the seemingly meandering and unpredictable melodies that Bellini became famous for. Also, the balance between the drones and the chanters influenced his handling of accompaniment and melody. Finally, the music of the bagpipes found its way into Bellini’s uses of modality, his chromaticisms, and his oscillations between major and minor keys. The Mediterranean vibrancy of his slow music was particularly grounded in the traditional music of his youth.
This according to Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro del melodramma by Salvatore Enrico Failla (Catania: Maimone, 1985).
Today is Bellini’s 220th birthday! Below, a modern-day incarnation of the Sicilian Advent zampognaro.
When he came to power in 1970, Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman began efforts aimed at modernization and reversing isolationism. Having graduated from an English military academy and served in a Scottish regiment, he had developed a taste for Western military band and Scottish bagpipe music.
During the 1970s and 1980s several military wind bands and bagpipe bands were founded at his command, with only Omani musicians allowed. The pressure to perform well was intense, and a high standard of musicianship was attained in a fairly short time.
Increasingly, efforts are being made to include Arabic music in the repertoire; bagpipes are considered particularly suitable, as their intervals match some Arabic scales better than those of wind band instruments.
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