Napoli, Mandolin and Guitar

Napoli: The Birthplace of the Mandolin and the Guitar

Welcome to our exploration of Napoli, the vibrant city that gave birth to two beloved musical instruments: the mandolin and the guitar. In this article, we will delve into the rich history, cultural significance, and enduring legacy of these iconic instruments in Neapolitan music and Italian music as a whole. So, join us on this musical journey as we uncover the captivating story behind the mandolin and guitar and their deep-rooted connection to Napoli’s heritage.

Music runs through the veins of Napoli, pulsating through its cobbled streets and enchanting piazzas. It is here, in the heart of Southern Italy, that the mandolin found its modern form in the 18th century. The Vinaccia family of Naples revolutionized the instrument, shaping it into the iconic bowlback mandolin we know today. Its distinctive design and captivating sound soon captured the hearts of musicians and enthusiasts alike.

But the mandolin’s origins reach even further back in time. Ancestors of the mandolin, such as the mandore and gittern, can be traced to ancient instruments used in various regions of Europe. It is believed that the mandolin’s roots can be found in instruments brought to Christian Europe from Muslim Sicily and Spain, reflecting the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Napoli’s music.

The guitar, too, has a long and storied history. Early versions of similar instruments were found in Mesopotamia, and its development continued in regions like Bactria, Gandhara, and Northwest India. It was the lute-like pandura that played a crucial role in bringing the guitar to Andalusia, setting the stage for its journey to Sicily and Germany, where it would be further influenced by Byzantine and Muslim musicians.

The fusion of these diverse musical traditions and the European lute tradition gave rise to instruments like the gittern, mandore, and mandola. And in Naples, the Neapolitan mandolin emerged in the 18th century, with its characteristic deeper body and canted soundboard. However, despite its initial popularity, the mandolin faced challenges in the late 18th century, with the introduction of steel strings and the rise of other instruments dominating the music scene.

Fortunately, the Calace family, renowned luthiers from Naples, played a pivotal role in reviving the mandolin’s fortunes. Raffaele Calace, in particular, showcased the instrument’s virtuosity and brought it back into the spotlight. The resurgence of interest in the mandolin extended far beyond Naples, reaching audiences in America and Japan, where it found new homes and passionate communities.

One of the institutions dedicated to preserving the craft of mandolin making and promoting its legacy is La Bottega del Mandolino in Naples. This workshop serves as a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship behind the instrument, welcoming visitors to experience the magic firsthand. La Bottega del Mandolino also sponsors young musicians, ensuring that the tradition of mandolin playing remains vibrant and alive.

The birthplace of the mandolin and the guitar, Napoli continues to be a city where music thrives, providing a sanctuary for traditional music and cultural heritage. Join us as we dive deeper into the importance of the mandolin in Neapolitan music, discover the unique and captivating instrument known as Putipù, and explore the efforts to keep the tradition alive within the bustling streets of Napoli.

The Importance of the Mandolin in Neapolitan Music

The mandolin holds a significant place in the rich tapestry of Neapolitan music, adding its melodic charm to some of the most beautiful Neapolitan songs. With its deep-rooted history, the Neapolitan mandolin has become an emblem of Neapolitan popular music and a symbol of the city’s cultural heritage.

During the late nineteenth century, as Neapolitan songs gained popularity, so did the mandolin. Initially associated with the upper class and nobility, the mandolin gradually became intertwined with the soul of Neapolitan popular music. Even Queen Margherita of Italy was known for her skill and love for the instrument.

“The mandolin is not just an instrument, but a part of our Neapolitan identity. Its strings strum the emotions of our songs, capturing the essence of our culture.” – Renato Cartone, Neapolitan Music Historian

The mandolin’s association with Neapolitan songs led to its widespread use in the genre, infusing the music with its unique sound and adding a touch of elegance and charm. It has become a staple in Neapolitan performances, enriching the depth and emotional resonance of the songs.

Tammurriata: The Dance of the Soul

One of the prominent genres where the mandolin plays an integral role is tammurriata, a popular dance form linked to spiritual rites in certain areas of Campania. In tammurriata performances, the mandolin’s evocative melodies resonate alongside the rhythmic beats of the tammorra, a traditional percussion instrument. Together, they create an enchanting experience, captivating audiences with their harmonious interplay.

The Neapolitan folk song “Tammurriata nera” stands as a beautiful embodiment of the tammurriata genre, showcasing the profound connection between the music, the dance, and the unique spirit of Naples.


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In a city with a rich musical history like Naples, music has always been a powerful means of expression, showcasing the resilience and creativity of its people. Despite facing numerous challenges and hardships, Naples has remained a vibrant hub of artistic innovation, producing an abundance of music that reflects the spirit of the city.

The mandolin, along with other musical instruments, has played a significant role in preserving the essence of Neapolitan music and culture. Its soothing notes carry a legacy of tradition, reminding us of the diverse musical heritage that Naples holds dear.

The Unique Instrument: Putipù

In the realm of Neapolitan music, there exists a truly unique and captivating instrument known as the Putipù. This instrument has long been an integral part of classical Neapolitan music, captivating audiences with its distinctive sound and rich cultural heritage.

Originally crafted from a simple crock pot covered with cowhide, the Putipù has evolved over time to become a symbol of Neapolitan culture and identity. Its sound, reminiscent of a double bass, is created by the vertical movement of a wooden rod, producing deep and resonant tones that fill the air.

Historically, the Putipù was prominently featured during joyous occasions such as parties and gatherings, infusing the atmosphere with its unique melodies and rhythms. Its presence in classical Neapolitan music is undeniable, often accompanying other instruments to create harmonious compositions that captivate listeners.

Putipù Neapolitan Music

The Putipù holds a fundamental role in Neapolitan songs, infusing them with an authenticity and charm that is unmistakably Neapolitan. Its soulful melodies and vibrant sounds have long been intertwined with the celebrations and cultural traditions of Naples, making it an indispensable instrument in the Neapolitan musical landscape.

Through the significance of the Putipù in Neapolitan music, we gain a deeper understanding of the diverse range of instruments that have contributed to the rich tapestry of Naples’ musical heritage. Its distinctive presence serves as a testament to the artistic ingenuity and creative spirit of Neapolitan culture, ensuring its legacy continues to thrive for generations to come.

Keeping the Tradition Alive in Naples

At La Bottega del Mandolino in Naples, we are dedicated to preserving the craft of mandolin making. As a workshop that welcomes visitors, we take pride in showcasing the artistry and craftsmanship behind mandolin production. Our goal is not only to create beautiful music instruments, but also to keep the tradition of mandolin playing alive.

Naples, with its rich cultural heritage, has long been known for its contributions to traditional music and Neapolitan culture. The Vinaccia family, renowned for their luthier skills, played a significant role in the development of the mandolin. Their innovations, such as the bowlback mandolin, shaped the instrument into what it is today.

Another influential figure in reviving interest in the mandolin is Raffaele Calace, a member of the Calace family. Their contributions brought the mandolin back to the center stage, inspiring musicians and enthusiasts alike. However, the popularity of the mandolin waned after World War II, posing a challenge to maintaining the connection to Naples’ musical heritage.

As concerns arise about the declining number of mandolin players in Naples, we at La Bottega del Mandolino have taken initiatives to preserve the art of the luthier and support the younger generation. We sponsor young musicians, providing them with music lessons to ensure the tradition lives on. We believe in keeping the doors open to anyone interested in the mandolin and its deep-rooted connection to Neapolitan culture.

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