The saltarello was a lively, merry dance
Dance is an art form that generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music, used as a form of expression, social interaction or presented in a spiritual or performance setting....

 first mentioned in Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 during the 13th century. The music survives, but no early instructions for the actual dance are known. It was played in a fast triple meter
Meter (music)
Meter or metre is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented...

 and is named for its peculiar leaping step, after the Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 verb saltare ("to jump").


The saltarello enjoyed great popularity in the courts of medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. During the 15th century, the word saltarello became the name of a particular dance step (a double with a hop on the final or initial upbeat), and the name of a meter of music (a fast triple), both of which appear in many choreographed dances. Entire dances consisting of only the saltarello step and meter are described as being improvised dances in 15th century Italian
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 dance manuals. (The first dance treatise that dealt with the saltarello was the 1465 work of Antonio Cornazzano
Antonio Cornazzano
Antonio Cornazzano was an Italian poet, writer, biographer, and dancing master.-Antonio Cornazzano:In the city of Piacenza, which was then in the Duchy of Milan, Antonio Cornazzano was born probably in 1432...

.) This step and meter do not appear in 16th century dance manuals, except in passing. During this era, the saltarello was danced by bands of courtesan
A courtesan was originally a female courtier, which means a person who attends the court of a monarch or other powerful person.In feudal society, the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

s dressed as men
Drag king
Drag kings are mostly female performance artists who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of their performance. A typical drag king routine may incorporate dancing and singing, live as in the Momma's Boyz of San Francisco's performances or lip-synching...

 at masquerade
Masquerade ball
A masquerade ball is an event which the participants attend in costume wearing a mask. - History :...

s. The saltarello gave birth to the quadernaria in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, which was then fused into the saltarello tedesco (German saltarello) in Italy.

Saltarello as a folk dance

Although a Neapolitan court dance in origin, the saltarello became the typical Italian folk dance
Italian folk dance
Italian Folk Dance has been an integral part of Italian culture for centuries. Dance has been a continuous thread in Italian life from Dante through the Renaissance, the advent of the Tarantella, and the modern revivals of folk music and dance.-Middle Ages:...

 of Ciociaria
Ciociaria is the name of a traditional region of Central Italy without a defined border nor historical identity. The name was adopted by a fascist movement of Frosinone as an ethnical denomination for the province of Frosinone, when it was created in 1927....

 and a favorite tradition of Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 in the Carnival
Carnaval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February. Carnaval typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party...

 and vintage festivities of Monte Testaccio
Monte Testaccio
Monte Testaccio is an artificial mound in Rome composed almost entirely of testae , fragments of broken amphorae dating from the time of the Roman Empire, some of which were labelled with tituli picti...

. After witnessing the Roman Carnival of 1831, the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 Felix Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy , use the form 'Mendelssohn' and not 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives ' Felix Mendelssohn' as the entry, with 'Mendelssohn' used in the body text...

 incorporated the dance into the finale of one of his masterpieces, the Italian Symphony
Symphony No. 4 (Mendelssohn)
The Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, commonly known as the Italian, is an orchestral symphony written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn ....

. The only example of a saltarello in the North
Northern Italy
Northern Italy is a wide cultural, historical and geographical definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the northern part of the Italian state, also referred as Settentrione or Alta Italia...

 is saltarello romagnolo of Romagna
Romagna is an Italian historical region that approximately corresponds to the south-eastern portion of present-day Emilia-Romagna. Traditionally, it is limited by the Apennines to the south-west, the Adriatic to the east, and the rivers Reno and Sillaro to the north and west...


The saltarello is still a popular folk dance played in the regions of South Central Italy, such as Abruzzo
Abruzzo is a region in Italy, its western border lying less than due east of Rome. Abruzzo borders the region of Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and south-west, Molise to the south-east, and the Adriatic Sea to the east...

, Molise
Molise is a region of Southern Italy, the second smallest of the regions. It was formerly part of the region of Abruzzi e Molise and now a separate entity...

 (but in these two regions the name is female: Saltarella), Lazio and Marche
The population density in the region is below the national average. In 2008, it was 161.5 inhabitants per km2, compared to the national figure of 198.8. It is highest in the province of Ancona , and lowest in the province of Macerata...

. The dance is usually performed on the zampogna
Zampogna is a generic term for a number of Italian double chantered pipes that can be found as far north as the southern part of the Marche, throughout areas in Abruzzo, Latium, Molise, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily...

 bagpipe or on the organetto
Organetto refers to two distinct instruments. The medieval organetto was a portable pipe instrument, while the modern organetto is a popular Italian folk instrument allied to the accordion....

, a type of diatonic button accordion, and is accompanied by a tamborello. In the province of Amatrice
Amatrice is a town and comune in the province of Rieti, in northern Lazio . The city is seat of the food-agricultural base of "Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park".-History:...

 a very particular version of the saltarello is played on a now rare form of zampogna
Zampogna is a generic term for a number of Italian double chantered pipes that can be found as far north as the southern part of the Marche, throughout areas in Abruzzo, Latium, Molise, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily...

 called "le ciaramelle d'Amatrice." Traditionally this dance is played at wedding celebrations after the newly married couple exit the church.

Medieval saltarelli

The main source for the medieval Italian saltarello music is a late 14th or early 15th century Tuscan
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

 manuscript at British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 labelled "Add. 29987". The musical form of these four early saltarelli is the same as the estampie
The Estampie is a medieval dance and musical form, it was a popular instrumental style of the 13th and 14th centuries.-Musical Form:The estampie consists of four to seven sections, called puncta, each of which is repeated, in the form...

. The most renowned opus of the manuscript is the second saltarello in the collection.

Saltarello in classical music

  • Tielman Susato
    Tielman Susato
    Tielman — or Tylman — Susato was a Renaissance composer, instrumentalist and publisher of music in Antwerp.-Biography:...

     included a Saltarello as part of Danserye (1551)
  • A guitar piece entitled "Saltarello" is attributed to Vincenzo Galilei
    Vincenzo Galilei
    Vincenzo Galilei was an Italian lutenist, composer, and music theorist, and the father of the famous astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei and of the lute virtuoso and composer Michelagnolo Galilei...

    , written in the 16th century
  • Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy used the Saltarello for the 4. movement of his Symphony No.4 "Italian"
  • Charles-Valentin Alkan
    Charles-Valentin Alkan
    Charles-Valentin Alkan was a French composer and one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of his day. His attachment to his Jewish origins is displayed both in his life and his work. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of six, earning many awards, and as an adult became a famous virtuoso...

     used the Saltarello in his "Saltarelle" Op. 23, and in the final movement of his Sonate de Concert Op. 47 for piano and cello, "Finale alla Saltarella"
  • Berlioz used the Saltarello in the Carnival scene of Benvenuto Cellini which was reprised in the Roman Carnival Overture.
  • One of Frank Bridge's Miniatures for Piano Trio is a Saltarello (No 5).

Saltarello in contemporary music

Besides serious ensembles for historically informed performance, within the last 20 years this piece was also arranged by several rather modern ensembles of gothic, metal, neoclassical and romantic medieval music, most notably the alternative-romantic band Dead Can Dance
Dead Can Dance
Dead Can Dance are an ethereal neoclassical duo formed in Melbourne, Australia, in August 1981, by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. The band relocated to London in May 1982 and disbanded in 1998. Their 1996 album Spiritchaser reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top World Music Albums Chart...

, as well as the Polish jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer
Leszek Mozdzer
Leszek Możdżer is a Polish jazz pianist. He is also a music producer and a film music composer.He has graduated from the Academy of Music in Gdansk, Poland...

. Interpretations by guitarists John Renbourn
John Renbourn
John Renbourn is an English guitarist and songwriter. He is possibly best known for his collaboration with guitarist Bert Jansch as well as his work with the folk group Pentangle, although he maintained a solo career before, during and after that band's existence .While most commonly labelled a...

 and John Williams
John Williams (guitarist)
John Christopher Williams is an Australian classical guitarist, and a long-term resident of the United Kingdom. In 1973, he shared a Grammy Award win in the 'Best Chamber Music Performance' category with Julian Bream for Julian and John .-Biography:John Williams was born on 24 April 1941 in...

 can also be found.

Interpretations by Italian musician Angelo Branduardi
Angelo Branduardi
Angelo Branduardi , is an Italian folk singer and composer who scored relevant success in Italy and European countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.- Biography :...

 can also be found in his songs "Il trattato dei miracoli", "Pioggia", "Saltarello, Lamento di Tristano e Rotta". Composer Jesper Kyd
Jesper Kyd
Jesper Jakobson Kyd is a Danish video game and film score composer.Kyd combines sounds of dark ambient, electronic and symphonic music and has won many awards. He is also notable for his early work in the Amiga demoscene, where he composed a large amount of music in his teenage years, in...

 also composed a track called "Meditation Begins" for the Assassin's Creed score that is a saltarello-type arrangement with an ominous overtone, a sample of which can be heard at the page for the score.
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