Chopin and the Tarantella

This is probably Chopin at his most untamed.

None of the melancholic melodies or refined embellishments that characterise the composer’s music is to be found in this piece.

The great composer Robert Schumann described it as:

Chopin’s most extravagant manner; we see before us the dancer, whirling as if possessed, until our senses reel.

In her phenomenal live performance of Chopin’s Tarantelle, Maria Perrotta manages to convey just that: the vertiginous spinning of a crazed, haunted soul.

Tarantella being a southern Italian folk dance, it is perhaps unsurprising that the renowned Cosentian pianist should play the piece so beautifully.

During ancient times, in the province of Taranto, the bite of a local spider, the tarantula, was believed to be highly poisonous and to cause an hysterical condition that led to an irresistible need for a rapid, whirling motion bringing the victim to the point of exhaustion.

The local peasantry believed that anyone bitten by one of these spiders should be treated by indulging in a wild, relentless dance: the tarantella.

The oldest documents mentioning the relationship between musical exorcism and the tarantula date to around 1100 BC.

As well as the regional variations, there are two main types of tarantella: the courtship and the supposedly curative dance.

The former consists of one or several couples – not necessarily of different sexes – mimicking either stately courtship or a sword fight. It is short in duration and rather graceful. Whereas the latter, danced solo by a victim of a tarantula bite, was frenetic in character and it lasted for hours.

To this day, the folkloric tradition is kept alive by numerous artists around the world. The music can have hypnotic effects, especially when one is exposed to it for long periods of time, and it’s used by dance and music therapists to treat certain forms of depression.

Other serious composers who wrote in tarantella form include Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Britten.