An interactive aural approach to improvised poetry in ottava rima in central Italy

  • Cristina Ghirardini

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This dissertation deals with a practice of poetic duelling (contrasto) which has been documented in Italy since the 14th century. This tradition of sung improvised poetry is based on a stanza in Italian literature called ottava rima and is now practiced in central Italy. This research has been conducted within the IRiMaS project directed by Michael Clarke aiming at developing an interactive software to 1 facilitate the engagement of researchers and performers in the study of music as sound. This is why this dissertation is accompanied by six software packages which are part of the research conducted during my PhD.

Chapter 1 of this dissertation deals with the examination of previous literature, with the historical relevance of improvised poetry in ottava rima and with a detailed descriptions of places and contexts in which it is practiced now. In particular, section 1.5 is dedicated to the fieldwork research done during my PhD, on which this dissertation is based.

Chapter 2 contains the analyses of a series of performances which were chosen as case studies. A general distinction is made between a traditional manner of singing improvised poetry, regional and individual singing styles and occasional “vocal gestures” depending on the context of singing, and on the emotional involvement of the poets. Particular attention is paid to the ethics of the
contrasto poetico and to the relationship between melodic contours, the sequence of accents of the hendecasyllable, and breath. The Tiaals projects deal with the 2 case studies considered in this chapter.

Chapter 3 deals with the idea of dono di natura (“gift of nature”), used by the poets to explain their art of improvising poetry by singing. It has been developed taking into consideration the writings of two Italian poets, Andrea Zanzotto and Mario Luzi, in order to connect the improvisers’ idea of nature to questions about orality, nature and landscape emerging in the Italian 20th century poetry.

As a result of the new approaches taken in this research, new insights are provided into the history of the contrasto poetico, into the process of oral composition by singing, and finally into the social and ethical relevance of this practice.
Date of Award18 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichael Clarke (Main Supervisor) & Frédéric Dufeu (Co-Supervisor)

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