The siciliana or siciliano (also known as the sicilienne) is a musical style or genre often included as a movement within larger pieces of music starting in the Baroque period. It is in a slow 6/8 or 12/8 time with lilting rhythms making it somewhat resemble a slow jig, and is usually in a minor key. It was used for arias in Baroque operas, and often appeared as a movement in instrumental works. The siciliano evokes a pastoral mood, and is often characterized by dotted rhythms.
The siciliana was firmly established as a signifier of a pastoral context in the operas of Alessandro Scarlatti, though only two of his slow arias in 12/8 are actually titled "aria siciliana" in the scores. Monelle notes that texts of Scarlatti's siciliana arias are generally lamenting and melancholic. From 1703, sicilianas are described in musical dictionaries. Other examples of Baroque sicilianas are found in J. S. Bach music (e. g., in the Concert for clavicembalo No. 2 in E). Another well-known siciliana is the last movement of A. Corelli's Christmas Concerto Op. 6, No. 8.
Works in siciliana rhythm appear occasionally in the Classical period. Joseph Haydn, perhaps inspired by the bucolic associations of the genre, wrote a siciliana aria for soprano in his oratorio The Creation, "Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün" ("With verdure clad the fields appear"), to celebrate the creation of plants. For Mozart, the hesitating rhythm of the siciliana lent itself to the portrayal of grief, and some of Mozart's most powerful musical utterances are tragic sicilianas: the aria for soprano "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden" from The Magic Flute, the F sharp minor slow movement of the Piano Concerto, K. 488, the F minor Adagio from the Piano Sonata, K. 280, and the finale of the String Quartet in D minor, K. 421.
The third movement of Domenico Cimarosa's Oboe Concerto is a siciliana. Other examples of sicilianas are featured in the last movement of Carl Maria von Weber's Violin Sonata No. 5 and the second movement of Anton Reicha's Clarinet Quintet in F major, Op. 107.
The guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was very fond of the siciliana form and frequently composed in it. A notable example of this is in the second movement of his Guitar Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 30.
In the Romantic era Brahms wrote a siciliana as the nineteenth variation in his Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel for solo piano (1861). The second of Moritz Moszkowski's Trois Morceaux poétiques, Op. 42 (1887), is a Siciliano.
Hélène's aria, "Merci, jeunes amies" from Verdi's opera Les vêpres siciliennes is another example of a siciliana, suited to its setting, and is referred to as such in the score, even though it is popularly called a bolero.
Examples of sicilianas in 20th-century music include Igor Stravinsky's Serenata from Pulcinella, Ottorino Respighi's Siciliana from "Ancient Airs and Dances", Suite No. 3, and Malcolm Arnold's Siciliano in the Little Suite No. 1 for Brass. The Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande by Gabriel Fauré also contains a well-known siciliana. Maurice Duruflé's Suite for Organ (op. 5) contains a sicilienne. Rachmaninoff utilized siciliana style and rhythms in three of his Op. 32 Preludes for piano, the B♭ minor (Op. 32, No. 2), the B minor (Op. 32, No. 10), and the B major (Op. 32, No. 11). Hungarian composer, György Kurtág references the style in a surprising way in his 1987 magnum opus, "Kafka-Fragmente" Op.24, for soprano and violin in the movement "Der Wahre Weg." However, perhaps the most notable example of siciliana style in the 20th century inhabits the 'Intrada' and 'rhapsody' from Finzi's exquisite cantata, 'Dies Natalis'.
- Scruton, Roger (1997). The Aesthetics of Music, p.25ex2.6. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-816638-9.
- Monelle, The Musical Topic: Hunt, military, Pastoral, (Indiana University Press), 2006, "The Pastoral Signifier", p. 215ff.
- Monelle p. 217, who notes that Scarlatti left Palermo at the age of twelve and spent his working career in Rome and Naples..