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The saltarello is a musical dance form originally from Italy. The first mention of it is in Add MS 29987, a fourteenth-century manuscript probably of Tuscan origin, now in the British Library.[1] It was played in a fast triple meter and is named for its peculiar leaping step, after the Italian verb saltare ("to jump"). This characteristic is also the basis of the German name Hoppertanz or Hupfertanz ("hopping dance"); other names include the French pas de Brabant and the Spanish alta or alta danza.[1]


Saltarello rhythm.[2]

The saltarello enjoyed great popularity in the courts of medieval Europe. 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 dance manuals. (The first dance treatise that dealt with the saltarello was the 1465 work of Antonio Cornazzano.) A clearer, detailed description of the this step and meter appears in a 16th-century manuscript in the Academia de la Historia in Madrid.[3] During this era, the saltarello was danced by bands of courtesans dressed as men at masquerades. The saltarello gave birth to the quadernaria in Germany, which was then fused into the saltarello tedesco (German saltarello) in Italy.[citation needed] This "German saltarello", in contrast to the Italian variety, was in duple time and began on the downbeat, and was also known by the name quaternaria.[4]

In 1540, Hans Newsidler published an Italian dance under the name Hupff auff (introductory skip), and identified it with a parenthetical subtitle: "saltarella".[5]

Saltarello as a folk dance[edit]

Although a Neapolitan court dance in origin,[contradiction] the saltarello became the typical Italian folk dance of Ciociaria and a favorite tradition of Rome in the Carnival and vintage festivities of Monte Testaccio. After witnessing the Roman Carnival of 1831, the German composer Felix Mendelssohn incorporated the dance into the finale of one of his masterpieces, the Italian Symphony. The only example of a saltarello in the North is saltarello romagnolo of Romagna.

The saltarello is still a popular folk dance played in the regions of Southern-Central Italy, such as Abruzzo, Molise (but in these two regions the name is feminine: Saltarella), Lazio and Marche. The dance is usually performed on the zampogna bagpipe or on the organetto, a type of diatonic button accordion, and is accompanied by a tamburello.

Medieval saltarelli[edit]

The principal source for the medieval Italian saltarello is the Tuscan manuscript Add MS 29987, dating from the late 14th or early 15th century and now in the British Library. The musical form of these four early saltarelli is the same as the estampie.

Saltarello in classical music[edit]


  1. ^ a b Meredith Ellis Little ([n.d.]). "Saltarello", in: Deane Root (ed.), Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. Accessed June 2015. (subscription required).
  2. ^ Alfred Blatter (2007). Revisiting Music Theory: A Guide to the Practice. Abingdon; New York: Routledge. p 28. ISBN 9780415974394.
  3. ^ Curt Sachs (1937). World History of the Dance, translated by Bessie Schönberg. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. p 323.
  4. ^ Curt Sachs (1937). World History of the Dance, translated by Bessie Schönberg. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. p 294.
  5. ^ Curt Sachs (1937). World History of the Dance, translated by Bessie Schönberg. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. p 324.