Taranto, tarantula and tarantella 塔兰图蜘蛛舞曲 by YK Chan

 Is tarantella the dance music for avoiding death from tarantism caused by a tarantula bite?

Lycosa tarantula


A myth goes like this:  When you are bitten by the tarantula wolf spider (Lycosa tarantula) you will succumb to the hysterical condition of tarantism, and need to dance to the tarantella―a type of agitated, manic and fast-rhythm (usually at 6/8 time) music―to counter the poison by sweating and avoid death.


Here is how it looks like, traditionally, enacted from the bite to the dance with some innuendo of youthful sexual flirtation:


Another depiction of a barefoot dancer can be viewed in the first part of this clip:

Tarantella in ballet form


Both the spider and the music are attributed to the Italian region of Taranto, at the heel of the “Italian boot” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Province_of_Taranto), although the dance form is Greek in origin.  The spider bite may be painful but it usually is not fatal to humans.  If not for curative purpose, tarantella music may be graceful instead of frantic for dancing couples, as seen here:


Tarantella couple dance


I prefer to associate tarantella with frenzy and excitement as it conveys a sense of passion and not reason.  Human emotion could be an outlet for relieving the fatigued reasoning faculty, thus refreshing it.

Although I enjoy watching a graceful or energetic dance that enhances the accompanying music, the music itself is the inducing factor of emotion.  The human voice is also an instrument, which can be tuned and trained for expressive vocalization.  You would appreciate what it means to compare voice with instrument when you listen to this tongue-twisting and exciting song of Rossini’s La Danza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Danza) in tarantella napoletana time.  Here, the tenor Rolando Villazón sings this song flawlessly with the strong pulsating and arousing rhythm.  Listening to it, you may feel being swept off your feet and carried away by a whirlwind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuaHlOt3SgE


Kreutzer Sonata

The last movement (Presto) of Beethoven’s Kreutzer violin sonata


also comes to mind since it is in rondo form as a 6/8-tarantella.  The virtuosi Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich perform it engagingly thus:



Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kreutzer_Sonata), is said to have been inspired by Beethoven’s sonata.  Its story in turn inspired the 1901 painting by René François Xavier Prinet and Leoš Janáček‘s first string quartet (1923), both entitled or subtitled Kreutzer Sonata.  But, that is another story, another piece of art and music

About YK 1965

Class of WYK1965 Microbiologist (Environmental Microbiology) Honorary Research Fellow Agriculture Canada, Ottawa
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