Adagio e tarantella
Ernesto Cavallini was considered the foremost Italian clarinetist of the 19th century. His playing was admired by both Gioachino Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi. He was in the orchestra that premiered four of Verdi’s operas at the La Scala opera house in Milan. Cavallini used a six-keyed clarinet, as opposed to today’s 17-keyed variety.
The “tarantella” is an Italian folk dance with an upbeat tempo, usually in 6/8 time. Legend states that between the 15th and 17th centuries an epidemic of tarantism swept through a town in southern Italy. This was as a result of being bit by the poisonous tarantula spider (which in Italy was more like a wolf spider than the big hairy one we think of). The victim, once bitten, would fall into a trance. No known drug had any effect, but the local population believed that profuse perspiration seemed to force the poison out through the pores of the body and the only cure was found to be prolonged and strenuous dancing. The Tarantella has since become one of the most popular dances in Italy, and is still performed at many Italian weddings, with the music getting faster and faster until only the best dancers remain. Cavallini had this dance in mind when he wrote the Adagio e tarantella, which contrasts flashy cadenza-like passages with beautiful lyrical writing and of course, the Tarantella. One of the surprising things about this disease is that we now know that the European taranula is essentially harmless. The venom of the spider, basically causes symptoms similar to a bee sting, and yet the tradition of dancing out the poison continued for decades.