In Penna Sant’Andrea there is always music and almost everyone plays. On public holidays and at family events, for weddings and for alms collection, for the colourful interweaving of maypole ribbons and for summer serenades, for evenings with friends and winter afternoons in front of the fire, the organetto is always ready to be taken up and put into use, by children and youngsters, by adults or by the elderly, in a solo or accompanied by other instruments. Talented performers, the town’s organetto players hand down the techniques and particular melodies, elaborated through constant and shared practice.
The two-bass diatonic accordion, or Italian organetto, known in the Abruzzi area as ddu bbottë, is a mechanical instrument in the free-reed aerophone family of musical instruments, which produces sound through the compression of the air generated by a bellows. The air production is provided by the movement of the player’s arms, an action which is necessary to give a rhythmic progression to the performed tunes, in a more or less complex and refined way. It can therefore be said that the lightweight and versatile bellows of the organetto are the dynamic soul of the instrument, and that the management of their complete potential is what differentiates, in particular, the players of the old generation from the younger ones. Defined by the ethnomusicologist Francesco Giannattasio as a peasant instrument of the industrial age, the organetto has quickly taken the place of older instruments which are more difficult to play, such as the violin, the calascione, (similar to the lute) and the zampogna (similar to the bagpipes), livening up farmyard parties but also becoming part of a competitive circuit of competitions and schools, in a continuous evolution of performance techniques and styles.
Among the main exponents of this progressive improvement of the instrument – and its contemporary distancing from the expressive modalities typical of the peasant culture – it is worth mentioning the virtuoso player from Teramo, Fanciullo Rapacchietta (1915-2014), who taught generations of young students in Penna Sant’Andrea in the 1970s and 80s, even though organetto playing was generally falling into disuse in that period. Fanciullo Rapacchietta also accompanied the well-known local folk group called “Laccio d’amore” for many years, imprinting his particular style onto their music.
Basilio D’Amico (1919-2012), a popular self-taught musician, son of peasants from the Pilone district of Penna Sant’Andrea, is located in a rather different dimension. He cultivated his passion for the instrument since childhood, playing for more than half a century wherever it was possible: for serenades and weddings, in village festivals, at dance evenings in the farmyards of country houses and, like Rapacchietta, for the performances of the “Laccio d’amore” folk group. Basilio D’Amico possessed a vast repertoire, drawn from the most varied sources: listening to the players he met at parties, the oral tradition of singing, accordion music, easy listening songs, opera and classical music, all adapted to the limited possibilities offered by the organetto with surprising mastery.
Although Rapacchietta’s fingers ran over the keyboard in a linear way, instead Basilio D’Amico was a master of tension and relaxation and he showed an intense and calibrated expressiveness based on the skilful use of the cross-row technique: a playing technique entirely dependent on the continuous inversions of the bellows and on the use of imperceptible sub-beats, which gave his performances a dynamic refinement particularly appreciated in contexts where the music was inseparable from the dance.
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Polka delle poiane (The Buzzard Polka)
Basilio D’Amico performs one of his pieces of music, The Buzzard Polka, in front of the fireplace in his house (extract from the documentary called “Basilio D’Amico” by Marco Chiarini and Gianfranco Spitilli)
Pilone di Penna Sant’Andrea (TE), 15 October 2005.
Video footage by Marco Chiarini,
Don Nicola Jobbi Study Centre Archive/Bambun.
Cultural transmission and preservation
In the town of Penna Sant’Andrea, the widespread use of the instrument today is testimony to the dual richness of styles, schools and practices which the community is heir to. However, the aspect which is more closely linked to the traditions of country life has been marginalized compared to the competitive forms, established since the 1970s, and only recently a renewed attention has led to attempts for a partial recovery.
The phenomenon of transformation, which has been going on for at least forty years, has particularly concerned the players trained in this period of time, at the schools of maestros like Fanciullo Rapacchietta and his immediate successors and students, and has determined on the one hand a great affirmation of the instrument and a virtuosic perfection of the playing techniques, and on the other hand a simplification of the repertoires and styles, standardized into a few widely-circulated tracks, based on the performative models provided by the masters.
The influence of Rapacchietta over the past decades was certainly greater than that of D’Amico; he taught the two bass organetto to dozens of young people from Penna, some of whom have become excellent and renowned musicians in their own right, elaborating personal styles and new melodies, real masters of the instrument and points of reference for the following generations through courses and lessons.
Basilio D’Amico, with a more reserved personality and less inclined to teach, except to the few people who visited him at home and learnt through copying, was instead the object of widespread interest from researchers, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists – such as Giuseppe M. Gala, Carlo Di Silvestre, Gianfranco Spitilli and Marco Chiarini – who over the decades met him several times, recording his vast and original repertoire. His musical activity has been studied and documented since the mid-eighties and is now part of record collections, also present in numerous videos and in a documentary dedicated to him. In the last years of his life he also took part in the traditional music festival “Valfino al Canto” in Arsita, livening up entire dance evenings with the music of his organetto.