Canto Lirico-monostrofico
(If you are interested in traditional music)

Did you know that by this term Italian scholars intend a repertoire of folk songs, mostly improvised, made of one strophe only or, more often, songs in which expression is achieved in each of the several strophes they may be made of? Hence the name "monostrophic" song. That is to say that whereas one or two stanzas taken from a narrative song would not make sense, deprived as they would be of their context, one stanza of a "canto lirico-monostrofico", instead, usually expresses a complete, self-contained idea. Therefore, whereas a strophe from a ballad can stand on its own only musically (one textual stanza is coupled with a complete presentation of the melody that shall be repeated throughout with all the following stanzas) in a lyric-monostrofic song, instead, one stanza makes sense both in terms of the music and of its text. The "canto lirico-monostrofico" is a most typical and widespread form of Italian folk song. One could say it is almost as Italian, in a way, as the "blues" is American.

"Canti lirico-monostrofici" may serve the most diverse functions: lullabies, working songs, serenades, etc. Unlike in ballads the narrative is personal (first person singular) and emotional. The singer of such songs draws for his improvisations from a repertoire of traditional metric structures and verbal formulas. Sometimes he even uses ready-made stanzas which, with a few variants, can be adapted to almost any song. The same can be said of tunes. The process of composing is therefore very similar to that described by Albert B. Lord as "formulaic composition"  as applied by Yugoslav singers of epics.

Such "monostrophic songs" exist practically everywhere in the Peninsula, with the only exception of a few areas in Piedmont and Val d'Aosta. These regions are the closest to France and, therefore, to the supposed center of radiation of balladry. This type of song takes up various names and forms in different parts of Italy. The most common of them (which besides being "lyric" may actually be mocking or satyrical in character) are the "stornelli" (from the Provencal "estorn", meaning "challenge" or "tenzon"), "strambotti" (from the Provençal "estribar", meaning "lashing" or "to flog"), "rispetti", "stranot", "canti alla boara", "canti a vatoccu", "canti alla stesa", "canti alla longa", "canti a pera" (all of these in the central part of Italy: Tuscany, Latium, Marches), "mutu" and "muttettu" in Sardinia, "canzune" in Sicily, and many others. A few types of monostrophic songs also exist in Northern Italy in the Eastern regions, with the names of "maitinade" in Trentino and "villotte" in Friuli. Costantino Nigra was the first to recognize that in Northern Italy, where dialects show a Celtic background, narrative songs (i.e. ballads, or "canti epico-lirici" as they are often called) are the most commonly encountered type of folk song. Monostrophic songs, on the contrary, are more commonly encountered across the Central and Southern part of Italy where there is a Latin dialect substratum (more precisely, South of an ideal borderline linking La Spezia with Pesaro, which more or less coincides with part of the chain of the Apennines). There ballads are rather rare. It is worth mentioning that Nigra's theory of ethnic sub-stratum and its relationship with the diffusion of balladry in the North and of lyric songs in Central and Southern Italy, still enjoys the favour of Italian scholars. About such dichotomy Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote: "la distinzione bigenetica del Nigra resta sempre, più che attendibile, e addirittura si presenta come un dato immanente del mondo italiano." ("La poesia popolare italiana", in Passione e ideologia, Milano, Garzanti, 1960, p. 148). The theory of sub-stratum, of course, derives from linguistics. Many linguists consider the substratum responsible for phonological changes in the replacing or superimposed language. Even grammatical forms and constructions would be affected by under-surface speech habits. The substratum, therefore, somewhat like the subconscious mind as it is described by the Freudian school of psychoanalysis, would be a dynamic entity rather than a storehouse of ancient inactive relics (other parallels to this concept exist in the history of Western thought: e.g. Schenker's "Ursatz" or, again in linguistics, of Chomsky's "deep structure" of language). It should be emphasized, however, that"canti lirico-monostrofici" of various kinds also exist in Northern Italy, especially in the North-Eastern regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli where, at any rate, they are in the process of disappearing. Types like the "maitinade" or "villotte" are endangered species. Their repertory, in fact, has considerably shrunk in size and frequency of performances over the past few decades.

In other areas of Europe, outside of the Italy "canti lirico-monostrofici" exist as well, although probably their quantitative presense is less substantial. In Spain we have the "copla" (though this very term indicates in Colombia a type of ballad), the "villancico", the "cante hondo" and its derivation "flamenco"; in Portugal the "fado"; in Rumania the "doina", also known as "hora lunga", which is also found in Soviet Moldavia, etc. Finally, much closer to Trentino, we have the Austrian "Schnaderhüpfl" (also known as "Gsangl", or"Gstanzl"); it is a satyrical improvised song and in that respect somewhat similar to the stornelli of Tuscany and Latium. The "Schnaderhüpfl" is also a dance song, most often in triple meter, consisting of a four-line stanza with one or two rhymes, usually sung to well known Ländler tunes and frequently composed off-hand by the dancers themselves. Being satyrical and erotic in character, and also a dance song, it reminds of the "villotta a ballo". This form of improvised dance-song, according to the folklorist John Meier, has replaced in Alpine areas (where it is most common) all older and longer songs (...). Walter Wiora mentions in this connection that there are also single-verse tunes, such as the "Schnaderhüpferl" (or "reaper's hop"), that have a strophic construction (European Folksong, Köln, Arno Volk Verlag, 1966, p. 7). 1992-08-28.

An extensive literatuure exist, concerned with lyric (monostrophic songs) in European folklore.