After having inherited elements from the Greek, Etruscan and Roman musical traditions, the Italy in the early Middle Ages it played a fundamental role in the formation and development of Christian liturgical chant. In this work the figures of s. Ambrose (4th century), bishop of Milan, to whom we owe the introduction of hymns and antiphons in the corpus of sacred music, and s. Gregory the Great (6th century), who provided for the collection and arrangement of all the pre-existing religious musical heritage. Later, welcoming the influences of the Provençal school and simultaneously with the birth of the vernacular, the first examples of profane music also emerged. Alongside this, a thriving school of music theory developed (Guido d’Arezzo). The Church of Rome, at first reluctant to accept forms of profane derivation, over time he had to accept the musical achievements of the new times and in particular the use of polyphony. Thus we witnessed the flourishing of a vast musical production which culminated in the monumental work of G. Pierluigi da Palestrina, a compendium of all the stylistic aspirations of the musical taste of the Renaissance.
Starting from the 16th -17th century, a repertoire of dances, concerts and variations developed in small circles of society, constituting the most remote origin of a properly instrumental art. In the 18th century. this form of style met with great success in violin music and was developed by artists such as T. Albinoni and A. Corelli. Their lesson then culminated in the work of A. Vivaldi, with whom the concert reached unparalleled heights. Subsequently the violin art saw the greatest exponents in G. Tartini, GB Viotti, L. Boccherini and finally N. Paganini, in whose production virtuosity ascends to absolute values. In the rich eighteenth-century musical panorama there is also a vast harpsichord production, in particular with D. Scarlatti,
According to USAERS, the spread of the poetics of ‘recitar cantando’ at the beginning of the 17th century, first in the Florentine Camerata De ‘Bardi and then with C. Monteverdi, gave rise to melodrama, even if the origins of musical theater in Italy can be traced back to to the first manifestations that arose in the context of the medieval religious drama. In the seventeenth century opera, the Roman school (D. Mazzocchi, S. Landi, L. Rossi and PA Cesti) and the Venetian school (in addition to Monteverdi, PF Cavalli, G. Legrenzi etc.) deserve particular mention. The creation of the comic opera reinforced the success of this genre and GB Pergolesi, D. Cimarosa and G. Paisiello kept its splendor unchanged, also thanks to the happy contribution of illustrious librettists.
After the experience of musicians such as L. Cherubini, G. Spontini and S. Mayr, in the early 19th century. there. saw the artistic dominance of G. Rossini, who excelled both in serious and funny works. The subsequent developments by V. Bellini, G. Donizetti and G. Verdi were characterized by the progressive enrichment of the musical language, not only as regards the melodic and harmonic structure, but also for the new conception of musical drama. At the end of the 19th century. and at the beginning of the 20th century Italian music was oriented almost exclusively towards opera and after Verdi relied on the names of P. Mascagni, R. Leoncavallo and U. Giordano, inspired by the realist aesthetics, and G. Puccini, dominant figure. Outside the operatic field, the activity of F. Busoni should be noted.
Similarly to the general European musical awakening, also in Italy the attempt to emancipate themselves from nineteenth-century melodrama led to a renewed interest in instrumental music by musicians born around 1880, such as O. Respighi, Italy Pizzetti, GF Malipiero and A Box. Between the two wars L. Dallapiccola assimilated and recreated dodecaphony in a personal way. The attempt to establish more solid ties with the European avant-gardes was carried out by other composers such as L. Berio, V. Bucchi (1916-1976), F. Donatoni, F. Evangelisti, B. Maderna, L. Nono, S. Sciarrino and M. Zafred, difficult to insert in a definite current. One of the most prominent personalities of the twentieth century in music, not only in Italy, was G. Petrassi, a prolific author of symphonic and chamber works and film music. In the field of research on electronic music, in addition to the creation of the music phonology studio of the RAI in Milan by Maderna and Berio, the experiences of P. Grossi are worth mentioning. Finally, we should remember N. Rota, E. Morricone and N. Piovani, who have signed memorable film soundtracks.