AskDefine | Define tarantella

Dictionary Definition



1 music composed in six-eight time for dancing the tarantella
2 a lively whirling Italian dance for two persons [syn: tarantelle]

User Contributed Dictionary



From tarantella, a diminutive of Taranto, a town in southern Italy (but popularly associated with tarantola ‘tarantula’, on the belief that the dance was variously a result of, or cure for, its bite).


  • (US) /ˌtɛrənˈtɛlə/
  • (RP) /tærən'tɛlə/


  1. A rapid dance in 6/8 time, originating in Italy, or a piece of music for such a dance.


  • 1868 — Louisa May Alcott, Little Women ch. 37
    The set in which they found themselves was composed of English, and Amy was compelled to walk decorously through a cotillion, feeling all the while as if she could dance the tarantella with relish.
  • 1895 — Bret Harte, The Devotion of Enriquez
    "A tarantella, I presume?" blandly suggested the doctor.
    Miss Mannersley stopped, and rose carelessly from the piano. "It is a Moorish gypsy song of the fifteenth century," she said dryly.
  • 1922 — Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion ch. v
    We learn to understand why our addled minds seize so little with precision, why they are caught up and tossed about in a kind of tarantella by headlines and catch-words, why so often they cannot tell things apart or discern identity in apparent differences.

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See also






Diminutive of Taranto, a town in southern Italy (but popularly associated with tarantola ‘tarantula’).


  • /taran'tɛl:a/

Extensive Definition

The Tarantella is an Italian dance, its name meaning "the tarantula." It is the most recognized of Italian music, and is the popular theme song of pizzarias and restaraunts. Throughout Italy it is different with every region but has the same basic upbeat tempo

Courtship vs tarantism dances

The stately courtship tarantella is danced by a couple or couples, short in duration, graceful and elegant, and features characteristic music. The supposedly curative or symptomatic tarantella is danced solo by a supposed victim of a "tarantula" bite, agitated in character, may last from hours to days, and features characteristic music. The confusion appears to arrive from the fact that the spiders, condition, its sufferers ("tarantolati"), and the dances all derive their names from the city of Taranto.
The first dance originated in Naples and the second in la Puglia. The Neapolitan tarantella is a courtship dance performed by couples whose "rhythms, melodies, gestures and accompanying songs are quite distinct" featuring faster more cheerful music. Its origins may further lie in "a fifteenth-century fusion between the Spanish Fandango and the Moresque ballo di sfessartia.'" The "magico-religious" tarantella is a solo dance performed supposedly to cure through perspiration the delirium and contortions attributed to the bite of a spider at harvest (summer) time. The dance was later applied as a supposed cure for the behavior of neurotic women ("'Carwevaletto delle donne'").


Reportedly, victims who had collapsed or where convulsing would begin to dance with appropriate music and be revived. The music used to treat dancing mania appears to be similar to that used in the case of tarantism though little is known about either. Justus Hecker (1795-1850), describes in his work Epidemics of the Middle Ages: A convulsion infuriated the human frame....Entire communities of people would join hands, dance, leap, scream, and shake for hours....Music appeared to be the only means of combating the strange epidemic...lively, shrill tunes, played on trumpets and fifes, excited the dancers; soft, calm harmonies, graduated from fast to slow, high to low, prove efficacious for the cure. The music used against spider bites featured drums and clarinets, was matched to the pace of the victim, and is only weakly connected to its later depiction in the tarantellas of Chopin, Liszt, Rossini, and Heller.
While most serious proponents speculated as to the direct physical benefits of the dancing rather than the power of the music a mid-18th century medical textbook gets the prevailing story backwards describing that tarantulas will be compelled to dance by violin music, the highly poisonous Mediterranean black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) may have been the species originally associated with Taranto's manual grain harvest.
The Tarantella is dance in which the dancer and the pianist constantly try to upstage each other by dancing longer or playing faster than the other, subsequently tiring one person out first.

Grand Tarantelle ballet

The Balanchine ballet Tarantella is set to Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 67 (ca. 1866) by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, reconstructed and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. The nimble quickness of Tarantella provides a virtuosic showcase. The profusion of steps and the quick changes of direction this brief but explosive pas de deux requires typify the ways in which Balanchine expanded the traditional vocabulary of classical dance.

Instances in other settings and media

  • The tarantella can be heard in the Puma website.
  • It has appeared in feature films such as The Godfather. In The Godfather II, Frankie Pentangeli tries to get the wedding band (who are not Italian) to play a tarantella. They end up playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" instead.
  • A performance of the tarantella was central to the plot of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.
  • David Popper wrote a piece called "Tarantella" Opus 33 written in 6/8 time with rapid moving notes and graceful yet quick double stops and arpeggios.
  • William Henry Squire wrote a tarantella for cello in D minor.
  • The final movement of Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D, D 200, although not explicitly called so, is a tarantella.
  • Franz Liszt composed a piece called "Tarantella, Venezia e Napoli" (No. 3 from Les Années de Pèlerinage, 2nd Year: Italy), which is in a rapid tempo also in 6/8 time, although nowadays it is commonly misprinted as being in 2/4 time.
  • Frédéric Chopin wrote a piece called "Tarentelle" (Opus 43), which has not only the characteristic 6/8 time signature, but also a very frantic and frenzied arpeggiated left hand part, representing the spinning nature of the dance.
  • Leopold Godowsky transcribed Chopin's Etude Op. 10, No. 5 "Black Keys" into an extremely challenging tarentella for the piano.
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17, features an extremely challenging and ferocious Tarantella for its finale.
  • Gioacchino Rossini's song "La Danza" is a Neapolitan tarantella.
  • Henryk Wieniawski composed a well-known violin masterpiece, called Scherzo-Tarantella (Op. 16)
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien" ends in a frenzied variation of a tarantella.
  • "Tarantella" is the title of a well-known poem by Hilaire Belloc.
  • "Tarantallegra" is a jinx in Harry Potter books which causes the opponent's legs to move rapidly and uncontrollably, first introduced in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
  • In 1997 Avantgarde pianist Aki Takasi released her album called: Tarantella.
  • Tom Waits mentions "tarantella" in the song "Tango Till They're Sore," which is in 6/8 time.
  • It has been used as the theme song of the That's Life (2000 TV series) on CBS.
  • The tarantella's theme can be heard in the Puppy Love Levels in Earthworm Jim 2.
  • Featured in the 2004 AASCA Music Festival in San Jose, Costa Rica.
  • The 1996 Film "Pizzicata", written and directed by Edoardo Winspeare features the local songs, dances and traditions of Salento in Southern Italy.
  • Stephen Heller composed various Tarantella pieces during his career.
  • Claude Debussy wrote a piece called "Danse (Tarantelle styrienne)."
  • Gogol Bordello's album "Super Taranta!" uses Tarantella theme. The song "Santa Marinella" from their Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike LP also touches with tarantella edges.
  • The Nickelodeon children's cartoon The Backyardigans features tarantella music throughout the "The Legend of the Volcano Sisters" episode in season 2.
  • In the musical Peter Pan with music by Mark "Moose" Charlap, captain hook calls out for his pirates to play a 6/8 tarantella which he leads while he forms a wicked plan.
  • Pablo de Sarasate composed a piece for violin, Introduction and Tarantella.
  • Tarantella is the name of an eau de parfum by Australian perfume house: Tommi Sooni
  • "New Century's Tarantella" is the name of track 9 on the album, "Prophet of the Last Eclipse" by: Luca Turilli.
tarantella in Bulgarian: Тарантела
tarantella in German: Tarantella
tarantella in Spanish: Tarantela
tarantella in French: Tarentelle
tarantella in Friulian: Tarantele
tarantella in Hebrew: טרנטלה
tarantella in Italian: Tarantella
tarantella in Japanese: タランテラ
tarantella in Neapolitan: Tarantella
tarantella in Dutch: Tarantella
tarantella in Polish: Tarantela
tarantella in Portuguese: Tarantela
tarantella in Sicilian: Tarantella
tarantella in Simple English: Tarantella
tarantella in Thai: ตาลันเตลลา
tarantella in Turkish: Tarantella
tarantella in Chinese: 塔朗泰拉
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