Spider bites. The driving force behind tall tales, fictional superhero Spiderman, and, in southern Italy, medicinal dance music meant to cure victims bitten by an eight-legged venomous pest.
The Tarantella. The dance form dates back to ancient times and likely began in the area around the Greek colony of Taranta in southern Italy. It was believed that the only way to suppress the symptoms of a bite from the Lycosa tarantula (a type of wolf spider, although the offender was likely the Mediterranean black widow) was to use brisk, rhythmic music. The music played for the cure--and the dance associated with it--became known as the Tarantella. The facts get fuzzy from there, but the frenzied dance form flourished in the 19th century.
Felix Mendelssohn wrote a Tarantella. Louis Moreau Gottschalk wrote one, as did Hungarian composers Steven Heller and Franz Liszt. Though numerous Tarantellas were swirling through salons in Chopin’s day, the one that seems to have inspired him was Rossini’s.
Composed in 1841, Chopin’s one and only Tarantella, like his single attempts at the Bolero, Barcarolle and Berceuse, adheres to form but with an elegance and understated quality all his own. - Jennifer Foster