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Rachel Haworth, From the chanson française to the canzone d’autore in the 1960s and 1970s. Authenticity, Authority, Influence

Vincenzo Perna
p. 219-221
Référence(s) :

Rachel Haworth, From the chanson française to the canzone d’autore in the 1960s and 1970s. Authenticity, Authority, Influence, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015

Texte intégral

1This book investigates the constitutive discourses of two musical genres often considered akin. Just to be clear, by chanson (hereafter CF) Haworth means the type of song exemplified by Brassens, Brel and Ferré, while by canzone d’autore (CdA) she refers to its Italian counterpart produced by cantautori (singer-songwriters). The author, Lecturer in Italian at a British university, declares her intention “to develop the field of chanson studies whilst also addressing the apparent lack of sustained analyses of the CdA” (4).

2Chapter 1 provides an overview of the emergence of the auteur-compositeur-interprète in 1950s France and of the figure of cantautore in 1960s Italy. Chapter 2 examines the formative period of CF, analyzing discourses articulated by academic and journalistic texts, and looking at issues of art, social engagement and commercialism, showing how CF appears as “a movable cultural construct, representing different sets of rules and values” (45) that bring back to the notion of artistry, authenticity and authority. Chapters 3 and 4 look at the triumvirate Brassens-Brel-Ferré, analyzing the discourses on individual artists and their visual representation, and asking why such a particular trio came to represent the essence of chanson (no explanation provided).

3The following four chapters turn to CdA. Chapter 5 discusses Italian popular song prior to cantautori. Haworth contrasts the Festival di Sanremo in late 1950s as a paradigm of commercial music with the work of Cantacronache, a collective of musicians, writers and intellectuals writing socially engaged songs. Chapter 6 analyzes the discourse on popular song during the 1960s and 1970s. After looking at the first “serious” writings on canzone pioneered by Umberto Eco, Haworth shows how journalistic texts acknowledged the commercial nature of cantautori, but stressed their innovative value and looked at CF as a benchmark. Turning to the 1970s, Haworth finds CdA defined according to a variety of oft-divergent criteria, with the claim of French influence becoming part of the ideology of the genre. Chapter 7 and 8 examine the relationship between CF and CdA, finding evidence of the influence of Brassens and Brel on the work of Fabrizio De André and Giorgio Gaber. Chapter 9 finally examines the popularity of both genres nowadays, looking at posthumous commemorations of singer-songwriters. While those events corroborated the canons of the genres and adhered to their anti-star rhetoric, Howarth finds, they brought up issues of ownership and reification of the artist’s image that fell victim of the commercial processes that make “posthumous celebrity possible” (Jenson, 2005).

4Considering that, in more than 50 years of existence, CF and CdA have generated in their respective countries an enormous amount of writing, the volume tackles a formidable task. Haworth does not provide a history nor a systematic analysis of lyrical or musical content of the genres, but offers a semiotically-inflected, multidisciplinary study of their ideology and of the rules governing the construction of their perceived value, showing also how their rhetoric of authorship feeds into present cultural preservationist and commercial efforts.

5Although the book suggests in its very title the existence of a relationship between the genres, and makes a considerable effort to demonstrate the French influence on single Italian songwriters, the main influence of CF on early cantautori may still lie in its offering of a new model of song-making: the singer-songwriter, the live recital, the poetic and socially engaged lyrics, the spareness of musical means. As for one possible channel of such influence, Umberto Eco in 1964 intriguingly commented:

the fashion of cantautori and of songs that pursue some literary nobility is indisputably due to the imposition and diffusion of French song carried out by [RAI] TV programs for some years, from 1955 up to now” (1964, 315).

6The volume presupposes a working knowledge of the artists in question, and may leave English readers wishing for more musical information. Aside from occasional comments, the book focuses mostly on verbal texts and leaves almost completely out issues of musical style. The author’s statement that a musical analysis is unnecessary because it “has already been undertaken elsewhere” (4) appears questionable, at least as far as the titles about CdA she quotes are concerned. Haworth correctly underlines that CdA has been under-researched, a situation no doubt related to the unrelenting hostility of part of the Italian academic establishment towards popular music studies. One of the effects of this has been that most books on popular music published in Italy have been written precisely by journalists and fans who were totally unaware of the methods and perspectives of those studies. Unfortunately, the author quotes some of such books as reference texts—such as Grassani’s (2002), which, contrary to what she states, does not offer any reliable “‘literary’ or musicological analysis” (4). She does mention the recently published edited collection by Fabbri and Plastino (2014), but not the relevant essays it contains.

7A problematic point regards the use of the expression “canzone d’autore,” which stresses authoriality, that Haworth describes as coined in the early 1960s. In fact, the term never appeared in the early discussion about cantautori, and emerged only in the 1970s due to the activity of Club Tenco (an issue amply discussed by Tomatis’s chapter in Fabbri and Plastino). Terms such as cultura popolare/musica popolare (88-89), here translated with popular culture/popular music, in 1960s-70s Italy meant essentially “folk” or “protest” culture and music; while musica leggera, here explained as “light, easy listening or unchallenging popular music” (83), was used for decades as a general (if slightly derogative) term for “popular music”.

8A different question regards Cantacronache, whose role as direct antecedents of CdA remains doubtful. Although they did revive political song, they had an evident distaste for cantautori and performed in a non-commercial circuit tied to leftist parties. Contrary to the simplistic opposition set up between them and the Sanremo Festival, also, one should notice that in the late 1950s the landscape of Italian popular music had considerably diversified: during their youth, even cantautori such as Tenco, Gaber and De André played jazz and rock‘n’roll.

9Seen from an Italian perspective, From the chanson française to the canzone d’autore leaves the reader with a bittersweet taste. On the one hand, one would have liked to see more consideration for songs as music, and more attention to details and recent Italian scholarship on canzone. On the other hand, the book offers an overview of the rhetoric and ideological rules governing CdA and CF, of their rarely investigated connections, and of their shifting but persisting popularity today, thus signalling a growing anglophone interest in French popular music and a new emerging attention to Italian canzone. As such, perhaps, it can be considered as a first brave attempt.

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Eco Umberto (1964), Apocalittici e integrati, Milano, Bompiani.

Fabbri Franco and Plastino Goffredo (eds.) (2014), Made in Italy. Studies in Popular Music, New York/London, Routledge.

Grassani Enrico (2002), Anche se voi vi credete assolti… : Fabrizio de André, attualità del messaggio poetico e sociale, Pavia, Selecta.

Jenson Joli (2005), “Introduction”, in Jones Steve & Jenson Joli (eds.), Afterlife as Afterimage. New York/London, Peter Lang.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Vincenzo Perna, « Rachel Haworth, From the chanson française to the canzone d’autore in the 1960s and 1970s. Authenticity, Authority, Influence », Volume !, 14 : 1 | 2017, 219-221.

Référence électronique

Vincenzo Perna, « Rachel Haworth, From the chanson française to the canzone d’autore in the 1960s and 1970s. Authenticity, Authority, Influence », Volume ! [En ligne], 14 : 1 | 2017, mis en ligne le 13 décembre 2017, consulté le 26 juin 2019. URL :

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Vincenzo Perna

Vincenzo Perna a obtenu son doctorat en ethnomusicologie à la School of Oriental and African Studies de l’université de Londres. Il a enseigné dans plusieurs universités et conservatoires en Italie. Il a été journaliste musical et a contribué à nombre de publications italiennes et internationales. Il a notamment écrit des articles sur les musiques populaires, du monde et latines, et a dirigé et traduit en italien plusieurs ouvrages sur ces questions. Il est l’auteur de Timba, the Sound of the Cuban Crisis (Ashgate, 2005, mention honorable de la Society for Ethnomusicology en 2006) et est actuellement le secrétaire de la branche italienne de l’IASPM. Il habite Turin, où il est auteur et traducteur littéraire.

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L'auteur & les Éd. Mélanie Seteun

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