End blown shell trumpet used at Feast of Piedigrotta.

Place details: EUROPE. Italy / Naples Napoli. Cultural Group: European Italian: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Shell / ?. Processes: Perforated / ?. Dimensions: L = 170 mm Diam = 120 mm Field Collector: Robert William Theodore Gunther When Collected: By 1907 Other Owners: Robert William Theodore Gunther PRM Source: Robert William Theodore Gunther Acquired: Donated November 1907

KEYWORD: Musical Instrument / Trumpet / CLASS: Music / Religion / Ritual and Ceremonial / ?.MUSIC CLASS: 4. MUSIC NAME: trumpet.

Publications history, trails & websites: This object features in the Museum's audio tour produced in 2010. Transcription as follows: “In this case you’ll find some trumpets which have been made out of wood or metal, but the majority are nature’s own instruments - animal horns, sea-shells and on the higher shelf, a trumpet from Tibet made from a human thigh bone! The shell of a large sea-snail, known as a ‘conch’, has been widely used as a trumpet in the Pacific and Caribbean. A small hole is made at the base of the shell’s spine and blown through to create a noise. Shell-trumpets are used as signals in sea-faring or war, or as part of a religious ceremony. The one we’ve picked out, and also the two to the left of it, was used at the Festival of Piedigrotta in Naples, Italy.

The festival’s roots lie in the wild and mystic cults of Bacchus, the ancient Roman god of wine and theatre. When the Romans adopted Christianity, the same thing happened as elsewhere – a church was erected upon the pagan site, and festivities – a fixture in people’s lives - remained in the calendar but adopted a different focus. In Naples, Bacchus was replaced by the Virgin Mary.

The reason given for this is that in the 1300s, three people claimed to have been guided to the town by Mary in a dream, and a statue was erected in her honour. Just as the pagans had previously celebrated the birth of Venus at her grotto in the town with feasting, songs and trumpet-playing, now the Birth of the Blessed Virgin was celebrated at her ‘grotto’, a cave, with feasting, songs and trumpet-playing. It is around this time in the 14th century, that we get the first recorded reference to the town’s name, ‘Piedigrotta’, meaning ‘foot of the grotto’.

The festivities take place on the 7th and 8th of September every year, with a procession on the first day, feasting and music all through the night when no one is allowed to sleep, followed by the celebration of mass at dawn. The festival reached its height in the 17th and 18th centuries under the Bourbons, when the king on his gold processional throne celebrated alongside nobles, soldiers, pilgrims and commoners. By the 1830s, the festival’s amateur song-writing competition had transformed into a formal institution known as the ‘Neapolitan Song’. These popular folk tunes gained worldwide recognition through adoption by composers such as Bellini and renditions by famous opera singers such as Enrico Caruso. They were also widely dispersed by emigrants and tourists. Some of the most famous songs to have originated in the Festival include ‘O Sole Mio’ and ‘Funiculi Funicula’.

The Museum has other instruments used in the Piedigrotta ensembles such as castanets, tambourines, rattles and jingles. After falling popularity in the 1950s, the Festival was rejuvenated in 2007, with electrical illuminations and fireworks replacing candle-lit processions, and a concert orchestra instead of home-made percussion instruments and shell-trumpets.” (Written by Helen Hales)


• Sharp, F., ‘Piedigrotta and Neapolitan Songs’, Gramophone, Vol II. No. 9 (February 1925), pp. 22–25

• http://www.goingthroughitaly.com/1389/the-piedigrotta-feast-in-naples/

• http://www.festadipiedigrotta.it/eng/history.html

[HH 25/10/2010]

Research notes: The festival of Piedigrotta in Naples, commemorates the battle of Velletri in 1744. [Encyclopædia Britannia Online; "Italy"]. [CF 9/12/99]