Dissertationsprojekt von Benedetta Zucconi, Bern

‘Coscienza fonografica’

La riflessione sul suono registrato nell’Italia del primo Novecento


My dissertation investigates the intellectual history of recorded music in Italy at the onset of the 20th century. In particular, it focuses on the historic and cultural processes that transformed recorded music in Italy from a trivial consumption object into a cultural and even academic tool.

From a first investigation on journals, newspapers and other printed media of that time, I was able to state that at the onset of the 20th century in Italy – unlike in many other European countries – no debate had emerged concerning the role of recorded music. While gramophone records were indeed widely used, no cultural significance was attached to them, as they were merely seen as consumption goods.

Therefore, with my dissertation I consider the reasons of the absence of a phonographic debate in Italy. Furthermore, I explore which actors finally promoted a general discussion between the 1920s and 1930s.

I identified these actors in three elements above all: first, Italian ethnomusicology, which encouraged an academic use of the phonograph for field research, underlying its role as timekeeper. Second, a pedagogical interest concerning recorded music, which culminated in 1923 (thank to the engagement of the ethnologist Gavino Gabriel) in a law that brought the gramophone in Italian primary schools. From it stemmed an idea of recorded music as a teaching tool, able to bring music to rural and isolated contexts, and it suggested recorded music potential in terms of spatial diffusion. Third, the emergence of the radio brought a definition of medial spaces between the two tools, as well as a juridical debate to preserve the rights of record industry, which inevitably defined the ontological substance of recorded music.

The thesis is structured in five chapters. The last three of them are devoted to the three main topics I mentioned above. First comes an introductive and methodological chapter, followed by a second chapter, which underlines the importance of periodical publications in order to investigate Italian cultural processes of the first half of the 20th century, and traces the evolution of the phonographic thought in Italian printed media of that time.