From folk music to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the prevailing classical music forms, such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata, can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th- and 17th-century Italian music. Italy’s most famous composers include the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Scarlatti, Corelli and Vivaldi, the Classical composers Paganini and Rossini, and the Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono proved significant in the development of experimental and electronic music. While the classical music tradition still holds strong in Italy, as evidenced by the fame of its innumerable opera houses, such as La Scala of Milan and San Carlo of Naples, and performers such as the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Italians have been no less appreciative of their thriving contemporary music scene.
Italy is widely known for being the birthplace of opera. Italian opera was believed to have been founded in the early 17th century, in Italian cities such as Mantua and Venice. Later, works and pieces composed by native Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are among the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world. La Scala operahouse in Milan is also renowned as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso and Alessandro Bonci.
Introduced in the early 1920s, jazz took a particularly strong foothold in Italy, and remained popular despite the xenophobic cultural policies of the Fascist regime. Today, the most notable centres of jazz music in Italy include Milan, Rome, and Sicily. Later, Italy was at the forefront of the progressive rock and pop movement of the 1970s, with bands like PFM, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Le Orme, Goblin, and Pooh. The same period saw diversification in the cinema of Italy, and Cinecittà films included complex scores by composers including Ennio Morricone, Armando Trovaioli, Piero Piccioni and Piero Umiliani. The Italian hip hop scene began in the early 1990s with Articolo 31 duo, mainly influenced by the East Coast rap. Italy was also an important country in the development of disco and electronic music, with Italo disco, known for its futuristic sound and prominent usage of synthesisers and drum machines, being one of the earliest electronic dance genres, as well as European forms of disco aside from Euro disco (which later went on to influence several genres such as Eurodance and Nu-disco). Notable Italian DJs and remixers include Benny Benassi, Gigi D’Agostino, and Gabry Ponte, member of the Eiffel 65 group.
Producers such as Giorgio Moroder, who won three Academy Awards for his music, were highly influential in the development of electronic dance music. Today, Italian pop music is represented annually with the Sanremo Music Festival, which served as inspiration for the Eurovision song contest, and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Singers such as Mina, Andrea Bocelli, Grammy winner Laura Pausini, Eros Ramazzotti and Tiziano Ferro have attained international acclaim.
The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers began motion picture exhibitions. The first Italian film was a few seconds, showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Società Italiana Cines, the Ambrosio Film and the Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality, and films were soon sold outside Italy. Cinema was later used by Benito Mussolini, who founded Rome’s renowned Cinecittà studio for the production of Fascist propaganda until World War II.
After the war, Italian film was widely recognised and exported until an artistic decline around the 1980s. Notable Italian film directors from this period include Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Roberto Rossellini; some of these are recognized among the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. Movies include world cinema treasures such as Bicycle Thieves, La dolce vita, 8½, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. The mid-1940s to the early 1950s was the heyday of neorealist films, reflecting the poor condition of post-war Italy.
As the country grew wealthier in the 1950s, a form of neorealism known as pink neorealism succeeded, and other film genres, such as sword-and-sandal followed as spaghetti westerns, were popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Actresses such as Sophia Loren, Giulietta Masina and Gina Lollobrigida achieved international stardom during this period. Erotic Italian thrillers, or giallos, produced by directors such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the 1970s, also influenced the horror genre worldwide. In recent years, the Italian scene has received only occasional international attention, with movies like Life Is Beautiful directed by Roberto Benigni, Il Postino: The Postman with Massimo Troisi and The Great Beauty directed by Paolo Sorrentino.
The aforementioned Cinecittà studio is today the largest film and television production facility in continental Europe and the centre of the Italian cinema, where a large number of biggest box office hits are filmed, and one of the biggest production communities in the world. In the 1950s, the number of international productions being made there led to Rome’s being dubbed “Hollywood on the Tiber”. More than 3,000 productions have been made on its lot, of which 90 received an Academy Award nomination and 47 of these won it, from some cinema classics to recent rewarded features (such as Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, The English Patient, Gladiator, The Passion of the Christ, and Gangs of New York). Italy is the most awarded country at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, with 14 awards won, 3 Special Awards and 31 nominations. As of 2016, Italian films have also won 12 Palmes d’Or (the second-most of any country), 11 Golden Lions and 7 Golden Bears.
The most popular sport in Italy is, by far, football. Italy’s national football team (nicknamed Gli Azzurri – “the Blues”) is one of the world’s most successful team as it has won four FIFA World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006). Italian clubs have won 48 major European trophies, making Italy the second most successful country in European football. Italy’s top-flight club football league is named Serie A and ranks as the fourth best in Europe and is followed by millions of fans around the world.
Other popular team sports in Italy include volleyball, basketball and rugby. Italy’s male and female national teams are often featured among the world’s best. The Italian national basketball team’s best results were gold at Eurobasket 1983 and EuroBasket 1999, as well as silver at the Olympics in 2004. Lega Basket Serie A is widely considered one of the most competitive in Europe. Rugby union enjoys a good level of popularity, especially in the north of the country. Italy’s national team competes in the Six Nations Championship, and is a regular at the Rugby World Cup. Italy ranks as a tier-one nation by World Rugby. Italy men’s national volleyball team winning three World Championships in a row 1990, 1994 and 1998 an three silver medal in Olympics 1996, 2004, 2016.
Italy has a long and successful tradition in individual sports as well. Bicycle racing is a very familiar sport in the country. Italians have won the UCI World Championships more than any other country, except Belgium. The Giro d’Italia is a cycling race held every May, and constitutes one of the three Grand Tours, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, each of which last approximately three weeks. Alpine skiing is also a very widespread sport in Italy, and the country is a popular international skiing destination, known for its ski resorts. Italian skiers achieved good results in Winter Olympic Games, Alpine Ski World Cup, and World Championship. Tennis has a significant following in Italy, ranking as the fourth most practised sport in the country. The Rome Masters, founded in 1930, is one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world. Italian professional tennis players won the Davis Cup in 1976 and the Fed Cup in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013. Motorsports are also extremely popular in Italy. Italy has won, by far, the most MotoGP World Championships. Italian Scuderia Ferrari is the oldest surviving team in Grand Prix racing, having competed since 1948, and statistically the most successful Formula One team in history with a record of 228 wins.
Historically, Italy has been successful in the Olympic Games, taking part from the first Olympiad and in 47 Games out of 48. Italian sportsmen have won 522 medals at the Summer Olympic Games, and another 106 at the Winter Olympic Games, for a combined total of 628 medals with 235 golds, which makes them the fifth most successful nation in Olympic history for total medals. The country hosted two Winter Olympics (in 1956 and 2006), and one Summer games (in 1960).