Tenores. “Suoni di un’isola” vol. 1
Cd-rom edited by Marco Lutzu. Italian/English
Live Studio www.livestudio.it

Tenores is the first volume of the series “Suoni di un’isola("Sounds of an Island”)  edited by Marco Lutzu and published by Live Studio. The purpose of this project is to  "portray" the present musical lanscape of Sardinia as regards traditional genres through a series of cd-roms devoted to the different repertoires. Notwithstanding the many available recordings and books on Sardinian music, an organic initiative directed to the multimedia documentation of this incredibly rich world, accompanied by accurate scholarly information, has not so far been available.

The first volume deals with one of the most important genres of Sardinian polyvocal male singing: the a tenore singing, reserved mostly for secular occasions. The editor points out that this genre has already been documented in 1787, when the abbot Matteo Madau from Ozieri published Le armonie de' sardi. It was described in the following terms: "In the area of Logudoro they sing their verses with concord of many voices, called Polyodia by the Greeks, that is an artful union of voices […] divided into four parts: soprano, alto, tenore, basso, opposed to each other with exact measure of time […]. This song seems to be introduced by the Greek Dorian colonies, whose way of singing […] was low, pathetic, vigorous, majestic and noble, and able to arouse and gather the hearts […]" (Madau 1787).

In modern terms, a tenore singing is described as a polyvocal genre distributed across the central-north of Sardinia, performed by a group of four male singers, each of them entrusted with rendering one of the four parts. The tenore belongs to the wide family of “canto ad accordo”, where a melodic line performed by a soloist is accompanied by chords realized by the other singers. Sa oghe, the leader of the group, both sings the text and leads the singing, choosing the tone, tempo, speed, length, and tonal shifting (which deeply characterizes this kind of polyvocality). The other parts are usually called su bassu, sa contra and sa mesu oghe. They are endowed with a specific range and perform a rhythmical and harmonic counterpoint, singing nonsense syllables that change from area to area (bim-bò, bim-bam-bò, etc.).

The volume Tenores presents six a tenore groups from six different villages, which are representative of the main geographical areas where the genre can be found today: from the western coast of Sardinia (Seneghe) to the eastern coast (Dorgali and Torpè), and even the most internal villages like Bitti, Ollolai and Fonni.

In this way the different styles of singing found in the region are carefully documented. Compare for instance the style of a group from Bitti (Tenores Mialinu Pira) performing Oche ‘e notte with the more relaxed and extended way of singing the same form realized by a group from Fonni (Cuncordu Vramentu).

Tenores Mialinu Pira (Bitti)






Oche ‘e notte (mp3 file)

performed by

Tenores Mialinu Pira (Bitti)


Cuncordu Vramentu (Fonni)




Boghe ‘e notte (mp3 file)

performed by Cuncordu Vramentu (Fonni)


Twelve audio tracks document also the main repertoires which commonly employ a tenore singing: ballu, that is dance song - perhaps the most typical expression of this style -; boghe 'e notte (night

Ballu seriu (mp3 file)

performed by Tenores Mialinu Pira (Bitti)

song),  muttos and lestra, secular songs whose form is individually determined by a particular poetic structure; and gosos, a religious type of song.


Muttos (mp3 file)

performed by Tenore Milìa (Dorgali)

Lestra (mp3 file)

performed by Tenore Barbagia (Ollolai)

Gosos (mp3 file)

performed by Su contrattu de Seneghe (Seneghe)


The volume also includes an interesting survey of the main questions related to a tenore singing dealt with in the section entitled “a tenore singing”. Marco Lutzu talks over its history — from its origin until its role in today’s Sardinian society —, occasions and functions, and musical features — from the function and role of the voices to their timbre, from the repertoire to the language and relationship text-music, and even the singers’ behavior in terms of kinesic and prossemic.

Further sections deal with the geography of a tenore singing, the performers, texts, and musical transcriptions, thus providing wide information on the genre, its structural aspects, the related poetic forms and its distribution across the island.

Tenore Sélema from Torpè

(wmv file, 1Mb)


Finally, the editor takes advantage of the multimedia format in order also to include a series of video-interviews with the six groups of singers, which allow us to observe their behavior while singing, besides providing information from inside.

In conclusion Tenores is certainly a work worthy of consideration, which will be very useful both for scholars and for a wider audience thanks to the quality of the audio and video recordings and the accuracy of the accompanying text. The only criticism concerns the English translation of the text, which would benefit from a revision.




Tullia Magrini

Fondazione Levi per Istruzione Musicale Superiore



Madau Matteo. 1787. Le armonie de' sardi. Cagliari: Stamperia Reale.


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