He both sang about and mercilessly portrayed the Italian society of the time: some music connoisseurs go so far as to say that he helped Italian folk song out of a crisis. His role models were poets of the French chanson like Jacques Brel and George Brassens. In his relatively short life, which lasted only 28 years, he changed the world of Italian song like hardly anyone before him. His influences continue to this day.
Very often, his works were banned by the Italian censors: His songs broke taboos on more than one occasion and were considered unconventional at the time.
Although Luigi Tenco was only active in the music world for eight years, he changed a lot: Similar to James Dean, Luigi Tenco was catapulted into legend status by his early death.
First encounter with music
At the beginning of his career as a cantautore, Luigi Tenco worked under pseudonyms: among others, the names Gordon Cliff, Gigi Mai, Dick Ventuno were initially used for Tenco records.
At a young age, Tenco founded a jazz band: at this time, Tenco met the later cantautore Gino Paoli, with whom he worked together.
In addition to his studies, the young Luigi Tenco became musically involved: in the fifties, he could no longer imagine his life without music.
In 1958, he toured Germany with the Italian singers Giorgio Gaber and Adriano Celentano: the group gave itself the name Rocky Mountains Old Times Stompers and brought the Italian interpretation of rock’n roll to Germany with their tour.
In 1961, Luigi Tenco released his first record under his real name: With the single I miei giorni perduti [My Lost Days], many music connoisseurs heard the name Luigi Tenco for the first time.
Luigi Tenco’s first LP was released a year later: this record contained, among other things, the song Angela, which became one of his biggest hits.
At the same time, Luigi Tenco came into conflict with the censors for the first time: many of his songs, including Io sì, were initially indexed because they broke numerous taboos in Italian society at the time.
It is often said that through the melancholy of his lyrics and his unique style of interpretation, Luigi Tenco resembled French chansonniers such as Jacques Brel: nevertheless, Tenco developed his own style and adapted the stylistic devices he had learned from his idols Brel, Aznavour and Brassens to the peculiarities of the Italian language.
In the sixties, Luigi Tenco was also in demand as an actor: he celebrated his debut as a leading man in La Cuccagna, directed by Luciano Salce. There he played an almost autobiographical role. He takes on the role of a young introverted cantautore who stands up against bourgeois society. The music for the film was composed by Ennio Morricone.
Tenco contributed to the soundtrack of the film: he donated two of his greatest hits, Quello Che Conta and Tra Tanta Gente, to Morricone’s soundtrack.
In the sixties, Luigi Tenco had long since become a cornerstone of Italian music: New musical trends and new musical phenomena such as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones could do little to diminish Luigi Tenco’s fame.
In the mid-sixties, Luigi Tenco met the singer Dalida in Rome: a love affair developed between the two, which culminated in their joint interpretation of Tenco’s song Ciao Amore, Ciao: with the chanson, both took part in the San Remo Festival in 1967.
The San Remo Festival is one of the most important competitions of Italian song – to this day, Italian chanson is celebrated at the festival and a jury selects the winners of the competition.
Legacy & Mystery
The legacy of Luigi Tenco is one of the the most significant in the modern Italian music world: he enriched the genre of Italian song like no one before him and still provides inspiration to Italian cantautores today. Songs like Angela or Ciao Amore, Ciao could only be interpreted by Luigi Tenco – he understood like no other how to harmonise melancholy with captivating musical arrangements. His death remains a mystery to this day – what is certain is that he became a great celebrity because of his early death and that his youthfulness lives on forever in his songs.
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig