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Music / Francesco Zappa

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His first digital recording in 200 years!

"In every era there are some composers who have hits, and some who don't. They are both working at the same time. One of them [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart] winds up on a candy that you get when you go on an airplane when you come to Austria. The other one: one paragraph on back of a book someplace."
Frank Zappa, 1984 interview for Austrian television.

Francesco Zappa is a 1984 album by Frank Zappa, though he was only the arranger. The music on this album was actually written by his namesake Francesco Zappa, an 18th century Baroque-era composer. Not much is known about him, and he basically languished in obscurity until this album happened.

Zappa first heard of Francesco Zappa when his daughter, Moon Unit, had looked up her father's name in an encyclopaedia for classical composers. He wasn't listed, but she did discover this 18th century Italian composer (1717-1803). Upon hearing this, Zappa ordered some scores. It turned out they weren't related to each other in any way, but the similarities that were there were uncanny. Apart from a similar sounding name and the fact that both men were composers, Francesco Zappa was born in Milan, while Frank Zappa's father was of Sicilian descent. Zappa's own music was often neglected by the general public and music critics, so he felt as if they were kindred spirits. To hammer the point home, he found out that this 18th century composer was virtually forgotten to the point that his music wasn't even published and could only be found in a library of a Mormon Church. Thus Zappa decided to program some of these pieces into his Synclavier synthesizer and release it as an album. He was also delighted to hear that his namesake from two centuries earlier was also a little eccentric compared to most other music from that era:

"He was a contemporary of Mozart. It's kind of happy, Italian-sounding music. It's nice, and real melodic. It's interesting, too; he does a few strange things harmonically that seem to be slightly ahead of his time — a few little weird things. Basically, it's typical of music of that period, except it doesn't sound typical when it comes out of the Synclavier."

The misconception persists that "Francesco Zappa" is merely a pseudonym Zappa adopted to give him an excuse to spoof 18th century baroque music. Listeners who do know it's all by an actual 18th century composer usually overlook the album in Zappa's immense discography because it's closer in spirit to a Cover Album with Zappa's only input being the Synclavier arrangements. Still, it all sounds pleasant and quite interesting to hear, if only for the novelty factor. This was also Frank Zappa's first album completely recorded with the aid of the Synclavier. He used the instrument before on The Perfect Stranger (1984), but only in a few pieces.


Side One
  1. "Opus I: No. 1 - 1st Movement: Andante" (3:32)
  2. "Opus I: No. 1 - 2nd Movement: Allegro con brio" (1:27)
  3. "Opus I: No. 2 - 1st Movement: Andantino" (2:14)
  4. "Opus I: No. 2 - 2nd Movement: Minuetto grazioso" (2:04)
  5. "Opus I: No. 3 - 1st Movement: Andantino" (1:52)
  6. "Opus I: No. 3 - 2nd Movement: Presto" (1:50)
  7. "Opus I: No. 4 - 1st Movement: Andante" (2:20)
  8. "Opus I: No. 4 - 2nd Movement: Allegro" (3:04)

Side Two

  1. "Opus I: No. 5 - 2nd Movement: Minuetto grazioso" (2:29)
  2. "Opus I: No. 6 - 1st Movement: Largo" (2:08)
  3. "Opus I: No. 6 - 2nd Movement: Minuet" (2:03)
  4. "Opus IV: No. 1 - 1st Movement: Andantino" (2:47)
  5. "Opus IV: No. 1 - 2nd Movement: Allegro assai" (2:02)
  6. "Opus IV: No. 2 - 2nd Movement: Allegro assai" (1:20)
  7. "Opus IV: No. 3 - 1st Movement: Andante" (2:24)
  8. "Opus IV: No. 3 - 2nd Movement: Tempo di minuetto" (2:00)
  9. "Opus IV: No. 4 - 1st Movement: Minuetto" (2:10)

Troped by Francesco Zappa

  • All There in the Manual: Frank Zappa gives some historical background about Francesco Zappa in the liner notes.
  • Baroque Music
  • Classical Music
  • Cool Shades: The dog on the album cover wears 'em.
  • Continuity Nod: The dog with sunglasses in the 16th-century outfit also appears on the covers of The Perfect Stranger and Them or Us (also from 1984). It also ties in with dog imagery in Zappa's music.
  • Cover Album: All music here was written by Francesco Zappa, making this Zappa's first and only album where all the tracks were written by another artist.
  • Electronic Music: Baroque Music recreated on a Synclavier.
  • Famous Ancestor: Eh. Many people still question whether Francesco Zappa might have been an ancestor of Frank Zappa. Despite Zappa denying it in the liner notes, he still plays up to the idea. It it were true, it'd be an inversion of this trope, because Frank Zappa is far more famous than Francesco Zappa ever was.
  • Follow the Leader: The idea of performing Baroque Music on a synthesizer was famously pioneered in Wendy Carlos's hit album Switched-On Bach.
  • Instrumentals: The whole thing.
  • Longest Song Goes First: The album kicks off with the 3:32 "Opus I: No. 1 - 1st Movement: Andante", one of only two tracks on the album to surpass three minutes in length (the other being the 3:04 "Opus I: No. 4 - 2nd Movement: Allegro").
  • New Sound Album: This was Frank Zappa's first album entirely performed on Synclavier, an instrument that would come to dominate his latter-day work thanks to him believing that it could let him make songs that human performers couldn't possibly play.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Francesco Zappa is still an obscure name in classical music, but in the Zappa fandom he is more associated with this album than anything else. As Zappa himself explains in the liner notes:
    Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries mankind continued to develop new uses for Mozart, so there was less need for a composer like poor Francesco. Gradually his music found its own level in dusty libraries, indexed in large dusty catalogues devoted to dusty dinner music. A listing in an encyclopedia here, a music dictionary there, that was all the PR Francesco Zappa got for many centuries.
  • Self-Titled Album: Zig-Zagged. It's named after Francesco Zappa, not Frank Zappa, so it is named after the album's composer, but not the album's performing artist. Then again, the names are virtually identical anyway; does it count as self-titled if you title the album after another person with the same name?