This article examines a series of lawsuits that consumed Italy’s legal establishment between approximately 1924 and 1933. Resulting from a protracted labor dispute between instrumental musicians who worked in cinemas and the exhibitors who employed them, the lawsuits turned on a question of employment law: whether musicians ought to be considered full-time employees—entitled to various benefits and protections against unfair termination—or more precariously situated freelancers whom exhibitors could hire and fire at will. As a consequence of the vagaries of existing Italian labor law and new Fascist legislation governing labor relations, musicians were already at a disadvantage in this dispute. Unexpectedly, their situation was further undermined by the judiciary, as Italy’s highest court made their employee status conditional on the perceived aesthetic value of cinema and its associated music making. That is, musicians had to prove that their musical abilities were integral to the artistic outcome of any given film screening—a tall order in the context of silent cinematic exhibition, where musical accompaniment was materially distinct from the projected film. Precisely because the courts valorized the fusion of music and image, however, the Italian musicians’ lawsuits illuminate a fundamental parameter of cinematic aesthetics—synchronization—and reveal something significant about the nature of film music. Public recognition for effecting music-image synchronization in film conferred symbolic, but also literal, capital; thus I contend that synchronization ought to be understood as a form of musical labor, both in the silent era and beyond.

Are musicians workers? Is musical labor equivalent to other forms of labor? And are some forms of musical labor worth more than others? Throughout history, musicians and their patrons have variously worked within and fought against prevailing conceptions of musical labor, collectively determining which acts of music making (teaching, composing, performing) qualify as exchangeable commodities. But in Italy, starting in the mid-1920s and reaching a peak toward the end of that decade, questions of this nature came urgently to the fore—and it was the judicial establishment that confronted them head-on.

The cause of this reckoning was a prolonged legal dispute, as jobbing instrumental musicians—a group known as “professori d’orchestra” or “orchestrali”—brought a series of lawsuits against their employers.1 Some of these lawsuits were initiated by musicians who worked in hotels, café orchestras, and variety theaters (even, in one instance, a marionette theater). Most cases, however, involved musicians who worked in cinemas. This should come as no surprise. Cinema was a popular pastime throughout Italy, and musical accompaniment, however meager, was considered an indispensable component of cinematic exhibition. Before the age of synchronized sound reproduction in cinemas, moving picture orchestras were among the most plentiful and stable sources of musical employment available. Thus it was that members of these orchestras, from circa 1925 onward, became a common sight in courtrooms across the Italian peninsula. Dozens of lawsuits were recorded, from Bari to Genoa, from the islands to the mountains, and above all in the main cities of Italian cinema—Turin, Rome, and Milan. Musicians and exhibitors initially squared off against each other in local employment tribunals, but several cases progressed through the various levels of the Italian justice system and were adjudicated by Italy’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Cassation.

Given the historical moment and the medium in question, one might assume that this legal drama was connected with a major transformation in film history—the transition between silent cinema and sound cinema. To be sure, the installation of sound reproduction equipment in cinemas eliminated the need for live music and would eventually put thousands of musicians out of a job. But the Italian lawsuits were not related to the threat of synchronized sound—at least not at first, not directly. In fact, as a consequence of a profound crisis in the nation’s film industry, Italy would not begin its transition to sound cinema until mid-1929, when a handful of venues were wired for sound; only in 1930, when the first Italian sound film went into production, did the transition get going in earnest. (By way of comparison, in the United States the first feature-length sound film had been released in 1926, and by mid-1929 American cinema musicians were already losing their jobs in droves.)2 Rather, the Italian lawsuits turned on a question of employment law: in essence, whether the orchestrali should be classed as full-time employees, with protections against being summarily dismissed and with guaranteed rest days and sick leave, or whether they should rather be treated as independent contractors, with less favorable benefits and fewer protections.

This is a familiar tension. The rights of workers to stable, nonexploitative employment are often found to be in conflict with the ability of employers to secure the labor force they desire at any given moment. As the status of delivery couriers, rideshare drivers, and other precariously situated workers in today’s so-called gig economy confirms, similar questions are confronted repeatedly in capitalist societies, as material, technological, and cultural constraints on working practices continue to evolve. Nevertheless, the debate that unfolded in Italy from the mid-1920s well into the 1930s was also influenced by a number of highly specific factors, features of contemporary Italian law, governance, and culture that inflected the way musical labor was understood and compartmentalized.

Leaving aside unexpected echoes of present-day flash points, why should the ins and outs of a century-old labor dispute interest us today? In what follows, I argue that the story of the Italian musicians’ legal struggles is worth taking up for two key reasons. First, it offers a compelling case study of how, and why, aesthetic value accrues to certain musical genres more readily than it does to others: compelling, in part, because over the course of the musicians’ lawsuits aesthetic hierarchies became, quite literally, a matter of law. Second, in providing a novel vantage point from which to observe contemporary conceptions of cinema—especially in its formative silent period—the lawsuits reveal something significant about music’s crucial role in cinematic spectacle. Specifically, they shine a light on the work that integrates music and images in an inherently composite medium, and thus the musical labor that underpins cinema’s artistic and commercial success.

My argument hinges on a milestone case adjudicated by the Court of Cassation in 1929, Mauri v. Gaeta, whose controversial outcome neatly encapsulates the tangle of legal and aesthetic imperatives that motivated the musicians’ lawsuits overall. In my analysis, the conflicting dictates of this ruling resulted from the collision of two key questions. The first was much in the air in the mid-1920s: How are different forms of labor best defined and regulated? The second question had been debated in Italy since the birth of the feature-length film around 1910: Is cinema art? Music was a troubling factor in both these debates. In the case of the former, musical work habits and workplaces bore little resemblance to the forms of work idealized by legislators; and at least some forms of music making were privileged sites of aesthetic discourse, figuratively (if not actually) beyond such mundane matters as contracts and remuneration. In the case of the latter debate, music had long been wrapped up in the question of cinema’s artistry, partly because it drew attention to the medium’s ontological instability. Silent cinema was a hybrid form of entertainment, patching together the technologically preserved record of the camera with the efforts of living musicians playing in real time. For some, music was what made cinema tolerable as entertainment, and occasionally what raised it to the status of art; for others, music simply concealed the cold, mechanical heart of the medium’s illusionistic enterprise.3 As I shall argue, part of what made Mauri v. Gaeta such a landmark case is that, for a time, this second question (whether cinema counted as art) became the diagnostic criterion for answering the first (whether cinema musicians ought to be considered employees).

Mauri v. Gaeta

Let us first present the facts of the case. Ironically, given how important Mauri v. Gaeta would become for Italian cinema musicians, those at the heart of it were not, in fact, film accompanists. Giorgio Pietrocola, Emilio Zanetti, Vincenzo Malagrinò, Arturo Gianotti, Nicola Gaeta, Sebastiano Furnari, Giuseppe D’Elia, and Ermenegildo Battagliola all worked for the orchestra of the Teatro Trianon in Milan; Pietrocola was the conductor.4 The Trianon was a well-known venue for the mixed, revue-style form of spectacular entertainment known in Italian as “varietà,” roughly equivalent to American vaudeville or British music hall. Musical accompaniment of individual acts was standard practice in such venues—in fact, the Trianon orchestra played a key role in the diffusion of jazz in Italy—and most of the musicians had been continuously employed at the theater for many years, some for over a decade.5 But between August and September of 1927, the musicians were all fired, without due notice and without cause. The musicians then collectively summoned the company that ran the Trianon, the Società Anonima Teatrale Achille Mauri, to a local employment tribunal, demanding compensation for wrongful dismissal and the wages they were due for the missing notice period.6

The Società Mauri, in its defense, claimed that the musicians did not qualify as employees in the eyes of the law, only as freelancers, and that they were therefore ineligible for any employment-related benefits. (It also claimed, falsely, that the musicians had been employed on fixed-term contracts, and that one of the musicians had quit his post voluntarily.) By contrast, the musicians argued that, given their uninterrupted and exclusive service to the Trianon’s orchestra, it was absurd to claim they were anything but employees. In February of 1928, the tribunal found in the musicians’ favor. Later that same year, in August, a centralized employment tribunal to which the Società Mauri appealed ruled the same way.7 Twice thwarted, the only option remaining to the Società was an appeal to the apex of the Italian justice system, the Court of Cassation (Corte di Cassazione).8 Because the Trianon musicians’ case was by now one of several similar controversies, the Court convened an extended panel of judges, the Sezioni Unite, a procedure adopted in particularly contentious cases.9 But the wheels of justice turned slowly. It was May of 1929 by the time the Court heard legal arguments. Only on June 11, 1929, did the Sezioni Unite issue their much-awaited ruling, which was widely reported in specialist legal journals and even in the broadsheet press.10

Several broadsheets reported that the Court had ruled definitively: musicians did not meet the criteria for employee status under Italian law.11 Yet this was wide of the mark. True, the Court had determined that (with one exception) the musicians in this case were not employees; but it had declined to issue a blanket endorsement, or rejection, of the employee status of musicians in general. What the Court had in fact done was to introduce a series of slippery, context-dependent distinctions. Thus, musicians who worked in opera houses and symphony orchestras could be classed as full-time employees, but those who worked in variety theaters (like the Trianon) could not. Musicians who worked in cinemas, on the other hand, were in an equivocal position: they could be classed as employees so long as they played during the projection of the film, providing a musical accompaniment to the images on screen; but those who played only during intermissions or between screenings were not employees. (Similar strictures bound musicians who played incidental music in spoken theater.) There was, finally, one category of musician for which the Court made a universal exception: the orchestral conductor, who was recognized as a full-time employee irrespective of workplace or genre.

The Court’s justification for this division of musical labor was strikingly ideological, as is evident in a key passage from the ruling:

The Court … observes that while it is unclear whether the plaintiffs are musically trained, it is well known that in variety theaters, which frequently feature performances by acrobats, magicians, illusionists, and other similar acts, the participation of the orchestra is of little importance; even when it comes to accompanying singers, the orchestra’s contribution to the overall effect is of secondary importance. The same can be said for cinemas and playhouses, if music does not seek to accompany the action but is merely played between the parts of a picture or the acts of a play. The orchestra’s contribution to the aesthetic and artistic outcome of such forms of entertainment is minimal or nonexistent.12

Crudely speaking, the judges of the Court seem to have felt that music in variety theaters was simply not very good, dressed up though this admission was in terms of aesthetic insignificance. Tellingly, they explicitly posited that the opposite held true in the exalted realms of the opera house and concert hall. Such considerations may seem to be unreliable criteria for determining who qualifies for employment-linked benefits. Yet this aesthetic emphasis is precisely what is most striking about the ruling for a reader today: the way in which Italian jurists allowed questions of artistry to encroach on matters of employment law, questions that they struggled to put on a solid judicial footing. Paradoxically, the actual labor entailed in musical work of any kind (practicing, rehearsing, performing) came to matter less in this labor controversy than the aesthetic value that notionally resulted from it. But because the law was ill-equipped to deal with the inherently subjective aesthetic domain, the ruling inevitably reflected personal tastes—or prejudices—on such matters, and the values of the bourgeois class to which legal scholars, lawyers, and judges of the period mostly belonged. Musical hierarchies had been imposed. Certain popular forms of entertainment were judged, in legal terms, to be artistically worthless.

Needless to say, for the musicians at the center of this particular case, the Court’s ruling was especially disappointing. Two years after losing their positions at the Trianon, only Pietrocola (the conductor) emerged from the process with any remuneration.13 But for the musical community at large, and especially for cinema musicians, the ruling raised more questions than it answered. In fact, it was rife with contradictions. For one thing, as several legal scholars noted, the number of musicians actively excluded from employment status thanks to the Court’s subtle distinction—did they play during the screening or not?—was minuscule, given that almost all musicians in cinemas were engaged specifically for the purpose of accompanying films.14 For another, the Court assumed that cinema exhibitors employed musicians to meet primarily aesthetic ends, rather than the economic imperatives of running a successful picture house.15 Small wonder that as the lawsuits continued beyond Mauri v. Gaeta, the judges in those later cases took divergent lessons from the 1929 ruling.

But what were the factors that led to this point, where the ability of cinema musicians to feel secure in their jobs turned—literally—on value judgments? This is the question to which the remainder of this article is devoted. The first half examines the historical and legal factors that led to the 1929 Cassation ruling, not least the reforms to labor organization instigated by the Fascist government, especially in relation to unionization, which drove musicians to seek redress in the courts in the first place. Throughout this section, and the article as a whole, I draw extensively on specialist legal journals of the 1920s and 1930s, specifically those that deal with employment law. Some of these journals are essentially repositories of written rulings (sentenze) from courts across Italy, occasionally paired with commentaries by legal professionals that draw out their significance. Others are broader in scope, mixing commentary on individual rulings with discussion of highly charged issues in both national and international labor law; some were specifically instituted to provide a forum for discussing Fascist labor reforms and their repercussions.16 Because the musicians’ lawsuits tested several boundaries of Italian labor law simultaneously, and because they became so controversial, they are mentioned frequently in these journals, giving us a wealth of information about the controversy as it evolved and, occasionally, crucial details of individual musicians’ cases. Dry and technical though they undoubtedly are, the legal journals thus provide a striking glimpse into the lives of rank-and-file musicians in Italy’s many cinema, theater, and café orchestras—a musical world rarely discussed in scholarship on Italian music of this period, which typically prioritizes either the vicissitudes of various elite composers’ relationships with Mussolini and his state apparatus, or, in the popular arena, the distinctive contributions of notable entertainers, bandleaders, and soloists.17

The second half of the article considers the surprising ramifications of Mauri v. Gaeta for cinema musicians specifically. Despite the welter of conflicting and contradictory legal outcomes in the years that followed, one pattern emerges: the tendency of Italian jurists to reward efforts to coordinate musical accompaniment closely with filmic images—or to use a term widespread in film music scholarship, the efforts to synchronize music and image. Long considered a key aesthetic parameter of film music in the sound era, recent scholarship on silent cinema has shown that an ideal of synchronization, however broadly construed, was also a central concern of film accompanists and cinema music directors in the silent era.18 As I show, an aestheticized conception of synchronization—strikingly abstracted from any practical considerations of film accompaniment—came to inform many Italian judges’ interpretation of the law, and hence their rulings on musicians’ employment cases.19 Crucially, then, what the Italian musicians’ lawsuits tell us is why synchronization was and remains so significant: why, in concrete terms, it is important to consider who is responsible (and is seen to be responsible) for making music and images align.

To begin our inquiry, it is worth situating music and musicians in Italian cinemas within the broader cinematic ecosystem—especially because throughout the 1920s, film production in Italy was in grip of a profound crisis.20 Unlike its American counterpart, the Italian film industry had since its inception been a rickety edifice that relied on aristocratic subvention; in Giorgio Bertellini’s words, it prized cinema’s potential as “artistic entertainment” while neglecting its status as an “industrial commodity.”21 Thus the dilettantish captains of the industry were not only slow to grasp cinema’s transformation into a mass medium in the 1920s but also ill-equipped to deal with the general economic malaise that followed the end of the First World War. And as the Italian film industry became increasingly uncompetitive, Hollywood studios in particular began to flood the Italian market with their products.22

Alarmed at the rapid influx of American films, several of Italy’s biggest film producers banded together in 1919 to form a consortium, the Unione Cinematografica Italiana (UCI), to promote Italian filmmaking and to stem the Hollywood tide. The consortium, however, was an ignominious failure. One of the banks that supported it collapsed in 1921; the films it produced were hobbled technically by out-of-date equipment and old film stock; and by 1925 several of its constituent members were facing bankruptcy.23 UCI’s eventual collapse in 1926 brought down most of Italy’s biggest film studios. By then, it was widely accepted that Italian cinema was in crisis, but this realization came far too late. Despite protectionist legislation introduced by the Fascist government, American studios continued to press their advantage, and native film production continued to plummet. In 1931, the total output of the Italian film industry came to precisely two films.24

This crisis in the industry devastated film production across the peninsula. Yet for all the tumult, these events had little impact on the place of music in cinemas. Musicians were, if anything, a beneficiary of what Steven Ricci describes as “the discrepancy between the decline in feature film production and the simultaneous increase in film attendance.”25 As cinema rooted itself ever more firmly in the entertainment landscape of the 1920s, film attendance rose vertiginously, and as the exhibition sector flourished, demand for capable musicians increased accordingly. But music was also the source of another discrepancy. Italian film culture of the 1920s was intimately bound to foreign—and especially American—films. Italian film magazines reported enviously on the technological innovations of Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros., while Italian filmgoers adopted US star culture wholeheartedly as their own, thrilling to the escapades of Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks and Dolores del Río. Musical accompaniment, however, was not a foreign import, being provided by local musicians. In a curious way, music became one of the few elements of an Italian filmgoer’s experience that was actually “made in Italy.”

Accompaniment practices in Italian cinemas were largely comparable to those prevalent in other European countries and the United States. That is, musical accompaniment compiled from preexisting repertoires of popular and (typically) light classical music was the norm.26 Nevertheless, as Italian scholars such as Sergio Miceli, Marco Targa, and others have demonstrated, there were several small but significant differences that marked Italian silent film accompaniment out—not least in the material organization of musical compilation itself. Italian music publishers were remarkably slow to begin issuing collections of incidental music exclusively marketed toward film accompaniment, the first such collections emerging only in the late 1920s.27 Accompaniment manuals, meanwhile, seem not to have circulated widely on the peninsula; cue sheets, a staple of American accompaniment practice, were similarly absent.28 Many of these differences may, in turn, derive from the Italian privileging of the small orchestra (orchestrina) as the default ensemble of cinematic music making.29 The huge, elaborate theater organs that became a fixture of urban picture palaces in the United States, for instance, were uncommon in Italy, and by the late 1920s solo piano accompaniment was strongly associated with lower-tier or provincial cinemas.30 Given that orchestrine were also the standard ensemble in a range of venues besides cinemas, it is no surprise that cinema musicians were generally considered part of a broader category of orchestrali, rather than specialists.

Even so, cinema musicians were uniquely positioned among the orchestrali. According to a 1923 report on the “conditions of life and work of musicians” in various European countries, commissioned by the League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, Italian cinema instrumentalists earned less than their colleagues who worked in cafés, variety theaters, and light opera orchestras.31 Yet cinema musicians had one advantage over these other groups: the stability of their employment. Seasonal unemployment was endemic among musicians, given the preeminence of opera and theater in the Italian musical landscape.32 But film listings printed in major Italian broadsheets suggest that many urban cinemas were active every day of the week, twelve months a year, with daytime showings in addition to glitzy evening shows. The availability of long-term, year-round employment may explain why cinema musicians were overrepresented in musicians’ lawsuits. They were more likely to accrue benefits from such employment than their more mobile colleagues who worked in other musical venues; and, being paid less in the first place, they also had more to lose.33

Indeed, from the musicians’ perspective, a more pertinent consequence of the film industry’s crisis was its role in the rise of Italy’s only genuine movie mogul, Stefano Pittaluga. The director of the eponymous film distribution company he had founded in 1919 (the Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga), Pittaluga was one of few major distributors with the foresight to stay out of the Unione Cinematografica Italiana. Upon its collapse, he absorbed the production equipment and studio spaces that belonged to many of its constituent firms.34 He secured exclusive rights to distribute the films of several Hollywood studios, and, much like those studios, he invested heavily in exhibition, purchasing movie theaters across Italy (especially the country’s industrialized north, where filmgoing was concentrated). By the late 1920s, Pittaluga single-handedly controlled a huge swath of the Italian film industry. Unsurprisingly, he also pioneered the implementation of synchronized sound technology in Italian cinemas. It was in one of Pittaluga’s establishments in Rome that the first demonstration of the new technology took place, in early 1929, and it was in Pittaluga’s studios that the first Italian sound film was produced in 1930.35 Fêted by the Fascist regime, Pittaluga would likely have continued to exercise a significant influence on the Italian industry in the years of its rebirth had he not died, aged only forty-five, in 1932—just as the sound revolution he had instigated was taking permanent hold of the Italian cinematic landscape.

Eventually, then, Pittaluga’s company would play a central role in bringing about the end of live music in cinemas. But throughout the 1920s, when live musical accompaniment was still de rigueur, the Società Pittaluga’s principal significance to musicians was as an employer: Pittaluga-owned cinemas employed hundreds if not thousands of musicians across the peninsula. Consequently, the Società Pittaluga was well represented in the musicians’ lawsuits. As figure 1 shows, almost exactly a third of the cases I have documented featured the Società as either plaintiff or defendant, far more than any other company or individual. The unfair treatment to which this litany of musicians’ plaints attests is of a piece with Pittaluga’s industrial approach to his cinematic empire. Musical staff constituted a very significant and non-negotiable outlay within a movie theater’s business. Consequently, the cinema sector came to support a diverse body of working musicians, who depended on the cinemas for their livelihood.36 This made them vulnerable when exhibitors like Pittaluga, presumably in a bid to reduce the impact of music on their balance sheets, sought to treat them like freelancers.37 It is to these legal maneuvers, and the Fascist labor settlement that enabled them, that I now turn.

Figure 1

Cases involving the Società Pittaluga, 1924–33

Figure 1

Cases involving the Società Pittaluga, 1924–33

Close modal

Legally, the lawsuits turned on the interpretation of a single, crucial law passed in 1924, one that both defined a particular class of employee, the “impiegato,” and outlined the terms of the particular relationship he or she enjoyed with an employer, the “contratto d’impiego privato,” which is to say a contract of employment in the private sector.38 The general terms of this contract are laid out in Article 1 of the law:

Art. 1. A contract of private employment, as defined in this decree, is that whereby an organization or individual that runs a business, employs to the benefit of the same business, and usually on an open-ended basis, the professional activity of another party, who collaborates [with the manager of the business] in an executive or ancillary capacity—excluding, however, any activity that merely involves manual work.39

There were two key passages in Article 1 that potentially impinged on the employment status of musicians. Let us consider first the final clause, which, in excluding “manual work” from the definition of the impiegato, lays bare some of the ideological commitments of the legislators.

This exclusion of manual work was in the law tacitly and elsewhere explicitly understood as separating the impiegato from another kind of employee, the “operaio,” perhaps best understood as “manual worker,” “laborer” or simply “worker.”40 Indeed, the distinction between impiegati and operai was, in ideal terms, one between white-collar and blue-collar labor, the intellect and the body, offices and factory floors. But as the legal scholar Ludovico Barassi observed in a lengthy critique of the impiegato/operaio distinction published in 1931, the two categories were far from mutually exclusive.41 Many operai had intellectually demanding jobs; many impiegato roles were menial and repetitive. Thus, while technically there were supposed to be real differences between the two categories, in actuality the division was a matter of class ideology, an ideology that implicitly valued intellectual labor over manual labor, administration over production.

Musicians were not the only profession to test the boundaries of this division. Throughout the 1920s, Italian courts were kept busy with cases that sought to determine whether or not workers in this or that job counted as full-time employees; in one digest of dozens of such cases from 1928, for instance, we learn that building site foremen, head gardeners, and shop assistants had been judged to be impiegati, while doormen, newspaper copyeditors, and private tutors had not.42 Still, musicians posed special problems. True, they often entered open-ended, full-time contracts with a single employer, a core characteristic of the contratto d’impiego. But the working habits of musicians little resembled the rhythms of either the office or heavy industry. Musicians worked odd hours, often starting shifts late in the day and working on into the night; they might have other jobs (teaching, for instance) during daytime hours. More problematically, it was indisputable that a substantial majority of musicians worked with their hands, supposedly the defining characteristic of the operaio. Yet most people—certainly most legal writers, jurists, and lawmakers of the period—balked at the idea of regarding musical work as manual labor, the cognitive dissonance of placing violinists and machinists in the same category being simply too great.

For Barassi, such squeamishness was untenable: given the way the law was written, the obvious conclusion was that musicians were operai. Yet he also noted that the obvious conclusion had “never been especially appealing.”43 Many of his colleagues got around the impasse simply by affirming music as a privileged space. Antonio Uckmar, a legal scholar who commented extensively on the situation of the orchestrali, always in favor of their being regarded as impiegati, stated flatly that “the work of a musician is obviously of an intellectual, not manual, nature.”44 And while there were certainly those who disagreed with Uckmar’s pro-musician stance,45 the musicians-as-manual-workers notion does seem to have remained essentially taboo. For the most part, those on the other side of the musicians’ lawsuits—the judges and legal scholars favorable to the exhibitors—never attempted to mount such an argument.46

The stakes of the 1924 law for musicians thus begin to clarify. If musicians fell within the law’s purview, they could reasonably expect to receive the more generous employment-linked benefits specifically conferred upon impiegati—a desirable state of affairs from the musicians’ perspective. If they fell outside it, their employers would be freed of those additional obligations—an attractive outcome for many cinema exhibitors. Given the reluctance to treat musicians as manual workers, however, there was only one other obvious employment category into which musicians could fall that also removed exhibitors’ obligations toward vacations and rest days, pensions benefits, and regulation over termination: the freelancer. But it should come as no surprise that the freelancer identity was an awkward fit for many musicians. This was principally because to be a “free professional” (“libero professionista”) one had to have the freedom to accept or reject work on one’s own terms; doctors or attorneys in independent practice were a typical reference point.47 Most musicians who worked in cinemas, and had no choice as to their work hours or the ability to work elsewhere if they so desired, were unlikely candidates for inclusion in this category. Making this new claim, therefore, involved shifting attention to an aspect of the 1924 employment law that was more amenable to manipulation: the controversial concept of collaboration.

Collaboration, in itself, fed into the class division implied by the law: it was supposed to be the feature of the impiegato’s work that distinguished it from other forms of employment. But it, too, was an inherently ambiguous concept, admitting a range of interpretations. The freer, more straightforward understanding of the law treated the concept of collaboration broadly, employer and employee “working together” toward a common purpose, namely the economic success of the business in question.48 For many jurists, musicians employed on a full-time basis comfortably met this definition of collaboration: their labor could be understood as “technical collaboration of an artistic nature.”49 There was, however, a more restrictive understanding of the law, which additionally emphasized the idea that to be an employee was, in some sense, to be a “virtual representative” (“rappresentanza virtuale”) of one’s employer. That is, employees completed only those tasks that employers theoretically could complete themselves, if they only had infinite time and resources, in the process of running their businesses.50 Sales assistants, cashiers, secretaries, typists, and scribes met the employment threshold, by this logic; musicians supposedly fell short.

These divergent understandings of collaboration provided ample room for the proliferation of a range of anti-musician arguments, of which one characteristic example will suffice. Many writers understood music to be the product that cinemas and other venues offered to the public, and the musicians merely “factors of production” (“fattori di produzione”). Thus, in 1922, the appellate court judge Alessandro Madonna wrote that “a theater company certainly counts as a business. … [Enrico] Caruso who sings (who sang, alas) is not, however, a collaborator of that business; rather Caruso’s singing is precisely the thing that the theater company places before the public and exploits.”51 In other words, music was akin to a “raw material,” like coal for a mining company or cotton for a textiles factory; producers of raw material, in the abstract, could not be employees of a business because they had no role in its administration.52

As the attorney Ernesto Turone pointed out, this logic was flawed. It was not possible to purchase “singing” in the abstract, detached from the producer of said singing—not, at least, in the way coal existed separately from a miner. In fact, what La Scala and other opera houses were purchasing was not really Caruso’s singing at all, but rather his “professional activity” (“attività professionale”), his availability to perform at a given time and place. And the choice of Caruso as a reference point, in this perspective, was a revealing misstep on Madonna’s part, as Turone demonstrated through his own operatic comparison:

When Rosa Raisa travels from America to sing in Boito’s Nerone, she has not become an employee of La Scala … for the simple reason that she has been engaged by the theater only for a single purpose, namely to sing a certain role for a given number of performances. But had Rosa Raisa rather tendered her services as a soprano generically for a certain period of time (a season, a month, etc.), she would have become an employee of the theater; a handsomely remunerated employee, to be sure, but an employee nonetheless!53

In other words, when average musicians—not Rosa Raisa, the first Turandot—tendered their services in a cinema orchestra, on a long-term or open-ended basis, the sensible assumption was that they were employees of the cinema.

But pragmatic interpretations of the law were only as reliable as the availability of pragmatically minded jurists: fundamentally, the concept of collaboration remained an unstable foundation on which to build an argument for musicians’ recognition as employees. Indeed, for Barassi it simply did not hold up to scrutiny: “the best way of convincing oneself of this,” he wrote, “is to observe the acrobatics that jurists, shackled by the formulation in Article 1 [of the 1924 law], must perform in order to resolve certain cases.”54 That being said, several legal scholars were reluctant to attribute the persistence of the lawsuits to a lack of legislative nuance. “The high number of rulings,” wrote Uckmar in 1929, “is the result, in my humble opinion, not of imprecision in the law or of the diversity of cases to date, but of the tenacity with which cinematic exhibitors continue to deny their musicians due notice of termination, notwithstanding the fact that legal precedent, one or two rulings aside, has always sided with the musicians.”55 In other words, the exhibitors and cinema proprietors who engaged musicians were keen to avoid the costs associated with the most privileged employment status, and were happy to distort both letter and spirit of the 1924 law to do so.

And they were aided, in this task, by the sweeping changes to labor organization that were introduced in Italy over the course of the 1920s. Like many other European countries, Italy went through a period of significant social unrest after the First World War. In the wake of the Russian revolutions of 1917, the so-called Two Red Years (Biennio Rosso) of 1919–20 were marked by frequent strikes, riots, and other forms of labor conflict.56 Union membership surged to a historic high, and the labor movement achieved notable victories across the entire industrial landscape.57 Twice, in national elections of 1919 and 1921, the Socialist Party emerged with the most votes. Riven by factional infighting, however, the Socialists squandered their opportunity to effect change, and, as disaffection set in, the Fascist movement seized the moment. Starting in 1920, bands of blackshirts waged a violent campaign against both the political left and organized labor, preparing the ground for Mussolini and the National Fascist Party to take power in 1922. Fascist-led syndicates were established in explicit competition with existing trade unions (often supplying strike-breakers, for instance), and under the ever-present threat of violence, as Mussolini progressively hollowed out Italy’s democratic institutions, the free trade unions were sapped of their membership and efficacy.58 By 1925, the right to strike had effectively been abolished. A year later, non-Fascist unions were officially banned.

The musical labor movement was one of many victims of the rise of Fascism. Mutual aid societies, hardship funds, and worker associations for musicians had existed since the mid-nineteenth century.59 Organizations specifically for orchestrali, however, began to spring up in urban centers only around 1900.60 By 1911, these proto-unions had become firmly established, enough to warrant the founding of an organization at the national level, the Federazione Orchestrale Italiana (FOI), in turn affiliated to the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (CGdL), an umbrella organization representing unions from all industrial sectors. Over the course of the 1910s, through strikes and collective bargaining, musicians in cities across the country had successfully negotiated collective agreements that determined wage scales and other benefits.61 That the FOI had made real gains is confirmed by the 1923 League of Nations report cited above, which noted that the average Italian musician’s salary was four times higher (in real terms) than it had been in 1913.62 Yet the same report bears witness to the Fascist threat, noting that “the musicians’ organizations, which were in the past affiliated to the [CGdL], now form part of the Theatrical Corporation, which in turn belongs to the Fascist movement.”63 Later that same year, the FOI’s Central Committee voted to dissolve itself, inviting its local branches to affiliate themselves with Fascist orchestral unions.64

The suppression of non-Fascist labor unions thus provides a convenient counterfactual for our inquiry: Had the tools that have historically been effective against unfair labor practices—principally the withholding of labor, whether through strikes or lockouts—been permitted to continue, would the lawsuits have proceeded as they did? It seems unlikely. Consider the situation in the United States, where there was a very active musicians’ union, the American Federation of Musicians. Here, AFM-led strikes wrung several concessions from cinema exhibitors throughout the 1920s; it was only with the introduction of synchronized sound, whereupon the material basis of cinematic exhibition changed radically, that the union’s ability to advocate for its members was curtailed.65 One can only imagine what the situation in Italy might have been if, say, all the musicians who worked in cinemas run by the Società Pittaluga had been able to strike. The prohibition on directly confronting exhibitors thus goes some way toward explaining why the musicians’ lawsuits occurred in the first place: with genuine union activism prohibited, the musicians’ only option was to involve the courts. But this was hardly an ideal solution. Because the justice system was slow and essentially reactive, it could determine retrospectively whether musicians had been treated unfairly, but was unable to provide redress to the workers in question while they waited for justice to take its course. With enough legal wiggle room—which the ambiguities inherent in the concept of collaboration certainly provided—employers could act with impunity and then argue their case in court.

But why did the musicians’ lawsuits go on for so long? The organization of the Italian justice system provides a partial explanation. Unlike the legal systems of the United States or the United Kingdom, which operate on a common law or case law principle, Italy’s legal system was (and still is) based on the principle of civil law. That is, the Italian civil code was the principal reference point for legal decision making; legal precedent, not being binding, was accorded a much less important role.66 With each new case in the musicians’ lawsuits, judges were technically supposed to look to the text of the law (in this case, the 1924 law on private sector employment), not to what had been decided by prior rulings. In practice, Italian jurists did keep track of prior rulings (giurisprudenza) on any given legal issue, and a Court of Cassation ruling—especially one issued by the Court in Sezioni Unite—usually exerted considerable influence on subsequent judicial activity.67 Such was the controversy over the musicians’ lawsuits, however, that the Court’s ruling in Mauri v. Gaeta did not have this effect—hence the flurry of entirely contradictory rulings from lower courts even after June 11, 1929. Civil law was ill-equipped to deal with unscrupulous exhibitors, who kept making the same arguments in bad faith, even if the body of legal precedent was against said arguments, and even if new rulings failed to endorse them.

The musicians’ predicament was further compounded by additional transformations of workers’ rights instigated by the Fascist government. These changes were given their most triumphant public expression in the Labor Charter (Carta del Lavoro) of 1927, a fundamental if contradictory statement of the Fascist vision of a centralized, “corporatist” state and the role of work within it.68 The legislative framework for many of the Charter’s provisions, however, dated to a law passed a year earlier, on April 3, 1926.69 Among its many innovations, this syndical law laid the groundwork for the legal recognition of the existing Fascist unions and employer associations as organs of the state, which were to work toward the creation of “national collective work contracts” (“contratti collettivi nazionali di lavoro”), agreements that established nationwide employment norms for each industry.70 In a sense, the Fascist government tried to nationalize labor relations. Yet, as David D. Roberts notes, the 1926 syndical law (like most Fascist labor reforms) was never particularly effective, being half-heartedly implemented and generally more favorable to employers than to workers.71 The musicians’ lawsuits offer a striking case in point.

A collective contract for the Sindacato Nazionale Fascista Orchestrali e Bandisti was duly agreed on November 19, 1927; one of its stated aims was to “establish definitively the nature of the legal relationship that arises between musicians and the exhibitors who operate cinemas.”72 Yet, in a curious circumstance, the collective contract seems not to have been officially published, a prerequisite for it to have any legitimacy in the eyes of the law.73 And in a major miscalculation, the contract left open a linguistic trap: it explicitly referred to musicians only as “professionisti” (professionals) and never as “impiegati” (employees).74 It is unclear whether this was a deliberate oversight. Pro-musician advocates stressed similarities between the terms of the collective contract and the 1924 law on private sector employment; writers on the other side of the debate pointed to discrepancies between the two documents.75 Regardless of its authors’ intentions, however, the absence of the term “impiegato” in the collective contract provided exhibitors with a wealth of new ammunition in their legal battles with their ex-employees, and cases that center on the legitimacy of the contract constitute a significant subset of the musicians’ lawsuits—further evidence of the inability of the Fascist musicians’ union to protect the interests of its members in any meaningful sense.76

This, then, was the state of affairs in the years running up to Mauri v. Gaeta: a tense equilibrium, whereby musicians had had some success in challenging their employers in the courts, even if the playing field fundamentally remained tilted against them. One can therefore understand the dilemma facing the judges of the Court of Cassation. By mid-1929, cases involving musicians and their employers were mushrooming. All featured the same point of law and the same vexed legal principle (collaboration); and if legal precedent and legal opinion had generally tended toward granting musicians employee status, this was in spite of the text of the 1924 law on private sector employment. It is no surprise, then, that the Court’s hair-splitting ruling was, in effect, an attempt to qualify the definition of collaboration. As the judges reasoned, “in a broad sense, everyone who works for a business is a collaborator. Some recent official documents also speak of manual workers [operai] as collaborators. But to be considered a full-time employee one must collaborate in a specific manner.”77 While this emphasis on specificity may seem to be a purely rhetorical maneuver, in actuality the word “specific” legitimized calling upon alternative, extra-judicial criteria for assessing individual cases.78 And as we have seen, the Court’s additional criteria were value-laden aesthetic notions that effectively graded musical entertainment on a scale of artistic worth.

Yet the Court miscalculated. The judges seem to have underestimated the significant number of cinema musicians implicated in the ruling, the determination of exhibitors (the Società Pittaluga especially) to treat their workers as freelancers, and the fact that the very legitimacy of its value-laden framework would be placed under scrutiny by judges and legal scholars on both sides of the debate. Thus, far from putting an end to the lawsuits, Mauri v. Gaeta became a significant milestone in a story that would continue to play out for another few years. In figure 2, we can see that in the two years before the ruling there were two-dozen-odd cases, 72 percent involving musicians employed in cinemas. In the two years after the ruling, however, there were almost exactly twice as many cases, 84 percent of which involved cinema musicians. And the Court of Cassation itself would be required to rule on the issue eleven more times, eight of these high-profile cases featuring cinema musicians. The Court remained consistent in applying its differential principle. But because this principle was essentially subjective, the “desire for specificity,” argued the legal scholar Giuseppe Antoldi, led many lower courts to “reach conclusions diametrically opposed to that of the Supreme Court.”79 What Mauri v. Gaeta did, in fact, was to split the field of argument into several factions: pro-musician and anti-musician, to be sure, but also pro-Cassation and anti-Cassation.

Figure 2

Cases involving cinema musicians before and after Mauri v. Gaeta

Figure 2

Cases involving cinema musicians before and after Mauri v. Gaeta

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This division made for some strange bedfellows. Certain legal professionals, such as Antonio Uckmar and the Turinese judge Domenico Riccardo Peretti-Griva, had been steadfast advocates for the pro-musician position before the ruling; they were among those who objected strongly to the aesthetic criteria that the Court of Cassation now proposed. Musicians, they argued, were “collaborators” purely because they were partly responsible for the economic success of the cinema that employed them.80 Given that music was a core component of the filmgoing experience, it was absurd for a judge entirely removed from the process of running a picture house to determine legally that musical labor was “inessential” to its business, whether on aesthetic grounds or not.81 Thus Uckmar and Peretti-Griva’s position may seem miles apart from a Florentine court ruling of 1930, which argued that no musicians—of any kind—should be considered full-time employees.82 Yet the Florentine court was also dismissive of the Court of Cassation’s stipulation of a specific contribution toward an aesthetic outcome. It was all too easy, the judges claimed, for a cinema to slap the label of “accompaniment to the film” onto an arbitrary selection of music, which “could never help to resolve a legal dispute unless it could be rigorously demonstrated, in legal terms, that the music played constitute[d] an effective accompaniment for any given film.”83 In fact, the search for such rigor would inevitably lead to the “instability of employee status, which … would be won or lost by individual musicians, not only venue by venue but also evening by evening, depending on whether their labor contributed to the accompaniment of the film.”84 Uckmar would certainly have agreed: in one of his writings he quotes a joke about a musician who entreats his employer, “Signor Impresario, please don’t assign me to that other theater: I’d rather remain unemployed than lose my employee status.”85

Despite the slippery slope invoked by the Florentine court, it seems unlikely that such blatantly capricious rulings were widespread—notwithstanding one reported case in which two musicians who worked in the same orchestra were allegedly treated differently, the one granted employee status because he played the violin, the other relegated to freelancing because he “plays jazz.”86 Many judges did try to work within the aesthetic framework established by the Court of Cassation. But to do so, they had to ascribe a concrete meaning to the term “effective accompaniment” as proposed in Mauri v. Gaeta. In other words, they had to decide what counted as “good” film music. And this gave rise to the curious phenomenon of judges across Italy trying to determine, judicially speaking, what the purpose of music in filmic exhibition actually was.

The starting point for many legal professionals, in grappling with this question, was the relatively uncontroversial premise that it was almost impossible to imagine cinematic exhibition without music. Uckmar put it quite evocatively:

Long gone are the days when a mediocre piano-plunker could blithely abuse the public for hours on end with his wretched repertoire of marches funereal or triumphal, of popular songs or dance numbers, mixed haphazardly with the unhappy whims of his musical inspiration. Today, films receive not mere background music [non si accompagnano] but rather a musical accompaniment [si commentano] by full orchestra, using choice pieces of music appropriate to the setting or to the action, selected, studied, rehearsed and added to the repertoire in advance. … The musical accompaniment, of which the public is usually made aware through dedicated programs, thus integrates the film, enhances it, completes it; and even when at certain times of day and in certain intervals between shifts it is provided by piano alone, it nevertheless constitutes a manifestation of artistry in and of itself, blended expertly with the visual spectacle.87

For all that it presents a somewhat idealized picture of cinematic music making, skewed toward well-appointed urban cinemas, Uckmar’s description is echoed by several other authors. Nonetheless, that music was necessary for cinematic exhibition did not preclude the possibility of its implementation being flawed, or inappropriate, or cynical, or under-resourced—thereby getting in the way of its aesthetic contribution to the cinematic spectacle as mandated by the Court of Cassation. Judges thus needed to establish what purpose musical accompaniment served, and what form it ideally assumed.

The Court of Cassation itself, in the various rulings that followed Mauri v. Gaeta, established a relatively consistent set of terms for what it saw as effective musical accompaniment. In a ruling from early 1930, the judges argued that when cinematic music making met the employee-worthy threshold, “the artistic outcome of the show is not solely determined by the projection of the film; rather, music makes a significant contribution, its harmonious sounds interpreting and adding color to the picture, eliciting the most intimate, delicate sensations, leading to fuller and more complete aesthetic enjoyment.”88 A ruling later that same year reprised this wording, while adding that cinematic exhibition “would be a dry affair indeed, at times, if it were not enlivened by the colors and sometimes the thrills of music”;89 and a ruling of 1931 described the work of musicians as “adding meaning to the picture, arousing the most lively sensations.”90

Taken together with the stipulation that music ought to “integrate the action” (“integrare la scena”), the factor to which the judges of the Court of Cassation seemed to be responding was whether or not musical accompaniment in cinemas was constructed according to the ideal of synchronization. As Carolyn Abbate (among others) has noted, even at an early stage in film history this term meant more than just those efforts to unite sound and image reproduction by technological means, efforts that ultimately led to the transition to sound cinema.91 In contemporary discussions of silent film, it routinely also meant “ensuring that the musical accompaniment … matched what was seen on screen in its mood or referential aspect.”92 To be sure, few of the Italian judges and legal scholars under consideration here used this specific term in its Italian equivalents (“sincronizzazione,” “sincronismo,” “sincronia”).93 But the Court of Cassation’s emphasis on integration and enhancement, color and sensation, is quite legible in the terms that Abbate uses to describe synchronization: “associating image or action with the music heard at any given moment uses music to enhance the drama while simultaneously defining a narrative or symbolic import for the musical sounds in question.”94 That the Court should have privileged this particular facet of cinematic music making is telling. In fact, it gets to the heart of cinema’s unstable ontology.

Music was a constitutionally variable component of filmgoing. Even disregarding the difference between urban and provincial exhibition, two luxury cinemas showing the same picture might choose to accompany it in drastically different ways. This made it essentially impossible to claim that any one set of musical sounds was the correct one. Recall that the Mauri v. Gaeta ruling had exempted musicians who worked in opera houses and symphony orchestras from having to prove that they met the collaboration benchmark, while precluding those who worked in cafés, hotels, and variety shows from ever reaching it. One clear difference between the higher- and lower-class domains is the presence of a strong work concept in the former.95 That is, it was easier to see the opera house violinist as an employee because the function of the opera house could be seen as the production of specific operatic works, of which specific music was unquestionably an essential part; the work guaranteed the conditions of its realization. Background music in a café, by contrast, had no overriding script, nothing that demanded the realization of one or another musical number at any given moment. Film exhibition lay somewhere between these two points. There was a reproducible cultural product that could lay reasonable claim to work status—the film. But music fell outside the purview of its technological reproducibility, and thus was not a priori part of the film-as-work. Hence the Court of Cassation’s decision to privilege synchronization makes sense. Music that made efforts to ground itself in the film’s images and the narrative they created was, in a sense, trying to garb itself in the film’s work status. The musicians responsible for this process could reasonably be understood to be affecting the film text in a meaningful way, contributing to the artistic outcome of the film, and thus collaborating in the specific, artistic sense demanded by the Court.

It is worth acknowledging that the Court’s notion of synchronization was a partial one, oddly insensitive to other important aspects of cinematic accompaniment—not least issues of timing and (ironically) the hard work that went into ensuring temporal as well as affective alignment between music and filmic images.96 But many judges disagreed with the value attributed to synchronization on a deeper level, because they were unable to overlook the scission between music and image that was fundamental to silent film exhibition. Thus one Turinese judge, a certain Martinengo, ruled repeatedly against musicians in a spate of cases in the latter half of 1929 and early 1930, because he understood cinema to be an essentially visual medium. While this might seem to fly in the face of other sources attesting to the indispensable nature of music in contemporary cinemas, Martinengo argued that “cinema attracts its audience not through the musical performances that accompany the picture, but purely through the picture itself.”97 Music, he ruled in a subsequent case, though a “delight to the soul,” was effectively an added bonus: it did not “contribute even minimally to the perfection of the action that the film offers to the spectators’ eyes.”98

Even those judges who were favorable to the musicians’ cause necessarily interpreted the language of synchronization used by the Supreme Court according to their own standards of cinematic musical worth, with unpredictable results. Thus in September of 1929, a quixotic ruling from the lower court in Turin stated that musicians could not be employees “if they restricted themselves to merely playing the score assigned to them.”99 In October 1930, the court in Florence allowed for cinema musicians to be employees only if they provided a “bona fide musical accompaniment” to the action.100 A few months later, the court in Bari denied musicians employee status if they played “indifferently chosen pieces of music.”101 And in early 1931, the court in Novara stipulated that, to qualify as employees, “the individual players in the orchestra should have sufficient musicality [cultura musicale] to exhibit an individual personality, even under the direction of a conductor.”102 Small wonder that in stating their case cinema musicians were keen to emphasize their artistic credentials. Reporting on one case in Turin in late 1929, for instance, La Stampa noted that the plaintiffs were all conservatory-trained and had played in the orchestra of the Teatro Regio, Turin’s main opera house.103

The one musical figure to escape the legal tussle relatively unscathed was the conductor. “The controversy in question does not concern, let it finally be noted, the employee status of the orchestral conductor, which by contrast is peaceably acknowledged,” wrote Giuseppe Antoldi in a retrospective summary of the musicians’ lawsuits of 1931.104 This is not to say that conductors were never involved in the lawsuits; exhibitors were as unconcerned about the legality of denying employment benefits to conductors as they were with regard to instrumentalists. But when exhibitors tried to claim in court that conductors were not employees, they invariably failed.105

Why, though, was the conductor so untouchable? If one reviews all the various arguments I have described with this question in mind, it becomes clear that many of the ambiguities that musicians raised with respect to the 1924 law on private sector employment were simply not an issue in the case of conductors. For instance, unlike players, conductors did not directly produce musical sounds, and were thus harder to frame as producers of “raw material”; in fact, they were crucial to coordinating the efforts of the sound producers in question. This made it more difficult to claim that conductors were simply “factors of production” in the assembly line that ultimately produced a night’s entertainment at the cinema. Moreover, conductors often took on administrative roles (hiring musicians, purchasing music); insofar as they were responsible for a musical branch of a cinematic business, they could easily be understood as intermediaries between the exhibitor and the musicians—as the exhibitor’s “virtual representative.” However one wished to frame it, conductors reached the threshold of “collaboration” required by the 1924 law quite easily.

Still, there is more to the conductor exception than this, especially considering that it did not always hold true for noncinematic orchestras. Conductors of other ensembles were far less secure: a 1930 ruling from Genoa that denied employee status to café orchestra players, for instance, also explicitly denied that status to their directors.106 Furthermore, the authority invested in film conductors was not easily extended to other figures involved in the provision of music in cinemas, as a case from Brindisi made clear: the ruling declared that pianists, even if they had a directorial role and a position of authority over other musicians, were not technically conductors.107 The difference, I would argue, is one of authorship. Throughout Italy, conductors were the figureheads for the broadly collaborative enterprise that was silent-era cinematic accompaniment.108 When reviews of films noted the musical accompaniment—as specialist film magazines had done since the mid-1920s and as even broadsheets began to do toward the end of the decade—the conductor was invariably the person held to bear responsibility for the success or failure of the accompaniment; the conductors of the most luxurious cinemas were household names.109 Significantly, such reviews used many terms to laud individual conductors’ achievements that can essentially be understood as synonyms for “synchronized,” in Abbate’s sense as discussed above: music “adheres” to the projection, is “appropriate” or “well adapted,” and so on.110 In other words, conductors were routinely understood as authorial figures within the musical economy of silent cinema.

This combination of administrative authority and authorial intent is implicit even in the wording of Mauri v. Gaeta, in which conductors are explicitly recognized as a class apart:

An exception can be made for orchestral conductors, who—intrinsically, given their role, and also inasmuch as they elicit the desired effects from their players, whom they coordinate and fuse into an artistic-musical whole, and to this end direct and discipline them, thus exercising a measure of power and control—can be understood to perform a genuine function of collaboration with the business, which in addition to the other requirements of the law makes their labor fall within the purview of full-time employee status.111

Strictly, of course, Mauri v. Gaeta concerned musicians who worked in a variety theater, not a cinema. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the conductor’s role in shaping the musical sounds that an orchestra collectively produced took on new significance when applied to film accompaniment. In a sense, conductors were the authors of “good” synchronization between music and image: considered as such, they were implicitly at the very heart of the Court’s tacit valorization of synchronization as an ideal of film music, and this is another reason why it was almost impossible for courts not to recognize their employee status.

This is an important realization, because it shows that there are real stakes involved in the question of who, in any given cinematic context, is responsible for matching music with images. As the Italian musicians’ lawsuits show, there was considerable capital—of a cultural kind, to be sure, but also concretely in terms of rates of remuneration, the payment (or not) of benefits, and security in one’s job—wrapped up in the ideal of synchronization. Musicians who played in luxury cinema orchestras were more likely to be judged full-time employees than musicians who worked in cinemas with fewer resources, as the former were assumed to take greater pains to pursue good synchronization. And conductors found it easier to establish their employee status than instrumental musicians because of their key role in coordinating synchronized musical effects.

As we have seen, the majority of the musicians’ lawsuits took place in 1929 and 1930. Far fewer were recorded in 1931, and fewer still in 1932. By then, there was a sense of fatigue in the air: one ruling issued by the lower court in Turin in early 1932, though favorable to the musician in question, noted dryly that “the parties ask the Court to examine yet again the much-debated and by now vexed question of the employee status of orchestral musicians who work in cinemas.”112 Despite the persistence of the dispute into the early 1930s, a new judicial consensus was taking hold in relation to the position long advocated by Uckmar and other pro-musician figures. That is, courts increasingly accepted that the performance of music in entertainment venues was as much a matter of economics as of artistry.

Nevertheless, the drop in the number of cases by the end of 1931 was due in large part not to the changing winds of judicial opinion, but rather to the belated arrival of synchronized sound. This had begun in a small way in 1929, in a handful of metropolitan cinemas owned by the Società Pittaluga; but the transition began to gather pace in 1930, gradually engulfing cinemas across the peninsula. Many of the lawsuits of 1929 involved cinema musicians who reasonably expected to find employment again in the industry: in such cases, it was worth fighting against unfair dismissal. “Leaving to one side the new and still rare sound films,” wrote Peretti-Griva in a ruling of October 1929, “it is difficult indeed to imagine a major urban cinema without an orchestra.”113 But once sound equipment was installed in such venues, exhibitors had a legitimate reason for letting go of their musical staff. As the months went by, the musicians’ lawsuits became something of a rearguard action. And by October of 1932, the Turinese broadsheet La Stampa reported that the advent of sound cinema had put three hundred musicians out of work in Turin alone, while in Italy as a whole there were approximately six thousand jobs available for a pool of twenty-five thousand musicians.114 More poignant still was La Stampa’s report on a large “class action” suit of 1933, involving nearly fifty musicians formerly employed by the Società Pittaluga.115 The musicians were not protesting the loss of their jobs; that ship had sailed. Rather, they sought back-payment for years of missed rest days and vacations, benefits that neither the courts nor the Fascist musicians’ union had been able to prevent the Società from withholding.

Of course, a lucky few did manage to find work in the newly reorganized film industry, playing for the microphones of a recording studio rather than the live cinema audiences of yesteryear; and the situation of these fortunate musicians focuses our attention on just what had changed between the silent era and the sound era. As I have argued, the preferential treatment accorded to conductors in the musicians’ lawsuits suggests that it is well worth paying attention to who gets invested with the responsibility for synchronization, and whose activity in this capacity receives special recognition. Yet this realization can be extended beyond the silent era, for the cachet that attached to good synchronization passed quite naturally from the star conductors in the movie palaces of the silent era to the star composers of the sound era. As Nathan Platte has emphasized, since the very beginning of the sound era, film scoring has been (and continues to be) an intensely collaborative enterprise, in which authorship is distributed between various figures involved in a film’s production.116 The synchronization of music and images in the sound era thus encompasses many individuals, from editors to sound designers to music supervisors (even conductors, sometimes), all of whom are remunerated for their labor. But the cultural capital that results is far from equitably shared. It remains customary to attribute music-image synchronization in a film to a single figure, generally a composer or a director, whose authorial persona underwrites the significance of the relationship between music and image—thus creating the film score as a “work” that we can dissect in the first place.

Synchronization pays, then. What the musicians’ lawsuits illustrate, moreover, is that this was the case even before it became possible to fix musical accompaniment into the single configuration that characterizes the film score on the recorded soundtrack. And today, in a range of settings unimaginable by the musicians of a century ago, the labor of synchronization continues. When independent filmmakers hire a composer to score their films rather than drawing on royalty-free music libraries, the difference between such “bespoke” and “generic” scoring solutions can be understood as a function of the premium attached to good synchronization and the labor required to create it. When social media users synchronize the dance steps from well-known music videos to new music or lip-synch in costume to favored tracks, typically for ironic or amusing effect, we can say that the attention and engagement such efforts generate—often directly tied to monetary gain—are a function of a labor of synchronization.

Yet the events recounted in this article also indicate that we must be attentive to the contingent meanings that can become attached to terms like “synchronization” in different professional milieus, not to say national ones. In light of potentially divergent synchronicities in the courtroom and the cinema, in Italy and the United States, we must be wary, to borrow James Lastra’s words, of “closing off the possibility of a history based on the tension between competing norms.”117 Clearly, an abstract (and quite malleable) notion of complementarity between two facets of the composite medium that is film mattered a great deal in the silent era. And in Italy, at least, one version of this notion crept into the supposedly precise language of justice, so much so that it temporarily, albeit precariously, elevated cinema musicians above their similarly qualified colleagues in less exalted venues. Aesthetic ideals, in other words, have social and economic and legal ramifications—something usefully borne in mind in all our encounters with audiovisual media, present and past.

Appendix Italian musicians’ lawsuits, 1924–33

The information collated in the table below has been drawn from a range of legal journals and their reporting of individual cases. Such reporting sometimes extends only to the citation of a case without accompanying details (in digests of multiple cases, for instance), and it has not always been possible to cross-reference these cases in other journals to fill in missing facts. In particular, I was not always able to establish which party in a given lawsuit represented the musician(s) involved, or which party’s claim was successful, particularly given the shifting of the legal and legislative goalposts as the lawsuits progressed. The table nevertheless represents the overall progression of the lawsuits over several years, and enables the tracking of individual disputes through the legal system.

The musicians in each lawsuit are indicated with an asterisk (with a few exceptions where this was difficult to determine). Where possible, the type of musician involved has been noted. Boldface is used to highlight the presence of the Società Pittaluga as plaintiff or defendant, and the cases heard by the Court of Cassation are similarly highlighted.

CourtCityLevelDatePlaintiff(s)/Appellant(s)Defendant(s)Likely place of workMusical role (if known)
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Florence Lower court July 22, 1924 Frittelli* Società Cinema Giulio Giannoni Cinema  
Commissione arbitrale provinciale Rome Lower court Oct. 11, 1924 Fortini* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Apr. 24, 1925 Fortini* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Commissione arbitrale provinciale Rome Lower court May 13, 1925 Meloncelli* Soc. An. Pincio Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Dec. 14, 1925 Meloncelli* Soc. An. Pincio Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court June 30, 1927 Ente autonoma del teatro Rosci* Theater  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Milan Lower court Sept. 23, 1927 Pietrocola* Riccioni Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Perugia Lower court Dec. 1, 1927 Iesani & Lai Moriconi Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Trieste Lower court Dec. 6, 1927 Crassà* Aitè Cinema Pianist 
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Turin Lower court Dec. 17, 1927 Raughino* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Dec. 28, 1927 Soc. An. Leoni Films Giusto* Cinema Conductor 
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Feb. 22, 1928 Soc. An. Pittaluga Di Donato* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Milan Lower court Feb. 25, 1928 Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al.* Soc. An. Teatrale Achille Mauri Variety theater Conductor and musicians 
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Aug. 8, 1928 Soc. An. Teatrale Achille Mauri Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al.* Variety theater Conductor and musicians 
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato [likely Milan] Lower court Nov. 8, 1928 Civardi et al.* Teatro Gerolamo Puppet theater  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Nov. 22, 1928 Excelsior Gran Hôtel Varese Pietrocola et al.* Hotel Conductor 
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Naples Lower court Dec. 4, 1928 Luverà et al.* Lanni Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Jan. 23, 1929 Soc. An. Pittaluga Quattrocchi* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Livorno Lower court Feb. 5, 1929 Marchi et al.* Soc. Unione Cinematografica Italiana Cinema  
Pretura Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Feb. 27, 1929 Olivero, Parachinetto, & Bocciola* Cine Palazzo & Soc. An. Cinestampa Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 8, 1929 Soc. Unione Cinematografica Italiana Paladino* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato  Lower court Mar. 8, 1929 Soc. An. Esercizi Caffè S. Carlo Pedone* Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 8, 1929 Soc. An. Esercizi Caffè S. Carlo Olivero* Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 15, 1929 Aité Crassà* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Genoa Lower court Mar. 27, 1929 Bozzolasco et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 27, 1929 Riccioni Pietrocola, Floriano, et al.* Cinema  
Corte d’Appello di Palermo Palermo Appeal court Apr. 11, 1929 Caggeggi & Manzanares* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Tribunale Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Apr. 17, 1929 Montrucchio, Malena, et al.* Soc. Cine Stampa & Sindacato
Orchestrale Bandistico di Torino 
Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court May 21, 1929 Pugliese, Olivero, et al.* Soc. Cine Stampa & Sindacato
Orchestrale Bandistico di Torino 
Cinema  
   May 29, 1929 Cinema Dionisio Lombardi* Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione (Sezioni Unite) — High court June 11, 1929 Soc. An. Teatrale Achille Mauri Gaeta et al.* Variety theater Conductor and musicians 
Pretura Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court June 19, 1929 Ruvioli & Bressan* Soc. An. Esercizi Cinematografici Cinema  
Corte d’Appello di Torino Turin Appeal court June 22, 1929 Sindacato Orchestrale di Torino Cinema Palazzo & Soc. Cine Stampa Cinema  
Pretura Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court July 10, 1929 Alessio* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Pretura Imperia (Sezione Lavoro) Imperia Lower court Aug. 30, 1929 Amoretti* Antonioni Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Sept. 18, 1929 Soc. An. Esercizi Cinematografici Ruvioli et al.* Cinema  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court Oct. 11, 1929 Donati* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
 [likely Genoa]  Oct. 26, 1929 Massone* Teatro Ligure Cinema Conductor♀ 
 [likely Genoa]  Nov. 8, 1929 Cantini* Caffè Diana Café-concert  
Tribunale Roma (Sezione Lavoro) Rome Lower court Nov. 20, 1929 Giacomozzi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
Tribunale Spezia La Spezia Lower court Nov. 25, 1929 Rugi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Nov. 29, 1929 Soc. An. Pittaluga Galvan et al.* Cinema Conductor 
Tribunale Bologna (Sezione Lavoro) Bologna Lower court Dec. 10, 1929 Magistrelli* Ditta Esposti & Frascaroli Cinema  
Tribunale Milano (Sezione Lavoro) Milan Lower court Dec. 14, 1929 Alessandrovich* Croci Cinema Conductor♀ 
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Dec. 14, 1929 Soc. An. Pittaluga Donati* Cinema  
Tribunale Roma (Sezione Lavoro) Rome Lower court Dec. 14, 1929 Seddi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Jan. 3, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Cavazzi et al.* Cinema  
Pretura Firenze Florence Lower court Jan. 7, 1930 Soc. Suvini Zerboni [Musicians] Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Jan. 15, 1930 Sindacato Orchestrale di Torino Cinema Palazzo & Soc. Cine Stampa Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Jan. 31, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Caggeggi & Manzanares* Cinema Conductor
Cellist 
Tribunale Genova (Sezione Lavoro) Genoa Lower court Feb. 7, 1930 Gessi et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga et al. Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Feb. 7, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Alessio* Cinema  
   Feb. 7, 1930 Geni* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Tribunale Pisa Pisa Lower court Feb. 15, 1930 Masi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Feb. 21, 1930 Violino Lombardi* Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Genoa Appeal court Mar. 4, 1930 De Bellis Cantini Café-concert  
Tribunale Roma (Sezione Lavoro) Rome Lower court Mar. 30, 1930 Malvini* Cinema Moderno Cinema Oboist 
Corte di Cassazione — High court Apr. 10, 1930 Fratelli Colla Civardi* Puppet theater  
Tribunale Brindisi (Sezione Lavoro) Brindisi Lower court May 24, 1930 Magno* Grassi Cinema Pianist-conductor 
Corte d’Appello di Firenze Florence Appeal court May 30, 1930 Soc. Suvini & Zerboni Arrostiti et al. Cinema  
   May 31, 1930 Morando, Parodi, & Tagliafico Costaguta Cinema Conductor 
Pretura Palermo (Sezione Lavoro) Palermo Lower court June 7, 1930 Fazio Compagno Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Genoa Appeal court June 10, 1930 Teatro Ligure Massone* Cinema Conductor♀ 
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court July 3, 1930 Montano & C. Gobetti Cinema Pianist 
Corte di Cassazione — High court July 7, 1930 Galvan et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court July 14, 1930 Guermandi* Società Caffè S. Pietro Café-concert  
Magistratura del Lavoro Rome Appeal court Aug. 27, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Agresti* Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Rome Appeal court Aug. 27, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Herbin* Cinema Conductor 
Magistratura del Lavoro Bari Appeal court Sept. 24, 1930 Magno* Guadalupi & Grassi Cinema Conductor 
   Oct. 17, 1930 Vigevani Torelli Variety theater  
   Oct. 17, 1930 Margutti* Soc. An. Pittaluga Variety theater Pianist-conductor 
   Oct. 27, 1930 Codegone* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor♀ 
Pretura Firenze (Sezione Lavoro) Florence Lower court Oct. 30, 1930 Pichi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
   Nov. 21, 1930 Fasoli Rocchi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
   Nov. 29, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Rugi* Cinema Conductor 
Pretura Bari (Sezione Lavoro) Bari Lower court Dec. 3, 1930 Carnevale* Impresa Cinema Teatro Oriente Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Genoa Appeal court Dec. 9, 1930 Notte, Maggio, et al.* Ditta Jovino & Reggio Cinema  
   Dec. 12, 1930 Cervi* Ditta Bossola & Pietragrua Unknown  
Pretura Novara (Sezione Lavoro) Novara Lower court Jan. 27, 1931 Demonti* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Pretura Genova Genoa Lower court May 18, 1931 Bombardini et al.* Ditta Violino Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court May 27, 1931 Monti* E.I.A.R. Radio orchestra Cello virtuoso 
Corte di Cassazione — High court June 2, 1931 Arrostiti & Sindacato Provinciale Orchestrali Firenze Soc. Suvini Zerboni & Federazione Nazionale Fascista Teatrale Cinema  
Pretura Genova Genoa Lower court July 8, 1931 Canepa & Ragusa* Ditta Violino Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Nov. 16, 1931 Malvini* Cinema Moderno Cinema Oboist 
Magistratura del Lavoro Milan Appeal court Jan. 14, 1932 Notte, Schettino, et al.* Iovino, Reggio, & C. Cinema  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court Feb. 13, 1932 Cimberle* Prato Variety theater  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court Feb. 15, 1932 Gallo* Prato Variety theater  
Tribunale Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Apr. 15, 1932 Ferroglia et al.* Stabilimento Ligure Café-concert  
Tribunale Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Apr. 30, 1932 Grasso* Mensa & Rocco Cinema  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court May 27, 1932 Guanti et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Jan. 17, 1933 Razzano Iovinelli Cinema Clarinettist 
Tribunale Torino Turin Lower court Mar. 33 Ranghino et al.; Galvan et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductors and musicians 
CourtCityLevelDatePlaintiff(s)/Appellant(s)Defendant(s)Likely place of workMusical role (if known)
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Florence Lower court July 22, 1924 Frittelli* Società Cinema Giulio Giannoni Cinema  
Commissione arbitrale provinciale Rome Lower court Oct. 11, 1924 Fortini* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Apr. 24, 1925 Fortini* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Commissione arbitrale provinciale Rome Lower court May 13, 1925 Meloncelli* Soc. An. Pincio Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Dec. 14, 1925 Meloncelli* Soc. An. Pincio Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court June 30, 1927 Ente autonoma del teatro Rosci* Theater  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Milan Lower court Sept. 23, 1927 Pietrocola* Riccioni Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Perugia Lower court Dec. 1, 1927 Iesani & Lai Moriconi Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Trieste Lower court Dec. 6, 1927 Crassà* Aitè Cinema Pianist 
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Turin Lower court Dec. 17, 1927 Raughino* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Dec. 28, 1927 Soc. An. Leoni Films Giusto* Cinema Conductor 
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Feb. 22, 1928 Soc. An. Pittaluga Di Donato* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Milan Lower court Feb. 25, 1928 Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al.* Soc. An. Teatrale Achille Mauri Variety theater Conductor and musicians 
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Aug. 8, 1928 Soc. An. Teatrale Achille Mauri Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al.* Variety theater Conductor and musicians 
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato [likely Milan] Lower court Nov. 8, 1928 Civardi et al.* Teatro Gerolamo Puppet theater  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Nov. 22, 1928 Excelsior Gran Hôtel Varese Pietrocola et al.* Hotel Conductor 
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Naples Lower court Dec. 4, 1928 Luverà et al.* Lanni Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Jan. 23, 1929 Soc. An. Pittaluga Quattrocchi* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Livorno Lower court Feb. 5, 1929 Marchi et al.* Soc. Unione Cinematografica Italiana Cinema  
Pretura Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Feb. 27, 1929 Olivero, Parachinetto, & Bocciola* Cine Palazzo & Soc. An. Cinestampa Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 8, 1929 Soc. Unione Cinematografica Italiana Paladino* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato  Lower court Mar. 8, 1929 Soc. An. Esercizi Caffè S. Carlo Pedone* Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 8, 1929 Soc. An. Esercizi Caffè S. Carlo Olivero* Café-concert  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 15, 1929 Aité Crassà* Cinema  
Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato Genoa Lower court Mar. 27, 1929 Bozzolasco et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato — Appeal court Mar. 27, 1929 Riccioni Pietrocola, Floriano, et al.* Cinema  
Corte d’Appello di Palermo Palermo Appeal court Apr. 11, 1929 Caggeggi & Manzanares* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Tribunale Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Apr. 17, 1929 Montrucchio, Malena, et al.* Soc. Cine Stampa & Sindacato
Orchestrale Bandistico di Torino 
Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court May 21, 1929 Pugliese, Olivero, et al.* Soc. Cine Stampa & Sindacato
Orchestrale Bandistico di Torino 
Cinema  
   May 29, 1929 Cinema Dionisio Lombardi* Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione (Sezioni Unite) — High court June 11, 1929 Soc. An. Teatrale Achille Mauri Gaeta et al.* Variety theater Conductor and musicians 
Pretura Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court June 19, 1929 Ruvioli & Bressan* Soc. An. Esercizi Cinematografici Cinema  
Corte d’Appello di Torino Turin Appeal court June 22, 1929 Sindacato Orchestrale di Torino Cinema Palazzo & Soc. Cine Stampa Cinema  
Pretura Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court July 10, 1929 Alessio* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Pretura Imperia (Sezione Lavoro) Imperia Lower court Aug. 30, 1929 Amoretti* Antonioni Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Sept. 18, 1929 Soc. An. Esercizi Cinematografici Ruvioli et al.* Cinema  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court Oct. 11, 1929 Donati* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
 [likely Genoa]  Oct. 26, 1929 Massone* Teatro Ligure Cinema Conductor♀ 
 [likely Genoa]  Nov. 8, 1929 Cantini* Caffè Diana Café-concert  
Tribunale Roma (Sezione Lavoro) Rome Lower court Nov. 20, 1929 Giacomozzi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
Tribunale Spezia La Spezia Lower court Nov. 25, 1929 Rugi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Nov. 29, 1929 Soc. An. Pittaluga Galvan et al.* Cinema Conductor 
Tribunale Bologna (Sezione Lavoro) Bologna Lower court Dec. 10, 1929 Magistrelli* Ditta Esposti & Frascaroli Cinema  
Tribunale Milano (Sezione Lavoro) Milan Lower court Dec. 14, 1929 Alessandrovich* Croci Cinema Conductor♀ 
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Dec. 14, 1929 Soc. An. Pittaluga Donati* Cinema  
Tribunale Roma (Sezione Lavoro) Rome Lower court Dec. 14, 1929 Seddi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court Jan. 3, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Cavazzi et al.* Cinema  
Pretura Firenze Florence Lower court Jan. 7, 1930 Soc. Suvini Zerboni [Musicians] Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Jan. 15, 1930 Sindacato Orchestrale di Torino Cinema Palazzo & Soc. Cine Stampa Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Jan. 31, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Caggeggi & Manzanares* Cinema Conductor
Cellist 
Tribunale Genova (Sezione Lavoro) Genoa Lower court Feb. 7, 1930 Gessi et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga et al. Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Feb. 7, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Alessio* Cinema  
   Feb. 7, 1930 Geni* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Tribunale Pisa Pisa Lower court Feb. 15, 1930 Masi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Feb. 21, 1930 Violino Lombardi* Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Genoa Appeal court Mar. 4, 1930 De Bellis Cantini Café-concert  
Tribunale Roma (Sezione Lavoro) Rome Lower court Mar. 30, 1930 Malvini* Cinema Moderno Cinema Oboist 
Corte di Cassazione — High court Apr. 10, 1930 Fratelli Colla Civardi* Puppet theater  
Tribunale Brindisi (Sezione Lavoro) Brindisi Lower court May 24, 1930 Magno* Grassi Cinema Pianist-conductor 
Corte d’Appello di Firenze Florence Appeal court May 30, 1930 Soc. Suvini & Zerboni Arrostiti et al. Cinema  
   May 31, 1930 Morando, Parodi, & Tagliafico Costaguta Cinema Conductor 
Pretura Palermo (Sezione Lavoro) Palermo Lower court June 7, 1930 Fazio Compagno Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Genoa Appeal court June 10, 1930 Teatro Ligure Massone* Cinema Conductor♀ 
Magistratura del Lavoro Turin Appeal court July 3, 1930 Montano & C. Gobetti Cinema Pianist 
Corte di Cassazione — High court July 7, 1930 Galvan et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court July 14, 1930 Guermandi* Società Caffè S. Pietro Café-concert  
Magistratura del Lavoro Rome Appeal court Aug. 27, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Agresti* Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Rome Appeal court Aug. 27, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Herbin* Cinema Conductor 
Magistratura del Lavoro Bari Appeal court Sept. 24, 1930 Magno* Guadalupi & Grassi Cinema Conductor 
   Oct. 17, 1930 Vigevani Torelli Variety theater  
   Oct. 17, 1930 Margutti* Soc. An. Pittaluga Variety theater Pianist-conductor 
   Oct. 27, 1930 Codegone* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor♀ 
Pretura Firenze (Sezione Lavoro) Florence Lower court Oct. 30, 1930 Pichi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
   Nov. 21, 1930 Fasoli Rocchi* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductor 
   Nov. 29, 1930 Soc. An. Pittaluga Rugi* Cinema Conductor 
Pretura Bari (Sezione Lavoro) Bari Lower court Dec. 3, 1930 Carnevale* Impresa Cinema Teatro Oriente Cinema  
Magistratura del Lavoro Genoa Appeal court Dec. 9, 1930 Notte, Maggio, et al.* Ditta Jovino & Reggio Cinema  
   Dec. 12, 1930 Cervi* Ditta Bossola & Pietragrua Unknown  
Pretura Novara (Sezione Lavoro) Novara Lower court Jan. 27, 1931 Demonti* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Pretura Genova Genoa Lower court May 18, 1931 Bombardini et al.* Ditta Violino Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court May 27, 1931 Monti* E.I.A.R. Radio orchestra Cello virtuoso 
Corte di Cassazione — High court June 2, 1931 Arrostiti & Sindacato Provinciale Orchestrali Firenze Soc. Suvini Zerboni & Federazione Nazionale Fascista Teatrale Cinema  
Pretura Genova Genoa Lower court July 8, 1931 Canepa & Ragusa* Ditta Violino Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Nov. 16, 1931 Malvini* Cinema Moderno Cinema Oboist 
Magistratura del Lavoro Milan Appeal court Jan. 14, 1932 Notte, Schettino, et al.* Iovino, Reggio, & C. Cinema  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court Feb. 13, 1932 Cimberle* Prato Variety theater  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court Feb. 15, 1932 Gallo* Prato Variety theater  
Tribunale Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Apr. 15, 1932 Ferroglia et al.* Stabilimento Ligure Café-concert  
Tribunale Torino (Sezione Lavoro) Turin Lower court Apr. 30, 1932 Grasso* Mensa & Rocco Cinema  
Pretura Torino Turin Lower court May 27, 1932 Guanti et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema  
Corte di Cassazione — High court Jan. 17, 1933 Razzano Iovinelli Cinema Clarinettist 
Tribunale Torino Turin Lower court Mar. 33 Ranghino et al.; Galvan et al.* Soc. An. Pittaluga Cinema Conductors and musicians 

This article was largely researched and written during the summer of 2020, during my tenure as a Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I wish to thank Gundula Kreuzer, Emanuele Senici, Flora Willson, Annelies Andries, Brianne Dolce, Hayley Fenn, Marissa Glynias Moore, and Ditlev Rindom for their encouraging feedback on drafts of the article at various points in its development, and Jenny Harris for being an enthusiastic listener. My thanks also go to the three anonymous readers of this Journal for their perceptive comments. Scans of certain archival sources were provided remotely by the reprographics service at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, for which I am grateful. All translations are my own.

1.

An extensive summary of the cases I have documented is reproduced in the appendix, which also provides data for the two figures in this article.

2.

The first feature-length sound film to be released was Warner Bros.’ Don Juan, premiered on August 6, 1926, in New York’s Warner Theater. For a concise discussion of the transition in the United States and its impact on musicians, see Hubbard, “Synchronized Sound.” On the crisis in the film industry and the transition to sound in Italy, see further below.

3.

On Italian debates over the nature of film music during the 1910s, see Mosconi, L’impressione del film, 145–52.

4.

The details of the musicians’ initial suit against the Società Mauri are recounted in Monitore dei tribunali 70 (1929): 676–77. Unusually, the names of all the musicians are recorded; I reproduce them here in full to give a human face to the lawsuits, which otherwise risk becoming an endless stream of depersonalized plaintiffs and defendants.

5.

Adriano Mazzoletti writes that the Trianon’s orchestra made a number of early jazz recordings under the direction of the pianist and bandleader Nicola Moleti. All legal sources identify Giorgio Pietrocola as the conductor (“direttore d’orchestra”) of the Trianon orchestra in the musicians’ dispute with the Società Mauri, so it is unclear what his relationship to Moleti may have been. The full complement of the orchestra consisted of two trumpets, trombone, horn, flute, piccolo clarinet, clarinet, piano, and percussion, giving us a sense of what Pietrocola’s instrumentalist colleagues may have played. See Mazzoletti, Il jazz in Italia, 9–10, 23–24.

6.

Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al. v. Società Mauri (Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato, Milan, February 25, 1928). Specifically the musicians were requesting compensation for termination without due notice (“indennità di mancato preavviso”), a fixed amount pegged to length of service, and a one-off payment for wrongful dismissal (“indennità di licenziamento”).

7.

Società Mauri v. Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al. (Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato, August 8, 1928), reproduced in Massimario di giurisprudenza del lavoro, 2nd ser., 5 (1929): 168–71.

8.

So called because it has the power to overturn or quash (cassare) the rulings of lower courts. Rulings from both second-instance appeal courts and (less typically) first-instance lower courts can be appealed to the Court of Cassation. However, the Court is “limited to reviewing errors of law; it may not review errors of fact.” See Livingston, Monateri, and Parisi, Italian Legal System, 125–33, here 127.

9.

See ibid., 130.

10.

Società Mauri v. Gaeta et al. (Corte di Cassazione, June 11, 1929). The full text of the ruling was reproduced in many specialist legal journals: see, for instance, Il foro italiano 54 (1929), pt. 1, 661–66; Massimario di giurisprudenza del lavoro, 2nd ser., 5 (1929): 407–13, featuring a commentary by the appeal court judge Francesco Sette; Rivista dell’impiego privato 4 (1929): 205–8; and Il diritto del lavoro 3 (1929), pt. 2, 403–12, featuring a commentary by the legal scholar Antonio Uckmar.

11.

See, for instance, “La legge sull’impiego privato non è applicabile agli orchestrali,” Corriere della sera, June 14, 1929, 4, and “Gli orchestrali teatrali e cinematografici: importante sentenza della Cassazione,” La Stampa, June 14, 1929, 6.

12.

Mauri v. Gaeta: “La Corte … osserva che mentre s’ignora se i reclamanti possedessero alcuna preparazione tecnica, è risaputo che in spettacoli di varietà, dove sono frequenti le rappresentazioni acrobatiche, quelle di prestigitazione, di illusionismo, ed altre analoghe, la partecipazione dell’orchestra è di scarsa importanza ed anche quando compie la funzione di accompagnamento del canto, presta opera secondaria sui risultati dello spettacolo; lo stesso è a dirsi per gli spettacoli cinematografici e per quelli di prosa, quando la musica non costituisce commento della rappresentazione, sì ben quando fra l’una e l’altra parte della rappresentazione o fra l’uno e l’altro atto della produzione vengono eseguiti dei brani musicali. Al risultato estetico ed artistico di tali spettacoli scarso o nullo è il contributo dell’orchestra” (my emphases in translation).

13.

Possibly because Pietrocola alone was successful in his complaint, the Cassation ruling on the Trianon musicians’ case came to be known as Mauri v. Gaeta, taking the name of one of his less fortunate colleagues.

14.

Numerous writers raised these objections. For a concise overview of several writers’ positions on the orchestrali after the Mauri v. Gaeta ruling, see “Rassegna della dottrina,” Il diritto del lavoro 4 (1930), pt. 1, 575–76. See also the editorial comment on the “perplexing” 1929 ruling in Rivista dell’impiego privato 4 (1929): 205.

15.

For some legal scholars, this emphasis on aesthetic rather than economic goals was the overriding flaw of Mauri v. Gaeta; see Uckmar, “Sul contratto di lavoro,” and Antoldi, “In tema del contratto individuale.”

16.

Il diritto del lavoro, for example, had been founded in 1927 by Giuseppe Bottai, Minister for Corporations and a key figure in Fascist labor reforms of the 1920s.

17.

Fiamma Nicolodi’s Musica e musicisti nel ventennio fascista and Harvey Sachs’s Music in Fascist Italy share a focus on “official culture,” as do the essays in Roberto Illiano’s edited volume Italian Music during the Fascist Period (those on film music, for instance, centering on major composers’ dalliances with film scoring). Recent studies of Italian music and modernism are more wide-ranging, but retain a focus on elite composers; see Earle, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Davis, “Il trittico.” On the arrival of jazz in Italy, see Celenza, Jazz Italian Style; and on music in popular entertainment venues more generally, see Liperi, Storia della canzone italiana.

18.

Gillian Anderson makes this argument forcefully in “Synchronized Music.” For a recent account of synchronization’s importance in sound cinema, see Donnelly, Occult Aesthetics.

19.

In showcasing the often imperfect interface between legal conceptions of music and its actual practice, the musicians’ lawsuits resonate with Jon Burrows’s study of London County Council licensing records in the early 1910s: to avoid the onerous terms of a music hall license, London’s cinemas prioritized orchestral accompaniment over solo piano (contrary to what received wisdom suggests was typical at this time): Burrows, “Art of Not ‘Playing to Pictures,’” 113–19.

20.

For a concise analysis of the crisis and its causes, see Brunetta, Il cinema muto italiano, 267–99.

21.

Bertellini, “Dubbing l’arte muta,” 34. Italian cinema’s concern for artistic credibility also extended to the musical arena: see Ladd, “Film Music avant la lettre?,” and Calabretto, “Tra equivoci e ripensamenti (I).”

22.

Between 1920 and 1932, American films accounted for 61 percent of the ticket sales in Italian cinemas; Italian productions came a distant second, at 16 percent, followed closely by German films (14 percent). That said, foreign films had always been common in Italian cinemas; before World War I, French films predominated. See Ricci, Cinema and Fascism, 35, 57.

23.

See Brunetta, Il cinema muto italiano, 273–91.

24.

See Ricci, Cinema and Fascism, 68–69. For a discussion of Italian protectionism in the context of European responses to Hollywood’s rising influence, see De Grazia, “Mass Culture.”

25.

Ricci, Cinema and Fascism, 56.

26.

Relatively little scholarship to date has examined the quotidian musical practices of Italian silent film exhibition in the 1920s, though a notable exception is the work of Marco Targa: on compilation specifically, see his “La prassi della compilazione.” Scholars have generally focused on a handful of surviving specially composed scores from the 1910s, beginning with a foundational series of essays by Carlo Piccardi; see, for instance, his “Agli albori della musica cinematografica.”

27.

See Miceli, Musica per film, 59. The Ricordi firm’s “Cinema Collection,” for example, was launched only in 1927. Collections of generic incidental music aimed broadly at entertainment venues (including cinemas) had, however, been published in Italy since ca. 1910.

28.

Comparable Italian sources are a far cry from the minute detail of a typical US cue sheet, being more akin to concert programs for audience edification; various examples are reproduced in Targa, “La prassi della compilazione,” and Redi, “Musica del muto.”

29.

See Targa, “Use of Cue Sheets,” and Comuzio, “Pianisti estemporanei.”

30.

Targa discusses the absence of theater organs in “Use of Cue Sheets.” There were a few exceptions: for example, the Italian instrument inventor and entrepreneur Don Angelo Barbieri patented and marketed cinema organs of his own design in several European countries. A large, five-manual, thirty-two-stop Barbieri organ with twenty-one sound effects was installed at the luxurious Cinema Odeon in Milan in 1929—just before the transition to sound cinema would render it obsolete. See Farabegoli, “Il grande organo Barbieri.”

31.

Martin, Conditions of Life, 1:47. According to the report, Italian cinema musicians earned twenty-five lire for two periods of service, whereas variety theater musicians earned thirty lire and café musicians forty-five for the same.

32.

See ibid., 48.

33.

The lawsuits bear witness to the longevity of some cinema employees: for instance, when the pianist Ruggero Crassà lost his job in late 1927 (his employer wanted to take the business in a “new direction” to which Crassà was “unsuited”), he had been working uninterruptedly at the same establishment for over seven years; see Crassà v. Aitè (Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato, Trieste, December 6, 1927), reproduced in Rivista dell’impiego privato 3 (1928): 75–76.

34.

See Brunetta, Il cinema muto italiano, 60, 297–99.

35.

Pittaluga held a private demonstration of the new technologies at the Cinema Corso in Rome on March 30, 1929; the first public screening took place on April 20 of that same year at the Supercinema, also in Rome, in a gala event featuring Warner Bros.’ The Jazz Singer (first released in the United States in 1927). Several sound films went into production at the Cines-Pittaluga studios the following year. The first of these to be released, in October 1930, was Gennaro Righelli’s La canzone dell’amore. On these developments, see Valentini, Presenze sonore, ch. 1.

36.

Four separate cases listed in the appendix concern female musicians explicitly identified as “direttrici d’orchestra” (women conductors), suggesting that at least a small minority of the orchestrali were women.

37.

Typically, legal journals discuss only the outcome of individual cases, rather than their actuating factors; this makes it difficult to ascertain the motivations of both musicians and exhibitors. As will become clear, however, many judges and legal scholars thought the exhibitors’ position in the lawsuits legally (and morally) baseless.

38.

The full text of the Regio decreto-legge 13 novembre 1924, n. 1825, “Disposizioni relative al contratto d’impiego privato,” in its original, unamended form can be viewed on the website Normattiva: Il portale della legge vigente, a searchable database of Italian law from Unification to the present day: https://www.normattiva.it. The 1924 law essentially updated a law of 1919, the Decreto luogotenenziale 9 febbraio 1919, n. 112.

39.

R.d. 13 novembre 1924, n. 1825, Article 1: “Il contratto d’impiego privato, di cui nel presente decreto, è quello per il quale una società o un privato, gestori di una azienda, assumono al servizio dell’azienda stessa, normalmente a tempo indeterminato, l’attività professionale dell’altro contraente, con funzioni di collaborazione tanto di concetto che di ordine, eccettuata pertanto ogni prestazione che sia semplicemente di mano d’opera” (my emphases in translation).

40.

While there is no equivalent distinction in English, there is one in other European legal traditions: French law distinguishes between “employés” and “ouvriers,” and German law formerly distinguished between “Angestellten” and “Arbeiter.”

41.

Barassi, “Un problema insolubile.”

42.

“Rassegna della giurisprudenza,” Il diritto del lavoro 2 (1928), pt. 2, 154–60.

43.

Barassi, “Un problema insolubile,” 382: “non è parsa mai molto lusinghiera.”

44.

Uckmar, “Il contratto di lavoro,” 23: “è evidente che l’opera del professore d’orchestra è intellettuale e non manuale.”

45.

The appellate court judge Francesco Sette, for instance, authored a point-by-point rejection of Uckmar’s arguments: Sette, “Gli orchestrali.”

46.

See Antoldi, “Ancora in tema di qualifica impiegatizia,” 401.

47.

See Barassi, “Un problema insolubile,” 383.

48.

See Turone, “Impiego privato,” 935–38.

49.

Società Mauri v. Pietrocola, Gaeta, et al. (Commissione centrale per l’impiego privato, August 8, 1928): “collaborazione tecnica, di carattere artistico.” Ironically, this principle of artistic collaboration was affirmed in the second ruling in the Trianon musicians’ suit against the Società Mauri, which was subsequently appealed to the Court of Cassation.

50.

This concept of representation was first introduced in a government report on a proposed employment law of 1912, by the minister and legal scholar (later prime minister) Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. The “relazione Orlando” was, in turn, explicitly cited in a ministerial memorandum regarding the employment law of 1919; both the “relazione Orlando” and the 1919 memorandum would be cited regularly in arguments against musicians’ being considered employees.

51.

Madonna, commentary on Tespi Film v. Stagno Bellincioni, 39: “Un’impresa teatrale è certamente un’azienda. … Caruso che canta (che cantava, purtroppo) non è però un collaboratore dell’azienda; ma il canto di Caruso è la cosa, appunto, che l’azienda teatrale espone al pubblico e sfrutta” (italics in source).

52.

At the height of the musicians’ lawsuits, several anti-musician rulings were issued in Genoa that endorsed the manufacturing analogy; see, for instance, Notte, Maggio, et al. v. Ditta Jovino e Reggio (Magistratura del Lavoro, Genoa, December 9, 1930), quoted in Antoldi, “In tema di contratto individuale,” 157.

53.

Turone, “Impiego privato,” 941: “Rosa Raisa che dall’America viene in Italia per cantare nel ‘Nerone’ di Boito non è divenuta impiegata dell’Impresa della Scala … per il semplice motivo che essa si è impegnata con l’impresa soltanto per singole prestazioni, per eseguire cioè un certo rôle in un dato numero di recite. Se invece Rosa Raisa avesse impegnato genericamente la sua attività artistica di soprano per un certo tempo (una stagione, un mese ecc.), essa sarebbe divenuta impiegata dell’azienda teatrale: sarebbe stata un’impiegata retribuita più o meno … profumatamente, ma sempre un’impiegata!”

54.

Barassi, “Un problema insolubile”, 382: “il miglior modo di convincersene è quello di costatare le acrobazie a cui la giurisprudenza, nelle strettoie di quella formula dell’art. 1, si abbandona nella risoluzione di qualche caso.”

55.

Uckmar, “Il contratto di lavoro,” 23: “Tale frequenza di giudicati dipende, a mio sommesso avviso, non da imprecisione della legge o da diversità di fattispecie, ma dalla tenacia con la quale le imprese cinematografiche si ostinano a negare le indennità di licenziamento ai propri orchestrali, nonostante che la giurisprudenza, salvo qualche sporadico giudicato, si sia sempre pronunciata a favore dei professori d’orchestra.” See also Greco, “I sindacati orchestrali,” 127.

56.

For a discussion of the Biennio Rosso in the context of the Italian labor movement, see Horowitz, Italian Labor Movement, ch. 5.

57.

Membership of the largest Italian union body, the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro, swelled from 250,000 in 1918 to 2.2 million in 1920; see ibid., 141.

58.

One of Fascism’s key characteristics was that it drew indiscriminately on both left- and right-wing political traditions; on the relationship between Fascism and preceding labor movements, see Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, ch. 5. On the emergence of the Fascist syndicates, see Cordova, Le origini dei sindacati fascisti.

59.

See Bongiovanni, “La musica nel sociale” and “Dalla rivoluzione industriale.” As Bongiovanni notes, musical ensembles were a key element in the social dimension of the workers’ movement overall, not just in organizations for musicians.

60.

See the discussion of Milan’s oldest orchestral union and its official newspaper in Della Peruta, I periodici di Milano, 1:274–76. Little to date has been written about musicians and organized labor in Italy in the early 1900s; most scholarship on the Italian labor movement focuses, perhaps tellingly, on the role of agricultural and industrial workers. A brief overview of the Fascist musicians’ union in the 1930s can be found in Sachs, Music in Fascist Italy, 29–32. See, however, the discussion of the music-adjacent Fascist theatrical syndicate in Scarpellini, Organizzazione teatrale e politica, ch. 2.

61.

Musicians were enthusiastic participants in the wave of strikes that occurred during the Biennio Rosso; see Della Peruta, I periodici di Milano, 2:215–16.

62.

Martin, Conditions of Life, 1:47.

63.

Ibid., 48.

64.

See “Lo scioglimento della Federazione orchestrale,” Bollettino del lavoro 39 (1923): 171.

65.

On AFM strikes relating to the transition to sound, see Hubbard, “Synchronized Sound,” and Fones-Wolf, “Sound Comes to the Movies.” For a broader view of the strikes within the history of musical labor activism in America, see Kraft, Stage to Studio, esp. ch. 2.

66.

See Livingston, Monateri, and Parisi, Italian Legal System, 129–31.

67.

See ibid.

68.

In Roberts’s words, “The document itself was an awkward conglomeration of abstract and concrete, of radical- and conservative-sounding statements”: Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 282. On the wider European significance of the Charter, see Pasetti, “Fascist Labour Charter.”

69.

Legge 3 aprile 1926, n. 563, “Disciplina giuridica dei contratti collettivi di lavoro.”

70.

The newly incorporated unions and employer associations were officially recognized by the Regio decreto 7 aprile 1927, n. 651, “Riconoscimento giuridico dei Sindacati nazionali.”

71.

Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, ch. 11.

72.

Quoted in Luverà et al. v. Lanni (Commissione provinciale per l’impiego privato, Naples, December 4, 1928), reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 3 (1929), pt. 2, 20–23, here 21: “questo contratto chiarisce in modo definitivo la natura del rapporto giuridico intercedente tra i professionisti di orchestra e l’esercente sale di spettacoli cinematografici.”

73.

Numerous rulings refer to the lack of compliance with the official publication mechanism described by the 1926 syndical law; given the number of articles and rulings that quote or paraphrase it, however, physical copies of the contract must have been readily available.

74.

Again, numerous articles and rulings raise this linguistic point, though I have been unable to locate a copy of the contract to verify it.

75.

Uckmar, typically, read the contract favorably: Uckmar, “Il contratto di lavoro,” 24. The attorney Francesco De Tiberiis authored a countering interpretation in “Sulla qualifica degli orchestrali,” 171.

76.

See the digest of cases that center on the collective contract in Il diritto del lavoro 2 (1928), pt. 2, 126–27, and 3 (1929), pt. 2, 410–12.

77.

Mauri v. Gaeta: “Collaboratori in senso lato sono tutti coloro che lavorano per l’impresa. In alcuni recenti documenti ufficiali si parla anche degli operai come collaboratori. Ma per essere considerati impiegati occorre una collaborazione in senso specifico” (my emphasis in translation).

78.

This was precisely why some scholars, such as Uckmar, objected to the Court’s ruling. The 1924 law did not distinguish between different types of collaboration; to insist on “specific” collaboration was to reach illegitimately beyond the terms of the law as written.

79.

Antoldi, “Sulla natura giuridica,” 664: “l’amore della specificazione ha tentato … molte delle minori magistrature che … hanno finito col giungere a conclusione diametralmente opposta a quella fermata dalla Suprema Corte.”

80.

Uckmar, “Natura giuridica.”

81.

Peretti-Griva, “Ancora sulla qualifica di impiegati.”

82.

Società Suvini e Zerboni v. Arrostiti et al. (Corte d’Appello di Firenze, May 30, 1930), reproduced in Il foro italiano 55 (1930), pt. 1, 927–32.

83.

Ibid., 932: “Troppo facile invero è lo attribuire … la pomposa qualifica di commento alla proiezione ad una serie di brani musicali; ciò … non potrebbe mai avere influenza alcuna nella risoluzione di una questione giuridica, fintantochè almeno non fosse rigorosamente dimostrato, nei modi di legge, che i brani eseguiti costituiscono effettivo commento di una determinata proiezione” (italics in source).

84.

Ibid.: “la conseguente instabilità della qualifica d’impiegato, che … sarebbe, non solo locale per locale, ma anche sera per sera, conquistata o perduta dagli orchestrali, a seconda che la loro opera servisse o meno di commento al film” (italics in source).

85.

Uckmar, “Natura giuridica,” 745: “Signor impresario non mi passi a quell’altro teatro; preferisco restare per ora disimpiegato … per non perdere la qualifica d’impiegato.”

86.

“Rassegna della dottrina,” 575: “suona lo jazz.” No instrument is specified; a markedly nonstandard instrument may have been intended (perhaps a banjo). If the story is true, it would seem to confirm the bourgeois values of the judiciary.

87.

Uckmar, “Il contratto di lavoro ,” 23: “sono ormai oltrepassati i tempi in cui un modesto strimpellatore di piano poteva impunemente abusare per ore ed ore del pubblico col suo meschino repertorio di marcie funebri o trionfali, di canzoni o di ballabili, ibridamente accozzati con le improvvisazioni infelici del suo estro musicale. Oggi le proiezioni non si accompagnano, ma si commentano a piena orchestra, con scelti brani musicali appropriati all’ambiente od alla scena, preventivamente stabiliti, studiati, provati, repertoriati. … Il commento musicale, di solito reso noto al pubblico con programmi appositi, integra quindi la proiezione, la valorizza, la completa ed anche quando in certe ore del giorno ed in certi intervalli tra turno e turno è eseguito col solo pianoforte, costituisce pur sempre una manifestazione d’arte a sé, armonizzata con lo spettacolo visivo.” In Italian sources of this period, “commento musicale” is a standard term used to describe musical provision in cinemas, together with the verb form “commentare.” While “accompagnamento”/“accompagnare” are also found, on the whole Italian writers do not distinguish clearly or consistently between the two sets of terms, and for this reason I have chosen to render both throughout the article with the equally common, neutral English expression “musical accompaniment.” In the present quotation, however, Uckmar does deliberately contrast “accompagnare” with “commentare.” In the context of the legal dispute at hand—and in particular the Court of Cassation’s decision to draw a distinction between musicians who play background music during intermissions and musicians who accompany the films themselves—Uckmar’s opposition can plausibly be read as one between “mere background music” (“si accompagnano”) and “musical accompaniment by full orchestra” (“si commentano”), and this understanding has guided my translation.

88.

Società Pittaluga v. Caggeggi and Manzanares (Corte di Cassazione, January 31, 1930), reproduced in Il foro italiano 55 (1930), pt. 1, 129–34, here 131: “il risultato artistico dello spettacolo non è costituito solo dalla proiezione del film, ma vi occorre notevolmente la espressione musicale, che con l’armonia dei suoni interpretando e colorando la visione, eccita più intime delicate sensazioni, rendendo più forte e completo il godimento estetico.”

89.

Galvan et al. v. Società Pittaluga (Corte di Cassazione, July 7, 1930), reproduced in Il foro italiano 55 (1930), pt. 1, 1101–4, here 1103: “che arida rassegna, talvolta, sarebbe la rappresentazione cinematografica, se non l’avvivasse il colorito e talora il fremito musicale.”

90.

Arrostiti et al. v. Società Suvini Zerboni et al. (Corte di Cassazione, June 2, 1931), reproduced in Il foro italiano 57 (1932), pt. 1, 195–98, here 196–97: “accrescendo significato alle visioni, destando le più vive sensazioni.”

91.

Abbate, “Overlooking the Ephemeral,” 83. See also the discussion in Lastra, Sound Technology, ch. 3, esp. 111–18.

92.

Abbate, “Overlooking the Ephemeral,” 83.

93.

With some exceptions: Antoldi argues against “the more or less complete and well-executed synchronization of music with the projected image” being used as a criterion for determining employment status: Antoldi, “In tema di contratto individuale,” 155 (“[la] più o meno completa e riuscita sincronizzazione della musica colle visioni riprodotte”).

94.

Abbate, “Overlooking the Ephemeral,” 83.

95.

See Goehr, Imaginary Museum. It is, however, possible that alternative versions of the work concept were operative in Italian cafés and variety theaters of the 1920s, particularly given the jazz-influenced repertoires that became popular there; see Kane, “Jazz, Mediation, Ontology.” That said, it seems likely that any notion of the work concept shared by the judges of the Court of Cassation would center on art music.

96.

On this point, it is worth noting Marco Targa’s suggestion that Italian accompaniment practice presupposed a “looser” ideal of synchronization, an average musical cue lasting around three minutes and thus encompassing longer stretches of film than was standard in cinemas elsewhere: Targa, “La prassi della compilazione,” 698.

97.

Società Pittaluga v. Galvan et al. (Magistratura del Lavoro, Turin, November 29, 1929), quoted in Il diritto del lavoro 4 (1929), pt. 2, 663: “Il cinematografo richiama gli spettatori, non già per le esecuzioni musicali che accompagnano le visioni, ma bensì ed unicamente per la visione in sé.” Martinengo was far from alone in this belief. For Francesco Sette, music in cinemas was “always secondary, even when accompanying the film”: Sette, “Gli orchestrali,” 411 (“sempre secondaria, anche quando è di commento alla proiezione”).

98.

Società Pittaluga v. Cavazzi et al. (Magistratura del Lavoro, Turin, January 3, 1930), reproduced in Rivista dell’impiego privato 5 (1930): 87: “diletto spirituale”; “non concorre in modo alcuno al perfezionamento della scena che la film prospetta all’occhio [degli spettatori].”

99.

Società Esercizi Cinematografici v. Ruvioli et al. (Magistratura del Lavoro, Turin, September 18, 1929), partially reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 4 (1930), pt. 2, 663: “Non può, quindi, considerarsi impiegato il suonatore d’orchestra in un cinematografo che si limiti alla semplice esecuzione materiale della partitura assegnatagli durante gli spettacoli.”

100.

Pichi v. Società Pittaluga (Pretura Firenze, October 30, 1930), partially reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 5 (1931), pt. 2, 399: “vero e proprio commento musicale.”

101.

Carnevale v. Impresa Cinema Teatro Oriente (Pretura Bari, December 3, 1930), partially reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 5 (1931), pt. 2, 399: “brani di musica indifferenti.”

102.

Demonti v. Società Pittaluga (Pretura Novara, January 27, 1931), partially reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 5 (1931), pt. 2, 399: “i singoli componenti l’orchestra abbiano tale cultura musicale da mettere in evidenza una personalità, ancorchè sotto la direzione di un capo.”

103.

“Gli orchestrali sono impiegati: un’altra sentenza del Tribunale del Lavoro,” La Stampa, October 20, 1929, 6.

104.

Antoldi, “In tema di contratto individuale,” 158: “La trattata controversia non riguarda, sia in fine notato, la qualifica impiegatizia del direttore dell’orchestra che è invece pacificamente riconosciuta” (italics in source).

105.

See, for instance, Società Pittaluga v. Herbin (Magistratura del Lavoro, Rome, August 27, 1930), reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 5 (1931), pt. 2, 400; the ruling makes clear that Herbin’s contractually specified role as conductor automatically disqualifies legal arguments against his being treated as an employee.

106.

De Bellis v. Cantini (Magistratura del Lavoro, Genoa, March 4, 1930), partially reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 5 (1931), pt. 2, 398.

107.

Magno v. Grassi (Tribunale Brindisi, May 24, 1930), partially reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 5 (1931), pt. 2, 399.

108.

Though referring to opera houses, the following observation from the above-cited League of Nations report is suggestive: “The position of orchestral conductors in Italy is quite unlike that in other countries. They do not simply conduct the orchestra but they are, in fact, the artistic directors of the theatres”: Martin, Conditions of Life, 1:46.

109.

Film reviews in the Roman broadsheet Il Messaggero began to comment on musical accompaniment, however fleetingly, on a regular basis in February 1929. The trend continued at least until the end of 1930, after which sound cinema rendered such commentary moot.

110.

For example, focusing just on Il Messaggero in 1929, we frequently find comments of this nature: “The orchestral accompaniment, devised by Maestro Fusco, is adherent and appropriate to the varied and exciting events unfolding on screen” (“Il commento orchestrale, ideato dal maestro Fusco, è aderente e appropriato alle varie emozionanti vicende della visione”); or similarly, “The worthy Maestro Steccanella conferred an adherent, well-adapted musical atmosphere on the drama” (“Il valoroso maestro Steccanella ha conferito al dramma un’aderente adeguata atmosfera musicale”): “Le prime del cinema,” Il Messaggero, May 12, 1929, 6, and July 23, 1929, 2 (my emphases in translations).

111.

Mauri v. Gaeta: “Si può fare eccezione pel direttore d’orchestra il quale per la funzione in sé, e in quanto dai vari elementi che coordina e fonda in una unità artistico-musicale, trae i dovuti effetti, e a questo fine l’indirizza e disciplina, esercitando anche i poteri e controlli relativi, si può ritenere eserciti una reale funzione di collaborazione all’impresa, che in concorso agli altri requisiti richiesti dalla legge fa rientrare l’opera sua nella nozione dell’impiegato privato.”

112.

Grasso v. Mensa and Rocco (Tribunale Torino, April 30, 1932), reproduced in Rivista del lavoro 1 (1932): 477–80, here 477: “Le parti ripropongono oggi per l’ennesima volta all’esame del Collegio, la tanto dibattuta ed ormai vessata questione circa la qualità o no di impiegato nel suonatore d’orchestra in spettacoli cinematografici.”

113.

Donati v. Società Pittaluga (Pretura Torino, October 11, 1929), reproduced in Il diritto del lavoro 3 (1929): 411: “Se si prescinde dai films sonori, non ancora generalizzati … non si saprebbe davvero concepire l’assenza di una orchestra in un esercizio importante di una grande città” (italics in source).

114.

“L’assemblea del Sindacato dello spettacolo: necessità, vertenze e problemi del personale del teatro, delle orchestre, del cinematografo,” La Stampa, October 31, 1932, 6.

115.

“Gli orchestrali: le ferie ed i riposi settimanali,” La Stampa, March 1, 1933, 2.

116.

Platte, Making Music, 1–19.

117.

Lastra, Sound Technology, 122.

Laws
(Accessed online at Normattiva: Il portale della legge vigente, a searchable database of Italian law from Unification to the present: https://www.normattiva.it/)
Decreto luogotenenziale 9 febbraio 1919, n. 112, “Che detta norme sul contratto d’impiego privato”
Regio decreto-legge 13 novembre 1924, n. 1825, “Disposizioni relative al contratto d’impiego privato”
Legge 3 aprile 1926, n. 563, “Disciplina giuridica dei contratti collettivi di lavoro”
Regio decreto 7 aprile 1927, n. 651, “Riconoscimento giuridico dei Sindacati nazionali”
Legal Journals
With the exception of Rivista dell’impiego privato e del mandato commerciale (relevant issues in the author’s collection), archival sources for this article were accessed online through the following channels: Emeroteca digitale, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Rome (marked *); Google Books (marked †); JSTOR (marked ‡). Additional scans from certain journals were provided by the reprographics service at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence (marked §). In addition to those cited in the article itself, this list includes legal journals and periodicals consulted in the process of compiling the appendix.
Bollettino del lavoro e della previdenza sociale 39 (1923)
Il diritto commerciale e la parte generale delle obbligazioni, 2nd ser., 23 (1931)
Il diritto del lavoro 2–5 (1928–31)*
Diritto e pratica commerciale 8–10 (1929–31)*
Il foro italiano 47–57 (1922–32)
Giurisprudenza italiana 77 (1925)*
L’impiego privato: Rassegna critica di dottrina e giurisprudenza 7 (1930)§
Massimario di giurisprudenza del lavoro, 2nd ser., 5–6 (1929–30)*
Monitore dei tribunali: Giornale di legislazione e giurisprudenza civile e penale 70 (1929)† §
Rivista del lavoro 1 (1932)† §
Rivista dell’impiego privato e del mandato commerciale 3–5 (1928–30)
Legal Commentary
Antoldi
,
Giuseppe
.
“Ancora in tema di qualifica impiegatizia degli orchestrali.”
Il diritto del lavoro
5
(
1931
), pt. 2,
398
403
.
Antoldi
,
Giuseppe
.
“In tema di contratto individuale di lavoro: la qualifica impiegatizia dell’orchestrale cinematografico e il concetto della ‘collaborazione.’”
Diritto e pratica commerciale
10
(
1931
):
155
60
.
Antoldi
,
Giuseppe
.
“Sulla natura giuridica del rapporto di lavoro dell’orchestrale cinematografico.”
Il diritto del lavoro
4
(
1930
), pt. 2,
660
65
.
Barassi
,
Ludovico
.
“Un problema insolubile: la differenza tra le qualifiche di impiegato e operaio.”
Il foro italiano
56
(
1931
), pt. 1,
377
86
.
De Tiberiis
,
Francesco
.
“Sulla qualifica degli orchestrali.”
Massimario di giurisprudenza del lavoro
, 2nd ser.,
5
(
1929
):
168
71
.
Greco
,
Paolo
.
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Il diritto del lavoro
2
(
1928
), pt. 2,
127
29
.
Madonna
,
Alessandro
.
Commentary on Tespi Film v. Stagno Bellincioni (Corte d’Appello, Rome, July 26, 1921)
.
Il foro italiano
47
(
1922
), pt. 1,
33
46
.
Peretti-Griva
,
Domenico Riccardo
.
“Ancora sulla qualifica di impiegati da attribuirsi agli ‘orchestrali.’”
Rivista dell’impiego privato e del mandato commerciale
5
(
1930
):
69
72
.
“Rassegna della dottrina: nos. 278–84.”
Il diritto del lavoro
4
(
1930
), pt. 1,
575
76
.
“Rassegna della giurisprudenza: estremi e fattispecie per l’esistenza di un rapporto d’impiego privato.”
Il diritto del lavoro
2
(
1928
), pt. 2,
154
60
.
Sette
,
Francesco
.
“Gli orchestrali ed artisti di teatro e la collaborazione nell’azienda.”
Massimario di giurisprudenza del lavoro
, 2nd ser.,
5
(
1929
):
407
13
.
Turone
,
Ernesto
.
“Impiego privato e contratto di scrittura teatrale.”
Il foro italiano
50
(
1925
), pt. 1,
933
42
.
Uckmar
,
Antonio
.
“Il contratto di lavoro del suonatore d’orchestra: nota.”
Il diritto del lavoro
3
(
1929
), pt. 2,
23
24
.
Uckmar
,
Antonio
.
“Natura giuridica del contratto di lavoro dell’orchestrale cinematografico.”
Il foro italiano
55
(
1930
), pt. 1,
741
45
.
Uckmar
,
Antonio
.
“Sul contratto di lavoro degli orchestrali: nota.”
Il diritto del lavoro
3
(
1929
), pt. 2,
408
10
.
Contemporary Press Coverage
Corriere della sera
,
June
14
,
1929
. Accessed online at http://archivio.corriere.it/Archivio/interface/landing.html.
Il Messaggero
,
May
12
,
1929
;
July
23
,
1929
.
Accessed online through the Emeroteca digitale, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Rome
, http://digitale.bnc.roma.sbn.it/tecadigitale/emeroteca/explore.
La Stampa
,
June
14
,
1929
;
October
20
,
1929
;
October
31
,
1932
;
March
1
,
1933
. Accessed online at www.archiviolastampa.it/.
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