The Three Phases of Pausini’s Production

I am a contemporary music composer who experiments with electronics and lighting. So you will think, why is Ian talking about an Italian pop star?

Among my articles about contemporary classical music, electronics and interactivity, sometimes I like to explore some other topics—it’s my blog after all, I’m not here writing for academia! Anyway, many classical musicians began their careers playing pop music, just like those who started on a guitar learning chords from the Beatles. In my case, I did not learn much from the Beatles, my interest was in learning Tom Jobim, as well as the music of the Italian singer, Laura Pausini, as both were rich in harmony and great for learning jazzy chords and progressions.

Laura Pausini’s band at the 2001’s World Tour (keyboards, drums, guitar, bass, backing vocals)

Who is Laura Pausini? In the early 1990s, she was a popular phenomenon in Brazil, as well as in many other countries of Latin America, and Europe. A good part of the population of the southern states of Brazil (e.g., São Paulo) comes from Italian ancestry. Listening to Italian words was attractive to the young 90s generation, especially with romantic couples. Her albums were also released in Spanish, and both versions were very well-welcomed by Brazilians like me, who bought her albums in both languages. If you are in the UK or US, you may have never heard of Laura Pausini, so for more context, you can read her Wikipedia page.

Laura Pausini in 2001

People who know her music will automatically think of her major love song successes, such as Non c’è, Strani Amori, La Solitudine or Incancellabile. But those who followed closely her career know there is also a jazzy and bluesy element to her production (check La Voce, Angeli nel Blu, Tutt’al più, for example).

Her early productions included wide dynamics (from pianissimo introductions to fortissimo choirs), well-elaborated harmonic passages, interesting improvisations and a variety of timbre from Laura’s interesting and wide vocal range. The 1990s was indeed surrounded by pop-romantic music which sometimes was well-elaborated, like in hits by Bon Jovi or Mariah Carey, but I find this Italian style much more quirky and interesting.

La Solitudine and Strani Amori were songs that resonated all over South America—I remember that, back in 1993, the radio stations were playing these songs several times a day. I will explain here why I believe La Solutidine became this massive hit, and also, I will try to outline Pausini’s musical aesthetics in different phases.

La Solitudine was composed by Angelo Valsiglio, Pietro Cremonesi and Federico Cavalli, a team of musicians who invented a well-elaborated formula for popular songs, aiming to support the powerful voice of young Laura. In 1993, she won the 43rd Sanremo Music Festival and soon released a series of albums with this same team. As her career progressed, her team and style changed, and the music became more simplified and perhaps, less interesting, at least from a musical point of view. Their attempt to imitate American pop style, or to add an English-language repertoire, which didn’t work, seems to have changed completely the initial ‘compositional’ proposal.

Laura in 1993, Sanremo Music Festival

So how has La Solutidine become such a famous composition, covered by many other artists? I will explain what I hear when I listen to it:

0’00” As we can notice if we try to play along, the original song (from Laura Pausini 1993), is not in the standard 440Hz tuning. Its initial key is between B and Bb. Was this done in the mastering process, on purpose? It’d be interesting to know why the chose to do this, but I believe it gives the song a special effect.

0’16” The verse progression is a basic ballad, I-vi-IV-V. The dark synth in the background gives depth to the picture while Laura sings a love poem. The drums are played softly with a tight snare on the third beat.

0’45” The chorus comes, with a bass descending in a similar fashion to Pachelbel’s Canon’s progression. Then the piano leads a modulation bridge, the cymbals roll and now we have a more punchy and resonant snare.

1’30” The verse returns (I-vi-IV-V) in a key above, but now there is a new level of dynamics, we could perhaps say it came from piano to mezzo-forte. A guitarist picks the key (detuned C#) in the background.

1’59” The second chorus appears, Laura’s now sings one octave higher.

2’27” A bridge verse creates a crescendo effect that resolved in the new chorus, now fortissimo, with backing vocals singing almost at the same loudness as Laura. Along with the choir, Laura alternates between the common low melody and high-pitch improvisations. The song ends with a piano coda, matching rhythms with the drums’ cymbals.

Pausini’s backing vocal trio in a 2001 tour

I will now classify Pausini’s music into distinct phases, according to its musicality, and not related to other contexts, such as lyrics or life events.

Phase 1 (1993-1995) A. Valsiglio, P. Cremonesi, M. Marati
This is my favourite phase as it is made of songs I’ve been listening to for the last 30 years of my life (I’m 39 now). I enjoy all the songs made during this period, particularly Gente, Perchè non torna più, Lettera, Il Coraggio che non c’è, Un amico è cosi, Le Cose Che Vivi, Che storia è and Il mondo che vorrei.

This phase is characterised by:
– Arrangements of piano and keyboards (FM digital synths, strings, organs and other effects), electric guitars (clean/chorus/delay and sometimes overdriven solos), long reverb drum snares with light percussions, electric bass and backing vocal choir (usually one male and two female voices). It also features guitar or saxophone solos, with space for more virtuous improvisations.
– Harmonic modulations, typically three times upwards in many songs, allowing Laura to show her impressive vocal range, textures and full tessitura control. Bass cadences in Pachelbel’s Canon style are common (like in Strani Amori or Lui non sta con te), stylised with suspended chords and 9ths. Diminished chords are well implemented in harmonic variations or bridge sections.
– Wide dynamics, with the final choruses always much louder and with full instrumentation. Something that we don’t see anymore nowadays, where every mastering (especially in pop) is super compressed.

In this phase, Strani Amori begins with the simplicity of three descending Major Scale notes in C Major. A story of this motif evolves, with vocals hitting the suspended notes (9ths and 4ths) of the chords. In the 2nd repetition of the chorus, the progression tricks us by presenting a half-diminished chord—Bm7(b5)-which goes to a V/vi (E7), creating an interesting variation. The song follows by going up to D, until it reaches a ‘glorious’ chorus, with more interesting harmonic variations, and an explosion to the coda. In each key, Laura’s voice changes its timbre, and you can hear ‘low Laura in C major’, ‘medium Laura in D major’ and ‘high Laura in E major’.

Another very interesting harmony from this period is found in Lettera, which fluctuates between A and F#.

Phase 1 Albums

Laura Pausini (1993 – Italian)
Laura (1994 – Italian)
Laura Pausini (1994 – Spanish)

Phase 2 (1996) E. Buffat, D. Vuletic and various international composers

Pausini’s saxophonist in a 1997 tour – my apologies but I can’t seem to find out his name anywhere!

A new production can be seen from 1996. Le cose che vivi was a very successful album and preserved much of the aesthetics from the previous period.

The composition Le cose che vivi goes through 5 keys, and between these modulations Laura sings a semi-tone, creating a very interesting effect. This is how this harmony goes:

|| F: I vi IV V Db: I iii IV V ||
|| G: I vi IV V Eb: I iii IV V ||
Then a long-progression bridge comes (Em B/D# G7/D A/C# Am/C Bm7 Em7 A11 A7(b5) D11 E11) and resolves in one more key:
|| A: I vi IV V ||

Another fantastic harmony is found in ll mondo che vorrei. Click here to see my chord transcription.

From La mia risposta (1998), the compositions began to add more modern pop elements, like electronic drums and more common harmonic progressions. The following album, Tra te e il mare (2000), was more successful, especially due to the title’s song, but didn’t carry on delivering harmonic surprises and original arrangements like before. Il Ritorno da Te, launched in her Best of collection (2001), was more interesting, and her world tour was very well produced, consisting of a professional band, with Gabriele Fersini creating interesting guitar solos. I believe the tours between 1997 and 2001 were the best of her career, showing very well-elaborated arrangements and original performances.

From the Inside (2002) was their first attempt in the English-speaking market, which was unsuccessful. There was nothing new to be presented in terms of musicality and it didn’t attract much attention.

In Resta in Ascolto (2004), Pausini’s production pushed to something more like a ‘rock-band’ style. I like this album, it was a contrast to the previous phase but still had a few interesting harmonic ideas and creative progressions, such as in Vivimi.

Phase 2 Albums

Le cose che vivi / Las cosas que vives (1996)
La mia risposta / Mi respuesta (1998)
Tra te e il mare / Entre tú y mil mares (2000)
From the Inside (2002 – English)
Resta in ascolto / Escucha (2004)

Check out Andrea Braido’s solo in Le cose che vive, in 1997

Phase 3 (2006) P. Carta, D. Vuletic, B. Antonacci

From Io canto (2006), Pausini’s production started to work with covers and dismissed the initial aesthetics. In Primavera in anticipo (2008), there is little modulation, almost no piano and no more backing vocal choirs. Harmony is always within 1 key, suspensions and diminished chords disappeared. In terms of musical creativity, this album has nothing to present (and still, it won a Grammy, not that this competition means anything serious nowadays).

The boredom continues from 2011, in a style where it repeats the I-IV-V and other similar progressions, with no harmonic surprises. Since then, the production seems to have no more musical authenticity, offering a more common pop music approach. The latest album, Anime Parallele, uses generic electronic loops and has a more ‘dance music’ aesthetics, with monotonous and simple arrangements.

Phase 3 Albums

Io canto / Yo canto (2006)
Primavera in anticipo / Primavera anticipada (2008)
Inedito / Inédito (2011)
Simili / Similares (2015)
Laura Xmas / Laura Navidad (2016)
Fatti sentire / Hazte sentir (2018)
Anime Parallele / Almas Paralelas (2023)

Towards a Commercial Pop Model and the ‘Invisible’ Musicians

My hope was always that the Pausini production would move to a more jazzy style, and continue to be musically explorative and creative. However, it seems to have stagnated into a more commercial pop vibe. I don’t understand why she tried so much to reach the American and English-speaking market, instead of focusing on the beauty of her country’s creativity. I will not comment on the lyrics, or on Laura’s vocal performance and charisma, which has always been fantastic. But from my perspective as a musician, the music has been much more interesting in its early periods.

Recently, in 2022, Laura released her film, Laura Pausini: Pleasure to Meet You (2022). Unfortunately, the film does not mention any musician who she worked with. The film only talks about her personal life, completely ignoring the musicality of her production. I feel that without the magical harmonic minds of Angelo Valsiglio, Eric Buffat and the other musicians who composed her hits in the 90s and early 2000s, she wouldn’t have reached this level of popularity. Why were they not mentioned in the film?

My Personal Experience with Laura’s Music

I’m getting to the end of this article and to finalise it, I will tell you my bizarre experience with the music of Laura Pausini. When I was young and was learning music I became obsessed with her music; I saw it as very good material for learning languages and harmony, so I collected all of her albums, went to concerts and even met her on a national television programme. While her fans were giving her CDs to sign, I gave her my sheet music songbook. She frowned when she saw it (maybe she didn’t even know that songbook existed). I gave her a letter (written in badly translated Italian) saying I was studying to become a composer and hoped one day to compose music for her (maybe if I had gone through the songwriting/pop composition path I would have done it, but I went into the mad scientist route of experimental music).

Another funny story: When I was around 17, I could play on the guitar most of her songs, and even had my original solo arrangements. One day I took my guitar to a luthier in São Paulo for repair, and a man showed up asking the luthier if he knew anyone who could perform a song with Laura on the Brazilian national TV, on that same day! That day, unfortunately, I was busy, and this felt too surreal to be true, so I didn’t offer to play and missed the opportunity, which was frustrating afterwards as I would have loved to have performed with her. It feels weird I’m only writing about this in 2024, revealing these memories and pop music analysis I visited so many years ago.