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Neapolitan song history

Published May 23, 2011 by Tony

NEAPOLITAN SONG

 

“…e i’ so’ napulitano
e si nun canto io moro!”

[… I’m Neapolitan and if don’t sing I die!]

For Neapolitan people the passion for the music and the wish to sing get deep roots.

Undoubtedly, Naples has played an important and vibrant role over the centuries not just in the music of Italy, but in the general history of western European musical traditions.

Even In America, Neapolitan music is very popular, from the casinos of Atlantic City and the streets of New York’s Italian neighbourhoods to the remotest corners of the country.

The classic “Canzone napoletana” (Neapolitan song) is a mix between the ancient popular singing and folkloristic singing.  Historically, the siren Parthenope singing  maybe,  characterized the popular singing of this population as a song that was born from love to clear hurdles and become undying.

The “popular singing” is the singing of the common people as the rallying cry of the pitchmen, the lover short improvised lyric, the storyteller one or the poor women and men chants during thier daily pains.

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“Jesce sole, jesce sole,
non te fa cchiù suspirà.
Siente maje che le ffigliole
hanno tanto da prià.”

[Come out sun, come out sun, don’t keep us waiting. Why girls have to ask so much?]

 

With the volcano looming, Naples and its million and a quarter of Neapolitans have woven an unparalleled tradition.

Possibly, the origin of Neapolitan song as a folkloristic issue rises in the 12th century when “Federico II” university was instituted together the love for art and poetry and arose two centuries later by the choral singing of the housewives and people that hummed some tune while working, as a way to endure the every-day-life distress often in contrast with the Neapolitan treasures. In fact, in the 14th century, during the Kingdom of Naples, the Neapolitan language became the official language and many musicians – drawing their inspiration from popular choirs – started to write ballads and farces in Neapolitan dialect.

The next century the local “Villanella” became famous in Europe.

Villanellais a form of secular song born in Italy in the first half of the sixteenth century. Originally appeared in Naples, influenced the later form of the song and - later – the madrigal. The argument of the villanelle was generally rustic, often comic and satirical: it frequently parodied the mannerism of the music of the time, frequently for example in the madrigals.
The first villanelle were performed by three voices a cappella.

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“Li Saracini adorano lo sole,
e li Turchi la luna con le stelle
ed io adoro queste trezze belle.”

[Saracen worship the sun, and Turkish the moon and the stars, and I cherish this beautiful braids.]

 

Over the seventeenth century appeared the first “Tarantella” rhythms, a folk dance characterized by a fast upbeat tempo accompanied by tambourines as the song “Michelemmà”, [Here for lyrics], wrote by the lyricist musician and actor Salvator Rosa, probably inspired by Sicilian similar rhythm, or later as “Lo Guarracino”, [Here for lyrics], by unknown author.

During the subsequent century the new music shops and record companies increased the success of the Neapolitan song in the world, collecting  recovering and arranging a lot of old lyrics. Buskers also had their importance in re-arranging and singing the Neapolitan songs in streets or restaurants.

The Neapolitan song became a formal institution in the 1830s due to an annual song-writing competition for the Festival of  “Piedigrotta”, dedicated to the Madonna of  Piedigrotta, an old church in the Mergellina area of Naples. The winner of the first festival was a song entitled “Te voglio bene assaie”, [Here for lyrics], that together “Santa Lucia”, [Here for lyrics],gave birth to a style which gained widespread recognition.  Somebody affirms that  “Te voglio bene assaje” is the forerunner of the Neapolitan song.

The lyrics of “Santa Lucia” (Here for Italian version or here for  Neapolitan version and Here for lyrics) celebrated the picturesque waterfront district, Santa Lucia suburb, in the Bay of Naples, in the invitation of a boatman to take a turn in his boat, to better enjoy the cool of the evening.

In Santa Lucia, Naples is beautifully defined as : “suolo beato, ove sorridere volle il Creato” (holy soil, smiled upon by the Creator).

In the United States, an early edition of the song, with an English translation by Thomas Oliphant, was published by M. McCaffrey, Baltimore. Perhaps the definitive 20th century recording of the song was the one of Enrico Caruso, the great Neapolitan opera singer. The song has also been recorded by Elvis Presley on the 1965 album Elvis for Everyone. In Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway, “Santa Lucia” has been given various lyrics to accommodate it to the winter-light festival of Saint Lucy, at the darkest time of the year.

Another famous song of this period was “Fenesta ca lucivean anonymous song [Here for lyrics].  

At Piedigrotta, the hits enraptured the audience before working their way slowly to Rome.

Half a century after Santa Lucia, Di Capua’s  “O Sole Mio“, (Here for lyrics]  was given a standing ovation. Then “Maria, Marì  [Here for lyrics ], “Vieni Sul Mar”,A Marechiare” [Here for lyrics], and others enchanted Caruso, Martinelli, Schipa and Ponselle.

As tradition, the feast of Piedigrotta in the nineteenth century became the cradle of classic Neapolitan songs, which experienced its golden years between 1890 and 1910: those were the years of Salvatore Di Giacomo, Libero Bovio, Raffaele Sacco and many others important composers.

That festival ran regularly until 1950, when it was abandoned. A subsequent Festival of Neapolitan Song on Italian state radio enjoyed some success but was eventually suspended as well in 1982.

Here’s some song that participated in the Festival:

Tuppe tuppe mariscià” [Here for lyrics];  “Nnammuratella mia” [Here for lyrics]; “Pulecenella” [Here for lyrics]; “Scapricciatiello”  [Here for lyrics]; “Storta va…… deritta vene” ;” O treno d’ ‘a fantasia” ; “Serenatella ‘e maggio” ; “Lazzarella” [Here for lyrics]; “Cerasella”[Here for lyrics]; ”  O scarpariello” ; “Tu si ‘na cosa grande”, [Here for lyrics]; “Tu stasera si pusilleco” ; “Schiavo d’ammore”, [Here for lyrics]; “Pulecenella ‘o core ‘e Napule” ; “Core spezzato”, [Here for lyrics] ;”  O scugnizzo”,  ;  “Frennesia”.

 

In the late 1700s, after so many dominations, social and mental Neapolitan conditions were devastating with poverty and disorders afflicting the city.

Naples was an ongoing project and everyday people tried to get out of the crisis, but they were not lacking in the singing and on that time we could have heard someone wistling “Oilì Oilà,[Here for lyrics] another success of Salvatore Di Giacomo.

In the meanwhile, the triumph of Piedigrotta went on and in every Festival a new song became a success.  Salvatore Di Giacomo was the poet most popular and his lyrics just the songs most sung. On that time people heard:

Marechiaro“; “‘E spingule francese”, [Here for lyrics];  “Palomma e notte”, [Here for lyrics]; “Donna Amalia ‘a speranzella”; “ ‘A novena”; “Carcioffolà”; “Carulì cu st’uocchie nire”, [Here for lyrics]; “ ‘A retirata”, [Here for lyrics]; “All’erta sentinella”,  [Here for lyrics]; “Lariulà”,[Here for lyrics]; “ ‘Luna nova”, [Here for lyrics].

These songs were considered by Di Giacomo himself popular while some “canzone nove” (new songs), were considered “artistic songs” like: “Matina matì”, “Serenata napulitana”, [Here for lyrics]; “Pianefforte ‘e notte”, “Marzo”, [Here for lyrics]; “ ‘E trezze ‘e Carulina”,  “ ‘A sirena”, “Era de maggio”, [Here for lyrics]; ”Ll’ore ‘e ll’appuntamento”.

Di Giacomo was the first great poet able to give to the Neapolitan song an artistic dignity where the song began pure lyrical, a love poem that dominated over that century.
On that time, Ferdinando Russo, another composer, as a poet sensitive and gentle, was able to give to the “macchietta” (the character) an artistic meaning and make songs as: “Tammurriata palazzola”,Scetate”, [Here for lyrics]; “Mamma mia che vo’ sapè”, “Quanno tramonta ‘o sole”, [Here for lyrics].

When the situation improved people then had the wish to amuse and revel again and the ‘Melodramma’ (Melodrama) and the “Opera Buffa” (comic opera)  sprout up whereas the most important theatres were built, as the ‘San Carlo’ on 1737 and ‘San Ferdinado’ on 1790. Neapolitan Melodrama can be considered a romantic ballad based on music by a mix of songs, dance and acting while the ‘Opera Buffa’ a sort of opera, at first characterized by everyday settings, local dialects and simple vocal writing, often by some folk songs as:

Palummella zompa e vola”, [Here for lyrics]; “ Lu Cardillo”, [Here for lyrics]  and “Cicerenella [Here for lyrics]; “ ‘A Tazza ‘e Cafè”, [Here for lyrics].

Since then, the Neapolitan song’s beguiling melodies and harmonic structure began to enrich the repertoire of singers of every trend.

In 1900,  another valuable generation of poets will look into the limelight of the Neapolitan music and among them these was: 

Ernesto Murolo, whose compositions looked like paintings representing old life story as:

Pusilleco addiruso”, “Suspiranno”,[Here for lyrics] “Te si’ scurdato ‘e Napule”, “Tarantelluccia”, [Here for lyrics]“Ah l’ammore che ffa fa”,[Here for lyrics]; “Popolo po’”, [Here for lyrics];  “Napule ca se ne va” ,[Here for lyrics];  “ ‘O cunto ‘e MariaRosa” ,[Here for lyrics];“Piscatore ‘e pusilleco”, [Here for lyrics].

Libero Bovio, whose poetic lyrics were the portrait of the common people, as :

Canta pè me”, [Here for lyrics]; ” Surdate”, “Autunno”, “Nun voglio fà niente”, “Tarantella luciana”,[Here for lyrics]   “Guapparia”, [Here for lyrics]; “Napule canta”, “Reginella”, [Here for lyrics];Brinneso”, “Ncopp’a ll’onna”, ” ‘O mare canta”, “Silenzio cantatore”, [Here for lyrics]; “Chiove”, [Here for lyrics];  “L’addio”,[Here for lyrics];  “Totonno se ne va”,” ‘E pentite”, “Lacreme napulitane”,[Here for lyrics]; ” ‘O paese d”o sol”e”, [Here for lyrics]; “Tarantella scugnizza”, Tu Ca Nun Chiagne”, [Here for lyrics];  “Zappatore”, [Here for lyrics];  “ ‘E figlie”, [Here for lyrics]; “Mamma addo’ sta?”, [Here for lyrics]; “Carcere”, “Passione”, [Here for lyrics]; “Quanta rose”, “Cara busciada”, “L’urdema tarantella”, “Chitarra nera”, ” ‘O meglio amico”, and “Cara piccina”,  [Here for lyrics]; “Pallida mimosa”, “Signorinella”, [Here for lyrics], all  Italian lyrics.

E. A. Mario,  a multifaceted artist with a new fresh inspiration and among his compositions we find: “Funtana all’ombra”, “Canzona napulitana”, “I’ ‘na chitarra e ‘a luna”, [Here for lyrics]; “Maggio si’ tu”, [Here for lyrics]; “Comme se canta a Napule”, [Here for lyrics]; “Santa Lucia Luntana”, [Here for lyrics] “Core furastiero”, [Here for lyrics];  “Duje paravise”, [Here for lyrics];  “Mierolo affurtunato”, ” ‘O festino”, “Canzona appassiunata”,[Here for lyrics] “Ammore ‘e femmena”, “Presentimento”, and then “Vipera”, “Ladra”, “La leggenda del Piave”, “Le rose rosse”, “Nostalgia di mandolini”, “Balocchi e profumi”, all in Iatlian.

Armando Gill (real name Michele Testa), a very important artist, an elegant popular poet with a strong artistic personality. Among his achievements are:

Come pioveva”, “ ‘O quatto ‘e maggio”, “ ‘O zampugnaro nnammurato”, [Here for lyrics]; “Nun so’ geluso”, “Bella ca bella sì”, “Palomma”, “Gina mia”, “Canti nuovi”, “Stornello dell’aviatore”, “ ‘e allora?.
Salvatore Gambardella a self-taught artist that loved Neapolitan lyrics and wrote important lyrics as: “Comme Facette Mammeta”, [Here for lyrics]; “Quanno tramonta o sole”, [Here for lyrics];  ; “Ninì Tirabusciò”, “Marenariello”, [Here for lyrics] and “Carulina”.

 

Instead, the song “Core ‘ngrato”, [Here for lyrics], was one of the first song written in America (1911) by an immigrant (Alessandro Sisca) that unexpectedly became famous in Naples and then sung by most important tenors as Enrico Caruso, Tito Schipa, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo e José Carreras.

Anyway, many Neapolitan songs became world-famous because they were taken abroad by emigrants from Naples and southern Italy roughly since 1880.  The music was also popularized abroad by performers such Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mario Lanza, or as Enrico Caruso, who took to sing the popular music of his native city as encores at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the early 1900s. “Canta pe’ me”, [Here for lyrics] .

 

As history changes in the time, affected by political and social shift, also the song reflects this change.

The World War II was over and the song “ O surdate  innammurato”, [Here for lyrics]  – also if wrote after the first War – made a comeback, singing the warring vicissitude. With no new great poet – who for decades had provided a veritable lyrical verses and compositions – the ancient time became a nostalgic memory. In this new phase it will be the musician and the so-called songwriter to create new melodies and lyrics.

As an echo, the verses of a Gennaro Pasquariello song just underlined the end of an era:

«Torna, canzona mia, comm’a ‘na vota,

cchiù semplice, gentile e appassiunata;

Torna a ‘o paese bello addò sì nata,

ca già saie quanto te sapimmo amà».

[Come back my song, as it was in the past, so simple gentle and passionate; Come back to the country where you was born, ‘cause you know how we love you]

 

Despite confusion and ruin, while rebuilding the city, Neapolitans returned to sing and this time the song on everyone’s lips was Dove sta Zazà” (1944), where Zazà, a sort of female nickname, referred to the women that enlivened American soldiers and possibly to their virtue.

The actor-singer Nino Taranto was a great exponent of this genre and of any comical song (macchietta) as “Ciccio Formaggio”, “Fatte fa fa na foto”,  “Tatonno ‘e Quagliarella”,  “La pansè”, “Miss mia cara miss”, “N’accordo in fa”, “Pezzo e Pizzo.

During this period, others two famous songs came to light: “Tammurriata nera”, [Here for lyrics] and “Munasterio ‘e Santa Chiara”, [Here for lyrics], where the first tells the story of a woman who – having had sex with an American soldier – gives birth to a black child, and the second – sung by Giacomo Rondinella - recallstheterriblebombingofAugust 4, 1943, though this singer became famous with the song “Dicetincello vuje”[Here for lyrics].

Song also will be affected by new rhythms coming from other countries, as the beguine for example and in the meanwhile as a revival the melodrama was very successful specially the performances  with the “malamente” (villain) or betrayer that notwithstanding its theatricalism usually had a happy finale. This success promoted a new lyric vein, “the dramatic song” while more than poets or lyricists that was the time of the singers. 

Later, Mario Merola just was the most known singer of this theatrical genre. 

The singer Roberto Murolo appears on the scene of the Neapolitan song, being successful by the old classic songs without daring to venture into upgrades.

His father Ernesto Murolo was the highly regarded dialect poet, part of the long tradition of dialect literature that included his own contemporary, Salvatore di Giacomo, and reached back through the 18th–century libretti of the Neapolitan Comic Opera to the 16th–century Pentamarone by Giambattista Basile, and beyond. Thus, Roberto Murolo was very aware of being part of that tradtion, and his great contribution to the music of Naples is a scholarly one. He dedicated years of his life to researching, collecting and documenting Neapolitan music and in 1963 published what amounted to a musical encyclopedia of the music of Naples, a 12 LP set containing songs from 1200 to 1962, all carefully documented and explained and all immaculately sung by Murolo, himself. He sang in the precise pronunciation of a literary language, quite different from the uneducated “street sound” that one often associates with the term “dialect”.

Renato Carosone together Gegè di Giacomo e Peter Van Wood found a famous trio that in addition to new songs as “Caravan petrol or “ ‘O pellerossa”, revisited the old songs too, bringing them to success to the new generation by an explosive rhythm. The rearranged songs: “Maruzzella, [Here for lyrics]; “Tu vuo’ fa’ l’ammericano, [Here for lyrics];  “‘O sarracino”,  “Torero, “Io mammeta e tu”, [Here for lyrics], became famous for this reason.

The first concrete sign of this change” began also with the appearance on the scene of Peppino di Capri, a singer that put forward his own style, first as rocker and then as crooner by Italian songs mainly. He also worked with equal success rearranging the two classic and famous songs: “Voce ‘e notte“, [Here for lyrics];  e “Piscatore ‘e Pusilleco” [Here for lyrics].

In the meanwhile the singer Maria Paris sang songs as “E stelle e Napule”, Funiculì Funiculà”, [Here for lyrics];  “Tuppe tuppe marisciàwhile the Roman singer Claudio Villa sang many Neapolitan songs too.

Important lyricists wrote new masterpieces as “Catene”, “Piscatore e Pusilleco”, “Nun me scetà”, “Napule ca se ne va”, “Signorinella”, “Passione”,  “N’accordo in fa”, “Simme e Napule Paisà”, [Here for lyrics]; “Scapricciatiello” and “Torna”, [Here for lyrics].

Aurelio Fierro beacame famous singing the likeable songs “Scapricciatiello”, “Guaglione,[Here for lyrics]; ”Vurria”;  “A Pizza”, [here for lyrics]  and “Lazzarella”.

In 1951 the actor – known as Totò – wrote the famous song “Malafemmena”, [Here for lyrics].

The Sicilian actor and singer Domenico Modugno  (the famous author of  “Nel blu dipinto di blu”

- widely known as “Volare” –  that in USA was the first Italian song to be in the top ten for thirteen weeks and interpreted by a large group of singers and groups, including Dean Martin, Platters, Frank Zappa, Al Martino and Gipsy Kings), arranged big successes as “Na sere ‘e Maggio”, [Here for lyrics]‘O ccafè”, [Here for Lyrics];  “Pasqualino Maraja”, “Tu si na cosa grande”, [Here for lyrics]   and “Resta cu mme”, [Here for lyrics].

Sergio Bruni, another famous classic singer who sang a lot of songs and by his warm voice re-put forward lyrics as: “Vieneme ‘nzuonno”, [Here for lyrics]; “Carmela”,[Here for lyrics];  “A Vucchella”, [Here for lyrics];  I’ Te Vurria Vasa’”, [Here for lyrics]; “Fenesta vascia”, [Here for lyrics]; “Rusella ‘e Maggio”, [Here for lyrics].

During that time, the Festival of the Neapolitan song seemed to re-give an élan vital to the singing and until it went on, at least.

Then, from the sixties onwards, began a period of deep crisis for the Neapolitan song also if later some important artists came into light as the folkloric group called Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare and Pino Daniele, a Neapolitan vocalist, composer and musician whose influences cover a wide number of genres, fusing pop, blues, jazz, Italian and Middle eastern music into his own unique brand of world music by his lyrics that are in Neapolitan dialect (napulitano) and Italian. Quite attractive and innovative the songs: “Terra mia”, [Here for lyrics]; “Yes I Know My Way”, [Here for lyrics];  “ ‘Na tazzulella ‘e cafè”, [Here for lyrics]; Je so’ pazzo”, [Here for lyrics]; “Putesse essere allero” and  the delicate and famous  Napule è”, [Here for lyrics]”.

Anyway, other Neapolitan singers deserve to be mentioned:

Pino Mauro, Mario Trevi, Nunzio Gallo [ Na Sera ‘e Maggio“, (Here for lyrics)],  Myrna Doris, Mario Abbate, Gloria Christian,  Robertino, Alberto Berri, Franco Ricci, Fausto Cigliano, Bruno Venturini, Tony Astarita, Miranda Martino,  Mario Da Vinci and his son Salvatore Da Vinci, Peppino Gagliardi, Peppe Barra, Gloriana, Antonello Rondi, Tonino Apicella, Nino D’Angelo, Gigi Finizio, Carmelo Zappulla.

There is no lack of some opera singer who presents famous songs in a lirical key as Tito Schipa, Bruno Venturini, Mario Lanza  and Pavarotti bringing the beautiful classic Neapolitan repertoire all around the world as many years before the great Enrico Caruso had done.

From 1970s on there is no great novelty in the (classical) Neapolitan music setting but some performer deserve a mention.

The band Napoli Centrale that used a jazz-rock fusion (here for “Campagna” song, here for “‘Ngazzate Nire”); the band Osanna  that, though in Italian language, wisely mixed Neapolitan and Mediterranean folk  creating a sort of a progressive (Neapolitan) style (here for “Oro caldo” song). Renzo Arbore who with his band took around the old classic lyrics. The composer and singer Gigi D’Alessio who among his Italian repertoire have some classic Naepolitan song. Almamegretta a group whose music is a mix of reggae dub and Arab tune (here for “‘O bbuono e ‘o malamente”). The bands 99 Posse with a ragamuffin rap genre (here or “Curre curre guaglió) and 24 Grana that mix dub, reggae and rock through tribal tune and digital sound (here for “Acqua pe sta terra”).  Last but not least the tenor Andrea Bocelli who in 2009 recorded an album dedicated to the style, entitled “Incanto”.

Probably, during this long tracking shot I forget some artist and some song but mine was only an outline with the purpose to listen (again) some unforgettable song and not an exhaustive research.

It required a hard work but next to the different video-clips links I put the lyrics with many translated into English too. Please, take in account that these songs were created in the (old) Neapolitan dialect and it’s quite difficult to translate them. In fact, there are  many dialectal idiomatic expressions with some old and it already is impossible to translate them into Italian just imagine into English. Anyway, I tried to make the most opportune literal translation adding more meaning in some case and, since many songs are poetries, it was impossible to keep the original rhymes.

Hope you enjoy.

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