The Neapolitan song, from its origins to today

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Naples is the only major city in the world to which a musical genre is linkedNeapolitan music. A musical genre recognized and sung all over the world. Baritones and sopranos from every corner of the globe include Neapolitan songs in their training and in their most important performances. But why has the Neapolitan song had – and continues to have – so much success? The reasons are many and they are all traceable in its history.

Sirens and fairies: the song of seduction

If rhythm and song are inherent in every people, it is only after a long process of legitimization and recognition that they become music. Particularly, the Neapolitan song finds its origins in myth and seductive songAnd. The mermaid Partenope, who “founded” the city of Naples from the megarid rock was succeeded by the so-called “plowshare fairies”, the washerwomen of the 1300s. Beautiful women who intrigued men with their sensuality and bel canto. Early in the morning they would sing a real prayer to the sun. Jesc sole/nun makes you suspire it is considered the oldest form of Neapolitan popular song. In addition to this, singing was used by the group of laundresses to keep each other company and mark the working hours.

From the social point of view however, it was in 1200, with Federico II and the establishment of the homonymous university that the Neapolitan song was born. With the university he attracted all kinds of artists from every corner of Europe. The dialogue between different ideas and genres could lay the foundations for the birth of the Neapolitan song.

The Neapolitan song from the 1400s to the 1600s

In the 1400s Alfonso D’Aragona elevated the Neapolitan dialect to the language of the kingdom. This contributed enormously to the enhancement of native artistic works. However, if you played them like strambotti and sonnets cheered the aristocracy, it was spontaneous and visceral singing that was the favorite of the Neapolitan people. This feature has not been lost and ansi, became the distinguishing factor of the Neapolitan song. In fact, the first villanelles were born in the 1500s, songs with amorous and bucolic themes for one or more voices. At the time they were enormously successful, so much so that they reached the various courts of Italy and Europe. Also in this century, the Neapolitan city saw the opening of 4 Conservatories which gave way to the development of local musical life.

Naples, 1700

In 600 there was a turning point. Black century for the city (eruption of Vesuvius, economic crisis and plague) Naples found the strength to get back on its feet. From a cultural point of view, the Neapolitan Baroque was born in the second half of the century. The villanella gave way to the madrigal, a pastorally inspired composition often intended to express a gallant homage. Such an example is fest ca lucivethe atrocious separation from the beloved, attributable to the 1600s but published in 1842 by Girard editions as a work by Guglielmo Cottrau.

The Neapolitan song from the 1700s to the 1800s

It was in the 18th century with Alessandro Scarlatti that the Neapolitan musical school was born. This had important and authoritative exponents including Domenico Cimarosa, Francesco Provenzale, Francesco Durante, Francesco Feo, Nicola Porpora, Niccolò Jommelli, Gaetano Greco and Domenico Scarlatti. The tarantella is introduced with its frenetic rhythms. Songs are born like Michelemmapublished in 1700 in a collection by Salvator Rosa, dove leaps and flies, o’ guarracino, cicerenella kept kept and many others. However, it was in the 1800s that Naples experienced a true explosion of its typical song.


What became characteristic at the time was improvisation: the artist is a true showman who doesn’t prepare his songs but invents them on the spot. True “songs off the cuff” that belonged to no one, were not exclusive to a social class. Each performance was unique. Precisely for this reason, the audience could vary: the artist could exhibit in public squares or in the most refined salons. Singing performances were born in this period “fronna ‘ limone”, typical of the Giugliano hinterland, a peasant song used by market vendors. At the same time, the itinerant musicians, the so-called valet drivers, sold the copies, i.e. the sheets with the lyrics of the song written on them, and they became the main vehicle for the diffusion of Neapolitan songs.

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September 7, 1835

An important date is 7 September 1835, conventionally considered the moment in which the transition from popular music to author music takes place. An optician from Spaccanapoli, Raffaele Sacco, created a song that was soon to become a colossal success: I love you so much. Of this, even on the occasion of the Piedigrotta festival, 180,000 copies are sold, making many publishers fall in love with it. From the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, the Neapolitan song lived its best period. The Feast of Piedigrotta it represents the springboard for the best authors and singers of the time, including Salvatore Di Giacomo, Libero Bovio, Ernesto Murolo and Ferdinando Russo. Songs like Funiculi Funicula, it was in May, tide, my sun, maria mari, they soon became milestones of Neapolitan song.

The ‘900: internationalization

Core ‘ngrato, guapparia, ‘o surdat ‘nnammurato, little queen, are songs from the early twentieth century that reflect the historical period: the First World War. As well as black tammurriata, malafemmena by Toto, ‘o sarracino by Renato Carosone reflect the Second World War and the following difficult post-war years. All testimonies and narrations in music not only of everyday life but of the historical period that we lived. Viscerality and feeling, which has never abandoned the Neapolitan song, has made it well prepared for worldwide diffusion. Therefore, in addition to the potential of the media and the recording industry, the Neapolitan song is in itself already porous, that is, suitable for contamination.

The Neapolitan song today

If the Neapolitan song is in itself “porous” then its contemporary rendering should not surprise. Rap, techno, African; different styles and different sounds to tell Naples and the Neapolitans. But also a return of bel canto and author music. Nino D’Angelo, Massimo Rainieri, Pino Daniele, Gigi D’Alessio and the younger Clementino, Rocco Hunt. Also, for underline the use of music to represent one’s Neapolitan identity in addition to artistic experimentation, it is important to highlight the emerging voices of the current Neapolitan urban scene: LIBERATO, DADA’, Luchè, CoCo, MV Killa, Geolier, Lele Blade, Vale Lambo and Yung Snapp.


The article is in Italian

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