Everyone has had the experience of being obsessed with and possessed by a melody. It takes you completely unawares—most likely a little jingle that somehow slipped down behind the sofa cushions of your mind once upon a time and now, responding to the call of the mysterious Heavenly Hoover, is sucked up unbidden and unwelcome into your consciousness. Suddenly you're helpless. You have no control over your own brain. A diabolical zombie tunesmith is throwing the switches of your limbic system, gleefully rerouting the same melody over and over and over, turning your noggin from the crowning achievement of God's Creation into a useless carousel, wearing grooves in your head and wasting valuable synaptic connections that could be better spent trying to remember important things such as the molecular structure of testosterone, for example.
It is not clear exactly what it is that gives a tune that ability to move in with you as wholeheartedly as your in–laws and take over so completely, but the rhythms of some songs seem to be specially crafted for it. Lilting little waltzes like Ach, Du Lieber Augustine, for example.
DUM dee duh duh / DUM duh dum
/DUM duh dum / DUM duh dum
DUM dee duh duh / DUM duh dum /DUM duh dum / DUM !
Next on the all–time list of songs you'll need an exorcist to get rid of happens to be one of the national anthems of Naples. Unlike many Neapolitan songs that dwell on unrequited love or warm evenings spent trying to find the requited kind, Funiculì Funiculà is a snappy happy little march about going up the side of a volcano. Almost everyone knows the melody and at least some version of the lyrics, many of which were written by sniggering boy–scouts when they should have been practicing their knots and are, therefore, quite unrepeatable around high class folks like yourselves, so forget it.
In 1880, a
cable–car, or funicular railway, was opened on the
slopes of Vesuvius; for the occasion, Giuseppe Turco, a
noted journalist of the day, and Luigi Danza turned out
the lyrics and melody, respectively. The melody opens on
a lively fanfare interval of a fourth: ta–taah! and then
carries on. The text in the original Neapolitan dialect
"Aissera, Nanninè, me ne
sagliette/ tu saie addò! / tu saie addò!
Addò sto core 'ngrato chiu dispiette/ farme nun pò/ farme nun pò/"
Now the verse does
speak of escaping up the slopes of Vesuvius to get away
from "your ungrateful heart" (it wouldn't be a
Neapolitan song without at least lip service to the
doctrine of faithlessness), but the real ambush comes a
few measures later when that famous refrain starts
playing raquetball against the inside of your skull:
"JAMmo, JAMmo, 'nCOPpa jammo
JAMmo, JAMmo, 'nCOPpa jammo JA…/
FunicuLI FunicuLA FunicuLI FunicuLAAAA/
'nCOPpa jammo JA… FunicuLI FunicuLAAAAAA!"
What this means (in a feeble attempt to show that profundity is in inverse proportion to the square of obsessiveness) is:
"LET'S go, LET'S go, LET'S go to
It works perfectly. Boy, does it ever. This is the refrain that took the 1880's crowd by storm, hereabouts. When the funicular started its regular runs up to the top ("'ncoppa") of Mt. Vesuvius, one imagines hordes of volcano berserkers hanging out the windows, denting the downbeats into the sides of the carriages and bellowing "DAAAH–dum DAAAH–dum", winding up on the inspired open–throated nonsense syllable, "LAAAA!" with an obsessive ferocity that makes one absolutely nostalgic for the enchanting strains of "A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall". And unlike the titanic battle that Mr. Nasenbaum in Beginning Physics swore would shape up at encounters of this nature, when the irresistible trochaic force of this song meets the immovable object of your head, it ain't even close. You get hammered. Undoubtedly, Neapolitan mothers in the 1880's spent much of their time shouting: "Will you kids shut up with that song!" (Or was it: "SHUT up, SHUT up, SHUT up with that SONG! Damn! Now you've got me doing it!")
They're still doing it. And so are the rest of us. I heard it again the other day and now it's up there, riding the cable–car in my head, going round and round. The original cable–car, by the way, has been dismantled. It had been having its ups and downs over the years. There is some talk of rebuilding it. I can't wait.
CAN'T wait / CAN'T wait.
there IS some talk of rebuilding it. Here is one plan.]
[Here are the texts in dialect to a
number of Neapolitan songs. On that page, as of June
2013, there are some recorded excerpts, including Funiculì
Funiculà, performed by Roberto Murolo.]
Funiculà has been used by some classical
composers over the years, including Schoenberg,
Rimsky-Korsakov, and Richard Strauss. Schoenberg
acknowledged the composer, Denza, clearly labeling his
string quartet version as an arrangement or
orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov and Strauss, on the other
hand, apparently thought they were using a folk song,
uncopyrighted or at least in the public domain.
Rimsky-Korsakov entitled his version "Neapolitan Song"
and Strauss incorporated his version into an orchestral
composition called Aus
Italien (From Italy). Maybe they both thought
they had another Capricco
Italiano on their hands. That composition by
R-K's countryman, Tchaikovsky, from 1880, indeed uses a
number of "free" items, such as an Italian army bugle
call, the Roman folksong known as Papà non vuole, Mamma ne meno, and a
well-known but public domain Neapolitan tarantella.
Denza sued Strauss over the latter's use of Funiculì
Funiculà and won. I am not aware that Denza sued
[Also see, Copyright Laws that Make your Head
[Also see this item on
the connection of the Vesuvius cable-car to the travel
agency of Thomas Cook & Son.]