Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

ErN 11, entry Oct 2008

Everything is related to Naples...except these... 

seudo-Neapolitan Songs

When I first came to Naples, I amazed my new friends and relatives because I knew the Neapolitan term pasta e fasule. I didn’t know what it meant (noodles and beans), just that it was from that famous “Eye-talian” song that starts “When the moon hits-a you eye, like a big-a pizza pie, that’s amore”! (And, of course, the line with my phrase: “The stars make-a you drool just-a like pasta e fasul’ ”). But —they sputtered and gasped—that’s not Italian or Neapolitan; it’s a fraud…an American caricature! Hmmm, I thought —a likely story. These poor people don’t even know their own music.

Alas, the music to the song That’s Amore, was composed by a guy born in Brooklyn, Harry Warren (born as Salvatore Antonio Guaragna!).* He also wrote the music to Chattanooga Choo-choo and You’re My Everything. The lyrics to That’s Amore are by Jack Brooks, who also wrote the words to Ole Buttermilk Sky (music by Hoagy Carmichael). "That’s Amore" was composed for the film, The Caddy (Paramount, 1953), starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, in which Dino sings it. There are no Italian or Neapolitan lyrics (except the noodle part) to the song, but Neapolitans like it, anyway. They enjoy singing it in English and making fun of themselves —a great quality, by the way. It is one of a few songs in a category I call the pseudo-Neapolitan song. So, why would Harry Warren, an Italian-American, write a silly
"pseudo-Neapolitan" song? Maybe because it's funny. He's making fun of himself. A great quality.

*HARRY WARREN (born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna (1893–1981). Born in Brooklyn of Italian immigrants. He was the first major American songwriter to write primarily for film. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song  eleven  times and won three Oscars for "Lullaby of Broadway", "You'll Never Know" and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe". He wrote the music for the first blockbuster film musical, 42nd Street. He wrote more than 800 songs, including "I Only Have Eyes for You", "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby", "Jeepers Creepers", "That's Amore", "There Will Never Be Another You", "I Only Have Eyes for You",  "At Last" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (the last one was the first gold record in history). Warren was one of America's most prolific film composers, and his songs have been featured in over 300 films.
Others? Here’s one, although, technically, the singer is singing about a girl from Italy (not necessarily Naples) so maybe he’s in New York and she is fresh off the boat. It’s Marie from Sunny Italy, words and music by Irving Berlin, 1907. It was the great songwriter’s first hit and, apparently, the one that gave him his surname (a typo of “Baline”).

My sweet Marie from sunny Italy/Oh how I do love you/
Say that you'll love me, love me, too/Forever more I will be true/
Just say the word and I will marry you/And then you'll surely be
My sweet Marie from sunny Italy. One of the later lines does mention a mandolin, so I'm sure he was thinking of Napoli. I know, they have mandolins in Genoa, too, but c’mon! In any event, Neapolitans have never heard of —much less actually heard— that one.

They definitely know ‘Twas on the Isle of Capri (that I found her). (Close enough to Naples for my purposes.) Indeed, you may be lulled into a false sense of authenticity as you are force-fed a recording of that song while you are hurried by motor-boat to, into and out of the Blue Grotto on Capri. (If you buy that, then you probably think that Miklós Rózsa’s great music for the film Ben Hur is what they really played at ancient Roman chariot races.) The Isle of Capri is from 1934 with lyrics by Irish-born Jimmy Kennedy and music by Will Grosz (aka Hugh Williams).

The lyrics start:

`twas on the Isle of Capri that I found her/Beneath the shade of an old walnut tree…

That, in itself, is very shady since there are no walnut trees on Capri. I have heard that the song may have been written for Gracie Fields, who had a home on the island. Kennedy also wrote the lyrics to Red Sails in the Sunset, South of the Border (Kennedy had some serious wanderlust!) and the fine words to John Walter Bratton’s 1907 children’s classic, The Teddy Bears Picnic. He also wrote the wonderfully insane lyrics to It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople:

Evr'y gal in Constantinople/Is a Miss-stanbul, not Constantinople/
So if you've a date in Constantinople/She'll be waiting in Istanbul.

Published credits say that Nat Simon wrote the music to that, but if you don't think it sounds like Irving Berlin's Puttin' on the Ritz, you're not listening.

Kennedy's partner, Grosz was a classically trained musician and a refugee from Nazi Austria. In popular music, he is well remembered for Harbor Lights.

Lastly, The Italian Street Song, which contains these lines:

Ah my heart is back in Napoli/ Dear Napoli, dear Napoli/
And I seem to hear again in dreams/Her revelry, her sweet revelry.
The mandolinas playing sweet, the/ pleasant sound of dancing feet/
Oh, could I return, oh, joy complete./ Napoli, Napoli, Napoli.

Good grief. Surely, that one must be authentically Neapolitan (even though the authentically Neapolitan songwriter somehow forgot that the rules of grammatical gender produce 'mandolin-O', not –A). Sorry, it’s from the operetta, Naughty Marietta, music by Victor Herbert, lyrics by Rida Johnson Young. The work opened in London in 1910. Victor Herbert needs no further comment, but Young is perhaps best remembered for the words she wrote to another song from the same operetta, Ah! Sweet mystery of life (at last I’ve found you).

Elsewhere in the area, I don’t think any foreigner has written about Bagnoli or Pozzuoli. (Thank heaven. I don’t think any Neapolitans have, either.) Elsewhere in Italy, it’s worth noting that the music to the famous song, Arrivederci Roma, was indeed by an Italian, actor Renato Rascel. The original Italian lyrics are by Pietro Garinei and Sandro Giovannini. The English lyrics are by Carl Sigman. The song was published in 1955 and made famous in the 1958 MGM film Arrivederci Roma (English title: Seven Hills of Rome), in which it was sung by Mario Lanza. But the song Three Coins in the Fountain (in reference to the Trevi Fountain in Rome), from the 1954 film of the same name is sheer American popular music by the formidable team of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn (melody and lyrics, respectively).

Authenticity rears its ugly head in The Carnival of Venice; it is a real and very old folk song from Venice. (The origin is unknown, but it is reminiscent —if you set your plagiarism radar on "hair trigger" and get a tone-deaf judge— of the most famous Venetian "boat-song" of all, La Biondina in gondoletta.) If you don’t know The Carnival of Venice, you were never in a high school band. Every young trumpet player practices the infamously difficult variations, some of which were even written by Mr. Infamously Difficult, himself, Niccolò Paganini. I am not aware of Italian lyrics or Venetian dialect lyrics (though there may be some). There are parody lyrics in English that starts, “My hat, it has three corners…” as well as some vulgar parody lyrics, but I wouldn’t think of insulting you.

added Jan 2023

I take that back. I'll insult you. The paragraph directly above is mostly wrong. Luciano Mangiafico's voracious hunger for detail led him to inform me that

La Biondina in gondoletta" (the little Blonde in the gondola" was "Countess Marina Querini Benzon (1757-1839) ... a formidable woman ... lovely and buxom as a young woman ... gorgeous legs ... once she slipped while dancing and fell to the ground and revealed she had not worn panties. [Horrors! jm] She inspired poet Anton Maria Lamberti (1757-1832) to write the famous Venetian poem when he saw her sleeping in a gondola by moonlight... Even Beethoven set the poem to music"

Thank you
, Luciano. Good stuff lurid, even lewd. But one small point. The melody to the poem about the babe in the gondola is based on a Neapolitan folk tune called   "O Mamma, Mamma Cara" and popularized by violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini, who wrote twenty variations on the original tune. He titled it Il Carnevale Di Venezia, Op. 10. In 1829, he wrote to a friend, "The variations I've composed on the graceful Neapolitan ditty outshine everything. I can't describe it." The image on the right was the music book I practiced it from. Arban was a cornetist and composer influenced by Paganini's virtuoso technique on the violin and proved that the cornet* was a true solo instrument. He developed a virtuoso technique on the cornet.
(A cornet is like a bugle, but with valves - a trumpet with a conical bore.)

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