The repertoire of the so-called “Classic” Neapolitan song refers to the copious musical production that took place in Naples between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. The period is also referred to as the “golden age” of Neapolitan song, thanks to the musical and cultural ferment that characterized the city.

From a musical point of view we are faced with compositions in the form of a ‘song’, in the Neapolitan language, characterised by the alternation of verse and refrain. The repertoire boom coincided with the development of the music industry and with the birth of the first publishing houses, both in the city of Naples and on a national and international level. Publishing, together with the various performative declinations of the repertoire (Piedigrotte, salotti, cafè – chantant), facilitated the enormous diffusion of a repertoire which for the first time, considering the local context, satisfied both the tastes of the bourgeoisie and of the more popular in the city.

This social transversality was also reflected in the authors and composers of Neapolitan songs: cultured poets and poets of the people wrote the most beautiful verses of the repertoire, just as composers from the classical world and “ear” musicians gave life to timeless melodies.

What are Neapolitan songs about? They speak of love, but they also speak of the city and its beauty, of emigration, of historical events and more or less legendary anecdotes related to the Neapolitan city; they also speak of “macchiette” and “sciantose”, “characteristic” characters of a slice of production. This thematic variety is the same that led to the identification of sub-genres of the Neapolitan repertoire.

And the music? There are distinctive features from the musical point of view, traceable in various Neapolitan songs – to name two, the Neapolitan sixth (harmonic expedient) or the fourth degree altered in the melody – but it is equally true that songs that do not report any harmonic or melodic expedient ” typical” are immediately recognized as “Neapolitan” regardless of the verses.

When does the production start and “finish”? Just like any cultural phenomenon, it is limiting and misleading to identify rigid chronological extremes. In the common imagination, two pieces that connote a potential watershed compared to the previous musical production are Te voglio bene assaje (1835) and Funiculì Funiculà (1880). The Neapolitan song does not “finish”, it evolves. Renato Carosone in 1956 wrote and brought to success (just to quote a song) Tu vuò fa l’americano, not a “classic” in the strict sense, but after 70 years a piece (and a production) that starts from the golden period to revolutionize it, bringing new sounds and new ways of composing and performing to Naples.

The most representative songs? In addition to the already mentioned Funiculì Funiculà and Tu vuo fa l’americano, without a doubt ‘O sole mio, a love song written by the cultured composer Eduardo Di Capua and the poet Giovanni Capurro, which owes its global success, as well as to the dissemination skills by the publisher Bideri, also to the export of the tenor Enrico Caruso together, a few decades later, with the It’s now or never version by Elvis Presley.

Torna a Surriento, Maria Marì, Luna rossa, Anema e core are just some of the most famous titles that have taken Naples and Italy around the world, fueling the myth of the beauty of the places where these songs were born. They are also some of the most representative titles of a huge repertoire, yet to be discovered among scores and memories of a Naples that once was.