EDUARDO DI CAPUA O Sole Mio
Written in the late 19th century for the Festival of Piedigrotta, Bridget Mermikides transcribes a piece for lovers of a certain brand of ice-cream – and Neapolitan pop opera.
Bridget Mermikides transcribes a quintessential piece of Neopolitan pop opera that was made famous by Elvis and Cornetto!
It’s very common to categorise almost any western music up until the 19th century as ‘classical’. If it seems somewhat sophisticated, has been notated and, especially if it uses orchestral instruments, then it’s given the ‘classical’ label. In fact, these loose criteria include a huge range of diversity in terms of musical culture and populism. Such is the case with this month’s piece ’O Sole Mio, which is often assumed to be part of the operatic high-art repertoire. But its origins are as ‘pop’ as any music you could name today. It is a Neapolitan song, that is a song written for the Festival of Piedigrotta’s annual songwriting competition based in Naples, Italy that ran from 1830 to 1926. Like one of today’s hits, ’O Sole Mio (a 1898 entry to the competition) had multiple contributors; the lyrics are from a poem by Giovanni Capurro and the music by his friend, the Italian singer and songwriter Eduardo di Capua (1865-1917), as well as (the then uncredited) Emanuele Mazzucchi. The song came second and its rights sold for a mere 25 Lira.
It has, of course, since become hugely popular, been performed and recorded countless times by Italian singers such as Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli and Luciano Pavarotti (whose recording of the song won a Grammy in 1980). It also received a wider audience when its lyrics were translated to English, or the melody adopted with entirely new English lyrics, such as in Charles Harrison’s Down From His Glory, Tony Martin’s There’s No Tomorrow and Elvis Presley’s It’s Now Or Never, as well as Tony Bennett’s big band version. More recently, a long-running UK advert for Wall’s Cornetto kept the tune in popular culture.
The melody was inspired by Di Capua’s tour of Crimea with his violinist father and is an utterly irresistible melody, immediately accessible yet with a disarming grace and emotional power that sets Capurro’s romantic lyrics perfectly.
For this arrangement, I’ve used drop D tuning in the key so that the characteristic bass ostinato is playable under the lyrical melody and chord punctuations. The technical challenge here is to keep these three elements appropriately balanced and distinct, and the tab captions will help you achieve this. It’s very useful to be able to play this completely in time and then use your musical sensibilities to pace the melody expressively. For added expression, pay particular attention to the melodic ornaments (eg bars 31 and 38) and fermata signs (in bars 31 and 71) where you can rest on the note musically before continuing.
ThErE arE vErSiOnS by PrESlEy, CaruSO, PavarOTTi anD TOny bEnnETT anD, Of COurSE, a COrnETTO aDvErT!
Presley to Pavarotti, Caruso to Cornetto, this Italian melody lingers on our taste buds
Eduardo Di Capua