Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews    entry Oct  2014

Period Postcards from Naples
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Postcard from Naples 14 - I'm not sure if this is a postcard, either. Assuming it is, it's a nice one, printed from a hand-colored negative. From other sources we know that this song was published in 1892, so this is at least a reproduction of the original. In the illustration we see in the upper left corner the vertical note that this is a "Memento of Naples"; then, below the illustration the indication that this is a Canto Sorrentino, a Sorrentine Song. (That is not a genre such as the Neapolitan Song; it's just a song about a girl, Carmela whom the author happened to meet in Sorrento. "Carmela" is, indeed, by song type, a "Neapolitan Song." The drawing appears to be by one P. Stoppella (nothing there, sorry). I'm confused by the text at the bottom, Mele - Novità in Confezioni. There's something about it that makes me think this is not a postcard but an advertisement.

The most interesting note is below the drawing: lyrics and music by G.B. De Curtis (G.B. for Giambattista). Giambattista De Curtis (1860 - 1926) was born in Naples and is remembered today for his song lyrics, usually in Neapolitan dialect. G.B. De Curtis is one-half of a well-known song-writing team. His brother, Ernesto, (1875-1937) wrote the music and G.B. generally wrote the lyrics, although in the case of "Carmela," he wrote both. Some sources say this is G.B.'s best-known song. That can't be right. Carmela is, yes, widely known in Naples, and anyone who makes a living singing Neapolitan songs can do it at the drop of a hat. In terms of international popularity, however, I imagine that the four most widely known Neapolitan songs (in no particular order) are Santa Lucia, Funiculì-Funiculà, O' sole mio, and another "Sorrentine Song," Torna a Surriento (note the dialect spelling of Sorrento), known in English as "Come back to Sorrento." I don't think Carmela is widely known abroad. There is a bust of G.B. De Curtis in a public square in Sorrento, indicating that he is "the author" of Torna a Surriento, but nothing to indicate that his brother, Ernesto, composed the lovely melody. (I don't know why musicians get short-changed on these things!) The most amusing story I know about that song is not true, which bothers me because I have been guilty of telling people it was true. They used to say that Come Back to Sorrento was written as a favor to the mayor of Sorrento on the occasion of a visit to the town in 1902 by the prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Zanardelli. Then the mayor could tell the P.M., "Here. I had this written especially for you." As it turns out, the De Curtis brothers wrote the song eight years earlier and deposited a copy with the Italian Society of Authors and Editors. It didn't have much success, so they dusted it off later and gave it to the mayor. (If you are curious about the non-Italian surname, De Curtis, it was originally de Curte, from the north and was a Longobard noble family. The name has been in southern Italy since about 1200 as both de and De. The beloved comic Totò's surname was really de Curtis.)

At least Carmela was written for a pretty girl. According to G.B. He met Carmela in a hotel lobby He asked her what she did and she said "sleep." Inspired, G.B. penned the dialect lines, Duorme Carmè: ‘o cchiù bello d’ ’a vita è ‘o ddurmì… [Sleep, Carmela. That is the most beautiful thing in life].


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