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Sorrento: a World of Music

by Vincenzo Schisano

A. Fiorentino - Olio su tela.

“E Surrentine teneno ‘a musica int’ ‘e stentini” (The Sorrentine people have the music in their intestines). This old saying describes the secular love, knowledge and inclination for the queen of the arts that the residents of this piece of Italic ground, blessed by the nature and the gods, have.

Amedeo Mauri in 1937 wrote (Sebastiano di Massa – History of the Neapolitan Song – Fausto Fiorentino Editor – Naples):

“The Neapolitan song seems to fade away and die between the peaceful olive trees of Sorrento in the utmost quiet bay of the Gulf of Naples. In Sorrento it is still in its’ home either plaintive and nostalgic or wild and enthusiastic accompanied by the orgiastic rhythm of the castanets and of the kettle drums.”

Two compositions confirm this affirmation: the first is “Carmela” (verses and music by G.B. De Curtis) a typical Sorrentine serenade and the second is “Tarantella Sorrentina”.

The author of “Carmela” better known as “Duorme Carme’ ” was inspired by a beautiful young girl called Carmela Maione which he met in the hall of the Imperial Tramontano Hotel. When Carmela was asked what she most liked to do, she answered: “to sleep”. This answer became the reason which originated this beautiful melody.

The Tarantella Sorrentina which distinguishes from the Neapolitan Tarantella for the inclusion of a gavotte movement and for a different choreographic work out , is a love courtship dance between a man and a woman with alterned steps of hugging and passionally running into one another and a rossiniano capturing ending.

As the decades go by, first because of the non excellent musical and technique preparation of the 'musicians' who played it and second because of a slight rhythmical resemblance, the 'gavotta' step was transformed into a 'polka' step!

Sorrento was the inspiring land of the following famous poets and musicians:
Libero Bovio, Carlo Consiglio, Salvatore Gambardella, Pasquale Ruocco, Federico Petriccione, Domenico Furnò, Giuseppe Tètamo, E. A. Mario (Giovanni Gaeta), Ernesto Murolo, Giuseppe Gregoretti, Ciro Grasso, Eduardo Di Capua, Ernesto De Curtis and Giov. Battista De Curtis, Gaetano Spagnolo, Gaetano Lama, G. Ciaravolo, Ernesto Tagliaferro, Alfredo Mazzocchi, Evemero Nardella and many others among which appear two famous neapolitan poets Salvatore Di Giacomo and Raffaele Viviani.

Sorrento is the native land of the following famous poets and well known musicians:
Torquato Tasso (great poet), Francesco Saverio Mollo (poet )Silvio Salvatore Gargiulo name of art: Saltovar (poet), Salvatore Cangiani (poet), Sofia Fucito, Ciro Ferrigno, Maria Teresa Epifani in Furno, Aniello Califano (poet and musician), Giovanni Ambrosiani (baritone, folkloristic group manager), Francesco Ambrosiani (pianist, organist, manager of pholyphonic chorals and son of the above mentioned Giovanni), the son Giovanni Ambrosiani (bass, singer at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples), Ferdinando Concione (violonist, autodidact and composer), Adolfo Luigi Apreda (pianist, autodidact , composer, orchestra conductor, sobstitutive teacher at the San Carlo Theatre and teacher at the Conservatorio S. Pietro in Maiella – Naples, famous member of the Accademia Tiberina), Gaetano Iodice ( musician and composer), Antonio Ciro De Lizza (musician and composer), Salvatore Arcucci (musician and composer), Canonico Francesco Saverio Fiorentino (musician and composer), Salve D’Esposito (pianist, concert artist performer, composer), Umberto Davide (the small great tenor), Vincenzo Schisano (pianist, concert artist performer, autodidact and composer), Antonio Maione (pianist, concert artist performer, orchestra conducter, teacher at the Conservatorio Domenico Cimarosa of Avellino), Maurizio Ajello (violinist, concert artist performer, teacher at the Conservatorio Statale of Music in Salerno), Francesco Siviero (violinist, concert artist performer) and many young talents such as Carmine Maresca ( clarinettist and saxophonist, teacher, concert artist performer and autodidact), Marianna Astarita in Maresca ( pianist, singer, concert artist performer and autodidact), Tommaso Maresca (pianist, concert artist performer and autodidact), Gaetano Ambrosino (violinist, concert artist performer and autodidact) and many others who we will surely hear about.

In Sorrento take place high standard musical manifestations both folkloristic and classical. These manifestations are: “L’Estate Musical Sorrentina”, “Il Primo Concorso Internazionale Adolfo L. Apreda” (dedicated to young pianists) 1988 Edition, the International Pianist Contest Adolfo L. Apreda in 1990, the annual summer “Incontri Musicali Internazionali” ( International Musical Appointments) and during the winter the “Sorrento – Inverno” (Sorrento – Winter) and the “Corsi di Perfezionamento e di Interpretazione Musicali” (Specialized Courses and Musical Interpretation Courses) to which have participated and still participate the most important music teachers and
musicians of the world such as Louis Hiltbrandt, Pierre Colombo, Nikita Magaloff, Vincenzo Vitale, Roman Vlad, Carlo Zecchi, Fausto Zadra, Salvatore Accardo, Corrado Romano, Uto Ughi, Sergio FiorentinoAldo Piccolini, François- Joel Thiollier, Severino Gazzelloni, Alexander Lonquich, Sergio Cafaro, Enrico Mainardi, Paolo Spagnolo, I Dodici Violoncellisti dell’OrchestraFilarmonica of Berlino, Radu Aldulescu, Cristina Ortiz, Marta Argerich, European Community Chamber Orchestra, Laura De Fusco, Michele Campanella, Michel Petrucciani, Franco Petracchi, Dino Asciolla, Luciano Cerroni, Angelo Persichilli, Massimo Pradella, etc…

Sorrento is the generatrix of folkloristic groups, musical bands and mandolin bands with elaborations of great originality (where the orchestra appears as a chamber band creating an impressive and charming atmosphere) the Orchestra Stabile Mandolinistica “Surrentum”, conducted by the Master Vincenzo Schisano (who is also the author of elaborations).

Sorrento is the place of Shows, Feasts, Congress and Cultural Manifestations both civil and religious (such as the famous “Processioni del Venerdì Santo” – the Holy Friday Processions) which recall every year thousands and thousands of tourists from every part of the world.

It is impossible to conclude this brief preface without mentioning a tune which has become the most famous symbol of this town all over the world: “Torna a Surriento”.

First we should resolve the rebus concerning its performance in 1902 for the First Minister Zanardelli; who was the singer? Giovanni Ambrosini, Maria Cappiello or both?

According to the magazine “Il Frizzo” dated 1914 the interpreter was the baritone Giovanni Ambrosiani.

The local newspaper “Il Mattino” dated Sept. 15 and 17 1902 wrote that this immortal tune was performed by the contralto Maria Cappiello.

The newspaper “Corriere Toscano” of the same period mentions a performance with two voices performed by a “talented tenor and a graceful contralto”.

This last supposition seams to be the most exact since Ambrosini besides being a solist singer was also a Vice Manager of a folkloristic group of the time, to which probably belonged also the young Maria Cappiello, who was a singing student of the S. Pietro Conservatoire in Maiella, Naples.

Antonino Ambrosini, the grandson of Giovanni Ambrosini, referring these informations to me, specified that his grandfather was endowed with a wonderful voice of “baritone”. This means that Giovanni Ambrosini was not a tenor as erroneously said in some informations mentioned above.

Concerning the song “Torna a Surriento” we have to state in advance that there a various documented versions of this song.

The oldest version dated 1894 is included in a booklet of the Editor Bideri (of which I am one of the fortunate owners) called “Celebri Canzoni” (Famous Songs) of Ernesto De Curtis where inside is written: “Celebri canzoni” (Famous songs) of Giambattista and Ernesto De Curtis.

The following version dated 1902 was printed on a postcard by the Bideri printing house edited by the Captain Tramontano, owner of the famous Hotel Tramontano.

The final version was presented in 1904 at the “Piedigrotta Napoletana”.

Two of these versions, the 1894 and the 1904 ones, have the same poetic text. The version interpreted by the baritone or tenor Giovanni Ambrosini and/or by the contralto Maria Capiello (both natives of Sorrento) in that famous and exciting evening at the Hotel Tramontano for the first Minister Zanardelli, is macroscopically different.

It results that the 1902 version was a re-writing invented by De Curtis, approved by the Captain Tramontano and the local authorities in order to support the request for a first class Postal Office requested to the Institution Minister.

In this way, the nice, old legend which linked the creation of the song “Torna a Surriento” to the visit of the Minister Zanardelli in Sorrento became untrue.


© Copyright 2003 Vincenzo Schisano. All rights reserved.