Monday Notes

Domenico Modugno, the last night of the Vecchio frack

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Leggi in Italiano

[Monday Note no. 147] Vecchio Frack is a song recorded by Domenico Modugno in 1955. The song tells of the last night walk of a man in frack, who in the morning will be found dead in the river. Modugno said he was inspired by a news story, the suicide of a well-known high society figure.

Although the lyrics are melancholic and the song ends with the discovery of a suicide, the music of Vecchio frack seems to express serenity and mitigates the sadness of the story. In performing this song, Domenico Modugno does not merely sing but turns into an authentic storyteller.

Everything in his performance is aimed at storytelling: the pauses, the glances, the gestures. Observe, for example, that at minute 2’07” he seems to point to the cat walking by his side.

Even the music is aimed at the story, the song is in fact composed on a few chords, which are always repeated in the same way as happens in the simplest folk music. The first part is formed entirely by a V I cadence in a minor mode, consisting of the chords Fm and C7.

vecchio frack parte prima
The first part of “Vecchio frack”

The piece continues in a similar manner, modulating to the parallel major mode. The melody is also very simple, moving predominantly by step motion and all contained within an octave interval.

la modulazione al modo maggiore
Modulation to major mode

In the third part we have a different harmonic passage, that between the A7 and Dm chords. Unlike in the rest of the song, these chords are not repeated, but only played once for each of the two verses. In these few measures we hear the greeting of the man in frack, who first says ‘buonanotte’ (goodnight) and then ‘addio’ (goodbye).

vecchio frack parte terza
The final part of Vecchio frack

Vecchio frack is one of the greatest songs of Italian music, its simple harmony is reminiscent of the Roman or Tuscan stornello tradition, at the same time Domenico Modugno’s voice and interpretation are in the tradition of Italian melodic singing. The relationship between music and theatricality is also very strong in Modugno’s songs, a legacy of bel canto and Opera.

Domenico Modugno is an excellent singer, but his interpretations are even more exceptional because of his ability to take us into the story he tells. Listening to Vecchio frack we are like children listening to a fairy tale, and it matters little that there is no happy ending because music and poetry of this level always warms one’ s heart.

Until next Monday

Scarica lo spartito di Vecchio frack

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