[Monday Notes No. 172] La canzone di Marinellais one of Fabrizio De André’s most famous pieces, and is also one of his earliest songs as it was composed in 1962. The lyrics of the song have been much studied, the Ligurian singer-songwriter in fact has his most original point in his lyrics.
However, this piece is also an excellent example of how one can set a simple musical idea to music and succeed in making the most of it. Here, then, is the transcription and musical analysis of La canzone di Marinella.
The piece is very sad, recounting the death of a young girl, just when she had found her first love. The Genoese composer reworked the report of the murder of a young prostitute; his poetic text is an act of posthumous tenderness towards the poor girl. De André imagines a fairy-tale story, tragic but romantic, almost as if he wants to give a meaning to the terrible event.
The singer-songwriter loved simple melodies, in this case the entire song is based on an eight-measure verse. There is no refrain or ‘B part’ but only this initial melodic motif, which starts in the key of A minor. The choice of the minor mode is not surprising, as it has always been associated with songs of a sad or melancholic character.
It is not easy to turn a verse of only eight measures into a full piece of music. Fabrizio De André succeeds by exploiting three elements in particular: the effective storytelling, the modulation to another key, and the arrangement that features the progressive succession of instruments.
The lyrics of ‘La canzone di Marinella’. How to tell a story with music
The story keeps us hooked thanks to the effectiveness and speed of the narration. Like many novelists, De André immediately grabs our attention by saying that what he tells is a true story, and not a fictional one.
Actually, we have already said that the chronicle was only the starting point, but this narrative device is very effective and immediately arouses the listener’s curiosity, and he wants to know how the story ends.
The series of modulations
After two verses in the key of A minor, the piece suddenly modulates to the key of C minor (minute 0’53”). The change of key is a simple but extremely effective expedient. The melody repeats itself absolutely identically, but on a new scale. This makes the piece less repetitive and monotonous.
Afterwards, the piece returns to the key of A minor, then again to C minor, and finally ends in the initial key. Here is the series of verses, and their relative tonalities.
|Questa di Marinella…||Am|
|Sola senza il ricordo…||Am|
|Bianco come la luna…||Cm|
|E c’era il sole…||Am|
|Dicono poi che mentre ritornavi…||Cm|
|Questa è la tua canzone…||Am|
We can thus see the effective key progression: two verses in A minor, one in C minor. This pattern is repeated twice, before the conclusion in the initial key. Let us now analyse the arrangement of the song.
The arrangement of La canzone di Marinella
The piece opens with just the guitar, playing a rhythm in two beats:
This repeated pattern is vaguely reminiscent of the two-quarter movement of many famous funeral marches by classical composers. This element anticipates the sad epilogue of the story, and helps to create tension, right from the first measures of the piece. The guitar pattern is repeated throughout the piece, and can be heard alone again in the finale.
The first verse of the song is performed only by guitar and voice, the other instruments are then added one at a time. This is also an effective solution: the song repeats practically identically, but the changes of key and the addition of instruments always make it different and keep the audience’s attention.
The instruments enter in this order: guitar, voice, drums, strings, harp, trumpet. Almost in every verse we can hear a new instrument. Here is their order of entry.
|Questa di Marinella…||Guitar and vocals|
|Sola senza il ricordo…||+ drums|
|Bianco come la luna…||+ strings (medium register)|
|E c’era il sole…||plucked harp|
|Furono baci…||+ strings (high register)|
|Dicono poi che mentre ritornavi…|
|Questa è la tua canzone…||+ trumpet|
La canzone di Marinella is one of the most beautiful Italian songs of all time. Fabrizio De André was not afraid to approach a painful subject, the murder of a girl, and make it into a poignant and beautiful song. Analysing the individual parts is not enough to explain the magic of the whole and the wonder of the result, but it may perhaps serve to appreciate even more the beauty of these notes and words.
Until next Monday!