Monday Notes

Milly, “Come pioveva”. For censorship, just change a word

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[Monday Notes No. 176] Come pioveva is a song composed in 1918 by Neapolitan composer Armando Gill. The song has all the elegance of Neapolitan music of those years, and is masterfully interpreted by Carla Mignone, aka Milly. There are two versions of the song, as censorship intervened, distorting the meaning of the song by correcting some words. Let’s find out which ones, and why.

Come pioveva has a very refined melody, reminiscent in its incipit of another famous Neapolitan song, Reginella. However, in its whirling and unpredictable swell, the theme also evokes the precious sonorities of Giacomo Puccini. The initial melody in fact has an uncertain progression, first rising, then falling, then rising again before finally falling. A truly surprising and fascinating beginning.

Translated with (free version)

Come pioveva, melodia iniziale

The piece has two sections, which alternate three times. Part [A] is in four-quarter time and has an almost ‘recitative’ character, being performed in free time. In this first section, the harmony is initially based on a simple perfect cadence, in the key of A major (in yellow in the score). The last part (in green) briefly modulates to the 5th degree, E major.

Come pioveva, armonia parte A

The second part of the song is in three-quarter time. The melody is poignant, lingering on the major seventh G# and then on the sixth, F# (in yellow in the score). Further on, the melody hits its highest and most melancholy note (D) and then descends with a plagal cadence Dm A. (indicated in green in the score).

Come pioveva, spartito parte B

The two parts of the song, the first in 4/4 and the second in 3/4, are entrusted with different parts of the text. In fact, the 4/4 section recounts the events of the present: the meeting of the two former lovers, which happened by chance, and their journey home. The section in 3/4 instead expresses his thoughts, and all his melancholy for a love that could have continued, and instead ended.

On the reasons for this end, there are two conflicting explanations. The original text of the song suggests that the girl went into prostitution. Indeed, the song reads: “Perché al mondo aveva dato la bellezza ed il candor” ( For to the world she had given beauty and candour), and further on “Quando salvar ella ancor si poteva” (When she could still be saved’) The two clues clearly point us towards this interpretation.

The original text can be heard in interpretations by Achille Togliani and Massimo Ranieri. At one time or another, this text must have been considered too daring. Evidently, talking about prostitution was not considered convenient. This was not uncommon, other famous songs were also initially censored. This is the case, for example, with Domenico Modugno’s Vecchio Frack, a song that was originally about a suicide and was ‘corrected’ (i.e. censored) for that reason.

There is also a revised and corrected text of Come pioveva, and it is the one we heard in Milly’s interpretation. Here then, the above phrases are corrected to: “Perché ad altri aveva dato la bellezza ed il candor” (For to others she had given her beauty and candour), and “Quando al mio cuor ella ancor si stringeva” (When to my heart she still clung).

In this version, it is therefore explained that the girl has simply fallen in love with someone else. A far more predictable outcome, but inconsistent with the other parts of the song. If in fact it was she who had ended their idyll, one would explain his displeasure, but not her tenderness, let alone the tears in her eyes at the moment of parting.

Milly Carla Mignone was a singer and actress of great personality, who often played the role of the tormented woman, singing much bolder lyrics than this. Who knows why, in this case she chose the more moderate version, the censored one. In any case, the song retains all its poetry, also thanks to her wonderful interpretation.

Until next Monday!

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