Monday Notes

Roberto Murolo and the Neapolitan song, ‘O Ciucciariello

Italian flag
Leggi in Italiano

[Monday Notes no. 42] Roberto Murolo was a great interpreter of Neapolitan popular song, to which he devoted years of study and research. Few cities have given Italian popular music a contribution comparable to that of Naples. Let us listen to and analyse a lovely song entitled ‘O Ciucciariello.

Murolo wrote the words to the song ‘O Ciucciariello, while the music is by Nino Oliviero. The song dates from 1951 and narrates the confidences that a carter makes to the donkey pulling his cart.

The piece is tripartite and has the classic tarantella rhythm, a typical compound time with moderate speed. The first motif is in the key of C minor and descends chromatically:

Roberto Murolo O Ciucciariello, parte A
Roberto Murolo O Ciucciariello, part A

The second motif contains a modulation to the relative major E flat, in this case the melody is ascending:

Roberto Murolo O Ciucciariello, secondo motivo
Roberto Murolo O Ciucciariello, part B

The chorus is again in the major mode, this time in C. The melody is placid and calm, not expressing anxiety or pain; the man finds comfort in confiding to his loyal donkey.

Roberto Murolo O Ciucciariello , ritornello in DO maggiore
Roberto Murolo O Ciucciariello , the chorus is in C majore key

The three sections of the song follow each other in the order ABC ABC A as the song ends as it began:

The translation of ‘O ciucciariello

‘Ncopp’a na strada janca e sulagna,
‘mmiez’a ll’addore e a ll’aria ‘e campagna,
na carretta piccerella,
chianu chiano, se ne va.

on a white, sunny road,
in the scents and air of the countryside,
a small cart,
slowly goes away.

The repetition of the opening verse at the end of the song creates a sense of cyclicity, of return: the cart will pass again and again on that lonely road, there will be other sad and disappointed lovers but also new loves and, perhaps, some happiness.

This interpretation of Roberto Murolo is outstanding, the somewhat tattered recording does not do justice to the cleanliness of his performance, both vocally and instrumentally. On more than one occasion Murolo slows down almost to a standstill (0’40”, 1’10”, 1’59”), with great dramatic effect. Poetry, music and drama come together to create a small masterpiece of Neapolitan popular music.

Until next Monday!

Do you want to receive my free lessons?

Sheet music, harmony lessons, music theory and musical analysis.

Help me to spread the love for music