LUNA MEZZO MARE.

At the wedding reception in The Godfather, while Marlon Brando is making someone an offer he can’t refuse, the guests are singing a catchy (and salacious, if you know Italian) song that begins “C’è ‘na luna mezzo mare” [There's a moon in the middle of the sea]. There’s quite a backstory to the song, which you can read here:

Paolo Citorello was a Sicilian seaman who would pass the time on long voyages by playing and singing folk songs from his native land. Paolo didn’t read music, so he strummed his guitar by ear, singing what he could remember and improvising the rest. After one memorable ocean trip, in the late 1920s, he returned with what he viewed as his own composition of one of those songs: “Luna Mezzo Mare”…

It goes back to Rossini and forward to Rudy Vallee (who recorded it as “Oh! Ma-Ma! (The Butcher Boy)”), the Andrews Sisters (who added a surprise ending), Lou Monte (in 1958 as “Lazy Mary”), and CBGB (in 2001, “when the group Collider decided to end ‘a decades long draught of Italian wedding music in the New York underground rock scene’”). Furthermore, there’s a careful transcription and analysis of Lou Monte’s lyrics, along with a discussion of Italian dialects, a biography of Monte, and various audio links, here, and YouTube has the Monte hit, with onscreen transcription but no translation. Thanks, LobsterMitten!

Comments

  1. For me, the name LobsterMitten could have used some explanation, but what do I know? Maybe you’re all wearing them.

  2. Europeans might also want to know it’s on Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/track/7kaF9aEv0yIKUsyLY7u0fp (Dean Martin’s version; there are a couple more).
    Strange you should mention this today, just one day after Saint Lucy’s day. Another Italian song, probably more well-known, “Santa Lucia (Sul Mare Luccica)”, performed by Caruso and Elvis among others, has been considerably revamped to serve as the signature song for the Swedish “Sankta Lucia” celebrations: a choir dressed in white sings a song about Saint Lucy, the harbinger of the return of light. It’s difficult to get a really good recording at YouTube: this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk0FyZqNp5Q) will give you an idea. (http://open.spotify.com/track/4Q9dRgPGLmAieJqzAeTDP7 is my favourite Spotify version.)
    There are two different versions of the lyrics, the one in the video has the rough translation:
    Saint Lucy, bright illusion
    Spread in our winter night the shine of your beauty
    Dreams with the sound of wings portend us miracles
    Light your white candles, Saint Lucy
    Come in your white shroud, faithful in your call
    Give us, you Bride of Christmas, a sense of Yuletide joys
    Dreams with the sound of wings portend us miracles
    Light your white candles, Saint Lucy
    I like the other version, with the introductory lines “The night walks with heavy steps/Round farm and cottage/Over earth which the Sun abandoned/The shadows brood”, even more, but it’s even harder to find on Youtube.

  3. LobsterMitten says:

    I’m LobsterMitten, just an internet friend of Languagehat’s, and I mentioned this to him the other day.

  4. So what’s the backstory to “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey” – an old Lou Monte hit that seems to be inescapable this Christmas, at least in Boston?

  5. According to some sources, Santa Lucia is the patron saint of electricians. I thought that was a coincidence for Studiolum’s latest post.

  6. I’m LobsterMitten, just an internet friend of Languagehat’s
    Aren’t we all. It’s a great name, we all should be an item of clothing at some time in our lives.

  7. omar menachem says:

    i don’t really remember the song from the movie, but judging by its title, i’d say that it’s in Neapolitan (the dialect of Naples) rather than Italian. (in Italian the title would be “C’è una luna in mezzo al mare”)
    Very interesting story!

  8. The Swedish Sankta Lucia festival has always seemed sort of kinky by Lutheran standards.

  9. Really? In Norway it’s just for kindergarten children.

  10. The one I saw was teenagers pushing 18. A kindygarten version would be about right.

  11. komfo,amonan says:

    Oh boy, Napulitanu isn’t a dialect

  12. Oh yeah? Does Naples have an armey un flot?
    Actually, if you consider the Camorra, maybe it does…

  13. Afrikaans doesn’t have an A & F any more either, but that doesn’t make it a dialect of Xhosa.

  14. Afrikaans doesn’t have an A & F any more either, but that doesn’t make it a dialect of Xhosa.
    I had Radio Sonder Grense on the Internets yesterday, to see if they were covering the krieket, which the BBC helpfully blocks for those abroad.
    They weren’t, on the fairly reasonable basis that it hasn’t quite started yet, but I left it on long enough to decide that it was more intelligible to my L2-Dutch ears than a lot of flavours of Flemish Dutch (“Flemish”).
    I have a fairly formidable desire to mutually intellege, though, if it means I can listen to the krieket.

  15. omar menachem says:

    ok.. i’m not going to delve into the issue about the difference between a language and a dialect, i will just point out that if Napolitanu is a language in its own right, then in Italy we have about 15-20 different languages.

  16. komfo,amonan says:

    Sure Italy’s got about 15-20 languages. Yes. And Napulitanu might have had an A & F, that of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies & the Kingdom of Naples. I don’t know if states had official languages back then, but the laws must have been written in some language.

  17. komfo,amonan says:

    Wikipedia implies, rather, that Italian was the official language of the southern states. Surprise. Will the Internet find me some official text from the court of those long forgotten states?

  18. If you’re going to call it a language, spell it correctly – Nnapulitano. You guys are using the Sicilian name for the language, not the local name.
    According to Wikipedia Nnapulitano actually was once the official language of the kingdom, in the 15th century. But then Ferdinand II of Aragon decreed that Castilian would be the language of administration and it was downhill from then on.

  19. komfo,amonan says:

    Thanks, vanya. I thought for some reason that the duplicated initial was used in isolation or the beginning of a sentence, but in your link the old capital is, quite clearly, called ‘Nnapole’.

  20. komfo,amonan says:

    *was not used*.

  21. Napolitano: Janet or Johnette? An important distinction.

  22. thought for some reason that the duplicated initial was not used in isolation or the beginning of a sentence,
    I’m no expert, just following the Wikipedia usage. I know the definite article of neuter words triggers doubling (i.e. “‘O Nnapulitano” but “la lengua napulitana”), maybe in the Wikipedia list, it’s understood as “‘O Nnapulitano”. You’re right, it does seem to be “Napulitano” in other instances in isolation.

  23. Victor Sonkin says:

    Here’s a nice quasi-Italian song from a late Soviet movie loosely based on Alexei Tolstoy’s novel about Count Caliostro. It’s still hugely popular, commentary included:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfHFVWVbYLE

  24. We call it the “ridley” turtle because it’s real name is unknown, but now we have someone from Oxford sayiong that we need to call it the meta-ridley turtle.

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