Luigi Denza

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A portrait of Luigi Denza

Luigi Denza (24 February 1846 – 27 January 1922) was an Italian composer.[1]


Denza was born at Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples.[2] He studied music with Saverio Mercadante and Paolo Serrao at the Naples Conservatory.[2] In 1884, he moved to London, taught singing privately and became a professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music in 1898, where he taught for two decades. He died in London in 1922.[1][2]

Funiculì, Funiculà[edit]

Denza is best remembered for "Funiculì, Funiculà" (1880), a humorous Neapolitan song inspired by the inauguration of a funicular to the summit of Vesuvius. Neapolitan journalist Peppino Turco contributed the lyrics and may have prompted the song by suggesting that Denza compose something for the Piedigrotta song-writing competition. "Funiculì, Funiculà" was published the same year by Ricordi and within a year had sold a million copies.[3][a]

Other music[edit]

In addition to "Funiculì, Funiculà", Denza composed hundreds of popular songs. Some of them, such as "Luna fedel", "Occhi di fata", and "Se", have been sung by Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti, and Ronan Tynan.[citation needed] He was also an able mandolinist and guitarist, and for those instruments he wrote "Ricordo di Quisisana", "Come to me", "Nocturne", and several others.[1] Denza also wrote an opera, Wallenstein (1876).[b]

Judging of James Joyce[edit]

Other than writing songs and music, Denza's enduring legacy was his judging of James Joyce, who was a singer before he became a world-famous novelist.[7][8][9][10][11]

When Denza was Professor of Music at the London Academy of Music, he was asked to judge the 1904 Feis Ceoil Irish Singing Contest, a prototype of today's musical reality shows.[7][8][10][11] On 16 May 1904, Denza attempted to mentor Joyce, and would have awarded him the Gold Medal, but Joyce could not sight read, missing a crucial part of the competition; Denza instead awarded Joyce the third-place Bronze medal.[7][8][10][11] Disgusted, Joyce gave the medal to his Aunt Josephine; the medal ended up years later being bought by Michael Flatley at an auction.[9][11]


  1. ^ Six years after its publication, German composer Richard Strauss took "Funiculì, Funiculà" for a traditional Neapolitan folk song and incorporated it into his tone poem Aus Italien as "Neapolitanisches Volksleben".[4] Rimsky-Korsakov made a similar assumption and arranged it as "Neapolitan Song".[5]
  2. ^ Based on Schiller's play.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Bone, Philip J. (1914). The Guitar and Mandolin. Schott and Co.
  2. ^ a b c "Funiculì, Funiculà". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  3. ^ Meloncelli, Raoul (1990). "Luigi Denza". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Retrieved 26 January 2015 – via
  4. ^ Youmans, Charles (2010). The Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-139-82852-9.
  5. ^ Slonimsky, Nicolas (2004). Yourke, Electra Slonimsky (ed.). Nicolas Slonimsky: Russian and Soviet music and composers. Routledge. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-415-96866-9.
  6. ^ Hale, Philip (1918). "Music to Schiller's 'Wallenstein'". Boston Symphony Orchestra Thirty-Sixth Season, Concert Programmes. Boston Symphony Orchestra: 367.
  7. ^ a b c Gioia, Ted (8 August 2021). "How James Joyce Almost Became a Famous Singer: The author of Ulysses had extraordinary vocal skills, and in 1904 came within inches of stardom—before stubbornness, not lack of talent, derailed him". Ted Goia's Blog. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  8. ^ a b c "The secret life of James Joyce the singer". Clare Champion. 30 August 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  9. ^ a b Parsons, Michael (16 June 2014). "Michael Flatley confirms he owns medal won by James Joyce: Writer won bronze medal in 1904 singing competition". Irish Times. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  10. ^ a b c Bowker, Gordon (2012). James Joyce: A New Biography (illustrated ed.). Macmillan. p. 120. ISBN 9780374178727. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d "On this day…16 May: On 16 May 1904 Joyce participated in the Feis Ceoil singing competition". The James Joyce Centre. Retrieved 19 August 2021.

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