Funiculi, Funicula
Luigí Denzá published 1882

The theme of this song's instrumentation is oval holed Gibson.


1924 Gibson Style J Mando Bass


 

Introduced in 1912 to supply a true bass to the mandolin orchestra, the Gibson mando bass was modeled after the Style A mandolin and tuned like a double bass. With four over-spun strings, the instrument could be played with a plectrum, unlike double basses of the period, whose plain gut upper strings required finger picking. Alternatively, Gibson catalogs also say that a small felt-covered hammer could be used to play the mando-bass, suggesting a comparison with the piano, as well as the double bass. Indeed, Gibson also stated that the mando-bass was an instrument "with a tone as deep and powerful as the bass register of a concert grand, but with the plectral tone color."

I had always heard that the Gibson mando bass did not sound very good. That's why you don't see them being played in mandolin orchestras today. I think it sounds awesome, with a very unique tone. It's not as loud and full as a traditional upright. Have it set up correctly and put a good mic on it and it sounds great. When Ron plays it on a gig people go crazy over it.

The priority Gibson put on mandolins in its early years was reflected in the company’s original name – Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd. And the fact Gibson strung its guitars with steel strings suggests it may have viewed them as an extension of the mandolin family rather than as an instrument with its own voice. In 1908, the “suggestion” of Gibson’s mandolin approach to guitar design became obvious fact with the introduction of a new Style O model with a scroll body shape.

Style O models had been part of the Gibson line, along with L-series models, from the company’s beginnings in 1902, and although the body shapes were distinctly Gibson, with circular lower bouts, they were symmetrical in shape like any other guitars of the era. But the 1908 Style O was something altogether different.

1916 Gibson Style O Guitar


1924 Gibson K-2 Mando Cello


 

Before the F-5 was introduced in 1922, The Gibson F-4 mandolin was the top of the line. It featured the scroll on the body and flowerpot inlay in the peg head.


1912 Gibson F-4 mandolin


 

I especially love the "Orville" period instruments, from the early 1900s. They usually have an "Orville" label inside. Ornate appointments, a pick guard that's inlayed in the top, and a "pineapple" tailpiece cover. Many of these instruments have a loud unique sound and tone. This A-4 is considered museum quality.


1905 Gibson A-4 mandolin (rhythm)

"Funiculì, Funiculà" is a famous Neapolitan song that was written in 1880, with lyrics by journalist Peppino Turco set to music by composer Luigi Denza. It was composed to commemorate the opening of the first funicular cable car on Mount Vesuvius. The 1880 cable car was later destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 1944. (Some remains of the top station were still visible in September 2012.) The song was sung for the first time in the Quisisana Hotel in Castellammare di Stabia and met with huge success. It was presented by Turco and Denza at the Piedigrotta festival during the same year. Edward Oxenford, an English songwriter and translator of libretti, published a version which became somewhat traditional in English-speaking countries.

Six years after "Funiculì, Funiculà" was composed, German composer Richard Strauss heard the song while on a tour of Italy. Thinking that it was a traditional Neapolitan folk song, he later incorporated it into his Aus Italien tone poem. Denza filed a lawsuit against Strauss and eventually won. Strauss was forced to pay him a royalty fee. Another who mistook "Funiculì, Funiculà" for a traditional folk song was Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, who used it in his 1907 work, Neapolitanskaya pesenka (Neapolitan Song). Modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg set a version for string quartet which was used in an episode of the TV sitcom Seinfeld. Also, the song was used in an episode of Home Improvement. The 1962 Walt Disney TV production Escapade In Florence features a song entitled, "Dream Boy" this is a lyric written by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman to the melody of "Funiculì, Funiculà".

Later, the song was performed by many artists including The Grateful Dead, Erna Sack, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Alessandro Safina, Andrea Bocelli, Anna German, Luciano Pavarotti, Il Volo, Larry the Cucumber of VeggieTales fame in "Classy Songs With Larry" retitled as "Larry's High Silk Hat" in the episode "Lyle the Kindly Viking" (written by Marc Vulcano).