The most famous music festival in Italy is Il Festival della Canzone Italiana, which is hosted in Sanremo every spring. However, not many people are aware that nearly 20 years before the Sanremo festival was launched in 1951, the Festival di Napoli was already a must in terms of music gatherings. At the same time, it may be surprising to learn that today’s most famous Neapolitan songs were not the winning songs of this festival, rather the masterpieces of its most famous ancestor, the Festa di Piedigrotta, which started in 1830 and continued up to 1926.
Born as a religious festival dedicated to the famous Madonna di Piedigrotta, in Naples, the music element was incorporated to the event in 1835, and the first winning song of the festival was the beautiful world classic Te Vojo Bene Assaje, a touching melody that some historians tend to attribute to the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti. Two other greatest hits of Neapolitan songs came from this festival: Funiculì Funiculà won the first prize in 1880, and O Sole Mio followed in 1898.
In the early ’30s a modern version of the Festival di Piedigrotta was launched under the name of Festival di Napoli, with the aim of promoting both Italian and Neapolitan music traditions. Its inaugural session was presented at the Sanremo Casinò Municipale in 1932, and among the most famous winning songs of its subsequent editions there are Tu Si’ Na Cosa Grande (Domenico Modugno and Ornella Vanoni); Amore Mio (Ornella Vanoni); Napoli C’est Fini (Fred Bongusto); and Guaglione (Aurelio Fierro).
In 1971, that is twenty years after the Sanremo Festival was launched, due to some problems between organizers and a group of prominent singers and composers that were not accepted in the competition, the festival was suspended. Festival di Napoli’s supporters tried it twice to resuscitate this prestigious music gathering, in both 1981 and 1998, but unfortunately they did not succeed, allowing time to draw the curtain on one of the most successful music festival Italy ever had.