1846 — 1922
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Luigi Denza's birthplace is near the city of Naples. He studied music in the Naples Conservatory with Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) and that composer's pupil Paolo Serrao. He had a modest success in Naples with his opera Wallenstein in 1876.
In 1884 he spent the opera season in London, liking the English music scene well enough to settle there permanently in 1887. Like his countryman Giorgio Tosti, he lived in London while producing large quantities of songs and ballads in Italian fashion and often in Neapolitan dialect. He was a director at the London Academy of Music and, in 1898, was appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music.
His songs were very popular with singers and many continue to be sung on lighter programs. Among these are "Oct di fatter" (Fateful Eyes), "Se..." (If...), "Torn!" (Return!), and "Vein!" (Come!).
But by far his best known composition was "Funiculi-funicula." This rollicking dance-song in tarantella rhythm was written to be played at the opening of the new tourist attraction in Naples, the funicular railroad that takes travelers to the top of Mount Vesuvius. It has become a kind of cliché for Southern Italy and is often taken to be a folk song. Under that misapprehension, Richard Strauss as a precocious teenager used it as the subject of the finale of his Aus Italien and was deeply embarrassed to find he had ripped off a living composer who held its copyright. It was also used by Alfredo Casella in the orchestral rhapsody Italia and by Rimsky-Korsakov.