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Music, Italy 1848-49

Both the opera stage and the piazza outside, where elite and popular cultures mixed, were forums for popular patriotic songfests in 1848-49. In the piazzas especial ly, the nerve center of the revolutions, popular music was created, heard and circulated by individuals, departing army volunteers or revolutionary factions of various political perspectives. Operatic music was brought the piazzas from the local opera houses by artisan and peasant members of the chorus to which patriotic verses were often spontaneously set. As one music theorist wrote in April 1848 in the pages of the journal, Gazzetta Musicale di Milano, published by Ricordi the leading musical publisher, all music was the "patrimony of the people." In 1848 circulation of the patriotic song generated from Milan to Palermo found in Ricordi's in Milan a willing vehicle which promoted song competitions. The demand for heroic songs to educate the people caused a rush to print the collection of songs that the publishing house so readily encouraged. Many contributors such as Goffredo Mameli, Luigi Mercantini, Gaetano Magazzari of Giuseppe Novella, who saw his songs as "gift to the country," were prolific and popular. With the waves of republicanism, many songs of 1848-49 were revived from the 1796-99 period, especially Jacobin songs which hailed the planting of liberty trees or spoke to Italian fraternity, but many reflected local and regional events which became transformed as they crossed the frontiers of the Italian states carried by armies and volunteers and adapted to new heros, villains or events. Operas such as Auber's "La Muette de Portici" based on the 1647 Neopolitan uprising remained popular in 1848, and audiences enthusiastically created patriotic demonstrations during certain arias and choruses of Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, or especially Verdi operas. His "La Battaglia di Legnano" produced in January 1849 on the eve of the Roman Republic and based on the 12th century Lombard League's fight against the Holy Roman Empire was proclaimed the "opera of the revolution." The opening chorus of that operas "Viva Italia", just as the famed chorus "Va pensiero" of his earlier opera, "Nabucco," roused enthusiastic patriotic audiences. The opera house hosted many benefit concerts for such events as the defense of Venice, to support families left destitute by the revolutions or its widows. Many opera houses closed in 1849 for financial reason, their lack of audiences too involved in political events, or depleted of musician and staff who vacated the orchestra pit or backstage to join the revolution. Many librettists such as Antonio Ghislanzoni and Francesco Piave expressed republican sentiments and fought the Austrians in Lombardy and Venetia. Revolutionaries like Giuseppe Mazzini, who loved music and arranged patriotic songs to play on his guitar, saw the propaganda value of the patriotic song. Many of his and Garibaldi's followers served as conduits for the mixing of both operatic and patriotic songs and their survival into the 20th century. The national anthem of the Italian republic today, written by the poet, Goffredo Mameli in Genoa in September 1847 attests to such popularity and the political significance of musical culture in the revolutionary phase of the Italian Risorgimento.

Marion S. Miller


Amiconi, Tullio. Il Risorgimento Italiano attraverso i canti. Roma: Tip. Armellini, 1962.

Miller, Marion S. "Popular and elite musical culture in a revolutionary context," History of European Ideas, 11 (1989) 565-71.

Monterosso, Raf faello. La musica nel Risorgimento. Milano: Francesco Vallardi, 1948.

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