The vocal recording of the Italian National Anthem «Il Canto degli Italiani», performed by Coro dell'Accademia Musicale M.o Tufacchi (1943)
The first manuscript of the poem, preserved at the Istituto Mazziniano in Genoa, appears in a personal copybook of the poet, where he collected notes, thoughts and other writings. Of uncertain dating, the manuscript reveals anxiety and inspiration at the same time. The poet begins with È sorta dal feretro (It's risen from the bier) then seems to change his mind: leaves some room, begins a new paragraph and writes "Evviva l'Italia, l'Italia s'è desta" ("Hurray Italy, Italy has awakened"). The handwriting appears agitated and frenetic, with numerous spelling errors, among which are "Ilia" for "Italia" and "Ballilla" for "Balilla". The second manuscript is the copy that Goffredo Mameli sent to Michele Novaro for setting to music. It shows a much steadier handwriting, fixes misspellings, and has a significant modification: the incipit is "Fratelli d'Italia". This copy is in the Museo del Risorgimento in Turin. The hymn was also printed on leaflets in Genoa, by the printing office Casamara. The Istituto Mazziniano has a copy of these, with hand annotations by Mameli himself. This sheet, subsequent to the two manuscripts, lacks the last strophe ("Son giunchi che piegano...") for fear of censorship. These leaflets were to be distributed at the 10 December demonstration, in Genoa.
10 December 1847 was an historical day for Italy: the demonstration was officially dedicated to the 101st anniversary of the popular rebellion which led to the expulsion of the Austrian powers from the city; in fact it was an excuse to protest against foreign occupations in Italy and induce Carlo Alberto to embrace the Italian cause of liberty. In this occasion the tricolor flag was shown and Mameli's hymn was publicly sung for the first time. After 10 December the hymn spread all over the Italian peninsula, brought by the same patriots that participated in the Genoa demonstration. In the 1848, Mameli's hymn was very popular among the Italian people and it was commonly sung during demonstrations, protests and revolts as a symbol of the Italian Unification in most parts of Italy. In the Five Days of Milan, the rebels sang the Song of the Italians during clashes against the Austrian Empire. In the 1860, the corps of volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi used to sing the hymn in the battles against the Bourbons in Sicily and Southern Italy.Giuseppe Verdi, in his "Inno delle nazioni" (Hymn of the nations), composed for the London International Exhibition of 1862, chose "Il Canto degli Italiani" to represent Italy, putting it beside "God Save the Queen" and "La Marseillaise". On 20 September 1870, in the last part of the Italian Risorgimento, the Capture of Rome was characterised by the people who sang Mameli's hymn played by the Bersaglieri marching band although the Kingdom of Italy had adopted the "Marcia Reale" as national anthem in 1861.
After the Second World War, following the birth of the Italian Republic, the "Song of the Italians" was de facto adopted as national anthem. On 23 November 2012, this choice was made official in law. In August 2016, in the wake of this measure, a bill was submitted to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies to make the "Canto degli Italiani" an official hymn of the Italian Republic. In July 2017 the committee approved this bill. On 15 December 2017, the publication in the Gazzetta Ufficiale of the law nº 181 of 4 December 2017, which came into force on 30 December 2017.
This is the complete text of the original poem written by Goffredo Mameli. However, the Italian anthem, as commonly performed in official occasions, is composed of the first stanza sung twice, and the chorus, then ends with a loud "Sì!" ("Yes!").
The first stanza presents the personification of Italy who is ready to go to war to become free, and shall be victorious as Rome was in ancient times, "wearing" the helmet of Scipio Africanus who defeated Hannibal at the final battle of the Second Punic War at Zama; there is also a reference to the ancient Roman custom of slaves who used to cut their hair short as a sign of servitude, hence the Goddess of Victory must cut her hair in order to be slave of Rome (to make Italy victorious). In the second stanza the author complains that Italy has been a divided nation for a long time, and calls for unity; in this stanza Goffredo Mameli uses three words taken from the Italian poetic and archaic language: calpesti (modern Italian: calpestati), speme (modern speranza), raccolgaci (modern ci raccolga).
The third stanza is an invocation to God to protect the loving union of the Italians struggling to unify their nation once and for all. The fourth stanza recalls popular heroic figures and moments of the Italian fight for independence such as the battle of Legnano, the defence of Florence led by Ferruccio during the Italian Wars, the riot started in Genoa by Balilla, and the Sicilian Vespers. The last stanza of the poem refers to the part played by Habsburg Austria and Czarist Russia in the partitions of Poland, linking its quest for independence to the Italian one.
Weave[,] maidens flags and cockades [they] make souls gallant the invitation of love.
The music of the anthem was composed by Michele Novaro. Novaro was born on 23 December 1818 in Genoa, where he studied composition and singing. On 23 November 1847, Mameli arrived in Turin and asked his friend Novaro to set the lyrics of the anthem to music. Novaro completed the composition overnight and Mameli was able to return to Genoa the very next day with the completed anthem. The tune helped the anthem spread quickly throughout the nation, and was sung in defiance of the Austrian, Bourbon, and Papal police. Novaro was a convinced liberal and offered his compositional talents to the unification cause without deriving any personal benefits. He died poor on 21 October 1885, after a life riddled with financial and health difficulties.
The anthem is set in the key of B flat major and at an allegro marziale tempo. The beginning of the anthem is characterised by twelve measures of instrumental eighth notes and sixteenth notes played fortissimo, or “very loud”. The vocals begin in the thirteenth measure, and are sung forte. The rhythms present in the anthem are mostly dotted eighth notes, quarter notes, and sixteenth notes. The rhythm is straight, with little syncopation. Essentially, the beat is on the first note of each measure, and the timing is regular. The rhythm in combination with the tempo gives an especially march-like feel to the composition.
^The original Italian text reads "Italy has woken, with Scipio's helmet she girt her head."
^Le porga la chioma can also be more literally translated as "Let her tender her hair to Rome" or "Tender her hair", referring to the ancient custom of cutting off the hair of slaves.
^The phrase can also be translated more literally as "Let us tighten in a cohort".
^Siam pronti alla morte may be understood both as an indicative ("We are ready to die") and as an imperative ("Let us be ready to die").
^Although the final exclamation, "Yes!", is not included in the original text, it is always used in all official occasions.
^A different tense may be found: Noi siamo da secoli, "We have been for centuries".