The Perfect Anthem

Empress Sissi

There is one thing that characterizes Italian summers more than the heat, that this year, let me tell you, has reached unimaginable, long-lasting pitches:  the broadcasting of Empress Sissi’s saga on tv. Every summer, in August, and since I was a child as far as I can remember, here comes the moment to sigh upon the romantic and fortunate story , only in fiction, of course, of the beautiful Elisabeth of Bavaria and emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. There is something in this period drama that enthralls you so much, that  even if you have seen it one hundred times at least and you know every single line of every character, as in my case, you cannot but watch it again. Hence; my husband and I found ourselves watching it again willy-nilly, as tradition requires, and I have to say that despite the incessant heat that was making us turn rapidly from a liquid into a gaseous state, we found it after all, how can I say, quite refreshing. When, almost at the end of the episode, Sissi reaches her husband to be on a river boat and the Austrian anthem is played to welcome the Duchess to her new homeland, my husband’s remark arrived, and it was not at all unexpected as I know the man too well: oh, this is a serious anthem.

My husband Mr Run ( now Mr Injured and even sometimes Mr Disappointment as the good effect of the endorphins vanished long time before the heat) is one of those who dislikes our anthem ” Fratelli d’Italia” also known as “Mameli’s hymn”  and belongs to that line of thought which would see positively its replacement.  Apart from the words, he particularly criticizes the melody, as ” Fratelli d’Italia” is a march, as I hope everybody knows, and lacks of that degree of solemnity that an anthem, in his opinion, requires. Verdi’s ” Va pensiero“, for example, the beautiful chorus from  the third act of Verdi’s opera Nabucco, has been suggested by many every now and then as a good candidate for the new Italian anthem. Now, I agree, the air of “Va Pensiero” is powerful, solemn, touching, but, why I should  feel like mine the words spoken by some Hebrew slaves, who are missing their homeland and dream to go back, I do not fully understand. What has it to do with us? 

Badly  done, Stefy! Badly done! I can hear some reproaching voices ( oh, I can’t get rid of that Mr Knightley, your fault Chris), as I ought to say at this point that this choir has often been considered a metaphor for the Italian condition during Risorgimento, that period of the nineteenth century when Italian nationalism spread. Italy was subjected to the Austrian domination in the North, exactly when Sissi was empress. Verdi’s air is even played in a defiant way in the third episode of the saga, when Sissi and her husband attend the opera house in Milan. Verdi has always been considered a symbol of Risorgimento as well and his name was used to make the anti Austrian  slogan ‘Viva VERDI!’  as acronym for “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re DItalia” (Long Live Victor Emmanuel King of Italy). This line in particular : O my country, so beautiful, and lost” might refer both to Jerusalem and Italy as well. Despite all this; I don’ t feel at ease singing about metaphors and furthermore, why the period when we were controlled by foreign powers should be remembered in our anthem, and besides sung by people who had been enslaved, hence losers, I don’t quite understand. Anthems should be the expression of the essence of a nation both in music and words, and since we achieved our independence as a country eventually , “Va Pensiero” can’t do.

Goffredo Mameli

Somebody may rightfully remark that even “Fratelli d’Italia” mirrors the essence of Risorgimento as it aims at raising the depressed spirits of the Italians worn out by centuries of foreign control and fight, I know. However; there is something more in this hymn and this something can be found right at the very beginning of the first line ” Fratelli d’Italia, l’Italia s’e’ desta” (Brothers of Italy, Italy has woken):  we all ought to fight as brothers to overcome centuries of oppression. Goffredo Mameli, the author of the anthem, wrote with the ardent passion of a young patriot ( he died only at the age of 21 for the consequences of a wound) who understood how important was to re-create the bond of brotherhood in a divided and humbled country to be victorious again. He reminded the Italians of their common glorious past, whose memory should have fueled the present, thus exciting their fresh spirits to fight.That was the only key of victory. The only way to build a future as a united country.

After 157 years since unification was reached, I have to say that the process to achieve that degree of brotherhood Mameli had in mind, is still in being. There is still a wide gap between north and south, and separatist movements are growing in number and some of them are dangerously expanding. It is as if we were not going together to the same direction and with the same speed. That’s why the message of “Fratelli d’Italia”  is still topical and for what concerns the issue of solemnity, well, I don’t think that a solemn air would really mirror our true nature and that from north to south I dare say. One thing, at least, we have in common.

P.S. Mr Run wishes me to inform you (in case you are interested, of course), that the thought of “Va Pensiero” as Italian anthem has never crossed his mind, particularly as it has recently become the anthem of the major separatist movement of the north. He adds that if he could, he would pick “Jerusalem” the unofficial British anthem.