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Understanding Giuseppe Verdi’s role in Italian history

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Giuseppe Verdi was born on Oct. 10, 1813, in Busseto (Parma) which was then a part of the French Empire. He came from a humble beginning. His mother was a seamstress and his father was employed as a clerk. The organist at his church befriended him at a young age and taught him how to play the piano. At the age of 15, in 1828, he wrote and performed his first symphony at the teatro of Busseto. Soon afterwards local music patron recognized his talents and paid for him to study music theory at the Conservatorio di Milano.

At this time Italy was not a complete nation. It was divided into many city-states. Three major powers ruled the peninsula: The Hapsburg-Austrian Empire in the North, the Spaniards in the south and Sicily and the French in Piemonte. After the exile of Napoleon to the island of Elba, the European leaders were anxious to seek a period of peace. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 led to a new balance of power in the European continent.

The leader of il Risorgimento was Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was above all an accomplished military man and mercenary who learned to be skillful in using guerilla war tactics in South America. Due to his expertise he helped to quell revolts in both Brazil and Uruguay. When he returned to the home of his birth, the peninsula was in revolt. At that time the Bourbons ruled Sicily.

He was tasked to sail to Sicily and conquer for the cause. Garibaldi gathered the (Mille) 1,000 volunteers to liberate the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Napoli and south of Rome.

He sailed from Genoa and landed in Sicily in the city of Marsala on May 11, 1860. The fighting lasted three months and ultimately ended with the conquest over the Bourbon rule at the Battle of Palermo. He later led his camicie rosse across the Strait of Messina into Naples and proclaimed victory for Vittorio Emmanuele.

During this revolutionary time, Giuseppe Verdi became a prolific composer of many operas including Aida, Il Trovatore and Nabucco. He was often heard saying “Copiare il vero puo’ essere una buona cosa , ma inventare il meglio , molto meglio.” (Copying reality can be a good thing, but inventing reality is even better.)

Indirectly, he demonstrated his theory with the song “Va pensieri,” which is the chorus song of the Hebrew slaves from the opera Nabucco. This swiftly became an allegory for the Hapsburg-Austrian occupa-tion of the North and an anthem for the Unification of Italy.

Lou Thomas
Author: Lou Thomas

Lou Thomas was born and raised in Philadelphia, in a family with origins in Abruzzo. He is a Temple graduate who has been teaching Italian for 20 years at all levels. He attained a master’s degree in teaching Italian from Rutgers University. The sounds of Vivaldi and Jovanotti fill his classroom. His favorite quote is Il vino e’ la poesia della terra.

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