Different versions exist as to how of how Goffredo Mameli, a young poet, came to write the anthem in 1847. One reports that Mameli took the anthem to the musician Michele Novaro, a friend, who lived in Turin. Novaro composed the music, and Mameli returned to Genoa where he presented words and music to his friends. Shortly thereafter, “Fratelli D’Italia” (Brothers of Italy, another common name for the anthem) was played for the first time, at a popular assembly. The tune gained popularity throughout the peninsula, in defiance of the Austrian, Bourbon and Papal police.
The other and equally persuasive story goes that one evening in 1847, in the house of the American consul, the center of discussion was the uprisings of the day. Urged by many of the consul’s guests, Mameli improvised a few lines on the spot and later wrote the rest. A few days later a friend took the poem to Turin and read it aloud at a nobleman’s party. The composer Michele Novaro who was a guest at the same party, tried a few notes on the piano and then, went home to compose the song. The anthem was sung for the first time the next day by a group of political exiles in the Caffè della Lega Italiana of Turin.
“Il Canto degli Italiani” (the official title) was chosen on a provisional basis in October, 1946 as the national anthem to replace the royal anthem after becoming a republic, however, it was chosen on a provisional basis. It wasn’t until nearly 60 years later, in 2005, that it was codified in law.
There are slight differences between Mameli’s original poem and how the anthem is sung today. The song is usually sung with the first verse repeated twice then the chorus repeated twice. (If subsequent verses are sung, they are only sung once, this is how the lyrics are presented below). It is also customary to end with “Sì!” (Yes!), perhaps to match the last note of the song.
There is talk lately of replacing the anthem, firstly because the music is not up to the standards of Italian classical music tradition (ironically, some of Italy’s greatest composers have composed anthems in this tradition, which are used by Central and South American countries, giving birth to the term “Latin American epic anthem”), and also the lyrics refer to specific events that were familiar to the Italians of the time that the anthem was composed, but bear little to no resonance with today’s Italians. However, “Il Canto degli Italiani” is very recognizable in Italy and would be hard to replace.
Special thanks to: Jamal Dillman-Hasso for a correction to the lyrics.