“1000” (1861): The Battle of Garibaldi, The Neapolitan Tammurriata, Giuseppe Verdi, and Roberto De Simone

In May 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi led an expedition of one thousand men from Genoa, Liguria to Marsala, Sicily. There they met with an army of volunteers who helped to push the troops into the mainland all the way up to Naples, where they fought a bloody battle against the Bourbon military from Sicily. In the historical novella “Libertá” (“Liberty”), author Giovanni Verga depicts the gruesome 1860 battle between the uprising peasants and the elite class with disturbing detail true to the aesthetic of verismo (which he was instrumental in pioneering). In Verga’s tale, the class struggle meets a feverish point of no return as the “white caps” (peasants) brutally slaughter the “black hats” (bourgeois) in revenge for generations of humiliation and exploitation. The “white caps” stormed manors throwing royals, clergy, and politicians out the windows and bludgeoning young and old to death in the streets. The revenge was ruthless, merciless, and gruesome (Picchione 2010).

In 1958, Giuseppe Tomasi Lampedusa penned the historical novel about the legendary battle entitled “Il Gattopardo.” In 1963, film director Luchino Visconti released the film adaptation of Lampedusa’s novel depicting the peasant uprising against the ruling class on the cinematic screen. “Il Gattopardo” is filmed from the perspective of the aristocrats and the clergy who protected their best interests despite their obligation to help the poor first. Lampedusa and Visconti’s protagonist is Tancredi, a Prince who fights on the side of Garibaldi against his own ruling class. When he is challenged by his father, the young Prince states, “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è, bisogna che tutto cambi” (“If we want things to remain the same, it is necessary for everything to change”) (Il Gattopardo, 1958). The Italian term for this is trasformismo: the belief that representational change is only superficial, yet necessary in order to placate the masses so that the subversive governing body and their self-serving objective may remain unchanged. This term defines one of the major underlying themes in the “Risorgimento” project that questions whether the feudal class structure of working classes supporting the bourgeois ruling class has ever really changed.

The tammurriata drumming tradition is rooted in the rural farming communities of the Naples region, which dates back to ancient times. Each region has a long tradition of religious rituals honouring various Madonnas and Saints accompanied by specific rhythmic patterns, repertoire, and dancing. Rural farming communities also traditionally engage in tammurriate, improvising melodies and secular texts dealing with agrarian life, family, poverty, sex, politics, power struggles, or nature. The texts may be humourous or serious and may be accompanied by one or more singers or tammorra players. Unlike the pizzica or tarantella in compound time with a triplet rhythm, the tammurriata has a strong 4/4 ostinato time signature. As in the tamburello drumming tradition (commonly used in the pizzica and tarantella), both men and women play the tammorra drums as depicted on a number of sixth-century B.C. murals adorning various palazzi in Pompeii.

The tammorra drum is approximately 35-40 cm in circumference and approximately 5-9 cm deep. The drum often has paired, irregularly shaped cymblas or may be mute with no cymbals. The tammorra drum is struck in a variety of manners but the basic three movements are with the palm of the hand for the strongest beats, the tip of the fingers usually in the syncopated beats, and the bottom of the palm for strong beats that are not as emphasized as those struck with the entire palm. Also common is a method of lowering the tammorra onto the palm in an almost horizontal position for the strongest beats  and to lift the tammorra into an almost vertical position and rock it back and forth with the hand holding the drum so that the opposite hand, striking the drum, can move from one side of the frame to the other.

“1000” was inspired by the “Secondo Coro delle Lavandaie” (“Second Chorus of the Washerwomen”) by Roberto De Simone from his opera “La Gatta Cenerentola” (“The Cinderella Cat”). Roberto De Simone (b.1933) is a musician, composer, theatre director, opera stage director, ethnomusicologist, ethnographer, and proponent of Neapolitan folk music. De Simone’s 1976 folk-opera “La Gatta Cenerentola” was developed in the style of Neapolitan theatre utilizing Neapolitan dialect and traditional folkloristic styles of music. In the “Second Chorus of the Washerwomen,” De Simone uses the tammurriata rhythm to set a scene where women are gathered to wash clothes outside as one of the washerwomen recounts an erotic dream about the reigning prince. De Simone uses folk instruments and tammurriata style but transforms the traditional sound with the use of dissonant horns and strings. At the end of the piece the women break out of the chant and repetitive movements of washing clothes into song and dance. In “1000” (“Mille” or “One Thousand”) a similar compositional approach is taken.

Unlike De Simone’s tammurriata, which depicts the class distinction in a sexual context, “1000” is based on the events and scenes described in Verga’s and Visconti’s accounts of the battle of Garibaldi. The title “1000” refers to the number of soldiers he brought with him known as I mille (“the one-thousand”). The Spanish monarchy ruling southern Italy lived in Naples from 1734. Garibaldi and the mille disembarked in Marsala, Sicily, and fought their way up towards Naples. Because of this, the Neapolitan tammurriata is used to depict the historic battle that forever ousted the Bourbons and crushed their empire.

Another important cultural figure of the time is Giuseppe Verdi. Perhaps the most venerated of all Italian composers, Verdi is to this day adored in Italy for his sympathy for the plight of the working class and for his work towards a unified, free nation. A composer from a family of humble means, his music aspired to the universality of popular music with penetrating melodies inspired by, and loved by, the common Italian. The choral masterpiece “Va pensiero” in his 1841 opera “Nabucco” struck an especially deep chord with Italians with its depiction of the exiled Jewish slaves lamenting their beautiful but lost home. During its debut in Milan, which was at that time ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italians responded with unprecedented fervor, as they understood the piece to be a hidden social commentary on Italy and a manifesto for freedom from her oppressors. The piece remains the country’s unofficial national anthem, and is a deeply sentimental part of Italian identity. So loved by Italians was Verdi, the acronym “VIVA V.E.R.D.I.” (“Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia” – “Long live Vittorio Emanuele King of Italy”) became the vehicle by which revolutionaries expressed their dissent, disseminated the revolutionary message, and gained recognition for the cause. The message could not be criminalized or punished by reigning authorities since it could be defended as simply expressing admiration for their beloved composer. If the idealist Mazzini could be described as the heart of the Risorgimento, Cavour the brains, and Garibaldi the brawn, Verdi could certainly be deemed the soul of the movement. Along with references made to Verdi and his works within the text of “1000,” the lower string parts of Rigoletto’s aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” (“Vile and damned courtiers”) from the opera “Rigoletto” are used to support the vocal line from measures 51-101. From measures 102-105 the upper string parts are added, revealing the Verdian aria and its sentiment.

The text is set to a melody typical of Neapolitan folk music, which utilizes the Neapolitan scale (1 2 3 #4 5 6 7) like the Lydian mode (http://electricguitarlearn.com/wp/?page_id=374). The text of the song, written in Neapolitan, describes the uprising of farmers who use this opportunity to avenge generations of subservience. The farmers, ready to risk their lives fighting for the Savoia monarchy, arm themselves with the only weapons at their disposal: their farming tools. In anticipation of the civil war about to unfold, they gather to meet the other revolutionaries ready to usurp their oppressors.

The song “1000” is an important point in “Risorgimento.” In the first place, the battle was the tipping point in the Risorgimento movement. From that event onward, the citizens of Italy believed that a better, more equal society would arise; one where an individual’s abilities, determination, and hard work would allow for political mobility, status shift, and freedom to determine one’s own destiny. It is against this criterion that the future, represented in song within the “Risorgimento song cycle, is measured.

The cultural references included in the text are as follows:

  1. “Suono di tromba” from popular doggerel verse about Garibaldi (Castelli, 9). Reference also to the “Dies Irae”, La tromba diffondendo un suono stupefacente tra i sepolcri del mondo spingerà tutti davanti al trono” (“The trumpet spreading an amazing sound among the tombs of the world push all before the throne”) (Neapolitan translation: sona ‘a tromba).

    2. “Coppole bianche” refers to Verga’s novella “Libertà,” where the poor wear “white caps.” “Giubbe rosse refers to Garibaldi’s fleet of men who wore red shirts (and denim blue jeans originating from Genova from where they departed). The “white caps” and the “red shirts” meet to fight together.

    3. “Per l’onore di servire, si morir, morir, morire!” (Castelli, 1) (Neapolitan translation: pe’ l’onore e’ servi’, si, murì, murì, murì!).

    4. “O giornata del riscatto” (O day of wrath) is paraphrased from the “Dies Irae (Neapolitan translation: O jiurnata do retaggio).

    5. “Vola, vola” is not a direct reference to, but is inspired by, an Abruzzese folk song sung often by my mother at home during my childhood entitled “Vola Vola Vola”.


6. “Patria mia bella é perduta” (O mia patria, si bella é perduta) refers to Giuseppe Verdi’s “Va pensiero,” which is considered the unofficial Italian national anthem because of its significance in Italy’s unification.


7. “Traviata,” meaning “led astray” or “corrupt,” makes another reference to Giuseppe Verdi.


8. “Abbattuta” refers to Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” where he refers to Italy as a misguided and demolished ship (nave abbattuta) in the 6th Canto in Purgatory.

9. “Viva Verdi – VVV!” Refers to both Giuseppe Verdi and the pro-Risorgimento movement that supported unification under the Savoia King Vittorio Emanuele II.


10. “La Banda” refers to Garibaldi’s “band” of soldiers.

 11. “Morte e martire risusciterà, Il peccato è: la morte dalla freccia, e la forza della legge. E sommersa é la mort’ dint’a vittoria” (“The dead and martyrs will resurrect, Sin is: death from the arrow, and the force of the law. And death submerged in victory”) (Neapolitan translation: …E sommersa é la morte dint’ a vittoria). The paraphrased passage comes from 1 Corinthians 15:53-56 in the Bible (1 Corinzi 15:53-56) .


12. “Corte, canto, e opera, sommersa in tammorriata” (“court, singing, and opera, submerged in tammorriata) refers to the royal court’s theatre that housed elite music like opera and that it is now “submerged” in the farmer’s folk, with tammorriata making reference to the first verse in the chorus from Corinthians where “death is submerged in victory.”


13. “buffone servo” (jester servant) makes another reference to Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” who refers to himself as a “buffone” within the opera and who disdains both the court’s aristocrats and his role of kowtowing to them – expressing the sentiments of the servitude class. “O uomini! O natura! Vil scellerato mi faceste voi! Oh rabbia! Esser difforme! Esser buffone! Non dover, non poter altro che ridere! Il retaggio d’ogni uom m’è tolto, il pianto

 14. (“Oh world! Oh nature! You made me wicked and evil! What a fate! To be deformed! To be a jester! I am commanded to make others laugh! I have inherited everyone’s sorrows and tears!”) (Verdi/Fisher 58).