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Classical 101

Toscanini and The Hymn of the Nations

In December 1943, Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) conducted a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Inno dei nazioni (The Hymn of the Nations) in Studio 8-H at Rockefeller Center. Jan Peerce was the soloist with the NBC Symphony, built for Toscanini by David Sarnoff, and the Westminster Choir. The Hymn of the Nations had been written by Verdi for the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. It had never been considered an important work. Toscanini's 1943 performance formed the basis of a film produced by the Office of War Information. Toscanini, who had known Verdi, reworked the Hymn to include the national anthems of the Allies: The U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The Italian Hymn was also used, with the words "O patria mia beata" (my blessed country) changed to "O paria mia tradita" (my betrayed country). This performance hasn't lost its power since 1943. But there's a footnote: Subsequent publications of this film and broadcast excised the Internationale, the worker's anthem used in the U.S.S.R. In many copies you hear very clumsy tape edits and God Save the King creakily gives way to The Star Spangled Banner. I've only heard one copy of this performance with the music intact, and the clip is included below (I've given you the second half of the work, with all the big tunes). Performances on YouTube are terrific, but the Internationale isn't there. I wanted to offer you ALL of the anthems, as Toscanini included them in his 1943 performance. The Maestro's antipathy for fascism was well known. In 1933 he was beaten up at the opera house in Turin for refusing to begin the performance with "Giovinezza." He left the Bayreuth Festival when Hitler came to power ("they desecrate the house of Wagner") and left the Salzburg Festival shortly thereafter. Here's another postscript, about Jan Peerce (1904-1984). I heard his last performance. It was in 1981, and Carnegie Hall was packed to the walls. Peerce sang for three hours. He didn't sound like a young man, but his voice was intact. The audience was delirious. http://www.wosu.org/audio/classical/2009/inno.mp3