Giovanni G. Bertoni: Religious Art for Peace


How art and specifically religious art can be used for peace. Please write your RP4 of your favorite religious art for peace. It can be in any field of your interest from music to visual art to cinema etc.

In this response piece I will talk about the piece written by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, entitled “Inno delle Nazioni”.

This cantata was composed by Giuseppe Verdi on the text of Arrigo Boito the famous Italian poet and composer, for the Universal Exposition in 1862 and performed at the Royal Opera House of London on May 24th, 1862. The Universal Exposition in 1862 consisted in a celebration for the end of the wars together with the unification and friendship between countries. For the the opening ceremony London asked to the major composers of each country to compose a piece: Giacomo Meyerbeer for Germany, Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber for France, William Sterndale Bennett for Great Britain and Gioacchino Rossini for Italy. Rossini had declined the offer, therefore Giuseppe Verdi decided to undertake the composition task, after only recently finishing the writing of his famous opera “La Forza del Destino”

In 1861 Italy had only recently been unified, friendship prosperity was at its climax. It is during this time when Verdi meets Boito and together they decide to create a piece of music with a text aimed to divulge friendship and love between populations. As the piece unfolds one can clearly recognize the three famous hymns: “God Save the Queen”, “La Marsigliese” and “L’Inno di Mameli.” It is stunning to hear how the genius of Verdi was able to incorporate them all together as part of one composition. Another peculiarity is that Verdi decided to write in a cantata form rather than the more known march. The cantata is a typical italian form of the baroque period that incorporates arias, recitatives, duets and singing. The march is a type of composition written usually for a marching band, like the name suggests. The music is easily marched to and therefore commonly played in parades.

Usually national hymns are written to differentiate one own’s country and to praise each own military strength, but with this cantata Verdi wants to show us that we are and can all be brothers. The emphasis is put on the values and characteristics that countries have in common, rather than aspects that differentiate us. Lastly Verdi’s willingness to promote peace and fraternity is even stronger when one thinks during which time this piece was composed and considering that nationalism was still very prominent throughout Europe.

Even though “Inno per le Nazioni” was not written for a religious occasion, the text of the songs refers to the religious realms. The cantata begins with a :


Gloria pei cieli altissimi,

Pei culminosi monti,

Pel limpidi orizzonti

Gemmati dí splendor.

Glory to the highest skies

To the steepest peaks

To the clear horizons

Shining with gems


Words and images evoked at the beginning of the piece can be also found in the Messe Cantate written by other famous classical musicians: Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart and Verdi himself. The text goes on asking the listeners to imagine a fleet of ships carrying people who come from nations that have just finished fighting in a fierce violent battle. The fight is recalled   through words that reminds us of the battle unpleasant noise  (cozzar d’armi, saettar di spade: trans:  clashing of arms and lightening of swords).  In the song all the words related to fighting are connected metaphorically to the sudden sound of a violent storm.  War is over, and it is   compared to a ghost, which haunts people’s memories. The battlefield is  a graveyard from where  sad laments, cries and praises rise to the sky.’

Peace appears as a ‘Goddess’ sweet breeze (‘soffio di serena Dea’) that gradually pervades everyone and everything, as does the spring air every year when it arrives refreshing the whole earth. The Hymn contains   a prayer to God, to let peace spread among all nations. The cantata ends saluting England, France and Italy, Giuseppe Verdi’s homeland.  The three nations that have finally conquered peace. At the beginning of the Cantata the trumpets call the attention of the audience, then the rhythm of the music becomes very solemn when the Chorus begins to sing the Gloria. It is the Chorus that opens the Hymn, then the central part of the Hymn is for solo voices and the chorus comes back again at the end of the composition when the actual hymn of the three nations England, France and Italy are mixed with the new hymn. The ending Gloria is very powerful and instill a sense of peace and happiness to every listener’s heart.

This composition combines two forms of art, poetry and music. It is a powerful invitation to humankind to live in peace and friendship forgetting past atrocities and hates.


This is the link to the performance conducted by Arturo Toscanini. (1st part) (2nd part)