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Not many would nominate Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi as the first punk rock composer. But here's a guy who, over a century before The Sex Pistols et al were embracing a DIY ethic, decided to use an anvil as the primary percussion on this chorus. "The Anvil Chorus" is from Verdi's opera Il Trovatore and it depicts Spanish Gypsies striking their anvils at dawn – hence its English name – and singing the praises of hard work, good wine, and their gypsy women. You may also know it by its proper title of "Vedi! Le Fosche Notturne Spoglie."
Il Trovatore is a three act opera by Verdi set to an Italian libretto by one of the composer's favorite librettists Salvatore Cammarano. However, Cammarano died in mid-1852 before completing the libretto, forcing Verdi to turn to the young librettist, Leone Bardare, for revisions.
The title "La traviata" means literally The Woman Who Strayed, or perhaps more figuratively, The Fallen One and is a tragic tale of a courtesan who falls in love. Despite being a staple of the modern standard operatic repertoire, the opera bombed when it was first performed at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice, on March 6, 1853, due to what was regarded as its rather scurrilous subject matter.
Il Trovatore takes as its basis the novel The Lady of the Camellias (French: La Dame aux camélias) with the female protagonist "Marguerite Gautier" renamed "Violetta Valéry."
During the early twentieth century, the Anvil Chorus was commonly sung by American spectators attending sporting events, or played by a band, when an opponent committed an error.
A big band jazz version of this chorus by Glenn Miller and his orchestra can be found on the track listing of many of the American musician's compilation albums.
Much beloved by the Marx Brothers, "The Anvil Chorus" features in several of their films. In The Cocoanuts, Harpo and Chico play the piece on a hotel's cash register. In Animal Crackers, Chico plays a segment on the piano while Harpo clangs two horse shoes together. Meanwhile in A Night at the Opera the chorus is sung as part of a performance of Il Trovatore as Harpo and Chico get chased by the police backstage and onstage.
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