Verdi, Giuseppe (Fortunino Francesco)
Verdi's stature as one of the 2 or 3 greatest opera composers is unchallengeable. Though his technical mastery continually developed and was refined, and his powers of characterization became more subtle and expressive, the essential Verdi—direct, noble, and intense—remained unchanging from Nabucco to Falstaff. There was no ‘change of style’ in Otello: the lib. drew from Verdi his greatest mus., but it is still recognizably the work of the composer of Il trovatore and Simon Boccanegra. In recent years the earlier works have been revived and have revealed their considerable merits—the comic Un giorno di regno, for example, is particularly fine. In operas like Rigoletto, La traviata, and Aida, Verdi put on to the stage operatic characters who are as real as the characters in Shakespeare. His 3 Shakespeare operas are major achievements and his failure to compose King Lear, though he toyed with the idea for many years, must ever be regretted. Prin. works:OPERAS: Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio (1835–9, rev. 1840–1); Un giorno di regno (1840); Nabucco (1841, rev. 1842); I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1842–3, rev. 1843), adapted to Fr. lib. as Jérusalem, with rev. and some new mus., 1847; Ernani (1843–4); I due Foscari (1844, rev. 1845–6); Giovanna d'Arco (1844–5, rev. 1845); Alzira (1845); Attila (1845–6); Macbeth (1846–7, rev. 1864–5); I masnadieri (1846–7); Il corsaro (1847–8); La battaglia di Legnano (1848–9); Luisa Miller (1849); Stiffelio (1850), adapted to new lib., with some new mus., as Aroldo (1856–7); Rigoletto (1850–1); Il trovatore (1851–2, rev. 1856); La traviata (1852–3, rev. 1854); Les Vêpres siciliennes (1854); Simon Boccanegra (1856–7, lib. and mus. rev. 1880–1); Un ballo in maschera (1857–8); La forza del destino (1861–2, rev. 1868–9); Don Carlos (1866–7, rev. as 4-act work, with some new music, 1882–3); Aida (1870); Otello (1884–6, rev. 1887); Falstaff (1889–92, rev. 1893 and 1894).CHORAL: Inno delli nazioni (Hymn of the Nations), ten., ch., orch. (1862); Libera me, sop., ch., orch. (1868–9, incorp. into Requiem, 1874); Pater Noster, unacc. ch.; Ave Maria, sop., str. (1879–80); Requiem (1873–4); Quattro pezzi sacri: Ave Maria, unacc. ch. (1888–9), Stabat Mater, ch., orch. (1895–7), Laudi alla Vergine Maria, women's ch. (1888–9), Te Deum, sop., ch., orch. (1895–7).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qt. in E minor (1873).SONGS: 6 Romances (1838); L'esule (The Exile); La seduzione; Notturno: Guarda che bianca luna (Nocturne: See the pale moon) (1839); Chi i bei di m'adduce ancora (Who will bring back the beautiful days?) (1842); 6 Romances (1845); Il poveretto (The beggar) (1847); Suona la tromba (Sound the trumpet) (1848); L'Abandonnée (The forsaken woman) (1849); Fiorellin che sorge appena (The little flower that rises) (1850); La preghiera del poeta (The poet's prayer) (1858); Il brigidin (The rosette) (1863); Tu dici che non m'ami (You say you do not love me) (1869).
Distinguished opera composer; b. Le Roncole (near Busseto), Italy, Oct. 10, 1813 (baptized Fortunino Giuseppe Francesco); d. Milan, Jan. 27, 1901. Verdi was the son of a tavern keeper, and his musical education was almost
entirely financed by Antonio Barezzi, a merchant. After studying composition privately under Vincenzo Lavigna, he was appointed maestro di musica at Busseto in 1835 and a year later married Barezzi's daughter. Two children born in 1838 and 1839 died within a year, and were followed by their mother in 1840. Verdi's first opera, Oberto (La Scala 1839), was sufficiently well received for him to resign his post at Busseto and devote himself to composition. Nabucco (1842) established his reputation in Italy; I Lombardi (1843) and Ernani (1844) brought him European fame. From 1848 he openly supported the cause of Italian unity and independence. La battaglia di Legnano (1849) aroused unprecedented enthusiasm at its Roman premiere by reason of its thinly veiled relevance to the Risorgimento. In 1849 he formed a permanent association with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, and nine years later, married her. With the appearance of Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853) Verdi was recognized as one of the greatest composers of the time. International renown brought him commissions from Paris (The Sicilian Vespers, 1855, and Don Carlos, 1867) and Egypt (Aïda, 1871). The Shakesperian operas of his old age, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), are universally acknowledged to be his masterpieces.
In his youth and middle age Verdi was a freethinker. His return to religion in old age was probably delayed by political considerations: the apparent support of the status quo of a divided Italy by the Vatican and the incompetence and corruption displayed in the government of the Papal States were scandals that alienated many Italians. But for his last 30 years he was a practicing Catholic, as is evidenced by a letter from his wife to Archbishop Magnasco of Genoa, her confessor from 1871 to 1892: "There are those who wish to make believe that he is very different from what he really is, especially in certain matters concerning his intimate spiritual life. Verdi's soul, since several years ago, has changed much in this respect; not changed substantially, because there was no need, but formally and apparently. Much of this change is owing to the work of Abbé mermillod—the most worthy priest who married us … who knew how to find the way to reach efficaciously his soul and his heart. If externally and for reasons concerning politics … Verdi does not appear that which in effect he is, one must not judge him solely by appearances. He is respectful towards religion, is a believer like me, and never fails to carry out those practices necessary for a good Christian, such as he wishes to be" (quoted in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. E. Blom 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954); see Bibliography).
Verdi's early Masses and motets written at Busseto have not survived. His published religious music, none of which was intended for liturgical use, consists of a Pater noster for five-part chorus and Ave Maria for soprano and strings, both to texts by Dante (1880); a Requiem in memory of Manzoni for soloists, chorus, and orchestra; Quattro Pezzi Sacri (1898), including Ave Maria and Laudi alla Vergine Maria for unaccompanied choir, and Stabat Mater and Te Deum for chorus and orchestra. The Requiem, of oratorio dimensions, is undeniably operatic in style, but this is justified by the deep feeling for the words, the passionate sincerity, and over-whelming emotional effect of its dramatic approach. Technically and artistically it is one of Verdi's greatest achievements, and it has an unchallenged place in the concert hall beside Bach's B-minor Mass and Beethoven's Missa solemnis.
Bibliography: g. verdi, Verdi, the Man in His Letters, ed. f. werfel and p. stefan, tr. e. downes (New York 1942). f. abbiati, Giuseppe Verdi, 4 v. (Milan 1959). f. bonavia, Verdi (London 1930; repr. 1947). c. gatti, Verdi, the Man and His Music, tr. e. abbott (New York 1955). g. w. martin, Verdi: His Music, Life and Times (New York 1963). f. toye, Giuseppe Verdi (London 1931; repr. New York 1946). f. walker, The Man Verdi (New York 1962). a. a. abert, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–). m. chusid, ed. Verdi's Middle Period (1849–1859), Source Studies, Analysis, and Performance Practice (Chicago 1997). a. parisini, "La nuova via di Verdi: Macbeth e il meraviglioso nell'opera," Rassegna Musicale Curci 51 (1998) 22–26. r. parker, "'One Priest, One Candle, One Cross': Some Thoughts on Verdi and Religion," The Opera Quarterly 12/1 (1995) 27–34; Leonora's Last Act: Essays in Verdian Discourse (Princeton 1997). g. de van, "La notion de tinta: mémoire confuse et affinités thématiques dans les opéras de Verdi," Revue de Musicologie 76 (1990) 187–98.
VERDI, GIUSEPPE (1813–1901), Italian operatic composer.
Giuseppe Verdi was the most influential and popular composer of Italian opera during the second half of the nineteenth century. Born on 9 or 10 October 1813 to a family of small farmers and tavern keepers in the hamlet of Roncole, near Busseto, his musical talents were recognized early and cultivated by his parents, as well as by a local priest who instructed him in organ performance. Having spent his teenage years as church organist of San Michele in Roncole, he applied to the Milan Conservatory but was denied admission in part because, at eighteen, he exceeded the usual entering age. He relocated to Milan anyway, studying composition privately and working as a rehearsal pianist for the Milanese Società Filarmonica. Verdi received his first important break at the age of twenty-six when Bartolomeo Merelli, the impresario of Milan's Teatro alla Scala, agreed to produce his first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (1839; Oberto, count of St. Boniface). The work was enormously successful for a composer of such youth and inexperience, and it served as the catalyst for a career that was to span six full decades. During these years, Verdi composed twenty-eight operas for cities throughout Italy, as well as for Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and Cairo, and he was celebrated throughout Europe as the greatest Italian musical dramatist of the century. In the early twenty-first century, Verdi retains a place of honor in the pantheon of the nineteenth century's great composers, and his operas remain among the most beloved in the repertory.
Verdi experienced one of his only true failures early in his career with his second work, the comic opera Un giorno di regno (Milan, 1840; King for a day), which was removed from La Scala's boards following its one and only disastrous performance. Embittered by this setback, and still reeling over the closely spaced deaths of his only two children (Virginia on 12 August 1838 and Icilio Romano on 22 October 1839) and his first wife (Margherita on 18 June 1840), Verdi allegedly resolved to quit composing (though he continued to participate in Milan's musical life, rewriting portions of Oberto and overseeing rehearsals of the work). His next opera, Nabucco, was produced less than two years later (also at La Scala), and was an unprecedented success, catapulting Verdi from a local hero into a national and international superstar. His career thereafter was characterized by a steady stream of commissions and triumphs, and it has become common to divide his output into three periods: "early" (1839–1849), "middle" (1849–1862), and "late" (1863–1891). His early period was his busiest, yielding fourteen operas including Ernani (Venice, 1844), Attila (Venice, 1846), and Macbeth (Florence, 1847). During the middle period, Verdi completed ten works, seven of which remain in today's repertory: Luisa Miller (Naples, 1849), Rigoletto (Venice, 1851), Il trovatore (Rome, 1853; The troubadour), La traviata (Venice, 1853; The fallen woman), Les Vêpres siciliennes (Paris, 1855; The Sicilian vespers), Simon Boccanegra (Venice, 1857; revised, Milan, 1881), and Un ballo in maschera (Rome, 1859; A masked ball). Verdi's final period was his least productive, in large part because his firmly established reputation and finances permitted him the leisure to compose only when he desired. During this quarter century, he wrote the Messa di Requiem (Milan, 1874) and four operas: Don Carlos (Paris, 1867; revised, Milan, 1884), Aïda (Cairo, 1871), Otello (Milan, 1887), and Falstaff (Milan, 1893). Throughout most of his career, Verdi was accompanied by the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi (1815–1897), who created the leading female role in Nabucco and was one of Verdi's staunchest advocates. They lived together for over a decade before marrying in 1859. Verdi died in Milan on 27 January 1901.
The early decades of Verdi's career overlapped with the Risorgimento (the movement for Italian unification), and his role as patriot and politician formed an integral component of his reputation. Beginning in 1858, the acronym VERDI was used to promote the popular choice for king (Vittorio Emmanuele, Re d'Italia), and the slogan "Viva Verdi!" became a common rallying call among patriots. Following independence, Verdi was elected to the first Italian parliament and later honored as senator for life. His most important role in the Risorgimento, however, was as a composer whose operas, especially their choruses, served as anthems symbolizing a burgeoning national identity. Since the early 1990s, however, the political significance of this music has come under question. Some have suggested that the composer's preunification reputation has been misrepresented and that his choruses became political anthems only after Italian unification. This argument has encouraged a new round of research that has reconfirmed Verdi's position as the vate (bard) of the Risorgimento and has opened the discussion to inquiries about political messages woven into the works of Verdi's contemporaries as well as his own. That such debate still surrounds Verdi's operas is a clear sign of the immediacy with which this music still speaks to audiences of the early twenty-first century, and with which it will continue to move opera lovers for years to come.
Balthazar, Scott L., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Verdi. Cambridge, U.K., 2004.
Budden, Julian. The Operas of Verdi. 3 vols. London, 1973–1981. Rev. ed., Oxford, U.K., 1992.
Parker, Roger. Leonora's Last Act: Essays in Verdian Discourse. Princeton, N.J., 1997.
Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane. Verdi: A Biography. Oxford, U.K., 1993.