Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (Italian: [d͡ʒuˈzɛppe ˈverdi]; 10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. Some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture – such as " La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto, " Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, " Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the " Grand March" from Aida.
Verdi was born the son of Carlo Giuseppe Verdi and Luigia Uttini in Le Roncole, a village near Busseto, then in the Département Taro which was a part of the First French Empire after the annexation of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza. The baptismal register, on 11 October lists him as being "born yesterday", but since days were often considered to begin at sunset, this could have meant either 9 or 10 October. The next day, he was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin as Joseph Fortuninus Franciscus. The day after that (Tuesday), Verdi's father took his newborn the three miles to Busseto, where the baby was recorded as Joseph Fortunin François; the clerk wrote in French. "So it happened that for the civil and temporal world Verdi was born a Frenchman."
When he was still a child, Verdi's parents moved from Le Roncole to Busseto, where the future composer's education was greatly facilitated by visits to the large library belonging to the local Jesuit school. Also in Busseto, Verdi was given his first lessons in composition.
Verdi went to Milan when he was twenty to continue his studies. He took private lessons in counterpoint while attending operatic performances, as well as concerts of, specifically, German music. Milan's beaumonde association convinced him that he should pursue a career as a theatre composer. During the mid-1830s, he attended the Salotto Maffei salons in Milan, hosted by Clara Maffei.
Returning to Busseto, he became the town music master and, with the support of Antonio Barezzi, a local merchant and music lover who had long supported Verdi's musical ambitions in Milan, Verdi gave his first public performance at Barezzi's home in 1830.
Because he loved Verdi's music, Barezzi invited Verdi to be his daughter Margherita's music teacher, and the two soon fell deeply in love. They were married on 4 May 1836 and Margherita gave birth to two children, Virginia Maria Luigia (26 March 1837 – 12 August 1838) and Icilio Romano (11 July 1838 – 22 October 1839). Both died in infancy while Verdi was working on his first opera and, shortly afterwards, Margherita died of encephalitis on 18 June 1840, aged only 26. Verdi adored his wife and children, and he was devastated by their deaths.
"O sommo Carlo"
Ernani (1844), act 3, sung by Mattia Battistini, Emilia Corsi, Luigi Colazza, Aristodemo Sillich, and the La Scala chorus in 1906.
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The production by Milan's La Scala of his first opera, Oberto in November 1839 achieved a degree of success, after which Bartolomeo Merelli, La Scala's impresario, offered Verdi a contract for three more works.
It was while he was working on his second opera, Un giorno di regno, that Verdi's wife died. The opera, given in September 1840, was a flop and he fell into despair and vowed to give up musical composition forever. However, Merelli persuaded him to write Nabucco and its opening performance in March 1842 made Verdi famous. Legend (and Verdi's own "An Autobiographical Sketch" of 1879) has it that it was the words of the famous "Va, pensiero" chorus of the Hebrew slaves that inspired him to write music again. A large number of operas – 14 in all – and a period of hard work followed in the decade after 1843, a period which Verdi was to describe as his "galley years". These included his I Lombardi in 1843, and Ernani in 1844. For some, the most original and important opera that Verdi wrote is Macbeth in 1847. For the first time, Verdi attempted an opera without a love story, breaking a basic convention in 19th century Italian opera.
In 1847, I Lombardi, which was revised and renamed Jérusalem, was produced by the Paris Opera. Due to a number of Parisian conventions that had to be honored (including extensive ballets), it became Verdi's first work in the French Grand opera style.
"La donna è mobile"
Enrico Caruso, circa 1908
Quartet "Bella figlia dell'amore"
Rigoletto (1851), act 3. A 1907 Victor Records recording with Enrico Caruso, Bessie Abott, Louise Homer and Antonio Scotti.
"Stride la vampa"
Il trovatore (1853), act 2. Sung by Gabriella Besanzoni in 1920.
"Ah, fors'è lui" ... "Sempre libera"
La traviata (1853), act 1. Sung by Lucrezia Bori.
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Sometime in the mid-1840s, after the death of Margherita Barezzi, Verdi began an affair with Giuseppina Strepponi, a soprano in the twilight of her career. Their cohabitation before marriage was regarded as scandalous in some of the places they lived, but Verdi and Giuseppina married on 29 August 1859 at Collonges-sous-Salève, in the Kingdom of Piemonte, near Geneva. While living in Busseto with Strepponi, Verdi bought an estate two miles from the town in 1848. Initially, his parents lived there, but, after his mother's death in 1851, he made the Villa Verdi at Sant'Agata in Villanova sull'Arda his home until his death.
As the "galley years" were drawing to a close, Verdi created one of his greatest masterpieces, Rigoletto, which premiered in Venice in 1851. Based on a play by Victor Hugo (Le roi s'amuse), the libretto had to undergo substantial revisions in order to satisfy the epoch's censorship, and the composer was on the verge of giving it all up a number of times. The opera quickly became a great success.
With Rigoletto, Verdi sets up his original idea of musical drama as a cocktail of heterogeneous elements, embodying social and cultural complexity, and beginning from a distinctive mixture of comedy and tragedy. Rigoletto's musical range includes band-music such as the first scene or the aria " La donna è mobile", Italian melody such as the famous quartet "Bella figlia dell'amore", chamber music such as the duet between Rigoletto and Sparafucile and powerful and concise declamatos often based on key-notes like the C and C# notes in Rigoletto and Monterone's upper register.
There followed the second and third of the three major operas of Verdi's "middle period": in 1853 Il trovatore was produced in Rome and La traviata in Venice. The latter was based on Alexandre Dumas, fils' play The Lady of the Camellias, and became the most popular of all Verdi's operas, placing first in the Operabase list of most performed operas worldwide.
"È scherzo od è follia"
Un ballo in maschera (1859), act 1, scene 2. Performed by Enrico Caruso, Frieda Hempel, Maria Duchêne, Andrés de Segurola and Léon Rothier.
"Nè gustare m'è dato un'ora..."
La forza del destino (1862), act 3, scene 3. Sung by Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca.
"O patria mia"
From Aida, performed in 1916 by Marie Rappold
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Between 1855 and 1867, an outpouring of great Verdi operas followed, among them such repertory staples as Un ballo in maschera (1859), La forza del destino (commissioned by the Imperial Theatre of Saint Petersburg for 1861 but not performed until 1862), and a revised version of Macbeth (1865). Other somewhat less often performed include Les vêpres siciliennes (1855) and Don Carlos (1867), both commissioned by the Paris Opera and initially given in French. Today, these latter two operas are most often performed in Italian translation. Simon Boccanegra followed in 1857.
In 1869, Verdi was asked to compose a section for a requiem mass in memory of Gioachino Rossini and proposed that this requiem should be a collection of sections composed by other Italian contemporaries of Rossini. The requiem was compiled and completed, but it was cancelled at the last minute (and was not performed in Verdi's lifetime). Verdi blamed this on the lack of enthusiasm for the project by the intended conductor, Angelo Mariani, who had been a longtime friend of his. The episode led to a permanent break in their personal relations. The soprano Teresa Stolz (who later had a strong professional – and, perhaps, romantic – relationship with Verdi) was at that time engaged to be married to Mariani, but she left him not long after. Five years later, Verdi reworked his "Libera Me" section of the Rossini Requiem and made it a part of his Requiem Mass, honoring the famous novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who had died in 1873. The complete Requiem was first performed at the cathedral in Milan on 22 May 1874.
Verdi's grand opera, Aida, is sometimes thought to have been commissioned for the celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, but, according to one major critic, Verdi turned down the Khedive's invitation to write an "ode" for the new opera house he was planning to inaugurate as part of the canal opening festivities. The opera house actually opened with a production of Rigoletto. Later in 1869/70, the organizers again approached Verdi (this time with the idea of writing an opera), but he again turned them down. When they warned him that they would ask Charles Gounod instead and then threatened to engage Richard Wagner's services, Verdi began to show considerable interest, and agreements were signed in June 1870.
Teresa Stolz was associated with both Aida and the Requiem (as well as a number of other Verdi roles). The role of Aida was written for her, and although she did not appear in the world premiere in Cairo in 1871, she created Aida in the European premiere in Milan in February 1872. She was also the soprano soloist in the first and many later performances of the Requiem. It was widely believed that she and Verdi had an affair after she left Angelo Mariani, and a Florence newspaper criticised them for this in five strongly worded articles. Whether there is any truth to the accusation may never be known with any certainty. However, after Giuseppina Strepponi's death, Teresa Stolz became a close companion of Verdi until his own death.
Verdi and Wagner, who were the leaders of their respective schools of music, seemed to resent each other greatly. They never met. Verdi's comments on Wagner and his music are few and hardly benevolent ("He invariably chooses, unnecessarily, the untrodden path, attempting to fly where a rational person would walk with better results"), but at least one of them is kind: upon learning of Wagner's death, Verdi lamented, "Sad, sad, sad! ... a name that will leave a most powerful impression on the history of art." Of Wagner's comments on Verdi, only one is well-known. After listening to Verdi's Requiem, the German, prolific and eloquent in his comments on some other composers, stated, "It would be best not to say anything."
"Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro!"
Otello (1887), act 2. Performed by Titta Ruffo and Enrico Caruso.
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During the following years, Verdi worked on revising some of his earlier scores, most notably new versions of Don Carlos, La forza del destino, and Simon Boccanegra.
Otello, based on William Shakespeare's play, with a libretto written by the younger composer of Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito, premiered in Milan in 1887. Its music is "continuous" and cannot easily be divided into separate "numbers" to be performed in concert. Some feel that although masterfully orchestrated, it lacks the melodic lustre so characteristic of Verdi's earlier, great, operas,Empty citation ( help) while many critics consider it Verdi's greatest tragic opera, containing some of his most beautiful, expressive music and some of his richest characterizations. In addition, it lacks a prelude, something Verdi listeners are not accustomed to. Arturo Toscanini performed as cellist in the orchestra at the world premiere and began his association with Verdi (a composer he revered as highly as Beethoven).
Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, whose libretto was also by Boito, was based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, Part 1 via Victor Hugo's subsequent translation. It was an international success and is one of the supreme comic operas which shows Verdi's genius as a contrapuntist.
In 1894, Verdi composed a short ballet for a French production of Otello, his last purely orchestral composition. Years later, Arturo Toscanini recorded the music for RCA Victor with the NBC Symphony Orchestra which complements the 1947 Toscanini performance of the complete opera.
In 1897, Verdi completed his last composition, a setting of the traditional Latin text Stabat Mater. This was the last of four sacred works that Verdi composed, Quattro Pezzi Sacri, which can be performed together or separately. They were not conceived as a unit and, in fact, Verdi did not want the Ave Maria published as he considered it an exercise. The first performance of the four works was on 7 April 1898, at the Opéra, Paris. The four works are: Ave Maria for mixed chorus; Stabat Mater for mixed chorus and orchestra; Laudi alla Vergine Maria for female chorus; and Te Deum for double chorus and orchestra.
On 29 July 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated, a deed that horrified the aged composer.
While staying at the Grand Hotel et de Milan in Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke on 21 January 1901. He gradually grew more feeble and died nearly a week later, on 27 January. Arturo Toscanini conducted the vast forces of combined orchestras and choirs composed of musicians from throughout Italy at Verdi's funeral service in Milan. To date, it remains the largest public assembly of any event in the history of Italy.
Verdi was initially buried in Milan's Cimitero Monumentale. A month later, his body was moved to the "crypt" of the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, a rest home for retired musicians that Verdi had recently established. In October 1894, the French government awarded him the Grand-Croix de la Legion d'honneur. He was the first non-French musician to receive the Grand-Croix.
He was an agnostic. Toscanini, in a taped interview, described him as "an atheist", but "agnostic" is probably the most accurate description. His second wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, described him as "a man of little faith".
Role in the Risorgimento
Music historians have long perpetuated a myth about the famous " Va, pensiero" chorus sung in the third act of Nabucco. The myth claims that, when the "Va, pensiero" chorus was sung in Milan, then belonging to the large part of Italy under Austrian domination, the audience, responding with nationalistic fervor to the exiled slaves' lament for their lost homeland, demanded an encore of the piece. As encores were expressly forbidden by the government at the time, such a gesture would have been extremely significant. However, recent scholarship puts this to rest. Although the audience did indeed demand an encore, it was not for "Va, pensiero" but rather for the hymn Immenso Jehova, sung by the Hebrew slaves to thank God for saving His people. In light of these new revelations, Verdi's position as the musical figurehead of the Risorgimento has been correspondingly downplayed. Claudio, Verdi, Milan: Rusconi, 1982. It is interesting to note in this context that all but seven (his last operas) were created by Verdi whilst Milan, the capital of Lombardo Veneto, was an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. According to Roger Parker "Il vate del Risorgimento : Nabucco e il Va Pensiero"
On the other hand, during rehearsals, workmen in the theatre stopped what they were doing during "Va, pensiero" and applauded at the conclusion of this haunting melody while the growth of the "identification of Verdi's music with Italian nationalist politics" is judged to have begun in the summer 1846 in relation to a chorus from Ernani in which the name of one of its characters, "Carlo", was changed to "Pio", a reference to Pope Pius IX's grant of an amnesty to political prisoners.
After Italy was unified in 1861, many of Verdi's early operas were re-interpreted as Risorgimento works with hidden Revolutionary messages that probably had not been intended by either the composer or librettist. Beginning in Naples in 1859 and spreading throughout Italy, the slogan "Viva VERDI" was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia ( Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy), referring to Victor Emmanuel II, then king of Sardinia.
The "Chorus of the Hebrews" (the English title for "Va, pensiero") has another appearance in Verdi folklore. Prior to Verdi's body's being driven from the cemetery to the official memorial service and its final resting place at the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, Arturo Toscanini conducted a chorus of 820 singers in "Va, pensiero". At the Casa, the "Miserere" from Il trovatore was sung.
Verdi was elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1861 following a request of Prime Minister Cavour but in 1865 he resigned from the office. In 1874 he was named Senator of the Kingdom by King Victor Emmanuel II.
Verdi's predecessors who influenced his music were Rossini, Bellini, Giacomo Meyerbeer and, most notably, Gaetano Donizetti and Saverio Mercadante. With the exception of Otello and Aida, it is said that he was free of Wagner's influence. However, many seehis monumental work, Don Carlo, as a response to Wagner's typical epics that often spanned over four hours. Although respectful of Gounod, Verdi was careful not to learn anything from the Frenchman whom many of Verdi's contemporaries regarded as the greatest living composer. Some strains in Aida suggest at least a superficial familiarity with the works of the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka, whom Franz Liszt, after his tour of the Russian Empire as a pianist, popularized in Western Europe.
Throughout his career, Verdi rarely utilized the high C in his tenor arias, citing the fact that the opportunity to sing that particular note in front of an audience distracts the performer before and after the note appears. However, he did provide high Cs to Duprez in Jérusalem and to Tamberlick in the original version of La forza del destino. The high C, often-heard in the aria "Di quella pira" from Il trovatore, does not appear in Verdi's score.
Some critics maintain he paid insufficient attention to the technical aspect of composition, lacking as he did schooling and refinement. Verdi himself once said, "Of all composers, past and present, I am the least learned." He hastened to add, however, "I mean that in all seriousness, and by learning I do not mean knowledge of music."
However, it would be incorrect to assume that Verdi underestimated the expressive power of the orchestra or failed to use it to its full capacity where necessary. Moreover, orchestral and contrapuntal innovation is characteristic of his style: for instance, the strings producing a rapid ascending scale in Monterone's scene in Rigoletto accentuate the drama, and, in the same opera, the chorus humming six closely grouped notes backstage portrays, very effectively, the brief ominous wails of the approaching tempest. Verdi's innovations are so distinctive that other composers do not use them; they remain, to this day, some of Verdi's signatures.
Verdi was one of the first composers who insisted on patiently seeking out plots to suit his particular talents. Working closely with his librettists and well aware that dramatic expression was his forte, he made certain that the initial work upon which the libretto was based was stripped of all "unnecessary" detail and "superfluous" participants, and only characters brimming with passion and scenes rich in drama remained.
Many of his operas, especially the later ones from 1851 onwards, are a staple of the standard repertoire. With the possible exception of Giacomo Puccini, no composer of Italian opera has managed to match Verdi's popularity.
Verdi's operas, and their date of première are:
- Oberto, 17 November 1839
- Un giorno di regno, 5 September 1840
- Nabucco, 9 March 1842
- I Lombardi alla prima crociata, 11 February 1843
- Ernani, 9 March 1844
- I due Foscari, 3 November 1844
- Giovanna d'Arco, 15 February 1845
- Alzira, 12 August 1845
- Attila, 17 March 1846
- Macbeth, 14 March 1847
- I masnadieri, 22 July 1847
- Jérusalem (a revision and translation of I Lombardi alla prima crociata) 26 November 1847
- Il corsaro, 25 October 1848
- La battaglia di Legnano, 27 January 1849
- Luisa Miller, 8 December 1849
- Stiffelio, 16 November 1850
- Rigoletto, 11 March 1851
- Il trovatore, 19 January 1853
- La traviata, 6 March 1853
- Les vêpres siciliennes, 13 June 1855
- Simon Boccanegra, (Original Version), 12 March 1857
- Aroldo (A major revision of Stiffelio), 16 August 1857
- Un ballo in maschera, 17 February 1859
- La forza del destino, 10 November 1862
- Don Carlos, 11 March 1867
- Aida, 24 December 1871
- Simon Boccanegra, (Revised Version), 24 March 1881
- Otello, 5 February 1887
- Falstaff, 9 February 1893
Unlike most of the visual arts, opera was commercially profitable, accessible to most classes of society, and thus an effective means of reaching the 19th-century public. Verdi used musical theatre to contrast noble ideals with the corrosive effects of power, love of country with the inevitable call for sacrifice and death, and the lure of passion with the need for social order.