Giuseppe Verdi

Biography

Born: Oct 9, 1813; Italy   Died: Jan 27, 1901; Italy   Period: Romantic
Giuseppe Verdi was to opera in the Italian tradition what Beethoven was to the symphony. When he arrived on the scene some had suggested that effective opera after Rossini was not possible. Verdi, however, took the form to new heights of drama and musical expression. Partisans see him as at least the equal of Wagner, even though his style and musical persona were of an entirely different cast. In the end, both Verdi's popular vein -- as heard in Read more the operas Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata -- and his deeper side -- found in Aida, Otello, and Falstaff -- demonstrate his mastery and far-reaching development of Italian opera.

Verdi showed talent by the age of seven and even played organ at a local church. Around this time he was given an old piano, which he quickly learned to play with proficiency. He moved to Busseto in 1823 and began study the following year with Ferdinando Provesi. By age 15 he had become an assistant church organist and had already started composing. Beginning in 1832, he studied privately with Vincenzo Lavigna in Milan, after the Conservatory there turned him away.

He returned to Busseto and married Margherita Barezzi in 1836. Having achieved publication of some songs, he moved to Milan in 1839 and composed his first opera, Oberto. It was a success, though his next effort, Un giorno di regno, was an abject failure. Worse, Verdi's wife died during its composition. (Their two children had died in the previous two years.) Stunned and depressed, the composer struggled on to rebound with Nabucco (1842) and I lombardi (1843). Macbeth, Luisa Miller, and other operas came in the 1840s, most with great success.

Around 1847, Verdi developed a relationship with soprano Giuseppina Strepponi and the two lived together for many years on Verdi's farm, Sant'Agata, before finally marrying in 1859. In the period 1851-1853, the composer wrote three of his most popular operas. Rigoletto (1851) and Il trovatore (1853) were instant successes, but La traviata (1853) was a disappointment at its premiere, though a year later, with minor revisions, it was warmly received. After an extended excursion to Paris in 1853, Verdi returned to Busseto and turned out Simon Boccanegra (1857) and Un ballo in maschera (1859), both embroiling him in politics, an activity he was already immersed in, since he served in the local parliament and later in national parliament as senator. In St. Petersburg, Verdi's La forza del destino premiered in 1862 and Don Carlos in Paris in 1867.

Having relocated to Genoa, Verdi composed Aida in the years 1870-1871. Its Cairo premiere in 1871 was a success, but the composer then gave up opera, at least for a time. His String Quartet (1873) and Requiem (1874) showed his creative juices were still very much alive. His next opera, Otello, came finally in 1886, Verdi working slowly and getting sidetracked revising earlier operas. One more opera came from his pen, Falstaff, in 1893, which scored a stunning success. Critical opinion has it that his last three operas are his finest, that the elderly composer became bolder and more imaginative in his later years.

In these later years, Verdi also worked to found a hospital and, in Milan, a home for retired musicians. In 1897, Giuseppina Verdi died and the composer thereafter lived at the Grand Hotel in Milan, finding companionship with retired soprano Teresa Stolz. A year later, his Quatro pezzi sacri premiered in Paris. This would be the composer's last work. On January 21, 1901, Verdi suffered a stroke and died six days later. Read less

Verdi: Don Carlo / Kaufmann, Harteros, Pappano
Release Date: 06/03/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 300576   Number of Discs: 2
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Verdi: Don Carlo / Kaufmann, Hampson, Harteros, Pappano [Blu-ray]
Release Date: 06/03/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 300577   Number of Discs: 1
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Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco / Netrebko, Domingo, Meli
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002093002   Number of Discs: 2
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Verdi: Macbeth / Simonetti, Keenlyside, Sherratt, Moore, Llewellyn, Simonetti
Release Date: 04/29/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 3180   Number of Discs: 2
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Verdi & Wagner - The Odeonsplatz Concert / Thomas Hampson, Ronaldo Villazon, Yannick Nezet-seguin
Release Date: 07/29/2014   Label: C Major  
Catalog: 716708   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Requiem Mass

 

About This Work
That Verdi's Messa da Requiem should be infused with the dramatic power of the his operas is no surprise. The text of the requiem is the most dramatic Verdi ever set, allowing him to explore his new ability to compose large sections of music on a Read more "symphonic" scale with powerful passages for chorus and orchestra.

As much as Verdi lamented the death of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), he was more moved by the death of novelist Alessandro Manzoni in 1873. When Rossini died, Verdi felt that only Manzoni remained of Italy's great tradition. After Manzoni died, Verdi wrote to Contessa Maffei, "Now all is over! And with him ends...the greatest of our glories." When Verdi and Manzoni met in 1848, Verdi described the experience as one of being in the presence "of a saint." It was for Manzoni that Verdi composed his requiem.

From the very beginning, Verdi's Requiem was intended for the concert hall, not the church. This gave the composer some freedom when setting the text, although he remained much more faithful to the standard liturgy than did Berlioz in his setting. Verdi's Requiem was first performed on May 22, 1874, in Milan, on the first anniversary of Manzoni's death.

Verdi conveys the solemnity of the Requiem Mass through the opening cello line, a muted, descending phrase. The orchestra has the thematic material in the first part of the Introit, "Requiem aeternam," as the chorus sings the text in snatches. To balance this, the central part of the movement, "Te decet hymnus," is for unaccompanied chorus. After the return of the "Requiem aeternam" the Kyrie begins, introducing the soloists.

The "Dies irae," opening the Sequence, is the most famous part of Verdi's Requiem. Brass and bass drum make their first appearance in this tumultuous outburst depicting the "day of wrath." Distant trumpets sound and are joined by the rest of the brass before the "Tuba mirum." Quietly, the solo bass begins the "Mors stupebit" (Death is struck), accompanied by pizzicato basses and bass drum. After the solo mezzo-soprano delivers the "liber scriptus proferetur," the chorus bursts in with a reprise of the "Dies irae," an event dictated by musical considerations that has nothing to do with the requiem mass text. For the "Lacrimosa," Verdi extended and rewrote a duet for Don Carlos and King Philip he had cut from Don Carlos before its premiere. Like Cherubini, Verdi unites the Sanctus and Benedictus.

Verdi composed the concluding "Libera me," for soprano, chorus, and orchestra in 1868-1869 as his part of a collaborative requiem for Rossini, the remaining sections of which were to be set by other Italian composers. The project came to nothing, but Verdi kept his "Libera me" and eagerly seized the opportunity to use it as part of a complete requiem. After the solo soprano begins the movement, the chorus again intercedes with the "Dies irae," which is followed by a beautiful reprise of the "Requiem aeternam" and a closing, fugal setting of the "Libera me."

-- John Palmer
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