10th October 1813 --- 27th January 1901

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (born 1813, Le Roncole, near Busseto, duchy of Parma [Italy]--died 1901, Milan, Italy), leading Italian composer of opera in the 19th century, noted for such works as Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), La forza del destino (1862), Don Carlo (1867), Aida (1871), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893).

Verdi's father, Carlo Giuseppe Verdi, keeper of a tavern and grocery, was illiterate and too poor to give his son a thorough education, but the boy showed his musical gift at an early age and attracted the attention of Antonio Barezzi, a merchant and an amateur of music in Busseto, who encouraged and helped him in his education. Besides copying parts and deputizing for the organist, Verdi began to compose pieces for the local philharmonic society and the church. At the age of 18, he was sent to Milan, at Barezzi's expense, to enter the conservatory but was rejected as being over the age limit for entry. He remained in Milan for three years, however, studying with Vincenzo Lavigna, a musician on the staff of La Scala (Teatro alla Scala). In 1834 he returned to Busseto to claim, with Barezzi's support, the vacant office of musical director. The clerical party, however, secured the post for a candidate of their own, and a factional dispute followed. This experience fostered Verdi's anticlericalism and his dislike of Busseto. He was, nonetheless, appointed musical director to the commune and played an active part in the life of the town. In 1836 he married Margherita Barezzi, his patron's daughter.

An opportunity of composing an opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, took Verdi back to Milan in 1836. The project fell through, but three years later the opera was produced at La Scala and was sufficiently successful to secure him a commission to compose three more operas for the Milanese theatre. The first of these, Un giorno di Stevenno (King for a Day, first performed 1840), an opera buffa (comic opera), was received so badly that it was withdrawn after one performance. Verdi, who had recently lost his wife and a year previously his infant son (another child had died before he left Busseto), was overcome with despair and vowed he would never write another opera. The director of La Scala released him from his contract but, when he thought the wound had healed, pressed on the young composer a libretto based on the story of Nebuchadrezzar II. Verdi read it reluctantly until, coming on the words of a chorus of Jews in captivity, he was suddenly released from his inhibitions. The production of Nabucco in 1842 established his reputation in Italy.

Among the singers in Nabucco was Giuseppina Strepponi, who had been instrumental in securing the acceptance of Oberto by the La Scala management. She was to become, after a scandal-ridden interlude, Verdi's second wife. Giuseppina had had a successful career as an interpreter of Donizetti's heroines and had been the mistress of Napoleone Moriani, a tenor with whom she sang. By him she had three sons, one of whom survived apparently until 1853. All this gives point to her later reluctance to marry Verdi and to the truthfulness of his portrait of Violetta, the "fallen woman" with the heart of gold, in La traviata (The Fallen Woman) Strepponi certainly had such a heart.

Verdi had been born in a divided Italy. At birth a French citizen (he had in fact been christened Joseph-Fortunin-François by a French clerk in territory held by Napoleon), he was now a foreigner with a passport in Austrian-dominated Milan. The chorus in Nabucco may have sparked the patriotism that was to make him the spokesman of Italian aspirations and that led to conflicts with the Austrian censorship. The Italian public certainly read into the prayer of the Jews for deliverance from captivity their own hopes of freedom from the Austrian Empire. The succeeding operas--I Lombardi (The Lombards, 1843), a tale of the Crusades; Ernani (1844), based on Victor Hugo's drama, I due Foscari (The Two Foscaris, 1844), and Giovanna d'Arco (Joan of Arc, 1845) all provided opportunities for the expression of patriotic sentiments, in spite of the censor, under the guise of dramatic propriety. Until the Italian patriots succeeded in establishing an independent Italy united under Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, Verdi--whose very name was taken to spell out Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia--remained the unofficial musician laureate of the popular cause, to the detriment for a time of his artistic development.

In Macbeth (1847) Verdi took a definite step forward. Just as the biblical theme had contributed to the grandeur of Nabucco, so the tragic theme of Shakespeare's drama called forth the best that was in him. Much that is trite and crude as well as forceful remains in Macbeth, but there are also intimations of the genius that was to produce Don Carlos, Aida, and Otello.

Verdi's popularity in Italy attracted attention abroad. In 1846 he went to Paris for a production of Ernani and in the following year to London, where I masnadieri (The Robbers), based on Schiller's Die Räuber, was performed for the first time. He returned to Paris, where he renewed his friendship with Giuseppina Strepponi, who had retired from the stage to teach singing. An intimate relationship developed, but, though there was no impediment to their marriage, neither was willing to go through the formality. Strepponi, a devout Catholic, seems to have felt herself unworthy to be Verdi's wife. Verdi aggravated the scandal and brought on himself the rebuke of his first wife's father by installing his mistress at Sant'Agata, a property near Busseto that Verdi, now a man of some wealth, had purchased. Sant'Agata became his home for the rest of his life.

Verdi seems to have been unconscious of the social enormity of his conduct. He responded to local censure by refusing to have anything to do with Busseto and its musical activities, having first scrupulously repaid with interest the contribution made by the commune to his musical education. In 1859, seven years after his arrival at Sant'Agata, he and Strepponi stole off to an obscure village in Savoy and legalized their union in the eyes of church and state.

In the meantime he had composed the three operas that have done most to familiarize his name, Rigoletto, Il trovatore (The Troubadour), and La traviata. In Rigoletto he made an important advance toward a coherent presentation of the drama in music. There is less distinction between the recitatives (part of the score that carries forward the story in imitation of speech), which tend toward arioso (melodic, lyric quality), and the arias, which have lost their rigid formality and are skillfully dovetailed into what precedes and follows them, and the musical interest is concentrated mainly in a series of duets. These culminate in the famous quartet, in effect a double duet for Gilda and Rigoletto on one side of a wall and the Duke and Maddalena on the other. Il trovatore,, with its violent heroic action, evoked a different kind of music, powerful and less subtle in its outpouring of impassioned melody. Even greater is the contrast of style in La traviata, with its intimate mood and lyrical pathos--a vein that Verdi had previously exploited in Luisa Miller (1849), which was based on Schiller's Kabale und Liebe.

These three great successes of Verdi's middle years were not achieved without tribulation. The composer was now strongly suspect to the censors, and the plot of Le roi s'amuse, Hugo's poetic drama from which Rigoletto was derived, contained the attempted murder of a king, which was politically taboo, and a curse, which was blasphemous. Only after the king's reduction in rank to a duke and various other modifications was the text approved. Traviata was a different matter. With La dame aux camélias ( The Lady of the Camellias) Alexandre Dumas had just caused a considerable scandal in Paris, and Verdi's operatic version, though at first performed in 17th-century costumes, too obviously broke away from the type of remote subject considered proper for opera. For this reason and also because a particularly stout prima donna was cast as the consumptive heroine, the first performance in Venice was a fiasco. "Is it my fault or the singers'? Time will show," was Verdi's characteristically laconic comment.

Verdi was now an international celebrity, and the change in his status was reflected in his art. From 1855 to 1870 he was mainly occupied in producing works for the Opéra at Paris and other theatres conforming to the Parisian operatic standard, which demanded spectacular dramas in five acts with a ballet. Verdi, always a conscientious craftsman willing to provide what his patrons demanded, set himself to compose "grand" operas on the Meyerbeerian scale, though he groaned under the Opéra's lavish demands. His first essay in the new manner, Les Vêpres siciliennes (The Sicilian Vespers, 1855), represents a sad falling off from the quality of Rigoletto and La traviata. The fault lay partly in the libretto by Eugène Scribe, who refashioned an old piece he had written for Donizetti.

Two operas for Italian theatres, Simon Boccanegra (Venice, 1857) and Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball, Rome, 1859), affected in a lesser degree by the impact of the grand operatic style, show the enrichment of Verdi's power as an interpreter of human character and a new mastery of orchestral colour. Boccanegra, despite a gloomy and excessively complex plot, holds the attention by the subtle presentation of character and not, as in most of the early operas, simply by means of melodious music and sensational dramatic strokes (coups de théâtre). Un ballo in maschera, a romantic version of the assassination of Gustav III of Sweden, was potentially a better drama, but again the censorship barred the murder of a king and so made nonsense of the story, which was transported from 18th-century Stockholm to Puritan Boston, a hundred years earlier. This was Verdi's last encounter with a foreign censorship. In 1860, Italy, apart from the papal states, was united as a kingdom. Count Cavour, the political architect of the new state, was anxious to obtain the services in Parliament of distinguished Italians outside the world of politics. Verdi reluctantly agreed to stand for election to the chamber of deputies, which he dutifully attended in Turin, but he took no active part in politics, and after Cavour's death in 1861 he resigned his seat.

In 1862 Verdi represented Italian musicians at the London Exhibition for which he composed a cantata to words by the poet and composer Arrigo Boito. In the same year his next grand opera, La Forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), was produced at St. Petersburg. This was followed in 1867 by Don Carlos (based on Schiller's tragedy) at the Paris Opéra. Again there is evident an advance in subtlety of characterization and in the orchestration. These qualities were brought to the highest pitch in Aida, which was commissioned by the khedive of Egypt to celebrate the opening of Cairo's new Opera House in 1869. (Verdi had earlier rejected a commission for an inaugural hymn celebrating the opening of the Suez Canal.) Aida was finally produced in Cairo in 1871. For this masterpiece, as for Macbeth, Verdi wrote a detailed scenario, Antonio Ghislanzoni was commissioned to turn it into verse, the form of which was often dictated by the composer. <[>When Rossini died in 1867, Verdi proposed that a requiem mass in his honour be composed by himself and a dozen of his contemporaries for performance at Bologna, Rossini's spiritual home. The project, however, hardly got beyond the committee state, and Angelo Mariani, who was to have conducted the performance, seemed to Verdi less than wholehearted in his support. Verdi, who could not bear being thwarted, visited his wrath on the unfortunate Mariani, the most distinguished Italian conductor of the day and hitherto one of Verdi's closest friends, who further annoyed Verdi by arranging and directing a commemoration of Rossini at Pesaro, his birthplace. The quarrel reflects little credit on Verdi. He could never forgive an injury real or imagined, as attested to by his lifelong hatred of La Scala and its audience, which had rejected Un giorno di Stevenno. The breach with Mariani was widened when the conductor refused to go to Cairo to direct the first performance of Aida. He pleaded illness and was indeed suffering from cancer, of which he died in 1873. Fuel was added to the fire by a scurrilous libel in a Florentine paper that accused Verdi of stealing Mariani's mistress, Teresa Stolz, the soprano who was to be the outstanding Aida in the Italian performances of the opera. There is not a vestige of evidence to support this story, though some years later, after Mariani's death, Verdi does seem to have developed a warmer attachment to the singer, causing his wife some distress. But if infatuation there was, it passed, and the happy relationship between Verdi and his wife was reestablished.

In 1873, while awaiting the production of Aida in Naples, Verdi wrote a string quartet, the only instrumental composition of his maturity. In the same year, he was moved by the death of Alessandro Manzoni, the Italian patriot and poet, to compose a requiem mass in his honour, into which he incorporated the final movement he had written for the abortive Rossini mass.

By the early 1870s Verdi had reached the summit of his career, and, apart from supervising Italian productions of his operas earlier produced abroad, he retired to his estate near Busseto, the cultivation of which he superintended with no less care than he applied to operatic rehearsals. But Tito Ricordi, his publisher, was reluctant to allow his most profitable composer to rest on his laurels. He contrived a reconciliation with Arrigo Boito, who had offended Verdi by some youthful criticism years before. A proposal that Boito should write a libretto based on Shakespeare's Othello attracted Verdi, but the poet was first asked to revise the unsatisfactory libretto of Simon Boccanegra, which he greatly improved. The Othello project then took shape, and the opera was presented at La Scala in 1887. In his 74th year, Verdi, stimulated by a libretto incomparably superior to anything he had previously set, had produced his tragic masterpiece. In Otello the drama is completely absorbed into a continuous and flexible musical score that reflects every aspect of the characters and every movement of the action.

After an enormously successful tour with Otello throughout Europe, Verdi once more retired to Sant'Agata, declaring that he had produced his last work. But one more Shakespearean opera was to come. Boito, with infinite skill, converted The Merry Wives of Windsor, strengthened with passages adapted from the Henry IV plays, into the perfect comic libretto, Falstaff, which Verdi set to miraculously mercurial music. This, his last dramatic work, produced at La Scala in 1893, avenged the cruel failure of Verdi's only other comedy in the same theatre 55 years before. After Falstaff Verdi turned to choral composition, producing experimental settings of Ave Maria and of Laudi alla Vergine Maria, the words from Dante's Paradiso. These, together with the more substantial Stabat Mater and Te Deum, were published in 1898 under the title Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces). He wrote nothing more. In 1897 his wife's death had broken their long partnership, and Verdi himself grew gradually weaker in health, dying less than four years later.

From the first there appeared in Verdi's music a forceful character and a gift for impassioned melody that at once proclaimed to the public the arrival of a new master. Thereafter he gradually developed into an artist of the first rank and ended in transforming opera into true music drama (dramma per musica), as his contemporary Richard Wagner was doing in Germany. Verdi's development was independent of Wagner's; he was, he said, not a learned composer, only a very experienced one. That experience, entirely practical, was gained in the theatre. (D.Hus.)

MAJOR WORKS. Operas. 27 (not including revisions), among them Nabucodonosor (usually called Nabucco; first performed, 1842), I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards on the First Crusade, 1843), Ernani (1844), Macbeth (1847), Luisa Miller (1849), Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (The Fallen Woman, 1853), Les Vêpres siciliennes (usually called I Vespri siciliani; The Sicilian Vespers, 1855), Simon Boccanegra (1857, extensively revised 1881), Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball, 1859), La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny, 1862), Don Carlos (1867), Aida (1871), Otello (1887), Falstaff (1893). Choral works. Inno delli nazioni (Hymn of the Nations, 1862); Messa da requiem (1874); Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces): Ave Maria (1889), Te Deum (1896), Stabat Mater (1897), Laudi alla Vergine Maria (1898). Chamber music. String Quartet in E Minor (1873).

Copyright 1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica

Last Updated on 25th May 2007
By Steven

And now for the Music

I like to thank B.S. Lengton for the following wonderful music.

"From the opera Don Carlo--------- the preludio (= the overture)", a lovely piece, sequenced by B.S.Lengton.

"from the opera Don Carlo--------- the preludio of the 3rd act (= an entr'acte), sequenced by B.S.Lengton.

(2937)"La Donna è Mobile (tenor & orchestra)", a lovely piece, sequenced by B.S.Lengton.

(1674)"La Traviata Selection" Sequence by Reginald Steven Ritchie

(1603)"La Traviata No.1 Preludio" Sequence by Kevin T. Perez

(1604)"La Traviata No.2 Introduzione" Sequence by Kevin T. Perez

(1605)"La Traviata No.3 Brindisi" Sequence by Kevin T. Perez

(1607)"Verdi's Requiem: 2. Dies irae (Part 1)" Sequencer Unknown

(1618) "Maschera? Sequencer Unknown

(1608)From the Opera "Rigoletto" Sequence by Paulo Norberg

(1617)" Overture to I Vespri Siciliani" Sequencer Unknown

(1609)"Lux aeterna from Requiem" Sequence by Krzyszto Maslanka

(1610)"Messa Da Requiem No.1" Sequence by John Groves

(1611)From "La Traviata" Sequence by M.Knezevic

(775) A nice version of Aida kindly donated by Tracey Dierikx (This a large file so I have ziped it up "click here"for pkzip) Sequenced by ?

(357) The Force of Destiny(This a large file so I have ziped it up "click here"for pkzip) Seq by Andrew Silverman

(358) The one and only Anvil Chrous Sequence by Bob

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