Musical selection of works by Giuseppe Verdi for his 210th birth anniversary
Giuseppe Verdi was a great Italian composer, author of 26 operas, a requiem, a string quartet and several church pieces. "Aida", "La Traviata", "Otello", "Falstaff" and "Rigoletto" are considered the pinnacle of his work. "I like in art everything that is beautiful", - said the composer. His own music became a model of beautiful, sincere and inspired art.
Giuseppe Verdi was born in the small town of Le Roncole (now Roncole Verdi) in the province of Parma, then part of the Napoleonic Empire, on October 10, 1813. His parents owned a small restaurant. His father did all he could to give the son a decent education. Already at the age of four, the boy began to study Latin and literary Tuscan dialect under the guidance of a village teacher, moonlighting in the church as organist. When he noticed the child's musical talent, he began to teach him playing the piano and organ free of charge. Giuseppe got his first musical instrument - a spinet, which resembled a harpsichord, as a present from his parents. By the age of ten, the boy could already replace his tutor at the organ. At the same time, he began attending music classes in the neighbouring town of Busseto. The young Verdi continued to improve his skills and soon attracted the attention of a local merchant and patron of arts, Antonio Barezzi, who became Giuseppe's patron and helped the boy financially. Verdi began taking lessons from church Kapellmeister Ferdinando Provesi, learning the principles of musical composition. When Giuseppe turned 18, he received a scholarship from a local charitable organisation, enabling him to go to Milan to study.
However, the Milan Conservatoire (now named after Giuseppe Verdi) did not accept him. Most likely the reason for the rejection was his age (Verdi was older than the other first-year students) and the fact that he was considered a foreigner in Milan. However, Giuseppe was not going to give up. He took private lessons from Vincenzo Lavigna, the maestro of musical mastery, who was renowned as an excellent teacher and headed the orchestra at the La Scala theatre. It was from him that Verdi later received his first commission to compose an opera. After completing his studies in Milan, the aspiring musician returned to Busseto. There he gave his first performance, which marked the beginning of the talented composer's creative biography. The concert was a great success.
Verdi soon began giving music lessons to his patron's daughter Marguerite. And in 1836, they were married. Later they had two children, but soon his wife and children died, after which Verdi literally fell into despair. The opera "King for an Hour” was written during this rough period for Verdi. The production did not resonate with the public and failed. Giuseppe was so disappointed that he announced his decision not to write any more music. Nevertheless, 18 months later he completed his second opera, “Nabucco”, short for Nabucodonosor. It was performed at La Scala in March 1842 and was a resounding success. The production was performed 57 times in just four months and was subsequently performed in Vienna, Barcelona, Paris and New York.
The 1840-50s were the most productive years of his career — Verdi wrote 20 of his 26 operas during this period. As early as 1843, Italian audiences were able to enjoy a production of “I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata”. The opera was later presented in Paris, but for this Verdi had to make changes to the original version. First of all, he replaced the Italian characters with French ones, in addition — he changed the title to "Jerusalem".
From 1847, Josepha (Giuseppina) Strepponi, the singer that sang the role of Abigaille at the premiere of “Nabucco”, became the composer's de facto wife. The couple did not want to be the subject of controversy, so they opted for a secluded life at Villa Sant' Agata in their own estate near Busetto, farming and horse breeding. The composer himself worked on the design of the house, choosing not to use the services of architects.
The first operas by Verdi appeared at a time of revolutionary upsurge in Italy, which was called the Risorgimento (Italian for “renaissance”). The struggle for the Italy unification and independence embraced the entire nation. Verdi couldn't stay out of it. The "Maestro of the Italian Revolution" — that is how contemporaries called Verdi, whose work became enormously popular. At a mature age, Giuseppe Verdi called the fruitful 1840s "the years in the galleys". It was worth the effort — in 1847, at the premiere of his opera “Macbeth”, based on the tragedy by Shakespeare, Verdi took the curtain 38 times. The same year the opera “The Robbers”, based on the drama by Schiller, was staged in London, where the premiere was attended by Queen Victoria. From about 1849 Verdi stopped writing operas on historical subjects. In March 1851, the opera “Rigoletto”, about a hunchbacked jester who was trying to take revenge for his daughter's dishonour, was premiered with great success. The opera was based on the play by Victor Hugo ”The King is Amused”. Giuseppe Verdi then used the tragic ending and the socially rejected protagonist in “The Troubadour” and in his “Traviata”, based on “The Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas fils. With the premiere of this opera in 1953, the most productive period in the composer's work came to an end.
Giuseppe Verdi was once commissioned by the Egyptian government to write an opera for the Cairo Opera House. “Aida” premiered on December 24, 1871 to coincide with the opening of the Suez Canal. Verdi took a mere four-page outline of the plot written by the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette as the historical background and developed it into the libretto of a four-act opera.
Verdi expressed his love for Italy in his “Requiem”, composed to commemorate the memory of the Italian Romantic writer Alessandro Manzoni, who died in May 1873. Verdi had great respect for him; the idea for the Requiem itself had appeared to the composer a few years earlier in association with the death of Gioachino Rossini.
In 1883, Giuseppe Verdi turned 70, but the great composer had yet to create two operas that many critics considered his best works. Verdi created the operas “Otello” (1887) and “Falstaff” (1893), based on the plays by Shakespeare, together with his friend, the talented composer and librettist Arrigo Boito. Both were staged at La Scala and were a howling success. "A frenzied crowd tried to shoulder Verdi's carriage and carry it from La Scala to the Grand Hotel," Boito recalled.
Verdi worked on his operas with great dedication. A good many parts he wrote for particular performers — baritones were the main male roles. The composer required the soloists to play and sing in such a way as to convey to the audience the vivid emotions of their characters. Critics repeatedly reproached Verdi for excessive emotionality, pointing to the simplicity of the orchestration and the language of the libretto, but the audience loved this approach. Some critics argued that Verdi did not pay enough attention to the technical aspect of the score since he lacked skills and sophistication.
The secret to popularity of music composed by Verdi is that it his music is timeless and speaks the language of human feeling, understandable to all who hear, regardless of nationality, religion or culture.
In January 1901 Verdi arrived in Milan and stayed in a hotel. On January 21, he suffered a stroke. On 27 January, the composer died. He was buried in the Milan cemetery and national mourning was declared throughout Italy. Later, in accordance with the last will of the composer, his bones were transferred to the chapel of the Milanese retirement home for musicians, to which Verdi had bequeathed most of his funds. More than three hundred thousand people gathered for the solemn reburial organised by the state to see the great musician off on his last journey.