Giuseppe Verdi

Giusepe Verdi

Verdi was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him, becoming one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

His parents, Carlo Giuseppe Verdi and Luigia Uttini, had a small farm there, Vecchia Osteria. Since he was just a child child, Giuseppe took music lessons from the local organist, exercising at home with an untuned Spinetta (a kind of harpsichord). He continued doing this, until Antonio Barezzi, a musical lover merchant from Busseto, friend of the Verdi family, took him to his house and payed him music lessons of a higher level. In 1832, he is presented at the Milan Conservatory, but is rejected because he exceeded the age limit for a Conservatory student.

Meanwhile, Verdi begins to compose, being oriented towards opera music. In 1839, he makes his debut at Teatro alla Scala from Milano with his opera, „Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio”, achieving a little bit of success, but his performance is overshadowed in 1840 by the death of his wife, Margherita, and his two children. Saddened by this loss, Verdi resets and continues his composing activity with the opera „Un giorno di regno”, which is a total fiasco. Discouraged, he was already thinking to abandon music, but only two years later, in 1842, Giuseppe Verdi obtained a triumphant success at Teatro alla Scalla with his new opera, „Nabucco”, due in part to the magnificent interpretation of soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, who would accompany him until the end of his life. For Verdi then starts a period when he starts working “like a convict” as he called himself, to meet the demands of various opera houses in Italy. Between 1843 and 1850, Verdi composed in a steady pace 13 works, among them being: „I Lombardi alla prima crociata” (The Lombards), „Ernani”, „I due Foscari”, „Macbeth” and „Luisa Miller”. At this time, his relationship with Giuseppina Strepponi started to become official.

In 1848, he moved to Paris. His creative force became more fruitful, to such an extent that from 1851 until 1853, he composed one after another, three masterpieces, known as “The Popular Trilogy”, namely: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, to which, I Vespri Siciliani was added (Sicilian Vespers). The success of these works was indescribable. Adorned with the acquired fame, Verdi establishes with Giuseppina Strepponi at the “Sant’Agata” proprty of Busseto, where he will live most of his time. In 1857, the opera „Simon Boccanegra” was put in the scene, while in 1859, „Un ballo in maschera” is represented (“Masquerade”). In the same year, he married Giuseppina Strepponi.

Among the celebrating festivities at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Giuseppe Verdi composed the opera „Aida”. Verdi seems to have been commissioned for the inauguration of the Suez Canal but, if we are to believe a major critic of the time, Verdi refused the invitation of the viceroy of Egypt to write an “ode” to the new opera house that was to be opened as part of the ceremonies’s dedicated to the channel. The Opera was inaugurated with a performance of Rigoletto. Subsequently, by 1869-1870, the organizers again approached Verdi with an invitation (this time suggesting the idea of writing an opera), but he refused once more. After warnings that they will appeal to Charles Gounod and after threats that they will require the services of Richard Wagner, Verdi suddenly began to show considerable interest in this regard, signing a commitment in June 1870.

Not all of Verdi’s personal qualities were amiable. John Rosselli concluded after writing his biography that “I do not very much like the man Verdi, in particular the autocratic rentier-cum-estate owner, part-time composer, and seemingly full-time grumbler and reactionary critic of the later years”, yet admits that like other writers, he must “admire him, warts and all…a deep integrity runs beneath his life, and can be felt even when he is being unreasonable or wrong. Budden suggests that “With Verdi…the man and the artist on many ways developed side by side.” Ungainly and awkward in society in his early years,” as he became a man of property and underwent the civilizing influence of Giuseppina, he acquired assurance and authority.” He also learnt to keep himself to himself, never discussing his private life and maintaining when it suited his convenience legends about his supposed „peasant” origins, his materialism and his indifference to criticism. Mendelsohn describes the composer as “an intensely private man who deeply resented efforts to inquire into his personal affairs. He regarded journalists and would-be biographers, as well as his neighbors in Busseto and the operatic public at large, as an intrusive lot, against whose prying attentions he needed constantly to defend himself.”

Verdi was similarly never explicit about his religious beliefs. Anti-clerical by nature in his early years, he nonetheless built a chapel at Sant’Agata, but is rarely recorded as going to church. Strepponi wrote in 1871 “I won’t say Verdi is an atheist, but he is not much of a believer.” Rosselli comments that in the Requiem “The prospect of Hell appears to rule…the Requiem is troubled to the end,” and offers little consolation.

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