Italian opera composer of the Romantic period. He took his native operatic style to new heights of dramatic expression. In 1842 he wrote the opera Nabucco, followed by Ernani in 1844 and Rigoletto in 1851. Other works include Il trovatore/The Troubadour and La traviata/The Fallen Woman (both 1853), Aïda (1871), and the masterpieces of his old age, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). His Requiem (1874) honoured the poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni.
Verdi's music is essentially Italian in character, and owes nothing to Wagnerian influences. During the mid-1800s, Verdi became a symbol of Italy's fight for independence from Austria. He often found himself in conflict with the Austrian authorities, who felt that his operas encouraged Italian nationalism.
Verdi was born at Roncole, near Busseto, the son of an innkeeper and grocer. From the age of only three he was taught by the local organist, replacing him as organist at the age of nine. At 11 he was sent to Busseto and went to school there, walking home twice a week to carry out his duties as organist. Barezzi, a friend of Verdi's father at Busseto, took him into his house in 1826, and he learnt much from the cathedral organist Provesi. He had an overture from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia/The Barber of Seville performed in 1828, and the next year he wrote a symphony and stood in as deputy for Provesi. In 1831 he was sent to Milan with a scholarship and some financial help from Barezzi, but was rejected by the conservatory as over entrance age. Instead, he studied with Vincenzo Lavigna, the maestro al cembalo at La Scala. When Provesi died in 1833, Verdi tried for the post of cathedral organist, and when it was given to an inferior musician, the Philharmonic Society made him an allowance. In 1836 he married Barezzi's daughter, Margherita, with whom he had two children, but both mother and children died between 1837 and 1840. Meanwhile he had composed his first opera, Oberto, produced at La Scala in 1839.
A second (comic) opera, Un giorno di regno/King for a Day (1840), was a failure, his wife having died during its composition. Yet Nabucco, produced at La Scala in 1842, had a great success; the chorus of the Hebrew slaves was later to provide a rallying cry for the Italian people in their quest for freedom. In the cast of Nabucco was the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. She lived with Verdi from 1848 and in 1859 became his second wife. He now went from strength to strength as an operatic composer, and his fame spread beyond Milan: Ernani was produced at Venice in 1844, I due Foscari/The Two Foscaris in Rome in 1844, Alzira at Naples in 1845, and Macbeth at Florence in 1847. Meanwhile Ernani had gone to Paris in 1846 and London commissioned I masnadieri/The Robbers, which was produced there in 1847.
From 1848 most of Verdi's life was spent at his estate of Sant' Agata near Busseto. Luisa Miller (1849) and Stiffelio (1850) were the last of his ‘galley’ operas, in which vigorous drama and strongly expressed emotion are accompanied by some basic orchestration. Rigoletto, the first of his great masterpieces, was premiered at Venice in 1851; together with Il trovatore and La traviata in 1853, it showed how Verdi had become a supreme melody writer. At the same time he showed new refinement of characters and made huge improvements to the orchestra's music. The first version of Simon Boccanegra was performed in 1857 and two years later Un ballo in maschera was premiered in Rome – it was one of several operas that ran into trouble with the censors. Verdi's support for Italian independence from Austrian rule was sometimes detected in his work.
An opera on Shakespeare's King Lear, at which he worked occasionally, was never completed; otherwise all his plans were put into action once they had taken definite shape. France, Russia, and Egypt offered him special commissions and his fame spread all over the world. In 1862 he represented Italy at the International Exhibition in London, and wrote a Hymn of the Nations, and in the same year La forza del destino/The Force of Destiny was produced at St Petersburg. The potentially sensitive subject of Don Carlos, dealing with Spanish oppression of the Netherlands, was performed in Paris in 1867; it is Verdi's most sombre, powerful, and richly varied opera.
Aïda was performed at Cairo in 1871 and the Requiem followed three years later; it was described by the conductor Hans von Bülow as an opera in ecclesiastical garb, and is melodically the most inspired of all Verdi's works. In 1868 he had suggested a Requiem for Rossini, to be written by various Italian composers, but the plan came to nothing. He used his contribution in 1873 for a Requiem commemorating the writer Manzoni. Otello was produced at La Scala in 1887, and marked Verdi's greatest public success. After a six-year break from composition, Falstaff was given at the same theatre in 1893, when Verdi was in his 80th year. Giuseppina died in 1897 and Verdi was himself growing very weak, but still wrote some sacred pieces for chorus and orchestra in 1895–97.
Verdi is the artistic successor of Donizetti and Bellini, but shows a far greater wealth of passionate feeling, musicianly craftsmanship, and power of enlightening pathos or tragedy by a simple and suggestive spirituality. His musical development was as varied as that of Beethoven; his lyricism was always constant, but his last works show also a rare spirituality, a refinement and religious consciousness, which place him among the foremost composers in the field of sacred, as well as of operatic, music.
WorksOperaOberto, Conte di San Bonifacio (1839), Un giorno di regno/King for a Day (1840), Nabucco (1842), I Lombardi/The Lombards (1843), Ernani (1844), I due Foscari/The Two Foscaris (1844), Giovanna d'Arco/Joan of Arc (1845), Alzira (1845), Attila (1845–46), Macbeth (1847), I masnadieri (1846–47), Jérusalem (French revised version of I Lombardi, 1847), Il corsaro (1848), La battaglia di Legnano (1849), Luisa Miller (1849), Stiffelio (1850), Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore/The Troubadour (1853), La traviata/The Fallen Woman (1853), Les Vêpres siciliennes/The Sicilian Vespers (1855), Simon Boccanegra (1857, revised 1881), Aroldo (revision of Stiffelio, 1857), Un ballo in maschera/A Masked Ball (1859), La forza del destino/The Force of Destiny (1862), Don Carlos (1867, revised 1884), Aïda (1871), Otello (1887), Falstaff (1893).
Choral the RequiemInno delle nazioni (1874), Pater noster, Ave Maria, Stabat Mater, Lauda alla Vergine Maria, Te Deum (1896); Ave Maria for soprano and strings.
Other 16 songs; one part song; string quartet (1871).
Verdi, Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco
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