Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (Italian: ; 9 or 10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer primarily known for his operas. He is considered, together with Richard Wagner, the preeminent opera composer of the nineteenth century.
Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture, as "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, the "Coro di zingari" (Anvil Chorus) from Il trovatore and the "Grand March" from Aida.
Moved by the death of compatriot Alessandro Manzoni, Verdi wrote Messa da Requiem in 1874 in Manzoni's honour, a work now regarded as a masterpiece of the oratorio tradition and a testimony to his capacity outside the field of opera. Visionary and politically engaged, he remains – alongside Garibaldi and Cavour – an emblematic figure of the reunification process of the Italian peninsula (the Risorgimento).
Verdi was born the son of Carlo Giuseppe Verdi (1785–1867) and Luigia Uttini (1787–1851) in Le Roncole, a village near Busseto, then in the Département Taro, then a part of the First French Empire after the annexation of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza.
The baptismal register, prepared on 11 October, lists his parents Carlo and Luigia as "innkeeper" and "spinner" respectively. Additionally, it lists Verdi as being "born yesterday", but since days were often considered to begin at sunset, this could have meant either 9 or 10 October. Today, his birthday is celebrated on 10 October, as certainly was the case of the bi-centennial in 2013. The next day, he was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin as Joseph Fortuninus Franciscus. The day after that (Tuesday), Verdi's father took his newborn the three miles to Busseto, where the baby was recorded as Joseph Fortunin François, the clerk writing in French. As biographer George Martin notes, so it happened, that for the civil and temporal world, Verdi was born a Frenchman."
When Verdi was almost three, his parents had a baby girl, Giuseppa. However she died in 1833. From the age of four, Verdi was given private lessons in Latin and Italian by the village schoolmaster, Baistrocchi, and at 6 he attended the local school. At the same time, it appears that he began to learn to play the organ, becoming more and more attracted to music that his parents finally provided him with a spinet. As one of the composer's significant biographers, Mary Jane Phillips-Matz notes, "Verdi's gift for music was apparent by then, even by 1820 or 1821. This period also began his association with the local church, serving in the choir, being an altar boy for a while, and taken organ lessons. After schoolmaster Baistrocchi's death, Verdi became the official paid organist at the age of eight.
In regard to Verdi's family background, musicologist Roger Parker points out that both of Verdi's parents "belonged to families of small landowners and traders, certainly not the illiterate peasants from which Verdi later liked to present himself as having emerged". Also, during this time, "Carlo Verdi was energetic in furthering his son's education...something which Verdi tended to hide in later life" and, later, Parker states that, during these early years in Busseto, "the picture emerges of youthful precocity eagerly nurtured by an ambitious father and of a sustained, sophisticated and elaborate formal education the impression of a largely self-taught and obscure youth."
In 1823, when he was 10, Verdi's parents arranged for the boy to attend school in Busseto, enrolling him in a Ginnasio, an upper school for boys run by Don Pietro Seletti. He was looked after by Pietro Michiara and his musical family while the parents remained in charge of the inn at Le Roncole. However, Verdi returned regularly to play the organ on Sundays, walking the several kilometres. In Busseto, the future composer's education was greatly facilitated by visits to the large town library with its 10,000 volumes. At age 11 he began to be trained in Italian, Latin, the humanities and in rhetoric. By the time he was 12, Verdi began lessons with Ferdinando Provesi, maestro di cappella at San Bartolomeo, director of the municipal music school and co-director of the local Società Filarmonica (Philharmonic Society). It was with Provesi that Verdi was given his first lessons in composition and, beginning a year or two later, he was to write that:
The other director of the Philharmonic Society was Antonio Barezzi (it), a 29-year-old wholesale grocer and distiller, who was described by a contemporary as a "manic dilettante" when it came to music , as Phillips-Matz notes, "had mastered several instruments, among them the flute, clarinet, and ophicleide". A regular member of the Philharmonic orchestra, Barezzi invited members to the spacious salon of his townhouse where they held rehearsals and performances. During those years, the Busseto Philharmonic was composed of 38 musicians, a considerable number of whom had been playing for over 15 years. They could also draw upon four tenors, two basses, a soprano or two, plus a full chorus.
The young Verdi did not immediately become involved with the Philharmonic, so arduous were his other duties and the broad range of his studies. This resulted in some conflicts with his two principal teachers—Provesi for music and the priest Seletti at the Ginassio where he focused on academic studies, but by June 1827, he had completed the academic work, graduating with honours. After that time, he was able to focus solely on music under Provesi until June 1829. Fortuitously, when Verdi was 13, he was asked to step in as a replacement to play in what became his first public event in the town; he was an immediate success largely playing his own music to the surprise of many and it gave him immediate recognition in his home town.
By 1829/30, Verdi had established himself as a major force in the Philharmonic: "no one of us could rival him" reported the Secretary of the organisation, Giuseppe Demaldė who was Barezzi's first cousin. His account of those times, Ceni biografici del Maestro Verdi appears in Phillips-Matz's biography. Additionally, these years saw Verdi develop a lifelong interest in the writings of William Shakespeare (several of whose works he made into operas from 1847 forward); of Alessandro Manzoni whose I promesi sposi—a major work of Italian fiction—had a significant impact on the 16-year-old Verdi when he read it; and, thirdly, of the dramatist Vittorio Alfieri.
It was Alfieri's drama, Saul, which Verdi used as the basis of an eight-movement cantata called I deliri di Saul written at age 15 and performed in Bergamo to great acclaim, Demaldè noting: "The composition is a real jewel, a precious stone.." and Barezzi stating that it was "the first work of some significance...in which he shows a vivid imagination, a philosophical outlook, and sound judgment in the arrangement of instrumental parts".
In late 1829, it become clear that Verdi needed to expand his musical horizons with either employment in some aspect of music or in further study. He had completed his studies with Provesi, who declared that he had no more to teach him, he was turned down for a local church organist's post, and he was planning to return to Le Roncole. It was at that point that Barezzi intervened, declaring "You are born for something better than that".
The young man's increasingly close connection to the Barezzi family household had one other consequence. Born a few months before Verdi, the Barezzi's eldest daughter, Margherita, was becoming an accomplished singer and her father was beginning to look for opportunities for her to study in Milan. Verdi had been giving singing and piano lessons to Margherita and they spent time together playing and talking about music. But by 1830, Margherita's mother discovered that the young couple were in love. That further determined Antonio to have his daughter move away.
At the same time, Carlo Verdi, whose family business was in deep trouble, was exploring possibilities for his son to study music, and he made an application for funding to the Monte di Pietà e d'Abbondanza in Busseto, backed by strong references from Provesi and others. Verdi was invited to stay in the Barezzi household and settled in, continuing to help the Philharmonic with copying scores and all manner of related chores while all awaited news of the Pietà scholarship.
Verdi set his sights on Milan, then the cultural capital of northern Italy but, when the successful outcome of his application to the Monte di Pietà e d'Abbondanza was announced, he learned that he would have to wait until 1833 until funds were available. Fortunately, Barezzi recognized and wished to encourage the young man's talent and he guaranteed initial financial support for a year. Verdi, 18, set out for Milan in June 1832 accompanied by his father and Provesi.
In Milan, where he stayed at the home of his former teacher, Seletti, he applied to study at the Conservatory, but after waiting for several days, he was rejected on several grounds. The Conservatory's reasoning was based on his limited piano technique (considered to be crucial by one teacher), his not being a resident of the Lombardy/Venetia region, and that he was older than the normal age to begin study there. Seletti wrote to Barezzi with the news and urging him to come to Milan, but Barezzi made arrangements for the young man to become a private pupil of Vincenzo Lavigna, paid for by him. Lavigna had been maestro concertatore at La Scala and he gave lessons in counterpoint along with a broader range of musical studies, with Verdi's classes beginning in July and his teacher describing his compositions as "very promising." Verdi began attending operatic performances and concerts.
A year passed before the young man returned briefly to Busetto. News came of Provesi's death and Verdi's attitude towards his studies seemed to change as he enjoyed city life. He frequently attended La Scala and, for example during the 1834-35 season, he would have been able to see Giuditta Pasta as Norma and Maria Malibran in Rossini's Otello and La sonnambula among others, as well as works by Luigi Ricci, Gaetano Donizetti, and Saverio Mercadante. Also, it was during this period that he attended the Salotto Maffei, Countess Clara Maffei's salons in Milan. Verdi became a lifelong friend and correspondent.
During his student days in Milan, Verdi had begun the process of making connections to the world of music which were to stand him in good stead. As the composer told it—48 years later—in his 1879 An Autobiographical Sketch written at Sant'Agata, these connections included an introduction by Lavigna to an amateur choral group, the Società Filarmonica, led by Pietro Massini, a man whom he described as:
Returning briefly to Milan from Busseto in 1836, he conducted Rossini's La cenerentola but many steps needed to be taken before Oberto became a reality on the opera stage. In his 1879 "Sketch", Verdi supplied the anecdotes of how his first opera came about, but before that could begin to happen, he returned to Busseto for two-and-a-half years.
Carlo Verdi came to Milan to take the young man back home in mid-1834 stating that he needed to be in Busseto when the decision about who would succeed Provesi would be made. However, with rival factions in the town campaigning against him, Verdi did not get the post, although later—with Barezzi's help—he did obtain the secular post of maestro di musica and taught, gave lessons, and conducted the Philharmonic for several months before returning to Milan in early 1835, supported once more by Barezzi who lodged him in an apartment with another of his proteges, Luigi Martelli who Verdi was expected to teach, as he was expected to continue to take lessons from Lavigna in order to be formally qualified to take up a teaching post. By July 1835 he obtained his certification from Lavigna who stated that "I therefore believe him to be ready to practice his profession at the level of maestro di cappella.
Back in Busseto in 1835, the post of director of the music school remained unfilled. Verdi become its director with a three year contract. He married Margherita in May 1836, and by March 1837, she had given birth to their first child, Virginia Maria Luigia on 26 March 1837. Icilio Romano followed on 11 July 1838, but both died while Verdi was working on his first and second operas, Virginia on 12 August 1838 while the couple was still in Busseto and Ilicio on 22 October 1839 after the couple had returned to Milan in February 1839.
But he took advantage of the connection he had made to Pietro Massini, informing him in a series of letters from 1835 to 1837 about the progress towards writing his first opera using the libretto which had been supplied by Massini. It was based on a work by Antonio Piazza, a Milanese "journalist and man of letters". By then it had been given the title of Rocester and the young composer expressed hopes of a production at the Teatro Ducale in Parma with professional singers. Only when he encountered difficulties with that idea—the company not appearing to be interested in a new work by an unknown composer— did he revert to Massini in Milan. In subsequent letters, he continues to ask for Massini's assistance to stage the opera in Milan.
Whether Rocester actually became the basis for Oberto, when Verdi and Margherita returned to Milan in February 1839 after fulfilling two and a half years of his contract in Busseto, is subject to some disagreement among scholars. How much of Rocester remained visible in Oberto is discussed by Roger Parker, who does suggest that "in this shape-shifting tendency, the opera was, of course, very much of its time."
In his recollections in the 1879 "Sketch" (quoted in Budden), Verdi describes how he was invited to meet the La Scala impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli, who had heard a conversation about the music of the opera between soprano Giuseppina Strepponi and Giorgio Ronconi in which she praised it. Merelli then offered to put on Oberto in November 1839 which was given a respectable 13 additional performances. After its success, Merelli offered Verdi a contract for three more works.
Also, it was while he was working on his second opera, Un giorno di regno, that Margherita died of encephalitis at age 26.
Verdi adored his wife and children and was devastated by their deaths. The opera, Il giorno di regno, a comedy, was given in September 1840, only a few months after his wife's death. It was a flop and only given the one performance. Verdi acknowledged that the failure was partly due to his own personal circumstances all during the period leading up to and during its composition. A contributing factor was that the only singers the La Scala impresario had available were those assembled for an opera seria, Otto Nicolai's Il templario, and they had no experience with comedy: "The cast had been assembled chiefly for the performance of the season's most successful novelty, Il templario, Nicolai's version of Ivanhoe". Other factors which have been mentioned include the large size of La Scala itself (noted by biographer George Martin as "too big for the piece") plus the rather old-fashioned nature of the work itself, which was written in a style that was rapidly going out of fashion.
After the failure of Giorno, Verdi vowed never to compose again, but in "An Autobiographical Sketch" written in 1879, he tells the story of how he came to be twice persuaded by Merelli to write the opera. However, the distance of 38 years may have led to a somewhat romanticized view (or, as Verdi scholar Julian Budden puts it: "he was concerned to weave a protective legend about himself it was all part of his fierce independence of spirit".) Writing ten years closer to the event, Michele Lessona gives a very different version of the events after having been told the story by Verdi himself.
Merelli gave him a copy of Temistocle Solera's libretto which had been rejected by the composer Otto Nicolai and Verdi describes how he took it home and threw "it on the table with an almost violent gesture. ... In falling, it had opened of itself; without my realising it, my eyes clung to the open page and to one special line: 'Va pensiero, sull' ali dorate'". Supposedly, Verdi continued to read it and he read and re-read the libretto three times, but others have stated that he read the libretto very reluctantly or, as recounted by Lessona, that he "threw the libretto in a corner without looking at it anymore, and for the next five months he carried on with his reading of bad novels... towards the end of May he found himself with that blessed play in his hands: he read the last scene over again, the one with the death of Abigaille (which was later cut), seated himself almost mechanically at the piano ... and set the scene to music."
Nevertheless, Verdi still refused to compose the music, taking the manuscript back to the impresario the next day. Accepting no refusal, Merelli immediately stuffed the papers back into Verdi's pocket and—as Verdi recounts—"not only threw me out of his office, but slammed the door in my face and locked himself in." Verdi claims that gradually he worked on the music: "This verse today, tomorrow that, here a note, there a whole phrase, and little by little the opera was written" so that by the autumn of 1841 it was complete. At the very least, both Verdi's and Lessona's versions end with a complete score.
First performed on 9 March 1842, Nabucco's "public success in Milan was unprecedented", dominating Donizetti's and Giovanni Pacini's operas playing nearby. While the public went mad with enthusiasm, the critics tempered their approval of the opera. Otto Nicolai, who had rejected the libretto, was enraged, but his opinions were in the minority. Nabucco assured Verdi's success until his retirement from the theatre, twenty-nine operas (including some revised and updated versions) later.
A period of hard work—producing 14 operas—followed in the fifteen years after 1843, right up through the composition of Un ballo in maschera. While Verdi described this period in this way in a letter to Countess Clara Maffei in 1858: "From Nabucco, you may say, I have never had one hour of peace. Sixteen years in the galleys", musicologist Philip Gossett notes that Verdi's only use of the expression is in a letter of 1858 to his Milanese friend Clarina Maffei. and he continues by stating that " laments the social circumstances in which Italian composers worked in the mid-nineteenth century, rather than judging aesthetic value."
Other musicologists and Verdi biographers typically divide Verdi's periods of composition into three: "Early", "Middle", and "Late". However, the operas written in the "Early" years begin with the third commission for La Scala, I Lombardi in 1843, and continue through Attila in 1843, Ernani in 1844 as well as his first adaptation of a Shakespeare play, Macbeth in 1847. It was Verdi's first attempt to write an opera without a love story, breaking a basic convention of 19th-century Italian opera. Invited to write an opera for the Paris Opéra in 1847, I Lombardi was revised and renamed Jérusalem. Due to a number of Parisian conventions that had to be honored (including extensive ballets), it became Verdi's first work in the French grand opera style. This early period is typically regarded as ending with La battaglia di Legnano in 1848.
Sometime in the mid-1840s, after the death of Margherita Barezzi, Verdi "formed a lasting attachment to the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who was to become his lifelong companion", but she was in the twilight of her career. Their cohabitation before marriage was regarded as scandalous in some of the places they lived, but Verdi and Giuseppina married on 29 August 1859 at Collonges-sous-Salève, in the Kingdom of Piemonte, near Geneva. In 1848, while living in Busseto with Strepponi, Verdi bought an estate two miles from the town. Initially, his parents lived there, but after his mother's death in 1851, he made the Villa Verdi at Sant'Agata in Villanova sull'Arda his home, which it remained until his death.
As he was still laboring through his "years in the galleys", Verdi created one of his greatest masterpieces, Rigoletto, which premiered in Venice in 1851. Based on a play by Victor Hugo (Le roi s'amuse), the libretto had to undergo substantial revisions in order to satisfy the epoch's censorship, and the composer was on the verge of giving it all up a number of times, but the opera quickly became a great success.
Musicologist Julian Budden regards the opera as "revolutionary", just as Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was: "the barriers between formal melody and recitative are down as never before. In the whole opera, there is only one conventional double aria no concerted act finales." Verdi used that same word – "revolutionary" – in a letter to Piave, and Budden also refers to a letter which Verdi wrote in 1852 in which the composer states that "I conceived Rigoletto almost without arias, without finales but only an unending string of duets."
Budden's conclusions about this opera and its place in Verdi's output is summed up by noting that "Just after 1850 at the age of 38 Verdi closed the door on a period of Italian opera with Rigoletto. The so-called ottocento in music is finished. Verdi will continue to draw on certain of its forms for the next few operas, but in a totally new spirit."
There followed the second and third of the three major operas of Verdi's "middle period": in 1853 Il trovatore was produced in Rome and La traviata in Venice. The latter was based on Alexandre Dumas, fils' play The Lady of the Camellias, and became the most popular of all Verdi's operas, placing first in the list of most performed operas worldwide reported on Operabase.
Between 1855 and 1867 there was an outpouring of great Verdi operas, among them such repertory staples as Un ballo in maschera (1859), La forza del destino (commissioned by the Imperial Theatre of Saint Petersburg for 1861 but not performed until 1862), and a revised version of Macbeth (1865). Other somewhat less often performed from this period include Les vêpres siciliennes (1855) and Don Carlos (1867), both commissioned by the Paris Opera and given in French. Today, these latter two operas are most often performed in Italian translations as I vespri siciliani and Don Carlo. Also from this period is Simon Boccanegra which was originally composed in 1857, but significantly revised in 1881, and it is the revised version which is most commonly performed today.
In 1869, Verdi was asked to compose a section for a requiem mass in memory of Gioachino Rossini which was to be a collection of sections composed by other Italian contemporaries of Rossini. The requiem was compiled and completed, but was cancelled at the last minute (and was not performed in Verdi's lifetime). Verdi blamed this on the lack of enthusiasm for the project by the intended conductor, Angelo Mariani, who had been a longtime friend of his. The episode led to a permanent break in their personal relations. The soprano Teresa Stolz (who later had a strong professional – and, perhaps, romantic – relationship with Verdi) was at that time engaged to be married to Mariani, but she left him not long after. Five years later, Verdi reworked his "Libera Me" section of the Rossini Requiem and made it a part of his Requiem Mass, honoring the famous novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who had died in 1873. The complete Requiem was first performed at the cathedral in Milan on 22 May 1874.
Verdi's grand opera, Aida, is sometimes thought to have been commissioned for the celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the Khedive had planned to inaugurate an opera house as part of the canal opening festivities, but according to Julian Budden, Verdi turned down the Khedive's invitation to write an "ode" for the new opera house because "I am not accustomed to compose morceaux de circonstance". The opera house actually opened with a production of Rigoletto. Later, in 1869/70, the organizers again approached Verdi (this time with the idea of writing an opera), but he again turned them down. When they warned him that they would ask Charles Gounod instead and then threatened to engage Richard Wagner's services, Verdi began to show considerable interest, and agreements were signed in June 1870.
Teresa Stolz was associated with both Aida and the Requiem (as well as a number of other Verdi roles). The role of Aida was written for her, and although she did not appear in the world premiere in Cairo in 1871, she created Aida in the European premiere in Milan in February 1872. She was also the soprano soloist in the first and many later performances of the Requiem. It was widely believed that she and Verdi had an affair after she left Angelo Mariani, and a Florence newspaper criticised them for this in five strongly worded articles. Whether there is any truth to the accusation may never be known with any certainty. However, after Giuseppina Strepponi's death, Teresa Stolz became a close companion of Verdi until his own death.
Verdi and Wagner never met. Verdi's comments on Wagner and his music are few and hardly benevolent ("He invariably chooses, unnecessarily, the untrodden path, attempting to fly where a rational person would walk with better results"), but at least one of them is kind: upon learning of Wagner's death, Verdi lamented, "Sad, sad, sad! ... a name that will leave a most powerful impression on the history of art." Of Wagner's comments on Verdi, only one is well-known. After listening to Verdi's Requiem, the German, prolific and eloquent in his comments on some other composers, stated, "It would be best not to say anything."
During the following years, Verdi worked on revising some of his earlier scores, most notably new versions of Don Carlos, La forza del destino, and Simon Boccanegra. Otello, based on William Shakespeare's play, with a libretto written by the younger composer of Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito, premiered in Milan in 1887. Its music is "continuous" and cannot easily be divided into separate "numbers" to be performed in concert. Some feel that although masterfully orchestrated, it lacks the melodic lustre so characteristic of Verdi's earlier, great, operas, while many critics consider it Verdi's greatest tragic opera, containing some of his most beautiful, expressive music and some of his richest characterizations. In addition, it lacks a prelude, something Verdi listeners were not accustomed to. Arturo Toscanini performed as cellist in the orchestra at the world premiere and began his association with Verdi (a composer he revered as highly as Beethoven).
Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, completed and performed in 1893, whose libretto was also by Boito, was based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, Part 1 via Victor Hugo's subsequent translation. It was an international success and is one of the supreme comic operas which show Verdi's genius as a contrapuntist.
In 1894, Verdi composed a short ballet for a French production of Otello, his last purely orchestral composition. Years later, Arturo Toscanini recorded the music for RCA Victor with the NBC Symphony Orchestra which complements the 1947 Toscanini performance of the complete opera.
In 1897, Verdi completed his last composition, a setting of the traditional Latin text Stabat Mater. This was the last of four sacred works that Verdi composed, Quattro pezzi sacri, which can be performed together or separately. They were not conceived as a unit and, in fact, Verdi did not want the Ave Maria published, as he considered it an exercise. The first performance of the four works was on 7 April 1898, at the Opéra, Paris. The four works are: Ave Maria for mixed chorus; Stabat Mater for mixed chorus and orchestra; Laudi alla Vergine Maria for female chorus; and Te Deum for double chorus and orchestra.
On 29 July 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated by Gaetano Bresci, a deed that horrified the aged composer.
While staying at the Grand Hotel et de Milan in Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke on 21 January 1901. He gradually grew more feeble and died nearly a week later, on 27 January. Arturo Toscanini conducted the vast forces of combined orchestras and choirs composed of musicians from throughout Italy at Verdi's funeral service in Milan. To date, it remains the largest public assembly of any event in the history of Italy.
Verdi was initially buried in Milan's Cimitero Monumentale. A month later, his body was moved to the "crypt" of the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, a rest home for retired musicians that Verdi had recently established. In October 1894, the French government awarded him the Grand-Croix de la Légion d'honneur. He was the first non-French musician to receive the Grand-Croix.
It has not been determined as to whether Verdi was an agnostic or an atheist; different opinions have emerged from those who knew him. One writer states:
Toscanini, in a taped interview, described Verdi as "an atheist", His second wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, described him as "a man of little faith".
Music historians have long perpetuated a myth about the famous "Va, pensiero" chorus sung in the third act of Nabucco. The myth claims that, when the "Va, pensiero" chorus was sung in Milan, then belonging to the large part of Italy under Austrian domination, the audience, responding with nationalistic fervor to the exiled slaves' lament for their lost homeland, demanded an encore of the piece. As encores were expressly forbidden by the government at the time, such a gesture would have been extremely significant. However, recent scholarship puts this to rest. Although the audience did indeed demand an encore, it was not for "Va, pensiero" but rather for the hymn Immenso Jehova, sung by the Hebrew slaves to thank God for saving His people. In light of these new revelations, Verdi's position as the musical figurehead of the Risorgimento has been correspondingly downplayed. It is interesting to note in this context that all but seven (his last operas) were created by Verdi whilst Milan, the capital of Lombardo Veneto, was an integral part of the Austrian Empire.
On the other hand, during rehearsals, workmen in the theater stopped what they were doing during "Va, pensiero" and applauded at the conclusion of this haunting melody while the growth of the "identification of Verdi's music with Italian nationalist politics" is judged to have begun in the summer of 1846 in relation to a chorus from Ernani in which the name of one of its characters, "Carlo", was changed to "Pio", a reference to Pope Pius IX's grant of an amnesty to political prisoners.
Verdi's 14th opera, La battaglia di Legnano, written while Verdi was living in Paris in 1848 (though he quickly traveled to Milan after news of the "Cinque Giornate" arrived there) seems to have been composed specifically as "an opera with a purpose" (as opera historian Charles Osborne describes it), but Osborne continues: "while parts of Verdi's earlier operas had frequently been taken up by the fighters of the Risorgimento ... this time the composer had given the movement its own opera".
After Italy was unified in 1861, many of Verdi's early operas were re-interpreted as Risorgimento works with hidden Revolutionary messages that probably had not been intended by either the composer or librettist. Beginning in Naples in 1859 and spreading throughout Italy, the slogan "Viva VERDI" was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia (Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy), referring to Victor Emmanuel II, then king of Sardinia.
The "Chorus of the Hebrews" (the English title for "Va, pensiero") has another appearance in Verdi folklore. Prior to Verdi's body's being driven from the cemetery to the official memorial service and its final resting place at the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, Arturo Toscanini conducted a chorus of 820 singers in "Va, pensiero". At the Casa, the "Miserere" from Il trovatore was sung.
Verdi was elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1861 following a request of Prime Minister Cavour but in 1865 he resigned from the office. In 1874 he was named Senator of the Kingdom by King Victor Emmanuel II.
Verdi's predecessors who influenced his music were Rossini, Bellini, Giacomo Meyerbeer and, most notably, Gaetano Donizetti and Saverio Mercadante. Some strains in Aida suggest at least a superficial familiarity with the works of the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka, whom Franz Liszt, after his tour of the Russian Empire as a pianist, popularized in Western Europe.
Throughout his career, Verdi rarely utilized the high C in his tenor arias, citing the fact that the opportunity to sing that particular note in front of an audience distracts the performer before and after the note appears. However, he did provide high Cs to Duprez in Jérusalem and to Tamberlick in the original version of La forza del destino. The high C, often-heard in the aria "Di quella pira" from Il trovatore, does not appear in Verdi's score.
Verdi himself once said, "Of all composers, past and present, I am the least learned." He hastened to add, however, "I mean that in all seriousness, and by learning I do not mean knowledge of music."
However, it would be incorrect to assume that Verdi underestimated the expressive power of the orchestra or failed to use it to its full capacity where necessary. Moreover, orchestral and contrapuntal innovation is characteristic of his style: for instance, the strings producing a rapid ascending scale in Monterone's scene in Rigoletto accentuate the drama, and, in the same opera, the chorus humming six closely grouped notes backstage portrays, very effectively, the brief ominous wails of the approaching tempest. Verdi's innovations are so distinctive that other composers do not use them; they remain, to this day, some of Verdi's signatures.
Verdi was one of the first composers who insisted on patiently seeking out plots to suit his particular talents. Working closely with his librettists and well aware that dramatic expression was his forte, he made certain that the initial work upon which the libretto was based was stripped of all "unnecessary" detail and "superfluous" participants, and only characters brimming with passion and scenes rich in drama remained.
Many of his operas, especially the later ones from 1851 onwards, are a staple of the standard repertoire. With the possible exception of Giacomo Puccini, no composer of Italian opera has managed to match Verdi's popularity.
Verdi's operas (in Italian unless noted) and the date of the première of each:
Verdi has been the subject of a number of cultural works. These include the 1938 film directed by Carmine Gallone, Giuseppe Verdi, starring Fosco Giachetti; the 1982 miniseries, The Life of Verdi, directed by Renato Castellani, where Verdi was played by Ronald Pickup, with narration by Burt Lancaster in the English version; and the 1985 play After Aida (a play-with-music similar to Amadeus). He is a character in the 2011 opera Risorgimento! by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero, written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Italian unification of 1861.
There are three music conservatories, the Milan Conservatory and those in Turin and Como, and many theatres named after Verdi in Italy. There is a Giuseppe Verdi Monument in Verdi Square in Manhattan, in the USA.
The towns of Verdi, Nevada and Verdi, California which straddle the state line were named after Verdi by Charles Crocker, founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, when he pulled a slip of paper from a hat and read the name of the Italian opera composer in 1868. Verdi, Minnesota is named both for the composer and the green fields surrounding the town.
A relatively young impact crater on the planet Mercury was named after Verdi in 1979 by the International Astronomical Union and sometimes called "Joe Green" by NASA.
Verdi's name literally translates as "Joseph Green" in English (although verdi is the plural form of "green"). Musical comedian Victor Borge often referred to the famous composer as "Joe Green" in his act, saying that "Giuseppe Verdi" was merely his "stage name". The same joke-translation is mentioned in Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun by Patrick Redfern to Hercule Poirot – a prank which inadvertently gives Poirot the answer to the murder.
Verdi's life in and around Busseto