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Giuseppe Verdi Biography

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Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (Le Roncole, Busseto, either 9 or 10 October 1813 – Milan, 27 January 1901) was an Italian composer, mainly of opera. He was the most influential composer of the 19th century Italian opera. 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 - such as "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto and "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" from La traviata. Although his work was sometimes criticized as catering to the tastes of the common folk, using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom, and having a tendency towards melodrama, Verdi’s masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.

Music historians have long perpetuated a myth about the famous Va, pensiero chorus sung in the third act of Nabucco. The myth reports 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 slave's 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 . 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.

The myth of Verdi as Risorgimento's composer also reports that the slogan "Viva VERDI" was used throughout Italy to secretly call for Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia, 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 his body being driven from the cemetery to the official memorial service and its final resting place at the Casa di Risposa, Arturo Toscanini conducted a chorus of 820 singers in "Va, pensiero". At the Casa, the Miserere from Il trovatore was sung. .

Verdi's predecessors who influenced his music were Rossini, Bellini, Giacomo Meyerbeer and, most notably, Gaetano Donizetti and Saverio Mercadante. With the possible exception of Otello and Aida, he was free of Wagner's influence. Although respectful of Gounod, Verdi was careful not to learn anything from the Frenchman whom many of Verdi's contemporaries regarded as the greatest living composer. 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 used to use 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 comes on. 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 was never written by Verdi.

Although his orchestration is often masterful, Verdi relied heavily on his melodic gift as the ultimate instrument of musical expression. In fact, in many of his passages, and especially in his arias, the harmony is ascetic, with the entire orchestra occasionally sounding as if it were one large accompanying instrument - a giant-sized guitar playing chords. Some critics maintain he paid insufficient attention to the technical aspect of composition, lacking as he did schooling and refinement. 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 doing the rapid ascending scale in Monterone's scene in Rigoletto accentuate the drama, or, also in Rigoletto, the choir humming six closely grouped notes backstage portray, 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, Verdi's signature tricks.

Verdi was one of the first composers who insisted on patiently seeking out plots to suit his (or her) 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.
 
 
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