(10 October 1813, Le Roncole - 27 January 1901, Milano)
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer known primarily for operas such as Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), Don Carlos (1867), Aida (1871), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893) and for his Requiem Mass (1874).
Born in a tiny village near a small town, his father provided him the best possible education one could receive. His talent emerged from an early age, at the age of 4 a spinet was bought for him, and by the age of 8, after schoolmaster Baistrocchi's death, Verdi became the official paid organist in the village church.
At the age of 10, Verdi attended the ginnasio (secondary school) in Busseto following the wishes of his parents. Shortly after he composed music (now lost) for the town church and the largely amateur orchestra. Two years later, Verdi began to take lessons in composition from Ferdinando Provesi, director of the municipal music school and co-director of the local Philharmonic Society. The other director of the Philharmonic Society was Antonio Barezzi, a 29-year-old merchant and fanatical music enthusiast who became a second father to Verdi.
By the age of 15 he had become an assistant church organist and had already started composing. Verdi felt the need to expand his musical horizons with either employment in some aspect of music or in further study. Having completed his studies with Provesi, who declared that he had no more to teach him, he was turned down from a local church organist's post, and was planning to return to Le Roncole. Antonio Barezzi, who took Verdi in his home, knew that he was destined for something bigger and so, in 1832, sent him to study privately in Milan with Vincenzo Lavigna. After 4 years, Verdi returned to Busseto and married Barezzi's daughter, Margherita.
Having achieved publication of some songs, he moved to Milan in 1839 and composed his first opera, Oberto. He enjoyed great acclaim and popularity, unfortunately, his next effort, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), was a failure. Worse, his wife died of encephalitis (aged 26) during its composition. Verdi overcame his despair by composing Nabucodonoser (composed 1841, first performed 1842; known as Nabucco), based on the biblical Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar II). This work was very well received by the public that he became the new hero of Italian music. The work sped across Italy and the whole world of opera; within a decade it had reached as far as St. Petersburg and Buenos Aires, Argentina. While its musical style is primitive by the composer’s later standards, Nabucco’s raw energy has kept it alive a century and a half later.
In the following period of his life, Verdi drove himself like a galley slave. He aimed to produce nearly 2 operas a year. To ”produce” an opera meant, at that time, to negotiate with an impresario, secure and edit (often heavily) a libretto, find or approve the singers, compose the music, supervise rehearsals, conduct the first three performances, deal with publishers, and more—all this while shuttling from one end of Italy to the other in the days before railroads.
Though masterpieces were unlikely to emerge from a schedule like this, Verdi’s next two operas were, amazingly, just as wildly successful: I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843; The Lombards on the First Crusade) and Ernani (1844). The latter became the only work of the “galley-slave” period to gain a steady place in the opera repertory worldwide. In the 1840s he drew on Victor Hugo for Ernani, Lord Byron for I due Foscari (1844; The Two Foscari) and Il corsaro (1848; The Corsair), Friedrich von Schiller for Giovanna d’Arco (1845; Joan of Arc), I masnadieri (1847; The Bandits), and Luisa Miller (1849), Voltaire for Alzira (1845), and Zacharias Werner for Attila (1846).
The prima donna who created Abigaille in Nabucco, Giuseppina Strepponi, who also had helped Verdi as early as 1839 with Oberto, ultimately became his second wife. Her love, support, and practical assistance on behalf of Verdi, over half a century, was boundless, though he was not an easy husband. In the period 1851-1853, three of his most popular operas were composed. Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853; The Troubadour) and La taviata (1853) were very well received by the public, although the latter was a disappointment at its premiere, after minor revisions, it was warmly received. By this time he had honed his skills as a competitor in the rapacious marketplace that was 19th-century Italian opera—or, as he always saw it, the grim site of major battles, endless skirmishes, and equivocal victories.
In 1862 Verdi represented Italian musicians at the London Exhibition, for which he composed a cantata to words by the up-and-coming poet and composer Arrigo Boito. In opera the big money came from foreign commissions, and in the same year his next work, La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), was produced at St. Petersburg. According to opinion at the turn of the 21st century, in 1867 Verdi finally surpassed Meyerbeer (the only composer that exceeded Verdi in wealth and fame) at the Paris Opera with his work, Don Carlos, a setting of another play by Schiller. Despite its problematic ending, Don Carlos is regarded by some as Verdi’s masterpiece, or at least his masterpiece prior to the Shakespeare operas of his last years.
When Gioachino Rossini, the most revered figure in modern Italin music, died in 1868, Verdi along with other contemporaries of Rossini, was asked to compose a requiem mass in his honor. The project collapsed and Angelo Mariani, who was to have conducted the performance, seemed to Verdi less than wholehearted in his support. 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.
In 1873, while waiting in a Naples hotel for a production of Aida, Verdi wrote a string quartet, the only instrumental composition of his maturity. After 1873 the maestro considered himself retired, at long last, from that world of opera to which he had been bound for so many years in a love-hate relationship. He settled in at Sant’Agata, where the same iron hand and obsessive attention to detail that he had applied to operatic rehearsals came to control all aspects of his farming enterprise.
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. His operas move rapidly, with unerring dramatic rhythm. He developed a whole new musical vocabulary, which broadened the role of the orchestra without compromising the primacy of the voice. He introduced a range of subject matter never before touched in opera; the later Verdi could be subtle, gentle, and atmospheric as well as powerful. Generations of listeners the world over, in and out of the opera house, have loved Verdi’s melodies. The best of them serve the drama, capturing his characters’ emotions with a warmth and directness achieved by few other composers.
Here you can find a complete list of Giuseppe Verdi's compositions.