Giuseppe Verdi

(born 1813 in Busseto - died 1901 in Milan)

Verdi is an Italian composer from the Romantic period who composed an extensive body of operas.

Verdi was opposed to the musical doctrine of his times but left no theoretical writings, unlike his contemporary, Wagner. He follows on from Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, and forms the link between the melodramas of the beginning of the century and the musical drama represented by Wagner's work. The change that Verdi initiated can be seen not in the progression of his work but in the principles that gradually become evident in his compositions, such as the importance of having a stageworthy subject and strong melodies.

Verdi was able to study at the Milan conservatoire with the support of his patron Barezzi, who discovered the young musician's talent when he was standing in for his school teacher on the village organ. Verdi studied the works of the great German and Italian masters. He successfully staged his first opera, Oberto, in 1838. This was nothing, though, compared to the triumph of Nabucco, whose chorus "Va pensiero" became the anthem of Italy's resistance to Austrian domination. His next operas, I Lombardi (The Lombards, 1843) and especially Macbeth (1847), in which he honed the orchestration, were also a success. The psychological workings played out come to the fore in the "trilogy": Rigoletto (expression of conflicting emotions), Il trovatore (love triangle) and La Traviata (flexible language). Verdi continued to compose and stage new operas, notably in Paris. Verdi had to deal with numerous commissions, but in the meantime pursued a career in politics as a member of parliament (1861-65).

His later production included two works that differed from the rest:Otello, full of new musical features, and Falstaff, Verdi's only great comic opera. In a final burst of laughter, Verdi passed on to his audience a lively work that remained true to his love of the voice.

Six landmark dates in the life of Verdi

• 1836: Verdi is appointed choir master in Busseto, assuring him of a steady income.
 • 1843-47: numerous allusions to the political situation in Italy in his operas. For example, in I Lombardi, "The Lombards", where the choruses become part of the patriotic repertoire.
 • 1845: Verdi leaves La Scala and has his works performed in other theatres; he cuts off all ties with the director of La Scala, Merelli, who took advantage of him for many years.
 • 1855: French commission for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, which, at the time, was the artistic capital of the world; Verdi composes Les vêpres siciliennes.
 • 1869: revival of La forza del destino at La Scala in Milan, when Verdi had been absent from the theatre for over 20 years.
 • 1899: two years before his death, Verdi established the Musicians' Retirement Home in Milan.

Six key works by Verdi

• 1842: Nabucco, lyrical drama in 4 parts; marks Verdi's recognition in Italy and the beginning of his popularity.
• 1847: Macbeth, melodrama in 4 acts to a libretto by Piave based on Shakespeare.
• 1851-53: Rigoletto (melodrama in 3 acts), Il trovatore (drama in 4 acts), La Traviata (melodrama in 3 acts), known as the trilogy; these operas establish Verdi's reputation in Europe.
• 1871: Aïda, opera in 4 acts.
• 1874: Messa da requiem, sacred work for soloists, double choir and orchestra.
• 1893: Falstaff, comic opera in 3 acts.