Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Giuseppe Verdi
Composer, b. at Le Roncole, Parma, Italy, 10 October, 1813; d. at S. Agata, near Busseto, 27 January, 1901. From his earliest years he evinced an extraordinary musical aptitude, and at the age of ten became organist of the village church. From 1826 to 1829 he took lessons from Provesi, organist of Busseto cathedral, and in 1831 went to Milan to study under Lavigna. On the death of Provesi (1833) Verdi returned to Brusset, where he remained for five years, during which he married Margherita Barezzi; in 1838, however, he settled in Milan. His first opera, "Oberto", was performed in 1839 and gave a foretaste of the young composer's abilities, but the production of "Nabuco" (9 March, 1842), followed by "Lombardi" (11 Feb., 1843), showed that a rising star had appeared. The success was accentuated by "Ernani" (9 Mar., 1844), and Verdi's fame as an operatic composer was assured. Several other operas followed in the years 1844 and 1846, and he declined an offer as conductor of Drury Lane Theatre, London , in succession to Costa, though his reception in England was not over cordial. His "Luisa Miller" (8 Dec., 1849) added to his triumphs, and with it ended his fame in one style of opera. Verdi entered on a new phase in 1850, and his "Rigoletto" (produced at Venice on 11 March, 1851) astonished the musical world. Then followed "Ll Travatore" (19 Jan., 1853) and "La Traviata" (6 Mar., 1853), all three being still popular. "Un Ballo in Maschera" (17 Feb., 1859) completed his triumph in a new style of writing. "Don Carlos" (11 Mar., 1867) and "Aida" (produced at Cairo, 24 Dec., 1871) represent what has been aptly termed Verdi's third style. "Aida" is not only an advance on "Rigoletto", but is clearly a development of genius so strong that it may well be regarded as a new style.
Meantime Verdi visited England in 1855 and again in 1862, when he conducted his "Inne delle Nazioni" at Her Majesty's Theatre. His last visit was in 1875, when he was at the zenith of his powers. It was rumoured that he had laid down his pen forever after the production of "Aida", but on 5 Feb., 1887, he astonished even his warmest admirers by a four-act opera, "Otello" (libretto by Boito). On 5 Feb., 1893, his "Falstaff" was given at La Scala, and he was created Marchese of Busseto by the King of Italy. For an octogenarian this opera was a tour de force in musical annals. Its dramatic qualities place it on a level with Wagner's operas, and Verdi's handling of the comic element showed an undreamt-of power. Indeed it has been truly said that "Otello" and "Falstaff" rank as a fourth style of Verdi. His place in music is as an operatic composer of the first rank, and he considerably influenced the Italian School of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Verdi deserves to be reckoned in the category of church composers; his "Requiem" (written for the anniversary of Manzoni's death) is a work of art, and continues to find much favour; it was first performed at Milan on 22 May, 1874. Among his religious compositions are: "Pater Noster", for five voices; an "Ave Maria", for soprano solo and strings (both performed in 1880); a "Te Deum", for two four-part choirs, voices, and orchestra; a "Stabat Mater", four-part, and two motets in honour of the Blessed Virgin. These four appeared in 1898, and were performed in Paris on 7 April, 1899. Verdi's Catholic spirit was shown by his resigning his office as member of the Italian parliament for Busseto; and, subsequently, when, on being appointed a senator by the King of Italy (1875), he went to Rome to be duly admitted, but never assisted at a single sitting. Professor Dickenson in his "Music in the History of the Western Church" writes: "In Verdi also we have a truly filial devotion to the Catholic Church, united with a temperament easily excited to a white heat when submitted to his musical inspiration." By his will Verdi bequeathed an endowment fund for a home for aged musicians.
POUGIN, Verdi (Paris, 1881); STREATFIELD, Masters of Italian Music (London, 1895); MAZZUCATO in GROVE, Dict. of Music and Musicians (new ed., London, 1910), s. v.
W. H. Grattan-Flood.