Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/257

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VERDI.

chetto,' who had it from an old friend of Verdi's father :

Nobody can imagine with what earnestness the boy practised on the spinet. At first he was satisfied with being able to play the first five notes of the scale : next he most anxiously endeavoured to find out chords. Once he was in a perfect rapture at having sounded the major third and fifth of C. The following day, however, he could not find the chord again, whereupon he began to fret and fume, and then got in such a temper, that taking up a hammer he began to break the spinet to pieces. The noise soon brought his father into the room, who seeing the havoc his son was playing, landed so heavy a blow on Giuseppe's ear, as once for all cleared his mind of any thought of again punishing the spinet for his inability to strike common chords.

Another evidence of Giuseppe's musical apti- tude is given by the following fact, which occurred when he was only seven years old. He was then assisting the priest at the Mass in the little church of Le Roncole. At the very moment of the elevation of the Host, the harmonies that flowed from the organ struck the child as so sweet, that he stood motionless in ecstasy. 'Water,' said the priest to the acolyte ; and the latter evidently not heeding him, the demand was re- peated. Still no reply. ' Water,' a third time said the priest, kicking the child so brutally that he fell headlong down the steps of the altar, knocked his head against the floor, and was brought unconscious into the sacristy. After this event Giuseppe's father engaged M. Bais- trocchi, the local organist, to give him music lessons. At the end of a year M. Baistrocchi made a declaration to the effect that the pupil had learned all that the teacher could impart, and thereupon resigned his position as Verdi's teacher.

Two years after, having completed this first stage in his musical education, Verdi then but ten years old was appointed as organist in the room of old Baistrocchi. The dream of his parents was thus for the time realised : yet before long the mind of the elder Verdi began to be haunted with the thought that some know- ledge of the three R's could but bring good to his son in after life : and after debating his scheme with his wife, he resolved upon sending Giuseppe to a school in Busseto. This would have been beyond the small means of the good Verdi, but for the fact that at Busseto lived a countryman and friend a cobbler known by the name of Pugnatta. This Pugnatta took upon himself to give Giuseppe board and lodg- ing, and send him to the principal school of the town, all at the very moderate price of threepence a day. And to Pugnatta's Giuseppe went : and while attending the school most assiduously, kept his situation as organist of Le Roncole, walking there every Sunday morning, and back to Busseto after the evening service.

It may not be devoid of interest to the reader to cast a glance at Verdi's financial condition at that period of his life. Except clothing, which did not represent an important item, and pocket- money, which he had none, his expenditure amounted to 109 francs 50 centimes a-year that is, 4 7. $d. His salary as the organist of Le Roncole was i 8s. iod., which, after one year's

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��service and many urgent appeals, was increased to 1 i2s. To this add a profit of 2 or 2 105. from weddings, christenings, and funerals ; and a few shillings more, the product of a collection which it was then customary for organists to make at harvest time collected in kind, be it remembered, by the artist himself, with a sack on his shoulders, at each door of the village. Life, under these unfavourable conditions, was not only devoid of comforts, but full of danger. One night, while the poor lad was walking towards Le Roncole, worn down by fatigue and want of sleep or food, he did not notice that he was in the wrong track, and of a sudden, missing his ground, he fell into a deep canal. It was dark, it was bitter cold, and his limbs were absolutely paralysed ; and but for an old woman who was passing by the spot and heard his cries for help, the exhausted and chilled boy would have been carried off by the current.

The following story of another very narrow escape from death we give on the entire respon- sibility of M. Pougin. In 1814 Russian and Austrian troops had been passing through Italy, leaving death and destruction everywhere. A detachment having stopped for a few hours at Le Roncole, all the women took refuge in the church; but not even that holy place was re- spected by these savages. The doors were un- hinged, and the poor helpless women and chil- dren ruthlessly wounded and killed. Verdi's mother, with the little Giuseppe in her arms, was among those who took refuge in the church ; but when the door was burst open she did not lose her spirits, but ascending the narrow stair- case of the belfry, hid herself and her baby among some timber that was there, and did not leave her hiding-place until the drunken troops were far beyond the village.

Giuseppe Verdi, after two years schooling at Busseto, had learned to write, read, and cypher : whereupon the above-mentioned M.Barezzi began to take much interest in the talented Roncolese, gave him employment in his business, and opened a way to the development of his musical faculty.

Busseto must have been the Weimar of the Duchy of Parma. Music was uppermost in the minds of the Bussetesi, and no name of any in- habitant is ever mentioned without the addition of his being a singer, composer, or violinist. M. Barezzi himself was first flute in the cathe- dral orchestra ; he could produce some notes on all kinds of wind instruments, and was par- ticularly skilful on the clarinet, French horn, and ophicleide. His house was the residence of the Philharmonic Society, of which he was the president and patron, and it was there that all rehearsals were made, and all Philharmonic concerts given, under the conductorship of M.Fer- dinando Provesi, maestro di cappella and organist of the cathedral.

This was the fittest residence for a lad of Verdi's turn of mind, and he immediately felt it. Without neglecting his chief occupation, he regularly attended the rehearsals, and undertook the task of copying out the parts from the score;

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