Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/268

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252

��VERDI.

��why we think that Verdi is more known to the million than any other man in the world.

In comparison to what Verdi has done in the opera and the church, we can hardly reckon him amongst composers of instrumental musip. A Quartet for strings, the Overtures to 'Na- bucco,' 'Giovanna d' Arco,' 'Vespri Siciliani,' 'Aroldo,* 'Forza del Destino,* and other less important compositions, constitute all his re"per- toire in that branch of art. Leaving out his one Quartet, to which he attaches no importance, and only reluctantly allowed to be played out of his own drawing-room, the Overtures, though some of them effective and full of inspiration, can hardly be taken as specimens of instrumental music. They are almost entirely constructed on the melodies of the opera; and the choice is made (excepting in the case of the Prelude to 'Aida' and a few bars of that to 'II Ballo in Maschera') rather with a view to presenting the audience at the outset with the best themes of the work, than on account of the fitness of the melody for instrumental development. Italians have an instinctive tendency toward vocal music. Distinct rhythm, simply harmonised and well-balanced musical periods, are to them the highest musical expression : fugues, canons, double-counterpoint, have no charm for them : they appreciate variations on a theme, but fail to catch in full the meaning'of development. Now, without development proper there can be. no absolute instrumental music, and for this reason we say that Verdi has done nothing in the way of adding to the small repertoire of Italian in- strumental music ; and in fact none of his Over- tures can bear comparison with those of the German school, nor even with those of his countrymen and contemporaries, Foroni, Bazzini, Sgambati, and Smareglia or Catalani.

It is certainly not on his Overtures that Verdi will rest his fame. He is by nature, inclination, and education an operatic composer, and what- ever he has done in other directions must be considered only as accessory. In this light we will consider his ' Requiem,' though by that work one can fairly guess at his power in religious composition. It was chance that led the com- poser to try his hand at sacred music, and a few words spent on the origin of the ' Messa ' will not be here out of place, inasmuch as not even M. Pougin is well informed on this particular fact.

Shortly after Rossini's death (Nov. 13, 1868), Verdi suggested that the Italian composers should combine to write a Requiem as a tribute to the memory of the great deceased ; the Re- quiem to be performed at the cathedral of Bologna every hundredth year, on the centenary of Rossini's death, and nowhere else and on no other occasion whatever. The project was im- mediately accepted, and the thirteen numbers of the work, the form and tonality of each of which had been previously determined, were distributed as follows :

1. Kequiein seternarn (G minor), Buzzola.

2. Dies irse (C minor;, Bazzini.

3. Tuba mirum (Eb minor), Pedrotti.

4. Quid sum miser (Afr major), Cagnoni.

��VERDI.

6. Recordare (P major), Ricci.

6. Ingemisco (A minor), Mini.

7. Confutatis (D major;, Bouchenon.

8. Lacrymosa (G major, C minor), Coccia.

9. Domine Jesu (0 major), Gaspari.

10. Sanctus (Dp major), Platania.

11. Agnus Dei (F major), Petrella.

12. Lux seterna (Ab major), Mabollini.

13. Libera me (.G minor), Verdi.

The several numbers were duly set to music and sent in, but, as might have been expected, when performed in an uninterrupted succession, they were found to want the unity and uniformity of style that is the sine qua non of a work of art: and, though every one had done his best, there were too many different degrees of merit in the several parts ; so that, without assigning any positive reason, the matter was dropped, and after a while each number was sent back to its author. But M. Mazzucato, of Milan, who had first seen the complete work, was so much struck by Verdi's ' Libera me,' as to write him a letter stating the impression he had received from that single number, and entreating him to compose the whole Requiem. Shortly after this, Alessan- dro Manzoni died at Milan ; whereupon Verdi offered to write a Requiem for the anniversary of Manzoni's death ; and this is the work, the last movement of which was originally composed for the Requiem of Rossini.

The piece has been enthusiastically praised and bitterly gainsaid. The question can only be decided by time, which, so far, seems inclined to side with Verdi's admirers. In Italy, unbiassed criticism on the subject has been rendered im- possible by a letter written to a German paper by Dr. Hans von Billow, declaring the work to be a monstrosity, unworthy of an ordinary pupil of any musical school in Germany. This language could not but create a strong reaction, not only among Verdi's countrymen, but among all persons to whom his name was associated with enjoyment, and from that moment even those who might have reasonably objected to the Requiem under- stood that it was not the time to do so.

We leave to technical musicians the task of finding out whether there are, as an anonymous writer asserts, more than a hundred mistakes in the progression of the parts, or not. Even were this the case it is doubtful whether the mistakes rest with the composer or with those who pretend to establish certain rules for his inspiration. Be this as it may, it is certainly not by looking at Verdi's Requiem in that way that we shall discover what place he is likely to hold among writers of sacred music. Not to mention Palestrina, whose music can now-a-days only be heard and fully understood in the Cappella Sistina, if even there, but looking at the sacred music of Handel and Bach, and setting up the oratorios, cantatas, and masses of these two giant artists against Verdi's Requiem, we cannot but urge that no comparison is possible. Widely different as Bach's mind was from Handel's, there is in both the expression of a similar feeling. In Verdi's work we may easily recognise the pre- sence of another kind of feeling, requiring quite another mode of musical manifestation. There

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