George Grove.

A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) online

. (page 56 of 194)
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ther : —

Nobody can imagine vrith what earnestness the boy
actised on the spinet. At first he was satisfied with
ing able to play the first five notes of the scale : next
! most anxiouslj' endeavoured to find out chords. Once
! was in a perfect rapture at having sounded the major
ird and fifth of C. The following day, however, he
old not find the chord again, whereupon he began to
et and fume, and then got in such a temper, that
king up a hammer he began to break the spinet to
eces. The noise soon brought his father into the room,
ho seeing the havoc his son was playing, landed so
!av^ a blow on Giuseppe's ear, as once for all cleared
8 mind of any thought of again punishing the spinet
r his inability to strike common chords.

Another evidence of Giuseppe's musical apti-
ide is given by the following fact, which occurred
hen he was only seven years old. He was then
isisting the priest at the Mass in the little church
■ Le Roncole. At the very moment of the
evation of the Host, the harmonies that flowed
om the organ struck the child as so sweet,
lat he stood motionless in ecstasy. 'Water,'
id the priest to the acolyte ; and the latter
'idently not heeding him, the demand was re-
lated. Still no reply. ' Water,' a third time
id the priest, kicking the child so brutally
lat he fell headlong down the steps of the
tar, knocked his head against the floor, and
as brought unconscious into the sacristy. After
lis event Giuseppe's father engaged M. Bais-
occhi, the local organist, to give him music
ssons. At the end of a year M. Baistrocchi
ade a declaration to the effect that the pupil
id learned all that the teacher could impart,
id thereupon resigned his position as Verdi's

Two years after, having completed this first
age in his musical education, Verdi — then but
:n years old — was appointed as organist in the
)om of old Baistrocchi. The dream of his
irents was thus for the time realised : yet
sfore long the mind of the elder Verdi began
) be haunted with the thought that some know-
dge of the three R's could but bring good to
is son in after life : and after debating his
-heme with his wife, he resolved upon sending
iuseppe to a school in Busseto. This would
ave been beyond the small means of the good
'erdi, but for the fact that at Busseto lived
countryman and friend — a cobbler known by
le name of Pugnatta. This Pugnatta took
pon himself to give Giuseppe board and lodg-
ig, and send him to the principal school of
le town, all at the very moderate price of
ireepence a day. And to Pugnatta's Giuseppe
ent : and while attending the school most
5siduous]y, kept his situation as organist of Le
Roncole, walking tliere every Sunday moming,
ad back to Busseto after the evening service.
It may not be devoid of interest to the reader
i> cast a glance at Verdi's financial condition
■. that period of his life. Except clothing, which
'id not represent an important item, and pocket-
'oney, which he had none, his expenditure
'nounted to 109 francs 50 centimes a-year — that
I' ^4 7«- Z<i' His salary as the organist of Le
ioncole was £1 8?. lod., which, after one year's
VOL. IV. PT. 2.



service and many urgent appeals, was increased
to £1 i2i;. To this add a profit of £2 or £2 loa.
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
tov.-ards 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 wa3 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 Italj',
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 cnnductorship 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 ;




and all this in such earnest that old Proves!
began to notice Giuseppe with approval, and
jtfive him the foundation of a sound musical
knowledge. Proves! may be considered the man
who led the first steps of Verdi into the right
track, and lucky it was for the pupil to have
come across such a man. He was an excellent
contrapuntist, a composer of several comic operas,
of which he had written both words and music,
and a man well read in general literature. He
was the first man in Eusseto to understand
Verdi's real vocation, and to advise him to
devote himself to music. Don Pietro Seletti,
the boy's Latin teacher, and a fair violinist,
bore a grudge to Provesi for a certain poem the
latter had written against the clergy. The fact
that Provesi encouraged Verdi to study music
was therefore enough for Don Pietro to dissuade
him as strongly from it. ' What do you want
to study music for ? You have a gift for Latin,
and it will be much better for you to become
a priest. What do you expect from your music ?
Do you fancy that some day you may become
organist of Busseto ? . . Stuff and nonsense. , .
That can never be ! '

But a short time after this admonition there
was to be a mass at a chapel in Busseto where
Don Pietro Seletti was the officiating priest.
The organist was unable to attend, and Don
Pietro was induced to let Verdi preside at the
organ. The mass over, Don Pietro sent for
him. 'Whose music did you play?' said he;
' it was a most beautiful thing.' ' Why,' timidly
answered the boy, ' I had no music, and I was
playing extempore, just as I felt.' ' Ah ! indeed,'
rejoined Don Pietro ; ' well, I am a fool, and you
cannot do better than study music,^ take my
word for it.'

Under the intelligent guidance of Provesi,
Verdi studied till he was i6. During this
period he often came to the help of his old
master both as organist and as conductor of the
Philharmonic Society. The archives of the
society stiU contain several works written by
Verdi at that time, and composed, copied, taught,
rehearsed, and conducted by himself. None of
these compositions have been published, though
it would be a matter of interest to examine the
first attempts of his musical genius. [See
p. 254 &.]

It became evident that Busseto was too narrow
a field for the aspirations of the young composer,
and efforts were made to afford him the means
o^f going to Milan, the most important Italian
town, nmsically speaking. The financial question
came again to the front, and, thanks to the
good-will of t'ne Bussetesi, it had a happy solu-
tion. The Monte di Pietk, an institution grant-
ing four premiums of 300 francs a year, each
given for four years to promising young men
wanting means for undertaking the study of
science or art, was induced by Barezzi to award
one of the four premiums to Verdi, with the
important modification of allowing him 600 francs
a-year for two years, instead of 300 for four
years. M. Barezzi himself advanced the money


necessary for music lessons, board and lodgiii:,'
in Milan ; and Seletti gave him an introduction
to his nephew, a professor there, who most heartily
welcomed him, and would not hear of his find-
ing lodgings for himself.

We come now to an incident of Verdi's artistic
life, to which a very undue importance has been
often attached ; we mean liis being refused
a scholarship at the Conservatorio di !Musica
of jNIilan, on the ground of his showing no
special aptitude for music. If a board of pro-
fessors were now to be found to declare that the
author of ' Rigoletto,' 'Ballo in Maschera,' and
' Aida,' had no musical disposition, such de-
claration would undoubtedly reflect very little
credit on the institution to which the board
belonged, or on the honesty and impartiality of
the professors ; but tilings were not so bad at
that time as we are made to believe they were —
nay, it is probable that in the best conductcl
musical schools of the world, some Verdi, Bee-
thoven, or Bach is every year sent back to his
home and his country organ, as was the caji-
with Verdi. Without following E^tis in his
study of the preposterous fact, we think that a.
true idea may be formed of it by looking at th«||
way in which matters of this kind proceedfi
now-a-daj's, and will proceed so long as there
are candidates, scholarships, and examiners.

To a vacant scholarship — for pianoforte, sing-
ing or composition — there is always a number
of candidates, occasionally amounting to as man^.
as a hundred. A committee of professors, unda
the i^residence of the Principal is appointed tt
examine all the competitors, and choose the beat
The candidates, male and female, have each t
different degree of instruction, ranging froil
mere children with no musical education, U
such as have already gone through a regula"*V
course of study. To determine whether there i
more hope of future excellence in a girl wh'
plays sixteen bars of an easy arrangement of ;
popular tune, or a boy who can perhaps sinji
something by heart just to show that he has
certain feeling and a right perception of rhythr
and tonality, or in an advanced pupil who sul
mits the score of a grand opera in five ac)
(not impossibly written by some friend or foK
father) — to be able to determine this is a thin
beyond the power of the human intellect. Tl:
committee can only select one amongst those thi
have the least disqualifications, but nobody ca
accuse them of ignorance or ill-will if the chose
candidate, after five years' tuition, turns out
be a mere one-two-three-and-four conductor
operettas, while one of the ninety-nine dismisse
after ten years' hard study elsewhere, writes
masterpiece of operatic or sacred music. Not
geta scholarship does not imply that a candidate
unable to pursue a musical career; it means on
that there being but one place vacant, and twen
who passed as good an examination as he,
shares with nineteen others the ill luck of notbei
the happy one chosen. Moreover there are
settled rules as to the time when musical geni
breaks out in unmi.stakeable light. We are rea




believe that Mozart, when only three years
1, gave unmistakable hints of what he was
ierwards to become ; yet we can say, as an
e-witness, that M. Boito, the author of
lephistopheles,' a man of undeniable musical
nius, did not reveal any decided aptitude for
isical composition till nineteen ; while several
longst his school-fellows who promised to be
e rightful heirs of Rossini and Bellini are now
ichers and conductors of provincial schools or
3ond-rate theatres. Let us then bear no grudge
Easily, the then principal of the Conservatoire

Milan, nor let us depreciate him for not
,ving been so gifted as to recognise in the young
id unprepossessing organist of Le Roncole the
an who was destined to write 'II Rigoletto'
fenty years afterwards.

But though failing to be admitted to the
mservatoire, Verdi stuck to the career which
! had undertaken, and, on the advice of Ales-
ndro RoIIa, then conductor of ' La Scala,' he
ked M. Lavigna to give him lessons in com-
isition and orchestration. Lavigna was a dis-
aguished musician and a composer of no
dinary merit; his operas, 'LaMutaperamore,'
j'Idolo di se stesso,' 'L'Impostore avvilito,'
Joriolano,' 'Zaira,' and several others, having
(en performed several times with favourable
:ccess. He consented to give the lessons, and

him actually belongs the honour of being
,e teacher of Verdi.

This was in 1831, when Verdi was eighteen,
tie two years from 1831 to 1833 passed in
1 uninterrupted succession of exercises in har-
ony, counterpoint, and fugue, and a daily study
' Mozart's 'Don Giovanni.' In 1833 the death
' Proves! brought an entire change to Verdi,
e went back to Busseto for five years, and
'ter this lapse of time returned to Milan to
.ke his start as a composer. We give, in the
ords of M. Ercole Cavalli — for this particular
jriod the best-informed of the biographers —
le lively description of Verdi's residence at

'In 1833 M. Ferdinando Proves! died. The
ustees of the Monte di Pietk, of Busseto, and
.6 other contributors towards Verdi's musical
aining, had acted with the intention that, after
fovesi's death, Verdi should be his successor
ith as Maestro di Cappella and Organist of
' e Cathedral, and also Conductor of the Phil-
Urmonic Society. Verdi felt very sorry for the
path of Proves! ; with him he had lost the man

iao first taught him the elements of his art,
,d showed him the way to excellence ; and
ough Verdi felt a call to something nobler
life, yet he kept his word to his country-
, 3n and went to Busseto to fill the place left
jjcant by his deceased professor. The appoint-
jjjnt rested with the churchwardens of the
ij.thedral, men who either belonged to the clergy
i| were fanatic bigots, and therefore had but
I tie liking for Verdi, whom they called "the
ihionable maestrino," as being versed only in
.1 ofane and operatic music ; they preferred some-
jdy cut a little more after their own pattern.

and were anxious for a maestro well grounded in
the Gregorian chant.

' Verdi's competitor, one M. Giovanni Ferrari,
played indifierently on the organ, but had the
strong support of two bishops ; he gathered all
the votes of the churchwardens, and the pupil of
Provosi and Lavigna, for whom so many sacri-
fices had been made by the town, was black-
balled. Upon hearing this decision, the Phil-
harmonic Society, which for many years had
made it a rule to enhance the solemnity of all
the services in the cathedral by co-operating
with their orchestra, lost all patience, and
bursting tumultuously into the church, rum-
maged the archives and took away from them
every sheet of music paper belonging to the
Society; thereby beginning a civil war that
lasted several years, in a town that was formerly
an example of tranquillity and peace.

'On this followed satires, insults, affrays,
riots, imprisonments, persecutions, banishments
and the like ; ending in decrees whereby the
Philharmonic Society was prohibited to meet
under any pretence whatever.'

Verdi next fell in love with Margherita,
Barezzi's eldest daughter, whose father, unlike
most fathers, did not oppose Margherita's vmion
to a talented though very poor young man.

' In 1836 they were married. The whole Phil-
harmonic Society attended the weddings ; it was
a happy and glorious day, and all were deeply
moved by the prospect already opening before
the young man: who, though born in the poorest
condition, was at twenty-three already a com-
poser, with the daughter of a rich and much
respected man for his wife.'

In 1838 Verdi, with his wife and two children
left Busseto and settled in Milan, with the hope
of performing his opera 'Oberto Conte di S.
Bonifacio.' We are now to witness the vicis-
situdes of a talented but nearly unknown young
man, who comes to a large town, one of the
most important musical centres of those days,
with no fortune but the manuscript of a melo-
drama, and nothing to help him on but the
golden opinions which his genius and honesty have
previously won for him from a few friends ; and
we shall see this young man transformed in a
short time into the favourite composer of all
opera- goers. And we are glad to be able to
give the relation of this most important period
of an artist's career, in words that may be said
to be Verdi's own.

The first part of the narrative refers to the
time when he was in Milan, studying with La-
vigna. On his return there his kind old master
was gone — died while his pupil was at Busseto.
And here is Verdi's narrative : — ^

'About the year 1833 or 34 there was in
Milan a Philharmonic Society composed of first-
rate vocalists, under the direction of one M. Ma-
sini. The Society was then in the bustle and
hurry of arranging a performance of Haydn's
Creation, at the Teatro Filodrammatico. M.
Lavigna, my teacher of composition, asked me

1 We have omitted some unimportant sentences.





■whether I should like to attend the rehearsals,
in order to improve my mind, to which I will-
ingly answered in the affirmative. Nobody
would notice the young man that was quietly
sitting in the darkest comer of the hall. Three
maestri shared the conducting between them —
Messrs. Perelli, Bonoldi, and Almasio ; but one
day it happened that neither of the three was
present at the time appointed for rehearsal. The
ladies and gentlemen were growing fidgetty,
when M. Masini, who did not feel himself
equal to sitting at the piano and accompanying
from the full orchestral score, walked up to
me and desired me to be the accompanyist
for the evening: and as perhaps he believed
in my skill as little as he did in his own, he
added, "It will be quite enough to play the
bass only." I was fresh from my studies, and
certainly not puzzled by a full orchestral score ;
I therefore answered "All right," and took
my place at the piano. I can well remember
the ironical smiles that flitted over the faces of
the Signori dilettanti : it seems that the quaint
look of my young, slender and rather shabbily
dressed person was not calculated to inspire
them with much confidence.

'However, the rehearsal began, and in the
course of it I gradually warmed up and got
excited, so that at last, instead of confining
myself to the mere piano part, I played the
accompaniment with my left hand, vphile con-
ducting most emphatically with my right. It
was a tremendous success, all the more because
quite unexpected. The rehearsal over, every-
body congratulated me upon it, and amongst
my most enthusiastic admirers were Count
Pompeo Belgiojoso and Count Renato Borromeo.
In short, W'hether the three maestri were too
busy to attend the rehearsals, or whether there
was some other reason, I was appointed to con-
duct the performance, which performance was so
much welcomed by the audience that by general
request it had to be repeated in the large and
beautiful hall of the Casino dei Nobili. in pre-
sence of the Archduke and Archduchess Ranieri,
and all the high life of those days.

* A short time afterwards, I was engaged by
Count Renato Borromeo to write the music for
a cantata for chorus and orchestra, on the
occasion of the marriage of some member of the
Count's family — if I remember right. I must
say, however, that I never got so much as a
penny out of all that, because the whole work
was a gratuitous one.

' M. Masini next urged me to write an opera
for the Teatro Filodrammatico, where he was
conductor, and handed me a libretto, which
after having been touched up by M. Solera,
became Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio,

'I closed immediately with the proposition,and
went to Busseto, where I was appointed organist.
I was obliged to remain there nearly three years,
and during that time I wrote out the whole opera.
The three years over, I took my way back to Milan,
tarrying with me the score in perfect order, and
all tlie solo parts copied out by myself.

'But here difficulties began. Masini being
no longer conductor, my chance of seeing my
opera produced there was at an end. However,
whether Masini had confidence in my talents,
or wished to show me some kindness for the
many occasions on which I had been useful to him,
rehearsing and conducting for nothing, he did not
give up the business, and assured me he would
not leave a stone unturned until my opera was
brought out at the Scala, when the turn came
for the benefit of the Pio Instituto. Both Count
Borromeo and Dr. Pasetti promised me their
influence on Masini, but, as far as 1 am aware,
their support did not go beyond some scanty
words of recommendation. Masini, however, did
his best, and so did Merighi, a cellist who had
played under my direction, and had a certain
opinion of the young maestro.

'The result was that the opera was put down fof
the spring of 185,9, to be performed at La Scala
for the benefit of the Pio Instituto ; and among tha'
interpreters were the four excellent artists Mme.'
Strepponi, Moriani, Giorgio Ronconi, and Marini.,

'After a few rehearsals Moriani falls seriously
ill, everything is brought to a standstill, and all
hope of a performance gone ! I broke dowii
utterly, and was thinking of going back to Bus-
seto, when one fine morning one of the theatre
attendants knocked at my door and said sulkily,
"Are you the maestro from Parma who wa»
to give an opera for the Pio Instituto ? Coma
with me to the theatre, the impresario wants to
speak to you."

' Is it possible ? said I, but .... and the;
fellow began again — I was told to call on the
maestro from Parma, who was to give an opera J
if it is you, let us go. And away we went

' The impresario was M. Bartolomeo Merelli.
One evening crossing the stage he had overheard
a talk between Strepponi and Ronconi, whereii
the first said something very favourable t<
Oberto, and the second endorsed the praise.

' On my entering his room, he abruptly tolt
me that having heard my "Oberto" spoken
very favourably by reliable and intelligent per
sons, he was willing to produce it during th—
next season, provided I would make some sligh
alterations in the compass of the solo parts, a
the artists engaged were not the same who wer
to perform it before. This was a fair pre
position. Young and unknown, I had the goo
luck to meet with an impresario willing to ru
the risk of mounting a new opera, withou
asking me to share in the expenditure, which
could not have afforded ! His only conditio
was tliat he should share with me the sale (
the copyright. This was not asking much, ft
the work of a beginner. And in fact, even aft(
its favourable reception, Ricordi would give r
more than 2000 Austrian livres (£67) for it,

' Though Oberto was not extraordinarily su
cessful, yet it was well received by the publi
and was performed several times ; and J
Merelli even found it convenient to extend tl
season and give some additional performanc
of it. The principal interpreters were ilm



tfarini, M. Salvi and M. Manni. I had been
ibliged to make some cuts, and had written
in entirely new number, the quartet, on a
ituation suggested by Merelli himself; which
iroved to be one of the most successful pieces
n the whole work.

'Merelli next made me an offer which, con-

Online LibraryGeorge GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) → online text (page 56 of 194)