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

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idering the time at which it was made, may be
ailed a splendid one. He proposed to engage
ne to write three operas, one every eight months,
o be performed either at Milan or Vienna, where
le was the impresario of both the principal
heatrical houses : he to give me 4000 livres
£134) for each opera, and the pi-ofits of the
opyright to be divided between us. I agreed
o everything, and shortly afterwards Merelli
cent to Vienna, leaving instructions to Rossi to
i^rite a libretto for me, which he did, and it was
he Proscritto. It was not quite to my liking,
nd I had not yet brought myself to begin to set
t to music, when Merelli, coming hurriedly to
(lilan during the spring of 1 840, told me that
e was in dreadful want of a comic opera for
he next autumn, that he would send me a
ibretto, and that I was to write it first, before
he Proscritto. I could not well say no, and
Merelli gave me several librettos of Eoniani

choose from, all of which had already been
et to music, though owing to failure or other
easons, they could safely he set again, I read
hem over and over and did not like any ; but
here was no time to lose, so I picked out one
hat seemed to me not so bad as the others,

1 finto Stanislao, a title which I changed into
7n Giorno di Regno.

*At that period of my life I was living in an
npretentious little house near the Porta Tici-
lesa, and my small family was with me — that is,
ay young wife and my two sons. As soon as I
et to work I had a severe attack of angina,
hat confined me to my bed for several days,
,nd just when I began to get better I remem-
lered that the third day forward was quarter-
lay, and that I had to pay fifty crowns. Though
Q my financial position this was not a small sum,
et it was not a very big one either, but my
llness putting it out of my mind, had prevented
fie from taking the necessary steps; and the
leans of communication with Busseto— the mail
sft only twice a week — did not aUow me time
nough to write to my excellent father-in-law
5arezz!, and get the money from him. I was
etermined to pay the rent on the very day
". fell due, so, though it vexed me very much
3 trouble people, I desired Dr. Pasetti to in-
uce M. Merelli to give me fifty crowns, either
|s an advance on the money due to me under
be agreement, or as a loan for ten days, till
I could write to Barezzi and receive the money
anted. It is not necessary to say why Merelli
Duld not at that moment give me the fifty

owns, but it vexed me so much to let the
uarter-day pass by without paying the rent,
lat my wife, seeing my anxieties, takes the
■vf valuable trinkets she had, goes out, and a
ttle while after comes back with the necessary



VERDI.



245



amount. I was deeply touched by this tender
affection, and promised myself to buy every-
thing back again, which I could have done in
a very short time, thanks to my agreement with
Merelli.

* But now terrible misfortunes crowded upon
me. At the beginning of April my child faUs
ill, the doctors cannot understand what is the
matter, and the dear little creature goes off
quickly in his desperate mother's arms. More-
over, a few days after the other child is taken
ill too, and she too dies, and in June my young
wife is taken from me by a most violent in-
flammation of the brain, so that on the igtli
June I saw the third coffin carried out of my
house. In a very little over two months, three
persons so very dear to me had disappeared for
ever. I was alone, alone ! My family had been
destroyed ; and in the very midst of these trials
I had to fulfil my engagement and write a comic
opera ! TJn Giorno di Regno proved a dead
failure ; the music was, of course, to blame, but
the interpretation had a considerable share in
the fiasco. In a sudden moment of despondency,
embittered by the failure of my opera, I despaired
of finding any comfort in my art, and resolved
to give up composition. To that effect I wrote
to Dr. Pasetti (whom I had not once met since
the failure of the opera) asking him to persuade
Merelli to tear up the agreement.

* Merelli thereupon sent for me and scolded me
like a naughty child. He would not even hear of
my being so much disappointed by the cold
reception of my work: but I stuck to my de-
termination, and in the end he gave me back
the agreement saying, "Now listen to me, my/
good fellow ; I can't compel you to write if you
don't want to do it ; but my confidence in
your talent is greater than ever ; nobody knows
but some day you may return on your decision
and write again : at all events if you let me
know two months in advance, take my word for
it your opera shall be performed."

' I thanlied him very heartily indeed ; but his
kindness did not shake my resolution, and
away I went. I took up a new residence in
Milan near the Corsia de' Servi. I was utterly
disheartened, and the thought of writing never
once flashed through my mind. One evening,
just at the corner of the Galleria De Cristoforis,
I stumbled upon M. Merelli, who was hurrying
towards the theatre. It was snowing beauti-
fully, and he, without stopping, thrust his arm
under mine and made me keep pace with him.
On the way he never left off talking, telling me
that he did not know where to turn for a new
opera; Nicola! was engaged by him, but had
not begun to work because he was dissatisfied
with the libretto.

'Only think, says Merelli, a libretto by
Solera, marvellous . . . wonderful . . . extraordi-
nary . . . impressive dramatic situation . . . grand
. . . splendidly worded . . . but that stubborn
creature does not understand it, and says it is
a foolish poem. I don't know for my life where
to find another poem.



246



VERDI.



'Well, I'll give you a lift out of your trouble.
Did you not engage Rossi to do II Proscritto
for me? I have not yet written one blessed
note of it, and I wiU give it back to j'ou.

* The very thing ! clever fellow ! good idea !
'Thus we arrived at the theatre ; M. Merelli

forthwith sends for M. Bassi, poet, stage-mana-
ger, buttafuori and librarian, and bids him find
a copy of II Proscritto. The copy was found,
but together with it M. Merelli takes up another
manuscript and lays it before me —

' Look, says he, here is Solera's libretto
that we were speaking of! such a beautifid
subject; and to refuse it! Take it, just take it,
and read it over.

' What on earth shall I do with it ? . . . No,
no, I am in no humour to read librettos.

'My gracious! ... It won't kUl you; read
it, and then bring it back to me again. And
he gives me the manuscript. It was written
on large sheets in big letters, as was the custom
in those days. I rolled it up, and went away.

'While walking home I felt rather queer;
there was something that I could not well ex-
plain about me. I was burdened with a sense
of sadness, and felt a great inclination to cry.
I got into my room, and pulling the manuscript
out of my pocket and throwing it angrily on the
writing-table, I stood for a moment motionless
before it. The book as I threw it down, opened,
my eyes feU on the page, and I read the line

Va, pensiero, sull' ali derate.
I read on, and was touched by the stanzas, inas-
much as they were almost a paraphrase of the
Bible, the reading of which was the comfort of
my solitary life.

* I read one page, then another ; then, decided
as I was to keep my promise not to write any
more, I diil violence to my feelings, shut up the
book, went to bed, and put out the candle.
I tried to sleep, but Nabucco was runninir
a mad career through my brain, and sleep would
not come. I got up, and read the libretto again
— not once, but two or three times, so that in
the morning I could have said it off by heart.
Yet my resolution was not shaken, and in the
afternoon I went to the theatre to return the
manuscript to Merelli.'

' Isn't it beautiful ? says he.

' More than beautiful, wonderful.

' WeU, set it to music.

' Not in the least ; I won't.

' Set it to music, set it to music.

' And so saying he gets off his chair, thrusts
the libretto into my coat pocket, takes me by
the shoulders, shoves me out of his room, slams
the door in my face, and locks himself in.
I looked rather blank, but not knowing what
to do went home with Nabucco in my pocket.
One day a line, the next day another line, a
note, a bar, a melody ... at last I found that
by imperceptible degrees the opera was done !

' It was then the autumn of 1821, and calling
to mind Merelli's promise, I went straight to
him to announce that Nabucco was ready for
performance, and that he might bring: it out in



VERDI.

the coming season of Carnevale Quaresinia (Car-
nival before Lent).

' Merelli emphatically declared that he would
stick to his word ; but at the same time he
called my attention to the fact that it was im-
possible to bring out the opera during the Qua-
resima, because the repertoire was aU settled,
and no less than three new operas by known
composers already on the list ; to give, together
with them, a fourth, by a man who was almost
a debutant was a dangerous business for every-
body, especially for me ; it would therefore be
safer to put off my opera till Easter, when,
he had no engagements whatever, and wa^'
willing to give me the best artists that could
found for love or money. This, however,
peremptorily refused : — either during the Carn^
val or never ; and with good reason ; for I kne'V
very well that during the spring it was utterl
impossible to have two such good artists as Strep
poni and Ronconi, on whom, knowing they weri
engaged for the Carneval season, I had mainlj|
built my hopes of success.

' Merelli, though anxious to please me, wm
not on the wrong side of the question ; to ru!
four new operas in one season was, to say th
least, rather risky; but I also had good artist]
reasons to set against his. The issue was, thi
after a long succession of Yes, No, Perhaps, an
Very likely, one fine morning I saw the postd
on the walls and Nabucco not there.

' I was young and easily roused, and I vrto\
a nasty letter to M. MereUi, wherein I freell
expressed my feelings. No sooner was the letti
gone than I felt something like remorse, ai
besides, a certain fear lest my rashness hi
spoiled the whole business.

' Merelli sent for me, and on my entering
ofBce he says in an angry tone : Is this
way you write to j'our friends? . . . Yet you
right ; I'll give Nabucco ; but you must reman
ber, that because of the outlay on the otb
operas, I absolutely cannot afford new scenei
new costumes for you, and we must be conf
to make a shift with what we have in stock

'I was determined to see the opera perfon
and therefore agreed to what he said,
new posters were printed, on which Nabi
appeared with the rest.

'I remember a droll thing happening ahiSt
that time : in the third act Solera had writtej Bs
a love-duet between Fenena and Ismaele. I d'tP^'
not like it, as it seemed to me not only i
effective, but a blur on the religious grandioM'
that was the main feature of the drama, fljj
morning Solera came to see me, and I w]
occasion to make the remark. He stoutly a
puted my view, not so much perhaps becau
he thought I was wrong, as because he did D
care to do the thing again. We talked t
matter over and over and used many argumen
Neither of us would give way. He asked i
what I thought could be put in place of t
duet, and I suggested a prophecy for Zaccari
he thought tiie idea not so bad, and after seve)
buts and ifs said he would think over it a



VERDI.

e it out. This was not exactly what I
ted; because I knew that days and weeks
Id pass before Solera would bring himself to
e a single line. I therefore locked the door,
the key in my pocket, and half in jest and

in earnest said to him : I will not let you
before you have finished the prophecy : here
Bible, and so more than half of your work
one. Solera, being of a quick temper, did
quite see the joke, he got angrily upon his

and . . . Well, just for a moment or two
shed myself somewhere else, as the poet was
werful man, and might have got the better of

but happily he changed his mind, sat down,
in ten minutes the prophecy was written.
^t the end of February i S42 we had the first
ar&al, and twelve days later, on March 9,
irst performance. The principal interpreters
i Mmes. Strepponi and BoUinzaghi, and
srs. Ronconi, Miraglia and Derivis.
iV^ith this opera my career as a composer

rightly be said to have begun ; and though
; true that I had to fight against a great
y difficulties, it is no less true that Na-
io was bom under a very good star: for
I the things which might reasonably have
L expected to damage its success, turned
to have increased it. Thus, I wrote a
y letter to Merelli; and it was more than
able that Merelli would send the young
3tro and his opera to the devil. Nothing of
kind. Then the costumes, though made in a
y, were splendid. Old scenes, touched up by
Peroni, had a magical efi"ect: the first one
cially — the Temple — elicited an applause

lasted nearly ten minutes. At the very
rehearsal nobody knew how and when the
;ary band was to appear on the stage ; its
uctor, Herr Tusch, was entirely at a loss ;
I pointed out to him a bar, and at the first
jrmance the band appeared just at the
ax of the crescendo, provoking a perfect
ider of applause.

?at it is not always safe to trust to the in-
ice of good stars: it is a truth which I
jvered by myself in after years, that to have
dence is a good thing, but to have none is

iT Still.'

I far the maestro's own narrative.

.even months later (Feb. 11, 1843), Verdi
jved a still more indisputable success with
jombardi alia prima Crociata,' interpreted
VIme. Frezzolini-Poggi, and MM. Guasco,
ri, and Derivis. Solera had taken the plot
the poem of Tommaso Grossi, the author of
Tco Visconti.' This opera gave Verdi his
1 experience in the difficulty of finding libretti
jectionable to the Italian governments,
igh five years had still to elapse before the
king out of the Milan revolt, yet something
brewing throughout Italy, and no occasion
I missed by the patriots in giving vent to their
igs. As soon as the Archbishop of Milan
eind of the subject of the new opera, he sent
ter to the chief of the police, M, Torresani,



VERDI.



247



saying that he knew the libretto to be a profane
and irreverent one, and that if Torresani did not
veto the performance, he himself would write
straight to the Austrian Emperoi-.

Merelli, Solera, and Verdi were forthwith
summoned to appear before Torresani and hear
from him what alterations should be made in
the opera. Verdi, in his usual blunt manner,
took no notice of the peremptory summons. ' 1
am satisfied with the opera as it is,' said he,
' and will not change a word or a note of it.
Jt shall be given as it is, or not given at all!^
Thereupon Merelli and Solera went to see Tor-
resani — who, to his honour be it said, besides
being the most inflexible agent of the government,
was an enthusiastic admirer of art and artists
— and so impressed him with the responsibility
he would assume by preventing the performance
of a masterpiece of all masterpieces, like the
'Lombardi,' that at the end Torresani got up
and said, 'I am not the man to prevent genius
from getting on in this world. Go on ; I take
the whole thing upon myself; only put Salve
Maria instead of Ave Maria, just to show the
Archbishop that we are inclined to please him ;
and as for the rest, it is all right.' The opera
had an enthusiastic reception, and the chorus,

O Signore, dal tetto natio,
had to be repeated three times. The Milanese,
the pioneers of the Italian revolution, always on
the look-out, knew very well that the Austrian
Governor could not miss the meaning of the ap-
plause to that suggestively-worded chorus.

Of Verdi's first three operas 'I Lombard!'
has stood its ground the best. In Italy it is
still very often played, and as late as 1879 ^^^
the honour of twenty-six performances in one
season at Brussels. On Nov. 26, 1S47, it was
performed with considerable alterations in the
music, and a libretto adapted by Vaez and
Roger, but with little success, under the title
of * Jerusaleni,' at the French Op^ra. The ex-
periment of retranslating the work into Italian
was not a happy one, and 'Gerusalemme' in Italy
was little better welcomed than ' Jerusalem '
had been in Paris.

Verdi's works were soon, eagerly sought after
by all the impresarios, and the composer gave
the preference to Venice, and wrote ' Ernani '
(March 9, 1S44) for the Fenice theatre there.
The success was enormous, and during the fol-
lowing nine months it was produced on fifteen
different stages. The libretto, borrowed from
Victor Hugo's 'Hernani,' was the work of F. M.
Piave, of Venice, of whom we shall have occasion
to speak again. The police interfered before the
performance, and absolutely would not allow a
conspiracy on the stage. This time many ex-
pressions in the poem, and many notes in the
music had to be changed ; and besides the annoy-
ances of the police, Verdi had some trouble with
a Count Mocenigo, whose aristocratical suscep-
tibility treated the blowing of the horn by Sylva
in the last act as a disgrace to the theatre. In
the end, after much grumbling, the horn was
allowed admittance. The choriis ' Si ridesti il



248



VERDI.



Leon di Castiglia' gave the Venetians an oppor-
tunity for a political manifestation in the same
spiiit as that at the production of ' I Lombardi '
at Milan.

'I due Foscavi' (Nov. 3, 1S44') followed close
on 'Emani.' It was brought out in Rome at
the Argentina, but notwithstanding several
beauties, the opera is not reckoned amongst
the maestro's best. Three months after * 1 due
Eoscari,' 'Giovanna d'Arco' was given at the
Scala in Milan (Feb. 15, 184.S). The overture
alone survives. 'Alzira' (Aug. 12, 1845), per-
formed at the San Carlo at Naples, neither added
to nor detracted from its author s popularity ;
while ' Attila' (March 17, 1S46), produced at the
Fenice, was the most successful after ' Ernani.'
In this opera a cue to political demonstration was
given by the aria,

Cara Pati-ia gia madre e Kegina,
and by the no less popular line,

Avrai tu TUui verso, resti lltalia a mp.
The Tiabituis of Covent Garden have little idea
what 'enthusiastic applause' means in Italy, and
in Venice especially, and in what acts of sheer
frenzy the audiences of 1846 would indulge to
give the Austrian Government an unmistakable
t-ign of their feelings. The overcrowded house
was in a perfect roar : clapping of hands, shouts,
cries, screams, stamps, thumps with sticks and
umbrellas, were heard from every corner, while
hats, bonnets, flowers, fans, books of words,
newspapers, flew from the galleries and boxes to
the stalls, and from the stalls back to the boxes
or to the stage — the noise often entirely covering
the sound of both orchestra and chorus, and
lasting till the police could restore order, or till
there was no breath left in the audience.

' Attila ' was followed by ' Macbeth ' (March
17, 1847), at the Pergola of Florence. The book
was again the work of M. Piave, though to please
the poet and the composer, Andrea Maffei, the
renowned translator of Byron, Moore, Schiller
and Goethe, did not disdain to write .some por-
tions of it. This opera, owing chiefly to the lack
of a tenor part, received scant justice in Italy,
and still less abroad.

Verdi's fame was now firmly established,
and England, following out her programme of
attracting everything and everybody with real
artistic worth, made a step towards him. Mr.
Lumley, the manager of Her Majesty's Theatre,
proposed to him to write a new opera, an offer
which the composer gladly accepted. 'King
Lear' was fiist named as a fit subject for an
English audience, but as love — the steam-power
of all operatic engines — had no share in the plot,
it was feared that the work would want the first
requisite for success. It was therefore settled to
take the plot from Schiller's ' Robbers.' Maffei
himself was engaged to write the poem, and no
less artists than Jenny Lind, Lablaclie, and
Gardoni to interpret it. On this occasion the
Muse did not smile on her devotee, and the first
performance in London (July 22, 1847), proved
no more than what in theatrical jargon is called



VERDI.

a succes d'cdime ; a judgment afterwards endorsed
by many audiences. 'I Masnadieri ' was not
only Verdi's first work for the English stage,
but was the last opera conducted by Costa at
Her Majesty's previous to his joining the rival
house at Covent Garden. This coincidence all
but shunted Verdi's intellectual activity into a
new track. Lumley, deserted by the fashionablj
conductor, made a liberal off"er to Verdi, if he
would act for three years as conductor. Verdi
had a strong inclination to accept the offer, bu!
there was a drawback in the fact that he hac
agreed with Lucca, the publisher, of Milan, tf
write two operas for him. Negotiations wert
set on foot with the view of breaking off" th(
.ngreement, but Lucca would not hear of it, ant
Verdi had therefore to leave London, take 1
house at Passy, and write the 'Corsaro' and tb'
' Battaglia di L',>gnano.' Had he handled th ''
baton for three years he would probably not hav "
put it down again, and his greatest works migh
never have appeared ; for a man brought face t ;
face with the practical side of mu-sical busineej
cannot take the flights which are found in ' Rigci
letto,' the 'Trovatore,' and the 'Traviata.' ^

'II Corsaro' (Oct. 26, 1848, Trieste) was
failure. ' La Battaglia di Legnano ' (Jan. 2;!)
1S49, Rome), though welcomed on the first nighj
was virtually another failure. Those who caff-
remember the then political condition of Ital;f
and the great though unsuccessful struggle fijf
its independence, will very easily see how tl '
composer maybe justified for not having answer* 1
to the call of the Muse. While so stirring i'
drama was being played in his native countr""
the dramatis ■per.ionce of the Corsaro and tl*'
Battaglia di Legnano were too shadowy to i
terest him. During the summer of 1849, whi
the cholera was making ravages in France, Ven
at his father's request, left Paris and went hon
and he then bought the villa of S. Agata, 1
favourite residence, of which we shall give a e
scription further on.

It was in the solitude of the country ne'
Busseto that 'Luisa MUler' was composed ij
the San Carlo of Naples, where it was producj
with great and deserved success on Dec. 8, i8i]
The poem, one of the best ever accepted by
Italian composer, was the work of M. Cammara:
who took the plot from Schiller's drama, a
adapted it most eff"ectively to the operatic sta^

In connection with Luisa Miller we shall
late an authentic incident illustrating the w
in which the .■superstitious blood of the south (
be stirred. Tlie word * jettatore ' is familiar
anybody acquainted with Naples. It me;
somebody still more to be dreaded tlian an e
angel, a man who comes to j'ou with the I
intentions, and who yet, by a charm attacl
to his person, unwittingly brings all kinds of *
dents and misfortunes upon you. There was
this time, one M. Capecelatro, a non-professio
composer, and a frantic admirer of all musicis
and, welcome or not welcome, an unavoidj
friend to them. He was looked upon as a ' je
tore,' and it was an accepted fact in all H



VERDI.

ilitan circles that the cold reception of Alzira
San Carlo four years before was entirely due
his shaking hands with Verdi, and predicting
3'reat triumph. To jDrevent the repetition of
ch a calamity, it was evident that M. Cape-
latro must not be allowed to see, speak, or write
Verdi under any pretence whatever before the
st performance of Luisa Miller was over,
lerefore a body of volunteers was levied amongst
e composer's many friends, whose duty was'to
ep M. Capecelatro at a distance. Upon setting
5 foot on Neapolitan ground, Verdi found liim°-
f surrounded by this legion of friends ; they
ver left him alone for a minute : they stood at
3 door of his hotel ; they accompanied him to
3 theatre and in the street ; and had more than
ce to contend fiercely against the persistent and
reasonable M. Capecelatro. All went smoothly
;h the rehearsals, and the first performance was
nderfully good. During the interval before
i last act— which, by the bye, is one of Verdi's
st impressive and powerful creations — a great
3itement pervaded the house, and everyone
s anxious to see the previous success crowned
a still warmer reception of the final terzetto.
rdi was standing on the stage in the centre



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