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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liis guards, receiving congratulations from all,
en suddenly a man rushes frantically forwards,
1 crying out ' At last ! ' throws his arms fondly
nd Verdi's neck. At the same moment a side-
ne fell heavily on the stage, and had it not been
Verdi's presence of mind, throwing himself
;k with his admirer hanging on him, both
uld have been smashed. We need not say that
admirer was Capecelatro, and that the last
of Luisa Miller had, compared to the others,
ery cold reception.

Stifellio' (Nov. 16, 1850, Trieste) was a
ure; and even after being re-written and
reduced under the title of ' Aroldo ' (Aug. 16,
i7, Eimini), it did not become popular, though
score contains some remarkable passages,
3ngst others a great pezzo concertato and a
^t for soprano and bass, which would be almost
icient of themselves, now-a-days, to ensure
success of an Italian opera.
Ve are now going to deal with the period of
artist's career in which lie wrote the master-
ies that have given him his world-wide fame
Eigoletto,' 'Trovatore,^ and 'La Traviata.'
■nting a new libretto for La Fenice, Verdi
nested Piave to adapt the ' Le Eoi s'amuse '
Victor Hugo, and one was soon prepared,
li the suggestive French title changed into
tMaledizione.' Widely open to criticism as
'"ictor Hugo's drama, the situations and plot
yet admirably fit for opera-goers who do not
ible themselves about the why and the where-
i, but are satisfied with what is presented to
n, provided it rouses their interest. Verdi
the advantages offered by the libretto, and
hwith sent it to Venice for approval. But
^r the political events of 1848-49 the police
t a keener eye than before oa all perform-
es, and an opera in wliich a king is made
ippear under such a light as Fran9ois I. in



VERDL



249



*Le Roi s'amuse,' was met by a flat refusal.
Tlie direction of La Fenice and the poet were
driven almost mad by the answer; the season
was drawing near, and they would probably
have to do without the 'grand opera d"ob-
bligo.' Other subjects were proposed to the
composer, who, with his Olympian calm, alwa3's
refused on principle, saying, ' Either La Male-
dizione or none.' Days went on without any
solution to the problem, when it was brought
to an unexpected ^nd in a quarter where help
seemed least likely. The chief of the Austrian
police, M. Martello, who, like Torresani, hati as
great a love for the interests of art as he had
hatred to patriotic ideas — came one niornino-
into Piave's room, with a bundle of papers under
his arm, and patting him on the shoulder, said
'Here is your business; I have found it, and
we shall have the opera.' And then he began
to show how all the necessary alterations could
be made without any change in the dramatic
situations. The king was changed into a duke
of Mantua, the title into ' Rigoletto,' and all
the curses were made to wreak their fury on
the head of the insignificant duke of a petty
town. Verdi accepted the alterations, and after
receiving the complete libretto, went to Busseto
and set furiously to work. And his inspiration
served him so well that in forty days he was
back at Venice with Rigoletto ready, and its
production took place on March 11, 1851. This
was as great and genuine a success as was ever
achieved by any operatic composer; since no
change, either of time or artistic taste, during
more than thirty years, has been able to dim
the beauty of this masterpiece.

Nearly two years passed before the appearance
of ' II Trovatore,' which was performed at Rome
at the Teatro Apollo on Jan. 19, 1853; and in
little more than a montli later 'La Traviata'
was brought out at the Fenice at Venice (March
6, 1853). The reception of the two works was
very dififerent : II Trovatore from the very first
hearing was appreciated in full ; La Traviata
was a dead failure. 'Caro Emanuele.' wrote
Verdi to his friend and pupil Muzio, ' Traviata
last night made a fiasco. Is the fault mine or
the actors' ? Time will show.' Time showed
that the responsibility was to be laid entirely to
the singers, though they were amongst the best
of the day. The tenor, M. Graziani, took cold
and sang his part througliout in a hoarse and
almost inaudible voice. M. Varesi, the baryton,
having what he would call a secondary r61e,'took
no trouble to bring out the dramatic importance
of his short but capital part, so that the effect of
the celebrated duet between Violetta and Ger-
mond in the second act was entirely missed.
Mme. Donatelli, who impersonated the delicate,
sickly heroine, was one of the stoutest ladies on
or off the stage, and when at the beginning of
the third act the doctor declares that consumption
has wasted away the young lady, and that she
caimot live more than a few hours, the audience
was thrown in a state of perfectly uproarious
glee, a state very different from that necessary



2M



VERDI.



■to appreciate the tragic action of the last act.
Yet the failure at Venice did not prevent the
opera from being received enthusiastically else-
where. In connection with the Traviata we
may add that at its first performance in French,
at Paris, Oct. 27, 1864, the heroine was Miss
Christine Nilsson, — her first appearance before
the public.

Next to the ' Traviata ' Verdi wrote ' I Vespri
Siciliani,' which appeared in Paris on June 13,
1855. It is strange that writing for the French
stage an Italian composer slioukl have chosen
for his subject a massacre of the French by the
Sicilians. Messrs. Scribe and Duveyrier may be
complimented upon their poetry, but not upon
their common sense in offering such a drama to
an Italian composer, who writing for the first
time for the Grand Opera, could hardly refuse
a libretto imposed on him by the then omnipo-
tent Scribe. However, the music was appre-
ciated to its value by the French public, who
overlooking the inopportunity of the argument,
welcomed heartily the work of the Italian mae-
stro. In Italy — where the opera was reproduced
with a different libretto, and under the title of
' Giov^anna di Guzman,' the Austrian police not
allowing a poem glorifying the revolt of Sicily
against oppressors — it did not actually fail, but its
many beauties have never been fully appreciated.

' Simon Boccanegra' — by Piave, expressly com-
posed by Verdi for La Fenice and produced
March 12, 1857 — was a total failure, though the
prologue and last act may be ranked amongst
his most powerful inspirations. The failure was
owing to the dull and confused libretto, and to
a very bad interpretation. Both book and music
were afterwards altered — the former by Arrigo
Boito — and the opera was revived with success
in MUan on April 12, 1881.

' Un ballo in ilaschera,' though written for
the San Carlo of Naples, was produced at the
Teatro Apollo of Rome. Its original title was
'Gustavo III'; but during the rehearsals oc-
curred the attempt of Orsini against Napo-
leon III (Jan. 13, 1858), and the performance
of an opera with so suggestive a title was inter-
dicted. Verdi received a peremptory order from
the police to adapt his music to different words,
and upon his refusal the manager of San Carlo
brought an action against him for 200,coo francs
damages. When this was known, together with
the fact that he had refused to ask permission to
produce his work as it was, there was very nearly
a revolution in Naples. Crowds assembled under
his window, and accompanied him through the
streets, shouting ' Viva Verdi,' i.e. 'Viva Fit-
torio immanuele Be Di 7talia.'

In this crisis M. Jasovacci. the enterprising
impresario of Rome, called on Verdi, and taking
the responsibility of arranging everything with
the Roman police, entered into a contract to
produce the work at Rome. Richard, Governor
of Boston, was substituted for Gustavo III;
the opera was re-christened ' II baDo in Mas-
chera,' was brought out (Feb. 17, 1859), S'Od
Verdi achieved one of his greatest successes.



VERDI.

This was his last opera for the Italian stagey
The next three were written for St. Petersburg
Paris, and Cairo.

' La Forza del Destino ' — the plot borrowe(
by Piave from 'Don Alvar,' a Spanish drama b;
the Duke of Rivas — was performed with model
ate success on Nov. 10, 1862, at St. Petersburg
Seven years later Verdi had the libretto modifie
by Ghislanzoni, and after various alterations ii
the music, the opera was again brought befor
the public.

'Don Carlos,' the words by M^ry and Du
Locle, was enthusiastically received at the Open
in Paris, March 11, 1867. Verdi has since (i
introduced some changes in the score, materially
shortening the opera. \

His latest operatic work is ' Aida,' which wai ||
produced at Cairo Dec. 27, 1871. Duiing tb{
last thirteen years Verdi has given nothins
but his Requiem, produced at Milan on tl^
occasion of the anniversary of the death I
Manzoni, May 22, 1S74; in 1S80 a 'Pat^
Noster' for 5 voices, and an 'Ave Maria' &
soprano solo. Artists and amateurs are anxious!
waiting for 'Othello,' to a libretto by Arri|
Boito ; but it would apjjear that the composer
not satisfied with his work, since there are
yet no intimations of its production.

Amongst Verdi's minor works are the ' Ini
delle Nazioni,' performed at Her Majesty's Th
atre in 1S62, and a string quartet in E mine
written at Naples in 1873, and performed at ti
Monday Popular Concerts, London, Jan. 3
1 8 78. A complete list of all his compositia
will be found at the end of this article.

Of Verdi as a man, as we have alreai
hinted, little or nothing can be said. <

From the earliest moment of his career, }m\.
dislike of the turmoil of the world has ne^^
varied. Decorations, orders, titles have
heaped upon him at home and abroad, but hoj
still annoyed if addressed otherwise than ' Si
Verdi.' In 1S60 he was returned as member
the Italian parliament for Busseto, and at
personal wish of Count Cavour took the 0€ifl|! f.
but very soon sent in his resignation. In 187J
the king elected him a senator, and Verdi wenti
to Rome to take the oath, but never attendftl f
a single sitting. Some j'ears after the loss of hia »
wife and children he maixied Mme. Strepponi, [
but from this second marriage there is no family. ■»
He lives with his wife all the year round at hif^
villa of S. Agata, near Busseto, excepting on^jl
the winter months which he spends in Genoi
Passing by the villa every one may see that ovi
representation of his turn of mind is quite true.
It stands far from the high road, conceiJ**
almost entirely by large trees. Adjoining it _ii 4
a large and beautiful garden, and this ag»ii ^■
is surrounded by the farm. Verdi himself looki jij..
after the farming operations, and an Englishmai 1J^_
will find there all the best agricultural iraple 4
ments and machines of modern invention. i

Verdi's life at S. Agata is not dissimilar fron 4
that of other landed proprietors in the district ^
He gets up at five o'clock, and takes, accordini .it^



VEKDI.



VERDI.



251



Italian custom, a cup of hot black coffee,
en goes into his garden to look after the
s, give instructions to his gardener, and
lat his previous orders have been carried
Che next visit is to the horses, as the maestro
much interest in them, and his stud is
aiown as the 'Eazza Verdi.' As a rule
isit is interrupted at eight o'clock by the
iast bell — a simple breakfast of coffee and

At half-past ten the bell again summons
aestro and his wife to a more substantial
er, after which he takes another walk in
rden.

two o'clock comes the post, and by this
is for a while put in communication with
)rld, and has for a few hours to remember
b regret — that he is not only a quiet
y-gentleman, but a great man with public
At five in sunomer, and six in winter,
' is served : before or after this he drives
hour, and after a game at cards or billiards,
) bed at ten. Friends sometimes pay him
: they are always welcome, provided they
t interviewers, or too fond of talking about
In a letter addressed to FUippi — the
y musical critic of Italy — the maestro dis-
his views of critics and biographers : —
you will do me the honour of a visit, your
ty as a biographer will find very little
for displaying itself at S. Agata. Four
and a roof, just enough for protection
t the sun and the bad weather; some

of trees, mostly planted by me ; a pond
I shall call by the big name of lake, when
3 water enough to fill it, etc. All this
it any definite plan or architectural pre-

not because I do not love architecture,
cause I detest every breach in the rules of
Dy, and it would have been a great crime
anything artistic in a spot where there is
g poetical. You see it is all settled : and
you are here you must forget that you are
rapher. I know very well that you are
most distinguished musician and devoted
r art . . . but Piave and Mariani must have
3U that at S. Agata we neither make, nor
3out music, and you will run the risk of
', a piano not only out of tune, but very
without strings.'

aning everything like praise, as an artist,
ins even more the reputation of being a
)lent man, though the kindness of his
a as great as his genius. Money is sent
Q, often anonymously, to those in want,
le greater part of the works done at his
.re done with the view of affording his
len the means of getting their living

the winter. Of the strength of his friend-
id gratitude, he gave an undeniable proof
it he did for his humble associate, the
• — as he would call himself the librMista
A.. Piave. As soon as Verdi heard that
I man had had an attack of paralysis, he
pen himself all the expenses of the illness,
the many remaining years of Piave's
ve him a yearly allowance, which enabled



the old poet to surround himself with all requisite
comfort, and after his death paid for the funeral,
and made a large provision for the little daughter
of his poet and friend.

Whether M. Verdi will ever give the last
touches to ' Othello,' and whether it will prove a
success or a failure, are facts of interest to the
author and the opera-goers only. For the musical
critic, ' Othello,' whatever it may be, can neither
add to nor detract from the merits of its au-
thor. From ' Oberto Conte di S. Bonifacio ' to
the ' Messa di Requiem ' we can watch the pro-
gressive and full development of Verdi's genius,
and though we have a right to expect from him
a new masterpiece, stiU nothing leads us to
believe that the new work may be the product
of a nuova manicra.

If popularity were a sure test of merit, Verdi
would indisputably be the greatest operatic com-
poser of the second half of this century. In 1850
the great Italian composers had all passed away :
Bellini and Donizetti were gone ; Rossini, though
still living in Paris, was practically dead to music.
Of the old school there were in Italy only Merca-
dante, Petrella, and Parisini: out of Italy there
were Meyerbeer, Auber, Gounod, and Wagner,
though Meyerbeer and Auber are to be reckoned
amongst the operatic composers of the first half
of this century. Since 1850 Italy has produced
Boito, Ponchielli, and Marchetti ; France, Mas-
senet and Bizet ; Germany, Goetz and Goldmark.
Among these, fame designates Verdi, Wagner, and
Gounod as the three greatest composers of their
respective nations. The three, however, enjoy
different degrees, and even different kinds of
popularity. Gounod's fame is almost solely based
on 'Faust.' Wagner's operas, or rather his early
operas, may be said to be familiar to every-
body in Germany, and German-speaking nations:
but outside of Germany only large towns, like
London, St. Petersburg, and Brussels, are reaUy
acquainted with his works. Paris has notoriously
shut her ears to him ; and New York appears as
yet not to have heard one of his operas. As for
the Latin races — Italy, Spain, France — nobody
has been yet brought to a right understanding,
not to mention the ' Niebelungen,' even of
' Rienzi.' Of Verdi, on the other hand, we may
safely affirm that there is not an opera-house in
the world, the Bayreuth Theatre excepted, where
most of his operas have not been performed, and
a season seldom passes without at least a per-
formance of the ' Traviata,' the 'Trovatore,' or
'Rigoletto.' Amongst Italians, no matter what
their opinion of the composer is, there is a general
belief that Verdi enjoys the greatest popularity
of all living musicians : and we do not hesitate
to endorse this opinion. Music is a universal
language, and operatic music is, of all branches
of that art, the one which most forcibly imposes
itself upon the attention of the public, as the in-
definite musical expression is rendered definite by
the meaning of the words, and by the dramatic
action on the stage. Moreover, music is of all
arts the one that can be most easily and cheaply
brought home to everybody. This is the reason



252



VERDI.



•why we tliink that Verdi is more known to the
million tlian any other man in the world.

In comparison to what Verdi lias done in the
opera and the church, we can hnrdly reckon
him amongst composers of instrumental music.
A Quartet for strings, the Overtures to *Na-
bucco,' 'Giovanna d' Arco,' 'Vespri Sicilian!,'
'Aroldo,' 'Forza del Destino,' and other less
important compositions, constitute all his reper-
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 eflective 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 tlie
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, 1S6S),
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 cathedra] 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. Kequiem astoniam (G- minor), Buzzola.

2. Dies Irae (C minor), Eazzini.

?.. Tubamirum (Eb minor), Pedrotti.
4. Quid sum miser (A? major;, Cagnoni,



VERDI.

Recordare (P major), Ricci.
Ingpraifco (A minor), Mini.
Confutatia (D major;, Bouchenon.
Lacrymosa (G major, C minor), Coccia.
Dom'ine Jesu (C major), Gaspari.
Sanctu8 (Db major), Platania.
Agnus Dei (F major), Petrella.
Lux Ecterna fAb major), Mabollini.
Libera me i,C minor), Verdi.



» i



The several numbers were duly set to mus'
and sent in, but, as might have been expectei
when performed in an uninterrupted successioi
they were found to want the unity and uniformil
of style that is the sine qua non of a work
art : and, though every one had done his bes
there were too many different degrees of mei
in the several parts ; so that, without assignir
any positive reason, the matter was dropped, ar
after a while each number was sent back to i
author. But M. Mazzucato, of Milan, who hi
first seen the complete work, was so much strm
by Verdi's ' Libera me,' as to write him a lett
stating the impression he had received from th
single number, and entreating him to compo
the whole Requiem. Shortly after this, Alessa
dro Manzoni died at Milan ; whereupon Ver
offered to write a Requiem for the anniversary
Manzoni's death ; and this is the work, the la
movement of which was originally composed i
the Requiem of Rossini.

The piece has been enthusiastically prais
and bitterly gainsaid. The question can only
decided by time, which, so far, seems inclined
side with Verdi's admirers. In Italy, unbiass
criticism on the subject has been rendered ii
possible by a letter written to a German paper
Dr. Hans von Biilow, declaring the work to
a monstrosity, unworthy of an ordinary pupil
any musical school in Germany. This langua
could not but create a strong reaction, not 01
among Verdi's countrymen, but among all perse
to whom his name was associated with enjoyme
— and from tliat moment even those who mij
have reasonably objected to the Requiem und
stood that it was not the tim.e to do so.

We leave to technical musicians the task
finding out whether there are, as an anoaymc
writer asserts, more than a hundred mistal
in the progression of the parts, or not. Ev
were this the case it is doubtful whether t
mistakes rest with the composer or with thi
who pretend to establish certain rules for .*
inspiration. Be this as it may, it is certainly i
by looking at Verdi's Requiem in that way tl
we shall discover what place he is likely to h
among writers of sacred music. Not to ment
Palestrina, whose music can now-a-days only
heard and fully understood in the Cappella Sisti
if even there, but looking at the sacred music
Handel and Bach, and setting up the orator
cantatas, and masses of these two giant art,
against Verdi's Requiem, we cannot but u
that no comparison is possible. Widely differ •
as Bach's mind was from Handel's, there is
both the expression of a similar feeling. ■
Verdi's work we may easily recognise the p •
sence of another kind of feeling, requiring qi '
another mode of musical manifestation. Th '•



VERDI.



VERDI.



253



^sticism in Bach and Handel, while there is
la in Verdi, and the dramatic character of the
: is the chief fault that has been found with
id apparently on good ground. Still, though
nouly believed, and blindly — we would almost
nstinctively — accepted that the Messiah and
' Matthew-Passion ' are the patterns and
lason for all religious music, it remains to be
ed whether this is an axiom or not : and
ther the musical forms adopted by Bach and
del were chosen because of their being ab-
!tedly the fittest for the expression of the
ect, or simply because at that time the purely
)dic development was nearly unknown.

doubt Bach and Handel are up to this day
irpassed by any religious composer. Neither
cello nor Lotti, Mozart, Beethoven, Cherubini,
.delssohn nor Berlioz, have in their sacred
ic on the whole come up to the mark of the
g;reat Germans : this, however, means that
genius of the latter was greater than that of
former, but does not at all show that they
; in the right and others in the wrong track
imposition. A man of genius can convey to
nind of an audience the full and deep meaning
, religious passage by a mere melody with a
)le accompaniment, or even without any at

while a learned musician may make the
e passage meaningless and even tedious by
ing it as a double fugue. Of this fact we
ht quote many instances : but it will be
agh to hint at Schubert's Ave Maria, and

1 that of Gounod, though founded on another
k — noble and simple melodies, and certainly
iv of pathos and religious feeling than many
lie elaborate works in which for centuries the
rch composers have exercised their .skill and
r proficiency in the architectural and orna-



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 58 of 194)