Verdi’s Requiem

Giuseppina Strepponi who became the wife of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and lived with him for many years once was asked a question about her husband. The answer was astonishing, “Verdi is a great composer, but as a person he is even better!” This phrase symbolically expressed the essence of brilliant art of operatic maestro. Only spiritually perfect man could create music full of a compassionate understanding of the contradictory nature of the human soul - loving and suffering, burned with anger and hatred, as well as capable of the highest sacrifices.

Verdi's works are extremely popular, because of their organic and close connection with the national democratic culture of the country and highly humanistic extraordinary melodic richness. The popularity of Verdi's creative life is also explained by the fact that it originally reflected the progressive social movements of the Italian people.

Based on the best traditions of the Italian realist music, Verdi led the Italian opera of the crisis and reformed it. What is more, in his best operas Verdi created a national Italian realistic, full of deep dramatic effect, and psychologically truthful musical art.

Verdi’s music, life and historical times were considerably intertwined. Speaking about the value of Verdi’s music, Rosenberg (2012) relates, with its thunderous evocation of the Last Judgment and urgent prayers for deliverance, Verdi’s 1874 masterwork as a power that seems to transcend time and creed. Music from the Requiem was sung at the 1997 funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales and in September 2002 at LibertyState Park, against the backdrop of Manhattan’s maimed skyline. In 1943 and 1944, prisoners at the Theresienstadt concentration camp performed the Verdi Requiem for their captors, envisioning its “day of wrath” not in eschatological terms, but as the historical moment when the Nazi state would be destroyed, as one survivor wrote, “For the cause of human justice”.

The musical career of this talented composer paralleled the struggle of Italian people for independence. This was the most notable event of his life, because he considered himself as an ardent nationalist. Giuseppe Verdi served as a senator after unification was achieved in 1860. What is more, the Requiem was composed in honor of Alessandro Manzoni whose novels helped to forge the national identity of Italians. Also, this famous novelist was one of the main heroes of the Milanese revolt. Verdi loved Italy, but this state, unfortunately, laid between Austria, Spain and France. These states were struggling with each other for domination over Europe. For many years, defending the national ideas, Verdi wrote astonishing operas. He become the most successful and famous composer of those times.

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"Requiem" by Giuseppe Verdi is the only significant work of this celebrated Italian composer, written not in the opera genre. Therefore, it has entered the history of music as the most theatrical incarnation of the traditional church funeral mass. Verdi finished his "Requiem" in the spring of 1874, a few years after "Aida". Verdi was sixty when he composed the Requiem. It was a height of his fame. Moreover, many critics admitted that there was some sophistication as well as ingenuity to his harmonic structure and orchestration.

The Requiem is certainly operatic in scale and displays Verdi’s abilities to set text with a brilliant emotions and feelings, as well as exceptional melodic inventiveness. The story of Requiem’s creation begins in 1868, with the death of Rossini.

After the death of one of the greatest Italian composers Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi made a proposal addressed to the Italian composers: to write a Requiem collectively in honor of the great colleague. The Requiem was supposed to perform in Bologna, where young Rossini lived and created his music.

This proposal was accepted with enthusiasm, and a peculiar committee was immediately organized. The task of this committee was to select talented composers and to divide the parts of the Requiem among them. The choice was made mainly in favor of the older generation of composers. For example, Mabellini and Coccia were included in that list; they possessed foremost authority at that time, although nowadays their works are recognized as "deservedly forgotten". On the other hand, the young and, as it became known later, much more talented composers Ponchielli and Boito were not allowed to make their contributions into the creation of such a masterpiece. Verdi volunteered to write part Libera Me.

Finally, all the pieces were written by the most trustworthy musicians. However, the presentation of this opus did not take place in Bologna. Someone proposed the idea to move the premiere in Milan, but Verdi, believed that the premiere of the Requiem in honor of Rossini should either be hold in Bologna, or not happen at all. As a result, the Requiem created by many talented composers has never been performed. Furthermore, the parts were sent back to their authors, but copies are still in the archives of Casa Ricordi, which is a classical music publishing company.

The death of Alessandro Manzoni who was a brilliantly talented artist of Italian culture made Verdi to continue his work. Alexander Manzoni was one of the prominent figures of the Italian national liberation movement. Manzoni novel “The Betrothed” is considered as a classic of Italian literature at a time when Verdi was very young. It should be noted that this novel is imbued with serious religious feeling. Liberal Catholicism was extremely popular in those times. This can be seen as a paradox, because during almost all of his life Verdi emphasized his opposition to any religion. However, Giuseppe Verdi considered Manzoni’s works as outstanding monuments of literature and respected their author with absolute reverence. However, the paradox, which was mentioned above, is easy to see in the music of Verdi's Requiem. This work is written entirely in the religious observance; therefore, it is deeply spiritual. The music of Verdi’s Requiem is secular, because it is religious in the form, the meaning and the spirit.

After the death of Manzoni, Verdi made a speech “A great name has disappeared from the world! His was the most widespread; the most popular reputation of our time, and it was a glory of Italy! When the other one who still lives [Manzoni] is no more, what will we have left? Our ministers and the exploits of Lissa and Custoza” (Rosen). The subtext of Verdi's bitter remark is his general disgust with Italy's political and military leaders.

Verdi created "Requiem" so fast that it was three months later, in August 1873 when he sent an invitation to attend the premiere for his favorite singer, Mary Waldman - the first Amneris of Italian "Aida" performance. He chose a prominent Czech singer, Therese Stolz to perform the soprano party; Therese also participated in the Italian premiere of “Don Carlos”, “Force of Destiny” and “Aida”. The premiere took place on the first anniversary of Manzoni's death, May 22, 1874 inMilan, in the cathedral of San Marco under auspices of Verdi. Three days later, it was at La Scala, and had a whopping success. Verdi’s Requiem was not written in accordance with the rules and the rhythm of the liturgy, and it can not accompany the funeral ceremony. However, while the Requiem is not appropriate for worship, it keeps all the traditional parts of the mass.

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He reworked Libera Me and finished all other parts. Then he negotiated for a while with the church in Milan; additionally, he asked to allow female voices to appear in his music. The first concerts in San Marco and La Scale were greeted with enthusiasm. Afterwards, the concerts were given in Vienna, Paris, and London and all over Italy. No wonder, the Requiem became one of the most popular Verdi’s compositions. According to Rosen (1995), it is understandable that Verdi would wish to honor Manzoni with a Requiem Mass. Verdi regarded Manzoni and Rossini as pillars of Italian glory, and it is for this reason, rather than any deep personal attachment to Rossini, that Verdi initiated the Messa per Rossini project. In addition to the esteem Verdi: Requiem he accorded to Manzoni as a quasi-political figure - as a world-renowned Italian - Verdi felt a great personal reverence towards the man as writer and patriot (p. 5-6).

Stylistically, The Requiem to some extent is similar to Aida. For example, the quiet, chant-like solo voices, which sound in the end of Aida, as well as in The Requiem and the extensive brass fanfares; extensive use of recurring thematic material, as well as both tremolo and triplet figures in the accompaniment. Also, he used the dramatic prominence of the mezzo-soprano part in both compositions. 

The traditional structure of the Catholic mass Verdi saturated the purely romantic expression. Because of its brilliant music as well as performance The Requiem took a firm place in the repertoire of theatres and concert halls.Moreover,Rejecting traditional twelve parts, Verdi divided the text of Catholic requiem mass into seven parts; the second one, in turn, was divided into nine episodes.

Composing The Requiem, Verdi wrote to his former “I'm working on my Mass and doing so with great pleasure. I feel as if I've become a solid citizen and am no longer the public's clown who, with a big tambourine and bass drum, shouts 'come, come, step right up', etc., etc. As you can imagine, when I hear operas spoken of now, my conscience is scandalized, and I immediately make the sign of the Cross!” (Rosen).

The first part is called Requiem Aeternam and serves as a prologue. The voices of choir softly recite prayers. Woeful sighs turn into a gentle, enlightened melody. The penetration sounds exist in contrast to courageous, energetic episode Quiet and peaceful conclusion of a part highlights the tragic element of the next part.

The second part is Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is the main, the most developed and widely conflicting part. Bleak poetry of medieval hymn, written at a time when the plague took thousands of lives, inspired Verdi to create a spectacular performance of Judgment. The main theme of this issue will appear many times over The Requiem. The episodes of this part also bring to mind the opera scenes. At the moment of greatest tension, a sternly majestic chorus phrase comes, which is interrupted abruptly and unexpectedly, giving way to a muted, sinking to the rhythm of the bass solo funeral march. If before the parties were mostly choral, then further the soloists began to perform brilliant music, creating a gallery of human images that react differently to life's challenges. The real gem of the second part is sad peaceful quartet with chorus Lacrymosa (lachrymal). This final episode with the melody of breathtaking beauty is one of the most soulful music in Verdi’s creative life.

In the next three parts of The Requiem the light atmosphere prevails.

The third part Offertorio (preparation of gifts or “offertory”) is a contemplative arts quartet of soloists. The fourth, Sanctus (Holy) is a giant masterfully constructed polyphonic piece glorifying the pathos of creation. The fifth part, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is a low-key, laid-back duet of female voices, variations in the old style to the unusual theme in the spirit of the medieval church chanting.

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In a relatively small sixth part Lux aeterna (Eternal Light), built on the contrast of light and dark, the mood gradually return to the first part. The seventh one, Libera Me is a grand-scale epilogue of The Requiem. It opens with a passionate, expressive recitative of the soloist and then passes Dies irae and Requiem aeternam. The “Dies irae” text dates back to the 12th century. Much of the text alludes to passages from ancient Hebrew texts.

The monumental fugue ends The Requiem with the theme of the heroic, strong-willed character. Overall, The Requiem sounds like a hymn to the courage, as well as the strength of the human spirit.

In conclusion, it should be said that creative works of Verdi are deeply realistic. He was called a chronicler of the European musical life of 1840-90s. Verdi closely followed the developments of contemporary composers - Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Wagner, and Gounod. However, Verdi did not imitate their music, but chose his own way. The main reasons for such an enormous popularity of his music were realism and democratic creativity, a close relationship with the folk art of his homeland, deep humanity and understanding that God is love. “Verdi is always thoroughly in earnest, never frivolous. He walks on stilts indeed, instead of treading the ground or cleaving the air, but is never timid or tame in aim or execution. If he cannot stir the emotions of the soul he subdues and absorbs the attention against even the dictates of the better taste; while genuine beauties gleaming through picturesque rubbish often repay the true musician for what he has undergone” (Ferris, 1891).

Being melodically rich, bright and straightforward Verdi’s Requiem received the widest popularity all over the globe. Moreover, this brilliant example of the world classic music is truly mind-blowing: some people can call it a veritable appeal to Heavens in an attempt to overcome the cry of despair in the face of death; the others consider it as a powerful "meditation on death" for soloists, choir and orchestra. Demonstrating the power of his passion, Verdi composed no ceremony, but the performance - the tragic and lyrical, symbolic and direct representation of human feelings in the face of death. Lastly, Verdi’s Requiem expresses existential thought, melancholy, fear and hope of man. Liturgically, The Requiem is a reminder to all people about the transience of the existence.

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