Giuseppe Verdi

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Verdi, Giuseppe

Verdi, Giuseppe (vârˈdē, Ital. jo͞ozĕpˈpā vĕrˈdē), 1813–1901, foremost Italian composer of opera, b. Le Roncole. Verdi, the son of an innkeeper, showed a precocious talent for the organ but was refused entrance to the Milan Conservatory as having been inadequately trained. He studied with Lavigna of La Scala, and in 1839 his first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, was produced. His third opera, Nabucodonosor (1842, also known as Nabucco; the story of Nebuchadnezzar), was enormously successful. The next work I Lombardi alla prima Crociata (1843), concerning the First Crusade, assured Verdi's position at La Scala. Among his major successes of the next years were Ernani (1844), Rigoletto (1851), considered his first masterpiece, Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853). These works showed him to be a master of dramatic composition and established him securely. Verdi's style was further developed in Un ballo in maschera [a masked ball] (1859) and La forza del destino [the power of destiny] (1862). In Aïda (1871) all the elements of his earlier style reach maturity, the music assuming a new dramatic importance to the story. Verdi next composed his great Requiem (1874) in memory of the writer Manzoni. Verdi greatly admired Shakespeare, on whose plays three of his operas are based—Macbeth (1847; rev. version 1865) and the masterpieces of his old age, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893; based on The Merry Wives of Windsor), for both of which Boito was librettist. In these two late works, finished at ages 73 and 80, Verdi astonished the musical world with a power, subtlety, and brilliance that marked the culmination of Italian grand opera. Verdi was greatly honored during his lifetime. He was elected a senator and offered a marquisate, which he declined. His superbly melodic works are performed throughout the world.


See his letters, ed. by C. Osborne (1971); biographies by F. Walker (1962), G. W. Martin (1963), J. Wechsberg (1974), M. J. Phillips-Matz (1994), and J. Rosselli (2000); study of his operas by J. Budden (3 vol., 1978–81); G. Wills, Verdi's Shakespeare (2011).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Verdi, Giuseppe


Born Oct. 10, 1813, in Le Roncole, province of Parma; died Jan. 27, 1901, in Milan. Italian composer.

Verdi was the son of a tavern-keeper. From the age of seven he studied music under the local organist, and at the age of 12 he worked as a church organist. Verdi’s first attempts at composition date from 1828 (overtures, marches for brass band, and piano pieces). In 1832 he tried to enroll at the Milan Conservatory but was not accepted because of his age. He studied under the conductor and composer V. Lavigna. In 1833, Verdi became conductor of the town brass band, and in 1836 he became head of the Philharmonic Society of Busseto. In 1839, Verdi’s first opera was produced in Milan; it was entitled Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio and was warmly received by the public. His next opera, Un giorno di regno (1840), did not meet with success.

Verdi achieved fame with his operas Nab uceo (Nabucodonosor, 1841, produced in 1842) and / Lombardi (1842, produced in 1843; French version: Jérusalem, 1847). Permeated with heroic revolutionary feelings, these operas were received enthusiastically in Italy, which was striving to cast off the yoke of its Austrian oppressors. In Verdi’s operas the audience caught allusions to contemporary political events, and frequently these productions were accompanied by political demonstrations. During the years 1842-49, Verdi wrote 13 operas, including Ernani (1844), Attila (1846), Macbeth (1847), La battaglia di Legnano (1849), and Luisa Miller (1849). Verdi’s patriotic sentiments were also reflected in the anthem Suona la tromba, written during the Revolution of 1848 upon the request of G. Mazzini (with a text by G. Mameli). World recognition was accorded to the operas which Verdi composed during the 1850’s: Rigoletto (1851, based on V. Hugo’s play The Fool’s Revenge), Il Trovatore (1852, produced in 1853), La Traviata (1853, based on the play Camille by A. Dumas fiIs). In these operas romantic tendencies gave way to vivid realism and profound psychologism. At the center of the composer’s attention were the fates of simple people (for example, Violetta, Rigoletto, Azucena), social inequality, and class prejudices. Frequently Verdi’s realistic art takes a sharply critical direction. In his operas of the 1850’s and 1860’s, Verdi, in connection with the growth of the national liberation movement, again turned to historical, heroic plots, thus integrating the personal dramas of his heroes with sociopolitical events: Les Vêpres siciliennes (1854, produced in 1855), Simon Boccanegra (1857; second version, 1881), and Un ballo in mase he ra (1859). On commission from the St. Petersburg Mariinskii Theater he wrote the opera La forza del destino in 1862 (second version, 1869). In connection with the production of this opera Verdi visited Russia twice (1861 and 1862). In 1866 he worked for the Paris Grand Opéra Theater on the opera Don Carlo (produced in 1867; second version with an Italian libretto, 1884). In 1870, on commission from Egypt, Verdi created the opera Aïda (produced in Cairo, 1871), which is one of the summits of Italian operatic art. The sumptuous Eastern exoticism and the triumphant marches and processions, which give this opera the character of a brilliant, ceremonial spectacle, are combined with a profound psychological approach; the characteristics of the principal figures are finely developed. During the next 15 years Verdi did no work in the operatic genre; instead he composed a Requiem (1874) in memory of the Italian writer A. Manzoni, as well as several vocal works. His opera Otello (1886, produced in 1887) is a masterpiece of realistic art, a lofty example of psychological musical drama, and one of the greatest creations of the world in classical music. Verdi’s last opera Falstaff (based on Shakespeare’s comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1892; produced in 1893) is a witty, sparkling comic opera in the stylistic genre of the Italian opera buffa.

Verdi has gone down in the history of music as a reformer of operatic art and an outstanding realistic composer. The ideological and artistic richness along with the humanistic tendency of his creative work and its link with the national democratic culture of Italy made Verdi a figure of permanent historical significance, as well as making his operas popular throughout the world. Basing his approach on the principles of the Italian bel canto, Verdi saturated the vocal melodies of his operas with a vivid dramatic quality and heroic intonations. This composer significantly altered the character and the structure of traditional Italian opera. In striving to blend the principles of song-arias with those of declamation, Verdi created his own “mixed” vocal style, which served as the basis for free forms of monologue and dialogue in opera. The most important link in Verdi’s development of the drama became his big vocal scenes. In Verdi’s best operas a significant part of the dramatic “load” is borne by the orchestra, but the priority of the vocal principle was always firm for this composer. “The voice and the melody,” said Verdi, “will always be the most important thing for me.”

Verdi wrote 26 operas (six of them in two versions); cantatas, including Inno alle nazioni (1862); religious works, including Te Deum (1896) and Stab at Mater (1897); a string quartet (1873); and vocal ensembles, art songs, songs, and so on.


Izbrannye pis’ma.Translated and with an introduction by A. Bushen. Moscow, 1959.


Solovtsova, L. Dzhuzeppe Verdi. Moscow, 1966.
Niurenberg, M. Dzhuzeppe Verdi, 1813-1901, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1968.
Cherbuliez, A. E. A. Giuseppe Verdi: Leben und Werk. Zürich, 1949.
Gatti, C. Verdi, 2nd ed. Milan, 1951.
Abbiati, F. Verdi, vols. 1-4. Milan, 1959.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.