Giuseppe Verdi was born in 1813 into a modest but relatively well-to-do family in the hamlet of Le Roncole, near Busseto. He received his first musical training from the village organist. In 1824, he became the organist at the church in Busseto. After following music lessons with the organist and composer Ferdinando Provesi, he was noticed by Antonio Barezzi, a spirits merchant and music aficionado who also founded the Filarmonici (Societa filarmonica), the town’s amateur orchestra. Barezzi would become Verdi’s patron and sponsor and the composer would ultimately marry Barezzi’s daughter Margherita in 1836. A stipend enabled him to continue his studies in Milan where he took private lessons with Vincenzo Lavigna, a teacher at La Scala, and a friend of Rossini.
On the recommendations of the impresario Bartolomeo Merelli, his first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio was performed at La Scala in Milan. For a short while following the death of his two children and then his wife Margherita, and after the relative fiasco that befell his second opera, Un giorno di regno, Verdi considered abandoning music altogether. However, he started composing again when Merelli offered him the libretto for Nabucco. That opera was a huge success at its premiere at La Scala on March 9, 1842 and it did not take long before all of Italy was singing Va pensiero, the anthem in which the chorus of slaves lament their lost freedom. From then on, Verdi became the bard of Italian unification. Most of the works that followed would be operas with patriotic undertones (I Lombardi alla prima crocciata, Ernani, Giovanna d’Arco, Attila, La Battaglia di Legnano…). In 1847, Verdi left for London for the world premiere of I Masnadieri, then settled in Paris where he met up with Giuseppina Strepponi, who would create the role of Abigaille. They would never be separated again. Verdi purchased the property at Sant’Agata, near Busseto and openly enlisted in the struggle for the liberation of Italy, which was then occupied by the Austrians. After 1850, Verdi was unrivalled in Italy. In particular, his popular trilogy, Rigoletto – Il Trovatore – La Traviata dates from this period.
Les Vêpres siciliennes (Paris, 1855), Simon Boccanegra (La Fenice in Venice, 1857), Un ballo in maschera (Rome, 1859), La Forza del destino (Saint Petersburg, 1862), Don Carlos (Paris, 1867), Aida (Cairo, 1871), the Messa di Requiem (Milan, 1874), Otello (Milan, 1887), and Falstaff (Milan, 1893) would follow. In 1861, he was elected deputy of Busseto. He passed away in Milan on January 27, 1901. With no heir at the time of his death, Verdi bequeathed his copyrights to the retirement home for aging musicians that he had founded in Milan.
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