When I prepare for a Masterwork Concert, there are several components to my preparation, including score study, individual practice, and rehearsal with my Master Chorale colleagues. To further enhance my understanding of the music, I research the history of the music, so I can better appreciate what the composer was trying to achieve in composing and performing it. During my research for this concert series, I uncovered several facts about Verdi and his Requiem. Some of these facts are very well known, while others may qualify as trivial or little-known facts. I would like to share the facts I uncovered.
Giuseppe Verdi was a man of great spirituality. But, after his childhood, when he walked three miles to church every Sunday morning to his job as organist in Busetto, he distanced himself from the Church. Years later, when he was famous and wealthy, he would drive his wife Giuseppina to church, but wouldn't go in with her. He was never an atheist; simply, as Giuseppina put it, "a very doubtful believer." Like Brahms' A German Requiem completed five years earlier, Verdi's Requiem Mass is a deeply religious work written by a great skeptic. Verdi famously wrote, “For some virtuous people a belief in God is necessary. Others, equally perfect, while observing every precept of the highest moral code, are happier believing in nothing.”
April 20, 21, 22, 2018
with The Florida Orchestra
& The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay
Michael Francis, conductor
Janice Chandler-Eteme, soprano
Nancy Maltusby, mezzo
Derek Taylor, tenor
Tim Mix, bass-baritone
The Master Chorale prepared by Dr. Beth Gibbs
When poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni died, Verdi was too grief-stricken to attend his funeral, and the entire country mourned the loss of one of its leading cultural icons. Verdi shared the same national aspirations that Manzoni had, and Manzoni’s literature helped fuel an Italian national identity. Verdi also supported Italian unification, and his last name was used as an acronym for support of unification under Sardinian King Victor Emanuel: Vittorio Emanuel, Rei di Italia (Victor Emanuel, King of Italy). Following unification in 1860, Verdi served as a Senator.
The premiere took place in May 22, 1874, at the Church of San Marco as part of a liturgy so no applause was allowed. Women (Soprano Theresa Stolz and Mezzo Maria Waldmann, soloists who performed in Verdi’s European premiere of Aida four years earlier) were given a special exemption to perform by the local Archbishop on the condition that they must be veiled in black and hidden behind a grating. Verdi also arranged three concert performances at La Scala a few days later which were greeted with great enthusiasm. In the year following the premiere, it was performed all over Italy, in Paris, London, Vienna and even in America. The Requiem had become one of Verdi's most popular compositions.
When German conductor, composer, and virtuoso pianist Hans von Bülow, a close friend of Verdi’s rival Richard Wagner, stole a look at the Requiem score just days before the Milan premiere, he offered his famous snap judgment, "Verdi's latest opera, though in ecclesiastical robes," and decided not to attend the concert. When he finally heard it, at a parish performance eighteen years later, he was moved to tears. Bülow wrote to Verdi to apologize, and Verdi replied, with typical generosity, that Bülow might have been right the first time. By then, Verdi had grown accustomed to critical disdain, especially from the followers of Richard Wagner. And he knew that Bülow, who once switched his allegiance from Wagner to Brahms, wasn't the last listener who would change his mind about this music as well.
In January 1901, while staying in Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke. He died a few days later. Arturo Toscanini conducted the vast forces of combined orchestras and choirs composed of musicians from throughout Italy at his funeral service in Milan. To date, it remains the largest public assembly of any event in the history of Italy.
Performance of Defiance
Foremost in my mind will be the unknown victims who created a work of drama and beauty in the face of death and terror. I am drawn to recall the opera “Nabucco” by Verdi, where in The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, they sang “let the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices which may instill virtue to suffering.” For the prisoners of Terezin, the closing “Libera me” (Deliver me) was their most fervent plea for deliverance.
Even if you have listened to recordings of Verdi’s Requiem, the beauty and drama of the music is best experienced during a live performance. Please consider attending one of our concerts to experience it yourself.