Online Exhibits@Yale

The Exhibition

Giuseppe Verdi

Engraving of Giuseppe Verdi, 1849

Giuseppe Verdi

1849

This engraving depicts Verdi at the time of his opera La battaglia di Legnano (1849). Though set in medieval times, this work depicts patriotic Italians triumphing over German-speaking occupiers, a scenario with obvious relevance to the mid-19th century, when Austria controlled much of northern Italy. Verdi actually composed it in 1848, when revolutions were breaking out across Europe. But by January 1849, when it was ready for production, most of those revolutions (including the one in Milan) had already been forcibly suppressed. In Rome, however, the revolutionaries still held power, and it was there that the opera had its premiere, to great acclaim. A few months later, the French army defeated the Roman Republic. With the restoration of the old regimes in Italy, La battaglia di Legnano was too subversive to be performed again, and it sank into obscurity.

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppina Strepponi, Verdi's second wife

Photograph of Giuseppina Strepponi

Giuseppina Strepponi

Verdi's second wife

Giuseppina Strepponi (1815–1897) was one of the leading sopranos of the 1830s and 1840s, singing major roles in operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, and others. Her professional career was short, but she did not disappear from the world of opera; in 1847 she and Verdi established a relationship that lasted until her death fifty years later. Verdi was a widower; Strepponi was an unmarried mother of three children. Their relationship was considered scandalous by many observers, and they did not marry until 1859. 

Collection on Prominent Figures
in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi

Duet from Rigoletto

Copyist’s manuscript

Domestic music making was a major part of the 19th-century cultural scene. Thousands of people played the piano (or other instruments) or sang at home, for their own pleasure and that of their families and friends. This custom was not just a form of entertainment; it could also be a means of displaying one’s social status, and even a useful tool of courtship. Moreover, the opera house and the concert hall were inaccessible to many music-lovers for geographical or financial reasons. Until the invention of the phonograph, such people could get to know the famous operas and symphonies of the day only through home performance of piano arrangements.

Verdi’s operas—or, more often, excerpts from them—were performed in countless parlors across Europe and the United States. By the middle of the 19th century, most home musicians relied on published arrangements, but the older practice of making one’s own arrangements was far from extinct. This manuscript of a duet from Rigoletto is an example. It is part of the Galeazzi Collection, which comprises ten boxes of manuscript arrangements of such manuscript arrangements, largely from Italian operas. The names of the arrangers and copyists are unknown. 

Galeazzi Collection

Francisco Tamagno as "Otello"

Photograph of Francisco Tamagno as Otello, 1895

Francesco Tamagno

as Otello, 1895

Francesco Tamagno (1850–1905) was one of the greatest tenors of his era. He performed in many Verdi operas, but was perhaps most famous for creating the title role in Otello at La Scala in Milan in 1887. He went on to sing the part in many theaters around the world, including Covent Garden (London) in 1895.

Collection on Prominent Figures
in Historical Recorded Sound

Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Tamagno and Verdi

Photograph of Tamagno and Verdi

Tamagno and Verdi

Francesco Tamagno, the tenor who created the role of Otello, is seen here with the composer.

Collection on Prominent Figures
in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Quotation from Otello, Autograph manuscript, inscribed to Victor Maurel

Giuseppe Verdi, Quotation from Otello, 1887

Giuseppe Verdi

Quotation from Otello

Autograph manuscript, inscribed to Victor Maurel

After Aida (1871), Verdi composed a string quartet and a requiem, revised two earlier operas (Don Carlo and Simon Boccanegra), and was involved in the performance of several others. But for sixteen years, no new operas were forthcoming. The once-prolific composer seemed to be easing into retirement, perhaps driven by not only his advancing age, but also by changes in the prevailing musical style that led some to dismiss him a relic of a bygone era. (To be sure, the most influential figure in these changes was Richard Wagner, who was five months older than Verdi, and had died in 1883.) Verdi finally ended his long silence with Otello (1887), with a libretto by the composer Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare’s play.

In the late 19th century, it was a common practice for composers to write out a brief fragment of their own music—often an especially well-known passage—as a keepsake for someone else. The passage seen here is perhaps the most celebrated moment in Otello, when Iago explains the sinister motives that impel him to wreak such havoc in the lives of Otello and Desdemona, beginning with the words, “Credo in un Dio crudel che m’ha creato simile a se” (“I believe in a cruel God who created me in his likeness”). At the bottom, it is signed “To Maurel / the incomparable Iago / G. Verdi.”

Verdi also gave Maurel a signed photograph of himself; it appears elsewhere in this exhibit.

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Letter to Giulio Ricordi

Letter to Giulio Ricordi, September 1, 1892, p. 1

Letter to Giulio Ricordi

P. 2

Giuseppe Verdi

Letter to Giulio Ricordi

September 1, 1892

The papers of Victor Maurel include fifteen letters by Verdi (twelve of them unknown to Verdi scholars until recently), as well as letters from Giuseppina Strepponi (Verdi’s wife) and Arrigo Boito (Verdi’s librettist for Otello and Falstaff). Our exhibit can present only a selection from this remarkable trove. Karen Henson has transcribed, translated, and analyzed all of the letters in “Verdi Versus Victor Maurel on Falstaff: Twelve New Verdi Letters and Other Operatic and Musical Theater Sources,” 19th Century Music, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Nov 2007), pp. 113-130. The discussions and partial translations in our captions are based on Henson’s work. Readers are encouraged to consult her article for additional details, as well as complete translations. (Students, faculty, and staff at Yale—and at other universities that subscribe to JSTOR—can read the article here.)

The letter seen here is addressed to Giulio Ricordi (1840–1912), head of the famous publishing house of the same name. Verdi complains that Ricordi and Maurel are overstepping their authority, and imperiously makes three demands: 

1. I will not be obliged to mount Falstaff wherever it suits others.

2. There will be no exorbitant fees for the singers.

3. There will be no fees for rehearsals.

 He goes on to explain:

Regarding no. 1. Suppose that after the La Scala performances, I decide to make some changes; could I allow a singer to come to me and say “I don’t have time to wait and I want to perform the Opera in Madrid, in London?”

Regarding no. 2. I don’t want the management, even with a success, to lose money on one of my new operas.

Regarding no. 3. This would be a disastrous precedent! A precedent set by the Falstaff rehearsals!!

 Verdi concludes:

If I were faced with the dilemma: Either accept these terms or burn the score, I would light the fire immediately and with my own hands put Falstaff and his belly on the pyre.

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi

Letter to Victor Maurel

October 31, 1892

Maurel was the author of a treatise on the theory of singing, Le Chant rénové par la science, and he hoped that his ideas could be incorporated into the production of Falstaff. Verdi greatly admired Maurel’s singing and acting, but had little use for his theorizing. In a letter of October 29, 1892, Verdi’s wife dismisses the book as a “beautiful dream,” and in this letter, two days later, Verdi himself wrote to Maurel, advising him to accept the libretto and music of Falstaff as they were, without trying to over-interpret them:

By now you’ll have received from Milan the Falstaff libretto, and little by little, as the music is printed, you’ll receive the part.

Study, Examine the poetry and the words of the libretto as much as you like, but don’t occupy yourself too much with the music. Don’t think it strange when I say: If the music has the right character; if the role is well shaped; if the rhythm of the words is right, the music will take care of itself and will come, as it were, of its own accord. There will perhaps be a few technical difficulties, but there shouldn’t be any difficulties of expression.

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi

Letter to Victor Maurel

November 8, 1892

Maurel must have replied to Verdi’s letter of October 31, but his response has not survived. It apparently prompted Verdi to become more explicit in his efforts to tamp down Maurel’s intellectual pretentions:

I admire study in general, and I admire what you’re doing and will do for the role of Falstaff; but be careful!: “In Art, the predominance of a reflective tendency is a sign of decadence.” This means that when art becomes science, the result is a kind of baroquism that is neither art nor science. To do something well, yes; to overdo, no. Even you French say, “Ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures”. . . [“Don’t look for midday at two o’clock”]. Very true!

So don’t wear yourself out altering your voice and use the one you have. With your great talent as a singing actor, with your accentuation, with the pronunciation that you have, the character of Falstaff, once you’ve learned the part, will emerge beautiful and complete, without you racking your brain and engaging in study to falsify your voice . . . study that could even be harmful.

Study little and I’ll see you soon,

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi

Letter to Victor Maurel

January 10, 1896

Verdi wrote his last letter to Maurel in 1896, when the sometimes heated disputes over Falstaff had faded to a distant memory. Here we see the aging composer in a mellower mood: 

When your very kind telegram arrived I was away from Genoa. When I returned and found it, it was very late to reply, so I send you these couple of lines to tell you how grateful I am for your good memory! You, a Man of the other world, have not forgotten the old Maestro! Thank you and thank you again! And when are you coming back to Europe? Well, I very much hope that here or in another part of our globe we will see each other again before…

In a postscript, Verdi adds,

Our health is as it is at our age. It’s nearly two years since we’ve seen each other, and my hair is thinner and whiter, and Peppina (who also sends her greetings) has even weaker legs!

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi and Victor Maurel

Photograph of Giuseppe Verdi and Victor Maurel

Giuseppe Verdi and Victor Maurel

Verdi is seen here with the French baritone Victor Maurel (1848–1923), who created the role of Iago, the villain in Otello in 1887. Maurel also premiered the title role in Verdi’s Falstaff in 1893, and performed in many other operas as well. Maurel’s papers (and those of his second wife, Frédérique Rosine de Gresac), eventually found their way into the collection of Lawrence and Cora Witten, who later donated them to the Historical Sound Recordings Collection (HSR) at Yale. These papers, which are now part of the Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound at HSR, are the source of most of the materials on display here. If our exhibit, with its emphasis on Otello and Falstaff, seems to pay too little attention to the early and middle phases of Verdi’s career, that is because Maurel was 35 years younger than the composer. 

Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi

Photograph of Giuseppe Verdi inscribed to Victor Maurel, 1887

Giuseppe Verdi

Photograph inscribed to Victor Maurel

1887

Verdi inscribed this photograph to Victor Maurel in 1887, on the occasion of Maurel’s performance in Otello. Verdi also gave Maurel a musical autograph featuring a famous excerpt from Otello; it appears elsewhere in this exhibit. 

Collection on Prominent Figures
in Historical Recorded Sound
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Caricature of Verdi

Enrico Caruos, caricature of Verdi

Enrico Caruso

Caricature of Verdi

1911

Enrico Caruso (1873–1921) was the most celebrated tenor of his era. He sang leading roles in numerous operas, including Verdi’s Rigoletto, La Traviata, Aida, Un ballo in maschera, Il trovatore, and La forza del destino. In the early days of the phonograph, Caruso was a best-selling recording artist.

Caruso’s talents were not limited to music. He was also a gifted artist, who created thousands of caricatures, mostly for La follia, an Italian newspaper published in New York by his friend Marziale Sisca. Many were later reprinted in books. Yale is fortunate to have a number of his original drawings, including one of Verdi.

Collection of Enrico Caruso Caricatures, Photographs, and Other Material
Historical Sound Recordings Collection

Giuseppe Verdi

Photograph of Giuseppe Verdi by Etienne Carjat, 1877

Giuseppe Verdi

Photograph by Etienne Carjat, 1877

This photograph of Verdi, by Etienne Carjat (1828–1906) was published in 1877 by Goupil as part of a series called Galerie contemporaine (1876-1884), which featured photographs of numerous prominent figures in the arts, politics, and science, using a technology known as woodburytype.

Portrait File

Program for Verdi’s Requiem

Program for Verdi’s Requiem, Woolsey Hall, New Haven, February 9, 1905

Program for Verdi’s Requiem

New Haven Oratorio Society, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Horatio Parker, Conductor

Woolsey Hall, February 9, 1905

Verdi devoted most of his career to opera, but he occasionally turned to other genres, most famously in the Requiem (1874), composed in memory of the Italian author Alessandro Manzoni. (One movement was actually written six years earlier; it was Verdi’s contribution to a requiem for Rossini, produced by a group of composers.)

Though sometimes criticized for its operatic qualities, Verdi’s Requiem became a cornerstone of the choral repertory, frequently performed in the United States as well as Europe. It has been sung at Yale many times. The program seen here is for a performance in 1905 in Woolsey Hall, which had opened only four years earlier, on the occasion of the University’s bicentenary. The concert featured Horatio Parker (conductor), Marie Kunkel Zimmerman (soprano), Gertrude May Stein Bailey (contralto), Edward Johnson (tenor), Frank Croxton (bass), and Harry Benjamin Jepson (organ), with the 260-voice New Haven Oratorio Society, and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

Horatio Parker (1863–1919) served as Dean of the Yale School of Music, Professor of Music Theory, and founding conductor of the New Haven Symphony and New Haven Oratorio Society. He taught many notable composers, including Charles Ives (Class of 1898). Harry Jepson (1870–1952) was also a professor at the School of Music, and in 1906 he became University Organist. The Gilmore Music Library holds the papers of Parker, Ives, Jepson, and the New Haven Oratorio Society. The Oratorio Society went out of business in 1913, but the New Haven Symphony still performs in Woolsey Hall. Edward Johnson (1878–1959) spent much of his career at the Metropolitan Opera, first as a singer, and later as general manager. 

Yale School of Music Papers

 

"Requiem" annotated by Robert Shaw<br />

Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem, annotated by Robert Shaw

Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem

Ed. by Kurt Soldan (Leipzig: Peters, [1934])

Annotated by Robert Shaw, 1959, 1977

Robert Shaw (1916–1999) was the most renowned choral conductor of the twentieth century. Shaw’s papers include 161 boxes of annotated scores. He conducted most of the major works in the repertory many times over the course of his long career. When he returned to a familiar piece, he often purchased a new copy of the score and marked up every page from scratch. Consequently, the Shaw Papers typically contain multiple scores of the same work, each reflecting his interpretation at a particular moment in time.

Verdi’s Requiem is well represented in the Shaw Papers; they contain three full scores, six vocal scores, and a set of orchestral parts. As for the full score displayed here, Shaw apparently did use it more than once; he dated it 1959 in the back, but in the front he supplies information about performances in 1977. As was his custom, he marked it up in several colors.

Numerous other works by Verdi appear in the Shaw Papers, including complete vocal scores of Un ballo in maschera, Falstaff, and La forza del destino, excerpts from other operas, and various other sacred works. 

 Robert Shaw Papers

The Exhibition