Verdi and His Singers
Between 1809 and 1813, Europe saw the birth of a remarkable series of great composers: Mendelssohn in 1809, Chopin and Schumann in 1810, Liszt in 1811, and Wagner and Verdi in 1813. The Gilmore Music Library has observed the bicentenary of each of these composers with an exhibit; Verdi and his Singers is the culmination of this series.
Giuseppe Verdi was born in the small Italian town of Roncole on October 9 or 10, 1813. He studied with Ferdinando Provesi in the nearby town of Busseto and Vincenzo Lavigna in Milan, though he was unable to gain admittance to the Milan conservatory. He returned to Busseto in 1836 to take a job as music director, but in 1839 he moved back to Milan, where his first opera, Oberto, was performed.
With the success of Nabucco (1842), Verdi established himself as one of the leading opera composers in Europe. He went on to write a long series of classics, including Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), Un ballo in maschera (1859), and La forza del destino (1862). Many of Verdi’s operas were premiered at La Scala in Milan, but he composed others for Naples, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and even Cairo, where Aida had its first performance in 1871. Verdi’s career as an opera composer spanned more than fifty years, and he wrote two of his greatest works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), as a senior citizen. Both received their premieres at La Scala, where the roles of Iago and Falstaff were sung by the French baritone Victor Maurel (1848–1923). Maurel’s papers, which later came to Yale, are a major source for our exhibit.
Verdi’s fame and patriotism made him an important national symbol, in an era when Italy was struggling towards national unity and independence. Success also brought prosperity: Verdi was able to purchase a considerable amount of agricultural land, and he liked to portray himself as a rough-hewn farmer.
Verdi married twice. His first wife, Margherita Barezzi, died in 1840 after four years of marriage. They had two children, both of whom died young. In 1859 Verdi married his longtime companion, the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. He died in Milan on January 27, 1901.
Although Verdi specialized in opera throughout his career, he occasionally worked in other genres, such as the string quartet. His most notable sacred work, the Requiem, appears twice in our exhibit: a program from a 1905 performance in Yale’s Woolsey Hall, and a score annotated by Robert Shaw.
Many of the items in this exhibit are administratively part of the Music Library’s Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, even though they are not actually recordings. They belong to the Collection on Prominent Figures in Historical Recorded Sound (which includes the papers of Victor Maurel), or to the Enrico Caruso Collection. HSR acquired them thanks to the generosity of Laurence Witten ’51BMUS and Cora Witten ’54BMUS.
Richard Boursy, Archivist