Giuseppe Verdi
(1813-1901)

In 1813, in the small village of Roncole in the Duchy of Parma, Giuseppe Verdi, the leading Italian composer of the 19th century was born. He began studying various subjects with priests at the local church by age four and became organist by age nine. He soon after moved to the larger town of Busseto, where his teenage years were spent performing in local ensembles and composing “a motley assortment of pieces”. He then moved in with merchant and musician Antonio Barezzi and gave lessons to his daughter Margherita, who would later become Verdi’s wife.

Upon receiving news that he was not accepted into the conservatory, Verdi began studying with Vincenzo Lavigna who taught the young man counterpoint and introduced him to the musical society of Milan. In the late 1930s, Verdi was earning his living directing, composing, and teaching lessons. In efforts to launch his professional career, he spent the next decade in a tireless cycle of composing, preparing as a conductor and director, negotiating, and travelling. The lack of consistency in reception of his works, his health, and the loss of his wife and two children by 1940 left Verdi largely unmotivated; his compositional rate slower than other composers of his stature. Between 1842 and 1853, he composed 16 operas, while also directing and overseeing productions. As his fame grew and the demand for his music increased, he was able to charge more for commissions and materials. It was during this time that he and soprano Giuseppina Strepponi became attached and accompanied him on his travels around Europe to supervise the premieres of his works.

Following the premiere of La Traviata in 1853, Verdi’s output slowed even more as he found himself travelling, revising previous works, visiting comrades, and maintaining his estate. He and Strepponi married in 1859, after over ten years involvement. From 1861 to 1865, Verdi was a member of the first Italian parliament, leaving his mark in the political sphere. The successful premiere of Aida in 1871 began a period of near compositional silence. Over the next 15 years he composed no operas, but during this time he directed and supervised performances, travelled Europe, and revised several of his works. Verdi’s financially stability did not require constant income so he increasingly spent time investing in his land and becoming involved in a number of charities.

His operatic motivation was revived when Boito wrote the libretto for the opera Otello after Verdi revealed interest in writing the music. This sparked several other projects in the composer’s final years until his death in 1898, just months after Strepponi’s passing. Verdi is considered a true master of musical composition and his numerous works, especially his operas, are at the core of the mainstream repertoire around the world.

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