Verdi's Biography

~ by G. D’Annunzio   


Giuseppe Verdi's works are performed more often today than those of any other opera composer. Born in the village of Le Roncole, near Parma, on October 10, 1813, he began studying music as a boy in Busseto, a nearby town. He tried to enter the Milan Conservatory in 1832 but was refused admission because he was too old and lacked sufficient formal training. He began taking private music lessons in Milan in 1839. Verdi's first opera, Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio, was a success at its premiere at La Scala in Milan. Between 1838 and 1840 Verdi's first wife and their two small children died. The grief-stricken composer then finished a comic opera, Un Giorno di Regno, which was a failure when presented in 1840. However, with the success of his third opera, Nabucco (1842), Verdi became the foremost Italian composer of his time. There followed an intense ten-year creative period (1842-1852) in which he wrote fifteen operas. Between 1851 and 1871 Verdi produced a remarkable series of masterpieces, including Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore 1853), La Traviata (1853), The Sicilian Vespers (1855), Simon Boccanegra (1857, revised 1881), A Masked Ball (1859), La Forza Del Destino (1862), Don Carlos (1867), and Aida (1871). Verdi wrote a total of 26 operas. He composed all his operas using Italian librettos (texts) except for the The Sicilian Vespers and Don Carlos which he originally wrote to French librettos. Verdi gained fame for his mastery of theatrical effect and the stirring melodic quality of his operas. He took several of his plots from the plays of great dramatists such as Victor Hugo, Friedrich Schiller, and William Shakespeare. Many of the melodies he wrote are well-known all over the world.

After completing Aida in 1871, illness and old age seemed to have ended his career. During the next sixteen years his only important composition was the acclaimed Requiem Mass (1874) in memory of the Italian author Alessandro Manzoni. In the mid-1880's through the urging of his friend Arrigo Boito, a noted Italian poet and composer, Verdi returned to composing operas. Boito contributed librettos for Verdi's Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). Many critics have called Otello Verdi's greatest tragic opera. Falstaff, Verdi's second comic opera, ranks as one of the greatest comic operas ever written. Verdi's only works after Falstaff were four beautiful religious compositions for voices called Quattro Pezzi Sacri (1898).

A period of national mourning was declared in Italy following his death on January 27, 1901.