2013: The Verdi Bicentennial:
Giuseppi Verdi — Composer and Statesman
October 10, 1813 to January 27, 1901
by Connie Carr
We present this preface about the Italian classical composer, statesman, and tragedian, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), to whet your appetite, just as a tasty appetizer before a fine meal will prepare the palate for more. Throughout 2013, we’ll present different courses, so as to feast on Verdi’s works all year long, through his October 10 birthday and beyond.
See also: Part II: Giuseppe Verdi, Nation Builder, by Claudio Celani
Va, pensiero sull'ali dorate
Del Giordano le rive saluta,
Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati,
O simile di Solima ai fati
|English (Schiller Institute translation)
Go, thought, on golden wings
Greet the Jordan's banks
Harp of gold of the prophet bards,
O [harp], like Jerusalem to the fates,
It is with these words that we celebrate the bicentennial of the great Giuseppe Verdi. From the chorus of his opera, “Nabucco,” they speak of thoughts of an enslaved and oppressed people for their beautiful homeland. Although the background for the opera is the Babylonian Captivity of the Hebrews, the theme was taken up as a National Anthem by the Italians of the 19th Century and sung everywhere, in their fight for National Unity and Independence from the Austrian Empire.
From the time of Verdi's birth, in 1813, through most of the time period in which his operas were written, Italy was not one united, sovereign nation. Although politicians, such as Cavour, and other intellectual leaders of the movement worked to unify Italy, it was Giuseppi Verdi who most profoundly represented the movement in the hearts of the Italian people. And that came about because of his operas.
Verdi was a musical and dramatical genius. He revolutionized the world of opera by creating new forms of musical theater, while maintaining the high standards of classical artistic composition. He was well versed in counterpoint and studied, throughout his entire life, the works of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. In Milan, Verdi participated in the salons of Andrea Maffei and Clara Maffei, where poets, politicians, and intellectuals of the United Italy movement gathered to discuss their translations of the works of Schiller and Shakespeare, and the scientific and political affairs of the day. Verdi composed four operas from Shakespeare’s plays and three operas from Friedrich Schiller’s plays.
In a time and place where the literacy rate was much lower than today, the opera theaters were numerous, and it was there that most of the population of that day was introduced to Verdi and his ideas. His great musical dramas placed on the stage, as did Schiller’s dramas, the conflicts and paradoxes that true statesman face in providing political leadership. He weaved together themes of patriotism, resistance to tyranny, love, and sacrifice “for that which is better” with the explicit idea of uplifting his beloved nation’s population.
Understanding that Music is also physical science, Verdi insisted on the proper tuning of orchestras, and he fought for and succeeded in getting legislation passed in Italy that set the standard for tuning at no higher than the La (A) = 432 Hz, which corresponds to C=256 Hz. He not only understood the importance of the color differentiation in different vocal registers, but he adamantly insisted on proper tuning, which was lower than the prevailing trend of the time, both to save the voices of the bel-canto singers, and to be sure that the poetic content of the music was properly conveyed.
When you experience one of Verdi's operas, you get the same sense that Schiller expressed in his, “Theater as a Moral Institution,” -- the audience leaves the theater as better people than they were before. So, as people worldwide can claim Germany’s “Poet of Freedom,” Friedrich Schiller, as their own, so we patriots of all nations can claim the “Soul of Italy,” and world citizen Giuseppe Verdi, as ours as well.