"Melody and harmony should be simply tools in the hands of the artist" - Giuseppe Verdi

10 October 1813, Giuseppe Verdi was born in Le Roncole in the French occupied Dukedom of Parma as “Joseph Fortunin François Verdi“.

“I wish that every young man when he begins to write music would not concern himself with being a melodist, a harmonist, a realist, an idealist or a futurist or any other such devilish pedantic things. Melody and harmony should be simply tools in the hands of the artist, with which he creates music; and if a day comes when people stop talking about the German school, the Italian school, the past, the future, etc., etc., then art will perhaps come into its own.” (Giuseppe Verdi)

Giovanni Boldini’s (1842 – 1931) famous “Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi” (1886)    

Maybe the most striking, if not always obvious feature of Verdi’s oeuvre is that he created seminal, sophisticated music a lot of people actually liked and sang when they left the opera. Together with Wagner, Verdi was the man who completed the transition of the 18th century’s number opera with its solitary musical pieces, numbers, into an inherently consistent whole, a through-composed concept that combined a story that merged with the music from the beginning to the end. Wagner called it in his “Music of the Future” (1860), the “endlose Melodie”, an endless melody, but where Wagner flew, Verdi, on his own admission, “walked the untrodden path”, with less bombast and the effect that his operas belong as well to the standard repertoire around the world but far more of his themes have also taken root in popular consciousness and culture, from “La donna è mobile” to the “Grand March” from “Aida”.

Vocal score of "Aida", 1872

Coming from a rather modest background, young Giuseppe’s talent was quickly recognised, he had various patrons, taught himself politics and literature, both important fields for his later operas and perfected his musical education until he had his breakthrough with “Oberto” in 1839 at the Scala in Milan and worked himself, as he put it, like a galley slave to compose opera after opera to get the financial means necessary to live the life of a country gentleman. A dream that eluded him, though he maintained high standards in mass production, creating masterpieces inspired by the literary works of Shakespeare, Bryon, Schiller, Hugo, Dumas and creating a bridge to the events and troubles of the Italian Risorgimento, the process of unification of Italy, and the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from “Nabucco”, the famous Va pensiero su’ali dorate, is often considered as the unofficial national anthem of these days and his name became a credo "Viva VERDI - Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia (Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy), or, as a symbol, two interlocked Vs. Count Cavour persuaded him to join the Chamber of Deputies after the unification in 1861, but Verdi was able to bear up against this role for hardly a year only and resigned. His lifelong troubles with censorship, before and after the Kingdom of Italy came about, remained anyway.

Verdi meets King Vittorio Emanuele in Turin, 15 September 1859

It hasn’t been easy for Verdi throughout his life, with personal tragedies, political turmoil and artistic hostilities from enviers and competitors, nonetheless, with his artistry and orchestration growing more and more refined over the years, the narrative of the psychology and motivation of his dramatis personae far more elaborate than usual in a singspiel, he conserved a basic humaneness as a motif, that is indeed rare in the artistic world. Combined with his sense of humour and the focus on the tragédie and comédie humaine and not to further some outré socio-musico-political programme, Verdi succeeded in creating an artistic synthesis, a Gesamtkunstwerk, of drama and music like few others could.