Showing an interest in music by the time he was seven – his first instrument was a spinet – at 12, Verdi studied in Brusseto (near Parma) under Ferdinando Provesi, music teacher, organist, and director of the local Philharmonic Society. As his assistant, Verdi played the organ, wrote and composed music, and conducted rehearsals. After Provesi’s death, Verdi applied to the Milan Conservatory, but was not admitted. Most sources state that Verdi was over the age limit, and others add that his style was already established. (Interesting side note: The Milan Conservatory [Conservatorio di Milano] is now also known as the Conservatorio di Musica “Giuseppe Verdi.”) Verdi was advised to seek private lessons with Vincenzo Lavigna, a composer with connections to La Scala. During his stay in Milan, Verdi attended and studied operas and plays and joined the Philharmonic Society.
Verdi returned to Brusseto in 1836, married, took over most of Provesi’s duties, and wrote his first opera, Oberto, which was performed in 1839 at La Scala. He received a contract to write several more operas – the first being a comedy – but by following year, his two children and wife had died, and Verdi’s work was affected. In 1842, his opera Nabucco premièred with great success, and Verdi’s career as a composer of opera was established. In 14 years, he wrote 15 operas, among them Ernani, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata.
In 1868, Verdi wrote a symphony, that was to be part of a collection from various composers of a requiem, for Gioachino Rossini, but the collective piece was not completed. Several years later Verdi composed a Requiem of his own, in honor of poet and author Alessandro Manzoni, who died in 1873.
One of Verdi’s most well known operas, Aida, was composed in 1871. Like many of his other operas it is considered a standard, and in 1998 the score was rewritten to appeal to a wider audience.
Written by Janice Mancuso
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)