Giuseppe Verdi

Julian Wachner, conductor

The New Haven Symphony Orchestra
Jung-Ho Pak, music director

The Providence Singers
Julian Wachner, artistic director
Preparation: Andrew Clark, artistic director designate

Barbara Quintiliani, soprano
Margaret Lattimore, mezzo-soprano
Stefano Algieri, tenor
James Kleyla, bass

7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 3, 2005
Woolsey Hall, New Haven

 8 p.m. Saturday, November 5, 2005
VMA Arts and Cultural Center, Providence

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Merrill Lynch        Notes on the Requiem  |  Brief Biography  |  The Libretto

Notes on the Requiem

John Bawden
Musical Director
Fareham Philharmonic Choir

An opera in church vestments

When Rossini died in 1868, Verdi proposed that a requiem should be written in honor of the great man. Thirteen of the leading Italian composers of the day, including Verdi himself, would be invited to write one movement each toward the complete work. The idea was greeted with general enthusiasm, but it was soon dogged by internal political wrangling over which composers should be included and which left out and by a bitter and widely publicized dispute between Verdi and the conductor of the chorus specially chosen for the occasion. When all the music was eventually received, it also became apparent that this requiem was little more than a pot-pourri of styles and ideas and consequently lacked any real conviction. Faced with all these difficulties there was no alternative but to drop the scheme.

In 1873 the Italian poet and national hero Alessandro Manzoni died. Verdi had been a lifelong admirer of his writings and was deeply affected by his death, remarking to a friend, “With him dies the purest, holiest and highest of our glories.” He decided to write a requiem in Manzoni’s memory, incorporating the Libera Me which he had written five years earlier for the ill-fated Rossini project. The work was written between 1873 and 1874, shortly after Verdi had completed one of his finest operas, Aida (1871). After completing the Requiem, Verdi retired to the country and wrote nothing more for 13 years.

Though the Requiem is Verdi’s only large-scale work not intended for the stage, it is unashamedly theatrical in style, with passages of great tenderness and simplicity contrasting with intensely powerful dramatic sections. Writing at the time, the eminent conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow aptly described it as “Verdi’s latest opera, in church vestments.”

The first performance of the Messa di Requiem took place May 22, 1874, the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, in St. Mark’s Church, Milan. It was an overwhelming success, and the tremendous enthusiasm with which it was greeted was repeated at the many European performances that soon followed, including its British premiere in May 1875 at the Albert Hall, conducted by Verdi himself. One journalist described the work as “The most beautiful music for the church that has been produced since the Requiem of Mozart” – a view that was echoed by most people. However, a significant minority was offended that Verdi, known to be virtually an atheist, should be writing a requiem, and they found his operatic approach irreverent and highly inappropriate. For them, the qualities which made his music so ideal for the theater made it equally unsuited for the church.

Today this difference in style between traditional church music and Verdi’s operatic treatment of the requiem text does not present a problem for the vast majority of listeners. The uncomplicated directness of Verdi’s music, his supreme ability to write wonderful melodies which lie perfectly for the human voice, his brilliant orchestration and above all the inspired dramatic intensity of the Requiem are lasting qualities which have guaranteed its enduring popularity with both choirs and audiences.

Biographical links

Chronology of Verdi’s life

Annotated chronology
of Verdi’s major works

Encarta Online
Encyclopedia entry

Verdi’s obituary from the
Musical Times, March 1901


Giuseppe Verdi

Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi
By Giovanni Boldini (1886)
Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Rome

Giuseppe Verdi was the towering musical figure in Italy during the second half of the 19th century.

He began in humble circumstances, born Oct. 10, 1813, in Le Roncole, near Busseto in the Duchy of Parma. He was the son of an illiterate tavern keeper and grocer; a proper education was out of the question. Yet by the end of his life, Verdi was known and honored throughout the world.

Royalty, members of parliament and diplomats from many nations joined the procession when the coffins of Verdi and his wife were moved from a temporary burial site to their crypt. Singers from La Scala, led by Arturo Toscanini, sang “Va, pensiero” – the chorus of Hebrew slaves from Nabucco – and were joined spontaneously by tens of thousands of devotees along the route.

It was music that made the difference. Antonio Barezzi, a Busseto merchant with an amateur’s interest in music, noticed Verdi’s musical abilities and helped with his education and musical training. Young Verdi copied music, played organ occasionally at his church and began composing short pieces for the philharmonic society in Busseto. He spent three years in Milan, supported by Barezzi and studying with a musician at La Scala, having been rejected by the conservatory at age 18 as being too old. He returned to Busseto in 1834, found musical employment and, in 1836, married Margherita Barezzi, his patron’s daughter. A daughter, Virginia, was born in March of 1837, and a son, Icilio, in July 1838.

Verdi’s life was soon consumed by sorrow. Virginia died in August 1838, aged 17 months. The Verdis moved to Milan. Icilio died of bronchial pneumonia in October 1839, his 15th month. In June 1840, Margherita died of encephalitis. Verdi was inconsolable: “A third coffin goes out of my house. I was alone! Alone!” His second opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day) – a comic opera, of all things – failed at its first performance, and all further performances were cancelled. Verdi, despairing, vowed never to write another.

Nabucco brought him back. The manager of La Scala, who had released the distraught Verdi from his three-opera contract, now returned and urged the composer to consider a libretto based on the Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar II. Verdi agreed to read it and did so, but without much interest until he came to “Va, pensiero.” The sentiments expressed in that text moved him deeply; suddenly he was writing again. The first production of Nabucco in 1842 established him as a leading Italian composer and set him on a prolific career that would continue almost to the turn of the century. Many audiences came to understand the chorus as an expression of Italy’s longing for freedom from domination by Austria. (Indeed, Verdi’s name was frequently taken by Italian patriots as an acronym for Victor Emmanuel II, first leader of a united Italy: Vittorio Emanuele Re DItalia.)

Verdi’s popularity continued to grow. In 1846 he was in Paris conducting Ernani and in 1847 in London for the première of I masnadieri. Later in Paris again, he renewed his friendship with Giuseppina Strepponi, who had sung in the original production of Nabucco. An intimate relationship developed, leading eventually to their marriage in 1859. They lived for the rest of their lives at San’ Agata, a property near Busseto, the purchase of which indicated that Verdi had become a man of some wealth.

His international engagements continued, particularly in Paris, where demand for “grand” opera led to ever larger works. His Aida was commissioned to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal and was premièred in Cairo in 1871. After composing the Messa da Requiem in 1873, Verdi retired to his estate near Busseto.

For nearly his entire career, however, Verdi had been published by the Milanese publishing house, Casa Ricordi, and had dealt with several generations of the Ricordi family. (The Singers, in fact, are using the Ricordi edition to prepare for these concerts.) It was Tito Ricordi who now drew Verdi back and engaged him in projects that would yield his great masterpieces Otello and Falstaff, his last dramatic work, produced at La Scala in 1893.

“To those [future] judges, who are unaffected by mere vogue, the position of Verdi among dramatic composers must be committed,” wrote the critic Joseph Bennett in his 1901 eulogy of Verdi. “They will say of him, or I am miserably mistaken, that not only was he a sincere and devoted musician, but also that he achieved great things, that every note of passion, every shade of sentiment finds in his works true and natural expression. To say this truthfully of any composer is to crown him with unfading laurels.”

The Libretto

Messa da Requiem

1. Requiem and Kyrie
(Chorus and Soloists)

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem;
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison.

Eternal rest grant them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn becometh Thee, O God, in Zion,
and a vow shall be paid to Thee in Jerusalem;
O hear my prayer.
All flesh shall come to Thee.
Eternal rest grant them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Lord have mercy on us,
Christ have mercy on us,
Lord have mercy on us.

2. Dies Irae

Dies irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla
teste David cum Sybilla.
Dies irae, dies illa
quantus tremor est futurus,
quando Judex est venturus
cuncta stricte discussurus.

Day of wrath and doom impending,
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
heaven and earth in ashes ending
day of wrath and doom impending.
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth
when from heaven the judge descendeth
on whose sentence all dependeth.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulchra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
through earth’s sepulchres it ringeth,
all before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
to its Judge an answer making.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit,
nil inultum remanebit.
   Dies irae, dies illa
   solvet saeclum in favilla
   teste David cum Sybilla.

Lo! The book exactly worded,
wherein all hath been recorded,
thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
and each hidden deed arraigneth,
nothing unavenged remaineth.
   Day of wrath and doom impending,
   David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
   heaven and earth in ashes ending.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem partonum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit serucus?

What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?

Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvanos salvas gratias,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us.

Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae;
ne me perdas illa die.
Quaerens me sedisti lassus,
redemisti crucem passus;
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Juste Judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis,
ante diem rationis.

Think, kind Jesu, my salvation
Caused thy woundrous incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and wary thou has sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me,
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution,
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.

Ingemisco tanquam reus;
culpa rubet vultus meus;
supplicanti parce, Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Preces meae non sunt dignae,
sed tu, bonus, fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab hoedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

Guilty now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy supplicant groaning.
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
With Thy favoured sheep O place me,
Not among the goats abase me,
But to Thy right hand upraise me.

Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis,
voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis
gere curam mei finis.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy saints sorrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart submission,
See, like ashes my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.

Lacrymosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla,
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce Deus.
Pie Jesu, Domine,
dona eis requiem.

Ah, that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgment must prepare him;
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.
Lord, all pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest.

3. Offertorio

Domine Jesu Christe, rex gloriae,
libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum
de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu.
Libera eas de ore leonis,
ne absorbeat eas tartarus,
ne cadant in obscurum,
sed signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam.
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini ejus.
Hostias et preces tibi, Domine,
laudis offerimus.
Tu suscipe pro animabus illis,
quarum hodie memoriam facimus
fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam.
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini ejus.
Libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum
de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu,
de morte transire ad vita.

Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory,
deliver the souls of all the faithful departed
from the pains of hell, and from the deep pit.
Deliver them from the lion’s mouth,
lest hell swallow them up,
lest they fall into darkness;
and let the standard bearer, St. Michael,
bring them into the holy light.
Which Thou didst promise of old to Abraham
and his seed.
We offer Thee, O Lord,
a sacrifice of praise and prayer;
Accept them on behalf of the souls
we commemorate this day.
And let them, O Lord, pass from death to life.
Which thou didst promise of old to Abraham
and his seed.
Deliver the souls of the faithful
from the pains of hell and the deep pit.
Let them pass from death to life.

4. Sanctus
(Double Chorus)

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus
Dominus deus sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli
et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Pleni sunt coeli
et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy,
Lord of hosts,
heaven and earth
are full of thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he that cometh
in the name of the Lord.
Heaven and earth
are full of thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

5. Agnus Dei
(Soprano, Mezzo-soprano
and Chorus)

Agnus dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem.

Agnus dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Lamb of God,
who takest away the sins of the world,
Grant them rest.

Lamb of God,
who takest away the sins of the world,
Grant them eternal rest.

6. Lux Aeterna
(Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Bass)

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints for ever,
for Thou art merciful.
Eternal rest grant them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

7. Libera Me
(Soprano and Chorus)

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda,
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra.
Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo,
dum discussio venerit atque ventura ira.

Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et misariae,
dies magna et amara valde.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda,
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra.
Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda.
Libera me, Domine.

Deliver me, O Lord from everlasting death
on that dreadful day,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.
When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
I quake with fear and I tremble,
awaiting the day of account and the wrath to come.

That day, the day of anger, of calamity, of misery,
that great day and most bitter.

Eternal rest grant them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Deliver me, O Lord from everlasting death
on that dreadful day,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.
When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
Deliver me, O Lord from everlasting death
on that dreadful day.
Deliver me, O Lord.