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Giuseppe Verdi
Born 1813

      Giuseppe Verdi, the last and most widely successful of the school of Italian opera proper, was born at Roncole, near Busseto, October 9, 1813. At ten years he was organist of the small church in his native village, the salary being raised after a year from 1 8s. 10d. to 1 12s. per annum. At the age of sixteen he was provided with funds to prosecute his studies at the Conservatorium at Milan; but at the entrance examination he showed so little evidence of musical talent that the authorities declined to enroll him. Nothing daunted, he pursued his studies with ardor under Lavigna, from 1831 to 1833, when, according to agreement, he returned to Busseto to take the place of his old teacher Provesi, now deceased.

      After five unhappy years in a town where he was little appreciated, Verdi returned to Milan. His first opera, "Oberto," is chiefly indebted to Bellini, and the next, "Un Giorno di Regno" (which fulfilled its own title, as it was only once performed), has been styled "Un Bazar de Reminiscences." Poor Verdi had just lost his wife and two children within a few days of each other, so it is hardly to be wondered at that a comic opera was not a very congenial work, nor successfully accomplished.

      "Nabucodonosor" (1842) was his first hit, and in the next year "I Lombardi" was even more successful--partly owing to the revolutionary feeling which in no small degree was to help him to his future high position. Indeed, his name was a useful acrostic to the revolutionary party, who shouted "Viva Verdi," when they meant "Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D' Italia." "Ernani," produced at Venice in 1844, also scored a success, owing to the republican sentiment in the libretto, which was adapted from Victor Hugo's "Hernani." Many works followed in quick succession, each arousing the enthusiasm of the audiences, chiefly when an opportunity was afforded them of expressing their feelings against the Austrian rule. Only with his sixteenth opera did Verdi win the supremacy when there were no longer any living competitors; and "Rigoletto" (1851), "Il Trovatore," and "La Traviata" (1853) must be called the best, as they are the last of the Italian opera school. "I Vespri Siciliani" (1855) and "Simon Boccanegra" (1857) were not so successful as "Un Ballo in Maschera" (1859); and none of them, any more than "La Forza del Destino" (1862) or "Don Carlos" (1867), added anything to the fame of the composer of "Il Trovatore."

      Only now begins the interest which the student of musical history finds in Verdi's life. Hitherto he had proved a good man, struggling with adversity and poverty, a successful composer ambitious to succeed to the vacant throne of Italian opera. But the keen insight into dramatic necessity which had gradually developed and had given such force to otherwise unimportant scenes in earlier operas, also showed him the insufficiency of the means hitherto at the disposal of Italian composers, and from time to time he had tried to learn the lessons taught in the French Grand Opera School, but with poor success. Now a longer interval seemed to promise a more careful, a more ambitious work, and when "Aida" was produced at Cairo (1871), it was at once acknowledged that a revolution had taken place in Verdi's mind and method, which might produce still greater results. The influence of Wagner and the music-drama is distinctly to be felt.

      But Verdi was apparently not yet satisfied. For sixteen years the successful composer maintained absolute silence in opera, when whispers of a great music-drama roused the expectation of musical Europe to an extraordinary pitch; nor were the highest expectations disappointed when "Otello" was produced at Milan in 1887. The surrender of Italian opera was complete, and Verdi took his right place at the head of the vigorous new school which has arisen in Italy, and which promises to regain for the "Land of Song" some of her ancient preeminence in music. A comic opera by Verdi, "Falstaff," was announced in 1892: it has well sustained his previous reputation.

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