|About this Recording
8.550944-45 - VERDI, G.: Messa da Requiem / Quattro Pezzi Sacri (Filipova, Scalchi, Hernandez, Colombara, Hungarian State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Morandi)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
Messa da Requiem
Giuseppe Verdi occupied a leading position in the world of Italian opera from the success of Nabucco in 1842 until 1892, when he completed his Shakespearean opera Falstaff. Born at Le Roncole, near Busseto, in the region of Parma, in 1813, the son of an inkeeper-cum-grocer, he showed musical ability as a child and this was encouraged by his father so that by the age of seven he was deputising as an organist at the local church. His early schooling took him to Busseto where that he had his first formal musical training. It was there that he received particular help from the merchant Antonio Barezzi, President of the Busseto Philharmonic Society, moving, at the age of eighteen, into his house and giving lessons to Barezzi's daughter Margherita, who was to become Verdi's wife. The following year he applied for entry to the Milan Conservatory, but was rejected. Following the advice of the composer and violinist Alessandro Rolla, Verdi then decided to take private lessons in Milan with Vincenzo Lavigna, a former protege of Paisiello, and in 1835, his studies in counterpoint with Lavigna now completed, he returned to Busseto, taking up the position there of municipal master of music, marrying Margherita Barezzi and completing his first opera, Rocester. Four years later he returned to Milan, with his wife and son, his sixteen-month-old daughter having died. Now he was able to arrange for the performance of what was presumably a revision of Rocester, the opera Oberto, conte di S Bonifacio, at La Scala, a work that led to a commission for three more operas. Pleasure in any success was tempered by the death of his baby son and in 1840 by the death of his wife.
Verdi's next opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), failed and it was in 1842, with Nabucco, that he won his first major success, while his personal life too had changed after his meeting with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, his mistress from 1847 and from 1859 until her death in 1897 his wife. The following years brought intense activity, as opera followed opera, years described by the composer as his years in the galley. By 1859 he had written some twenty more operas, among them works that remain essential to international repertoire, Rigoletto, Il trovatore, La traviata, and in 1862 La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny). In 1868 Don Carlos was staged at the Paris Opera, followed in 1871 by Aida for the new Cairo Opera House. Verdi's last two operas took him back to Shakespeare, whose Macbeth he had set in 1847, Now he tackled Otello, first staged at La Scala, Milan, in 1887, followed there, in 1893, by Falstaff, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. He died in Milan in 1901, his death the occasion of national mourning.
Verdi was not always valued by his contemporaries. Conservative opinion in Italy might regard opera as defunct with Rossini, while others deplored what they saw as imitation of Verdi's contemporary Wagner. For many, however, his operas accorded well with the popular spirit of the day, as Italy struggled to free herself from foreign domination and to achieve some form of political unity. In this Verdi was seen as a champion of independence, his very name an acronym for the new King, Vittorio Emmanuele, re d'ltalia (Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy). Musically and technically his achievement was immense in the creation of unified dramatic works of great power and very considerable variety, although it is relatively recently that there has been any just assessment of his position, recognising him, at the least, as the equal of Wagner in Germany.
The Messa da Requiem (Requiem Mass) was completed in April 1874 and first performed in May that year at the Church of San Marco in Milan. The origin of the work may be found in Verdi's suggested composite Requiem for Rossini, who had died in 1868. He proposed that a number of composers should join together to provide a national tribute and this was duly organized, with Verdi himself setting the Libera me. The project ended in failure, although the composers who finally agreed to contribute duly completed their tasks. Verdi's altruistic proposal had stipulated that the venture was to make no commercial profit and that the music written was not be performed again, a gesture, it might be thought, that he could now well afford. It was the death of the Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni in 1873 that prompted the completion of a task that Verdi's publisher had urged. Manzoni had spent much of his life in or near Milan and occupied an unassailable position in Italian letters, above all with his novel I promessi sposi (The Bethrothed), which, with its humble leading characters, patriotic background and essential Catholicism, suited current aspirations and beliefs. Verdi, in contrast to Manzoni, although he died fortified by the rites of the Church, was relatively liberal in his views, although imbued from childhood with the principles, beliefs and practices of Catholicism, to which Giuseppina Strepponi constantly hoped he would fully return. There is no doubt that the Requiem is a deeply religious work, although there were contemporaries quick to find fault. The distinguished pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, former son-in-law of Liszt, wrote scathingly of "opera in church vestments" and it was natural that some should expect from the greatest contemporary composer of Italian opera an operatic work. Verdi himself insisted that performance of the Requiem should not be theatrical, but this did not prevent the work being intensely dramatic, and it did contain, in the setting of the Lacrymosa, music originally intended for the opera Don Carlo. Its first performance at San Marco, with a dry Mass (a Mass without the Consecration), was an act of public commemoration of Manzoni, supported, thanks to the poet and composer Arrigo Boito, by the Milan city council, of which he was a member. Further commercial performances followed throughout Europe and in the New World. In Paris, where Verdi revised the Liber scriptus to allow Maria Waldmann a further solo for future performances, it was given seven performances at the Opera-Comique but there was rather less success in London, where the new Albert Hall could not be filled for such a Catholic occasion. In Venice there was little attempt to avoid the theatrical, at least in setting, with impressive Byzantine ecclesiastical decor designed for the occasion, while elsewhere the publisher Ricordi seems to have turned a blind eye to a variety of travesties, a version accompanied by four pianos and another by an arrangement for brass band, events that aroused Verdi's anger. In general, however, the Requiem won immediate contemporary success, although it later disappeared from standard choral repertoire, to make a definitive and lasting re-appearance only in the 1930s.
Verdi's Requiem sets the Introit Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine (Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord) and the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), followed by the great Sequence, the inevitably dramatic evocation of the Day of Judgement, the Dies irae (Day of wrath). This is followed by the Offertory, Domine Jesu Christe, rex gloriae (Lord Jesus Christ King of Glory) and the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy Lord God) and Benedictus (Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord). The communion Lux aeterna (Eternal light) leads then to the final Libera me (Set me free), from the Absolution of the Burial Service.
The softly descending notes of the opening suggest immediately the word Requiem, the words themselves sung as quietly as possible by the choir, with a shaft of light and shift to the major key at the words et lux perpetua luceat eis (and let perpetual light shine upon them). The first section of the work continues with the Kyrie, started by the solo tenor, followed by bass, soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists in turn, then joined by the choir. Terror strikes with the forceful opening of the Dies irae (Day of wrath), its strength reinforced by the bass drum. A fanfare of trumpets is answered from the distance, introducing the last trump itself, Tuba mirum spargens sonum (Trumpet scattering wondrous sound). The bass soloist continues with an awe-struck Mors stupebit (Death will stand amazed), the word mors repeated ominously, before the mezzo-soprano breaks in the Liber scriptus (The written book), the record of man's misdeeds. The choir murmurs the words Dies irae, punctuating the dramatic words of the soloist, with repetitions of the word nil (nothing), for nothing shall remain unavenged. Now the choir resumes its urgent cry of Dies irae, followed by the solo quar1et, with its question of who now will plead for the sinner. A descending melodic line gives drama to the basses' Rex tremendae majestatis (King of terrible majesty), with divided tenors softly repeating the words, before the solo voices return, seeking salvation in the words Salva me, fons pietatis (Save me, fount of pity), a plea in which all join. The mezzo-soprano launches into Recordare, Jesu pie (Remember, merciful Jesus), joined by the soprano. The tenor sings Ingemisco tamquam reus (I groan in my guilt) and the music rushes forward to the bass Confutatis maledictis (The accursed confounded) and this is capped by the choral return to the terror of this ominous and menacing Dies irae. The music now dies away into the mezzo-soprano Lacrymosa dies illa (That tearful day), joined by the other singers, before the final Pie Jesu (Merciful Jesus), a prayer for eternal rest for the dead.
After the Dies irae Verdi allowed an interval, in concer1 performance. Liturgically, of course, the work continues, now with the Offertory, which opens with the mezzo-soprano and tenor soloists calling on Christ, Domine Jesu Christe, joined by the bass in a plea for the deliverance of the souls of the faithful depar1ed, Libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum, from the pains of Hell and allowing the soprano to offer the hope that St Michael may intervene, the solo line star1ing with a long-held note on the first word of sed signifer sanctus Michael (but may the standard-bearer holy Michael). The second section of the Offer1ory continues with the initial imitative entries of the solo voices on the words Quam olim Abrahae (as once you promised Abraham). Further counterpoint is abandoned, as the tenor leads to the full quar1et, followed by the tranquillity of the tenor Hostias et preces tibi (Sacrifice and prayers we offer you). The Quam olim Abrahae returns briefly, leading to an unliturgical text drawn from the opening and from the end of the second section. Trumpet-calls introduce the energetic rejoicing of the Sanctus, the initial threefold repetition of the word leading to a double fugue, the subjects shared between a divided chorus, voices entering in both choirs in descending order. The fugue continues into the Benedictus, which is not treated separately. Soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists open the setting of the Agnus Dei, the voices an octave apart and unaccompanied until the entry of the choir, all with the same melodic line. The soloists resume in the minor, with the orchestra now making an independent contribution, before the entry of the choir, the higher voices with the theme in the major, accompanied by tenors and basses and by the orchestra. Instrumentation is again varied for the third solo version of the theme and the choral answer.
Lux aeterna is entrusted to mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass soloists, the first of these followed by the bass, before mezzo-soprano and tenor join together. The Requiem ends with the setting of the prayer from the Absolution, Libera me, Domine, de morle aeterna, sung freely by the soprano soloist on a monotone, before the hushed entry of the choir. There is a return to the full strength and terror of the Dies irae, the words of the Introit, whispered, before the soprano soloist leads forward to the final choral fugue.
The Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces) were written late in Verdi's life. The setting of the Ave Maria, described as Scala enigmatica armonizzata a quattro voci miste (Enigmatic scale, harmonized for four mixed voices,) was written in 1889. It has a curious origin as a solution to a musical puzzle set in the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano and Verdi, in what was his fourth setting of the Ave Maria, suggested to Boito that he might earn beatification for it, to be told by the librettist of his Otello that it would take more than that to earn papal pardon for lago's blasphemous Credo. It seems that Verdi did not intend his solution as anything more than an ingenious possible answer to the problem of harmonizing a scale that includes a number of different combined elements, but it was put in the hands of his publisher Ricordi and duly issued, to form the first of the Quattro pezzi, although it was originally the other three that received public performance, for the first time in Paris in the spring of 1898, after Verdi had withdrawn the Ave Maria, which he had, in any case, revised in 1896.
It was about the year 1890 the Verdi set for two sopranos and two contraltos the Laudi alla Vergine from the last canto of Dante's Paradiso, a setting that is largely homophonic, in spite of contrapuntal elements in the setting and suggestions of Palestrina with opening motifs for each verse of the text, motifs sometimes imitated.
The third of the pieces in a setting of the Stabat mater, for four-voice choir and orchestra. This was apparently written in 1896 and 1897 and calls for a large orchestra, with harp. The nature of the text makes this a relatively ex1ended and dramatic work, in a setting that uses the text without repetition and makes moving use of the final Quando corpus morietur (When the body shall die, see that the soul is granted the glory of paradise), words that may have had their own personal significance in the year of Giuseppina Strepponi's death, in which she and her husband had seen to the preparation of their own burial place.
At the first performance it seems to have been the longest of the four pieces, the setting of the Te Deum, that won most acclaim in a concert that was under-rehearsed and unsatisfactory. Written in 1895 and 1896, it is scored for double choir and orchestra and regarded always as the proper conclusion to any performance of the group of settings, a work of considerable originality, and power and a remarkable last testament.
Elena Filipova, Soprano
Gloria Scalchi, Mezzo-Soprano
César Hernandez, Tenor
Carlo Colombara, Bass
Hungarian State Opera Choir and Orchestra
Pier Giorgio Morandi
Close the window