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Success and Grief: What Giuseppe Verdi’s Life Reveals

Giuseppe Verdi, the great Italian composer, was born in 1813 in a small village near Parma, Italy. At the age of 12, he was appointed organist in the village church. In 1832, when he was 19, a wealthy merchant friend of Verdi’s father recognized his great talent and offered him a musical scholarship in Milan. Accompanied by his father and teacher, Verdi arrived in Milan in May 1832, where he was met with great disappointment: he applied to the Milan Conservatory, but after hearing him play the piano, the school rejected his application.

In the same year, he experienced another blow: his beloved sister, Josephine, died. In 1837, another misfortune befell him. From his marriage to Margherita Barezzi in 1836, he had a daughter, Virginia, whom he adored. However, Virginia died when she was only a few months old. Verdi was isolated in his despondent state in his home in Milan and faced enormous hardship: he was unemployed, penniless, and often only able to eat once a day in squalid inns. As if all this were not enough, in 1839 his second child, a baby son, died. Verdi’s life became unbearable. In 1840, he suffered the most tragic blow: his beloved wife, Margherita Barezzi, died. Grief-stricken, Verdi fled Milan to Busseto to find solace.

However, the impresario Merelli visited him there and asked him if he would like to compose the music for Nabuchodonosor. Verdi, of course, refused. He lost the desire to compose music. However, Merelli insisted on putting the libretto of the work in Verdi’s pocket. He tried half-heartedly to compose later. But the notes did not appear – or if they did, they were full of sadness, like the soul of the composer.

However, he finished it in 1841. Rehearsals for the opera Nabuchodonosor – or Nabucco as it was named in the meantime – began at the beginning of 1842. But it was immediately clear that Verdi had composed a masterpiece. Nabucco was first performed on March 9, 1842 at La Scala in Milan. An unprecedented triumph followed. The rapturous audience responded with a standing ovation, demanding repeated encores of the stirring chorus of “Va, pensiero, sull’ ali dorate,” which still sends shivers down our spines.

Verdi – now 29 years old – suddenly became famous. People sang the chorus of Nabucco in the streets, while hats and ties with Verdi’s name were sold everywhere. The richest families in Milan opened their homes to him. In the same year (1842), the composer met a famous soprano, Josephina Strepponi, and formed a lasting relationship with her that lasted until her death in 1897.

Over the next nine years, between 1843 and 1851, Verdi composed thirteen operas, which were performed in all the major cities of Italy – Milan, Rome, Venice, Naples, Trieste – as well as in London, and all were huge successes. The first such opera was I Lombardi, which was performed at La Scala in Milan on February 11, 1843. Enthusiastic crowds invaded the theater on the day of its premiere, and the success of this opera was comparable to that of Nabucco.

Opera Ernani followed in 1844, based on Victor Hugo’s work of the same name. It was presented in Venice on March 9, 1844, with great success. The overflowing Venetians lifted Verdi on their shoulders and carried him triumphantly around Saint Mark’s Square. With the money earned from Ernani, Verdi was able to buy a small farm near his village. In 1845, the opera Jeanne d’Arc (Giovanna d’Arco) followed, with similarly great success. Verdi now had so much money that he acquired a castle in Busseto.

Other achievements include the operas Attila in 1846 and I Masnadieri (The Bandits) in 1847. The premiere of Bandits was held in London with a special fanfare: Queen Victoria and almost all members of Parliament were present. The opera was a great success and Verdi earned an amazing amount of money. He bought a large farm with woods and vineyards near Busseto and an apartment in Paris, where he occasionally retired to rest with his companion Josephina Strepponi.

During this period, tensions between Italy and Austria increased, and Verdi composed the opera La Battaglia di Legnano (The Battle of Legnano) to fuel patriotic feelings. This opera was first performed in Rome in 1849. Tickets for the premiere are sold out. This was another great success. The audience was delighted and demanded a repeat of the entire fourth act as an encore. Verdi became a national hero. At the end of the same year, a Verdi opera was presented in Naples: Luisa Millert based on Schiller’s tragedy of the same name.

Over the next eight years (1851-1859), Verdi composed his extraordinary masterpieces – Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Simon Boccanegra, Un Ballo in Maschera and other operas – and reached his peak. glory. The first of these masterpieces, Rigoletto, was completed at the beginning of 1851 and premiered in Venice on March 11 of the same year. The canals of Venice resounded all night long with the sound of the gondoliers’ song “Feather in the Wind”, which is still well known today. After 21 performances in Venice, Rigoletto began to be performed worldwide.

In 1851, Verdi also began composing his next masterpiece, the opera Il Trovatore, which he finished the following year. The premiere was held in Rome in January 1853 and was again a great success. Two months later, his third masterpiece, the opera Traviata, was presented in Venice. Again, it was an instant hit and was even performed in America.

In 1855, Verdi completed the opera Les Vêpres Siciliennes. It premiered at L’Opera de Paris; In 1856, it was performed at La Scala in Milan with great success. His passionate patriotism moved the souls of Italians. In 1857, the opera Simon Boccanegra was presented in Venice, and in the same year Verdi composed the opera Un Ballo in Maschera. The latter opera was presented in Rome in February 1859, with great success – ticket prices rose sevenfold.

Verdi reached the peak of his career; At the age of 46, he was considered the greatest composer in Europe. To complete his success, he married Josephina Strepponi at the beginning of 1859, with whom he lived for the past 17 years.

In the following years, Verdi composed many other operas. In 1862, he completed his work La Forza del Destino (The Power of Destiny), commissioned by the Petrograd Russian Theater. In March 1867, the opera Don Carlos was presented for the first time in Paris. At the end of 1871, his opera Aïda was presented in Cairo. The performance lasted for more than eight hours – from 7:00 PM to 3:00 AM

In 1874, he expressed his feelings in his next work, the mournful Messa da Requiem, which was performed in May 1874 at St. Mark’s Church in Milan. The next year, the sad Requiem was a huge success. After conquering all of Italy, he did the same in the rest of Europe, while in London an incredible 1,200-voice choir took part in the performance, prompting critics to write rave reviews.

Verdi – now 62 years old – began to enjoy the pleasures of life. He met a young intellectual, Arrigo Boito, who shared with him the joys of culture, exposing him to new intellectual currents and fashions. In 1876, Verdi conducted his opera Aïda in Paris, and the opera was soon performed triumphantly throughout Europe. In 1881, he rewrote Simon’s opera Boccanegra, which was presented in its new form the same year with great success.

From 1879, he started composing the music for Shakespeare’s Othello, which he finally finished in 1886. The presentation took place in 1887 at La Scala. Celebrities from all over Europe came to the show, and ticket prices reached unprecedented heights. At the end of the performance, the audience’s shouts of joy could be heard from blocks away. When Verdi came out of the theater overwhelmed with emotion, people unhooked the horses of his carriage and dragged him to his hotel themselves. Between 1888 and 1892, Verdi composed another masterpiece, the opera Falstaff, again based on Shakespeare. Falstaff was performed at La Scala in 1894.

In 1897, Verdi’s beloved companion, his wife Josephina Strepponi, died. From then on, his health deteriorated and the year 1900 confined him to a wheelchair. One of the world’s greatest composers passed away in 1901 at the age of 88.


Verdi’s life reveals that grief can sometimes lead to tremendous success. As you remember, when Verdi was 24 years old, in 1837, his beloved daughter, Virginia, died, and two years later, his second child. The next year, in 1840, his beloved wife, Margherita Barezzi, also died. In grief, he fled from Milan to his village. However, the impresario Merelli visited him and asked him to compose the music for the opera Nabucco. Verdi refused, but later began to compose, although filled with sadness. The result was a masterpiece. When Nabucco was introduced, it was an unprecedented success. Grief led to triumph. From now on, Verdi became one of the world’s greatest composers.

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