Messa da Requiem, G. Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi was always deeply involved in the cultural life of his native Italy, and he held great respect for many of its other famous talented sons and daughters. When fellow composer Gioachino Rossini passed away in 1868, Verdi assembled a committee of Italian composers who would compose a requiem in honour of their departed colleague. The Messa per Rossini was eventually assembled but not performed as intended, which frustrated the Maestro greatly. When the writer Alessandro Manzoni died in 1873, Verdi, a lifelong fan, composed a complete requiem on its own, out of reverence to his literary hero. Thus, his Messa da Requiem was born. It became a favourite concert piece, and its dramatic dynamics and engaging rhythms will impress audiences at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi this season.
Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was premiered on 22 May 1874 at the Basilica of San Marco in Milan. It was revolutionary for its time: two of four soloists were women, and the double choir featured female voices. In this time period, the Catholic Church prohibited women from performing sacred music and taking any active part in liturgy. Perhaps for these reasons, Verdi’s Requiem was not an instant sensation; it rather enjoyed a slow and steady flame of popularity. Even though churches were reluctant to stage the work, it was much more favourably viewed as a concert performance. With its roughly 90 minutes and Verdi’s operatic sensibilities, Messa da Requiem eventually earned its place in the classical concert repertoire. Nowadays it is considered just as important and popular as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s own Requiem.
Musically, the mass follows a traditional sequence that Verdi imbues with characteristic dramatism and musical imagination. The ominous Dies irae, the terrifying judgment of the trumpets in Tuba mirum, and the humbling Rex tremendae contrast with the hopeful and imploring Ingemisco. Thus, the performance contains theatrical elements that set it apart from purist requiems. At the time of its premiere, some critics were scandalised, while others welcomed Verdi’s stage-like treatment of the musical form. Conservative outcries aside, the Messa da Requiem still moves audiences and stirs divine emotions.