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Verdi's Position in Musical Art.

By Lutie Baker Gunn.
 
It was not until he was in his 38th year (1851), when Rigoletto appeared, that Verdi's instrumentation showed any marked care, or that he seemed to be impressed by the variety of effect.
 
In Gilda's aria, Caro noma, the score is delightful in charming contrasts of delicacy and coloring. In the famous quartet sung in the last act there is mingled mirth, impassioned love and vengefulness. This is the best ensemble of the kind since the sextet in Lucia di Lammermoor and the trio in Lucrezia Borgia. Rigoletto was followed by the more popular Miserere in II Trovatore. But the Rigoletto quartet is considered the most brilliant and musicianly of all of Verdi's efforts. This opera, composed in forty days, has outlived the sixteen others that preceded it. Its wealth of melody and dramatic power causes it to be listened to at the present time with as much interest as attended its first production; through this work the composer will live. In speaking of Verdi as a composer of opera we may add that although he showed a pronounced departure from the traditions of Italian opera, as he found them to be, he has remained essentially Italian. Arguments have been raised that in his later works he had fallen under the influence of Wagner, but this would be quite difficult to prove. He may have been influenced by German masters' theories regarding character of opera libretto, but musically he was ever a true son of his native land.
 
From present indications it appears that Verdi is destined to be the last of the long line of Italian opera composers of the old school who modified their efforts in respect to style as time passed. He has left no imitators and no disciples. This is singular, for since the dawn of opera to the present time the composers of Italian opera have left behind a survivor to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors; at least to do so until he finds out an individual path for himself, carrying on the development of the school. Cimarosa followed Piccini; then came Rossini, followed by Mercadante, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. Here the line abruptly ends. Falstaff was composed when Verdi was 80 years old. When given, in 1893, for the first time at La Scala in Milan it was pronounced to be one of the greatest works ever heard in that famous old opera house. Some musical critics have pronounced it to be Verdi's masterpiece. Although written at such an advanced age there was exhibited no lack of power. The general public has been slow to accept this great work, and it is only during the past two years that Americans have been permitted to hear it. One notable feature in this opera is that it has no overture. There is a beautiful unaccompanied quartet in E major for women's voices; the Honor soliloquy, the ensemble music in the second act, and the Fat Knight's famous scherzetto; the Love Duet of Nanetta and Fenton, Nanetta's song and the vocal Fugue, which forms such a wonderful close to the opera. It is filled with humor, and the spirit of youth prevails from beginning to end.
 
Verdi's Requiem is a work that has been praised with as much enthusiasm as it has been condemned with acrimony. Hans von Bülow, speaking for his school in criticism and without discretion, assented that the composition was a "monstrosity" which would do no credit to an ordinary pupil of any music school in Germany. Yet it has never been equaled in inspiration by any contemporary graduates of any of the schools to which Dr. von Bülow referred. Another fault that has been found with this work is that it is not sacred in character. This charge means that Verdi's Requiem was not conceived in the same spirit in which Bach conceived his St. Matthew Passion and Handel his Messiah.
 
The mere matter of difference in temperament makes it impossible to form a comparison between the sacred music of Verdi and that of Bach and Handel. The English and German speaking people have accepted Bach and Handel as the foremost exponents of what is understood by them as the religious sentiment in music, but that acceptance does not make a law for the Latin races. Bach and Handel wrote after the fashion of their day. The style was not chosen because it was religious in character, but because it was the only style they knew, common to the stage and the Church. When adapted to the latter it was more contrapuntal in treatment. That choral fugues, single or double, strict or free, are religious in feeling remains to be proved, as no body of men are entitled to decide whether this or that style is the only one appropriate for sacred music. In judging Verdi's Requiem, as in judging other works of art which are ably written, we should try to look at it from the composer's standpoint.
 
Verdi's Requiem was conceived in a spirit wholly antipodal from that in which Bach and Handel conceived their works. He wrote after the style of an Italian Roman Catholic. He felt inspired and made no pretense of attempting to write as the German composers wrote 150 years before. That he showed great power in this work has never been denied. Verdi wrote the Requiem to do honor to the memory of his friend Manzoni, and it was intended to be an Italian Requiem. He was the most popular opera composer of his time. His extraordinary musical growth towards the close of his life indicated that there was in him a capacity for greater work than he achieved. He has made a name that will always be mentioned with veneration.
 

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