b. 1813 – d. 1901
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Verdi was an Italian composer mainly remembered for his operas. Along with Richard Wagner, he was one of the most prominent opera composers of the Romantic era. While Wagner was the leader of German Romantic opera, Verdi dominated the Italian music scene. Countless arias from his operas have taken the form of ‘popular classics’, such asLa donna é mobile from Rigoletto, Libiamo ne’ lieti calici or ‘The Drinking Song’ from La Traviata and the Grand March from Aida.
Giuseppe Verdi was born in the village of Le Roncole, now known as Roncole Verdi, 140 km southeast of Milan. In later life, he liked to present himself as a self-taught artist who emerged from a poor peasant life, but this appears to be untrue as his parents were landowners and traders and were far from illiterate. In fact, he was well nurtured and given a substantial education - Verdi’s father was energetic and ambitious about the prospects of his son’s future career when his talents began to emerge. Verdi began learning the organ at a young age and showed a great flair from the age of about 7.
After the death of the schoolmaster and organist in his village, Verdi was hired in his first paid job as church organist at the tender age of eight. He began to compose from the age of 13 and moved to Milan five years later to study composition with Vincenzo Lavigna. These were the years when he started to attend operatic performances at La Scala and met many prominent figures in music that were to help him in his budding career.
By 1834, Verdi was the rehearsal director and continuo player of the Societá Filarmonica and one of his mentors suggested that he attempt to write an opera, resulting in his first:Oberto, Conte di Bonifacio, written over a four year period and first performed at La Scala Milan on 17 November 1839.
It was the opera Nabucco, composed in 1841, that established Verdi as a significant composer. It tells of the plight of the Jews as they are exiled by the Babylonian King Nabucco. Several opera houses in Italy and abroad held multiple productions ofNabucco not long afterwards – in Venice in 1842, in London in 1846 and in New York in 1848.
The following 16 years were extremely fruitful for Verdi. He worked hard and produced twenty operas. Verdi’s “middle period” resulted in some of his most celebrated operas,Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, with Un Ballo in Maschera bringing the period to a close.