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Requiem (Verdi)

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Title: Requiem (Verdi)  
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Subject: Victor de Sabata discography, Victor de Sabata, Don Carlos, Music for the Requiem Mass, After Aida
Collection: 1874 Compositions, Compositions by Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem Masses, Requiems
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Requiem (Verdi)

Alessandro Manzoni, in whose honour Verdi wrote the Requiem

The Messa da Requiem is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass (Requiem) for four soloists, double choir and orchestra by Giuseppe Verdi. It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired. The first performance, at the San Marco church in Milan on 22 May 1874, marked the first anniversary of Manzoni's death. The work was at one time called the Manzoni Requiem.[1] Although originally composed for liturgical purposes, in modern days it is rarely performed in liturgy, but rather in concert form of around 85–90 minutes in length. Musicologist David Rosen calls it 'probably the most frequently performed major choral work composed since the compilation of Mozart's Requiem.'[2]


  • Composition history 1
  • Performance history 2
    • 19th century 2.1
    • 20th century and beyond 2.2
    • Versions and arrangements 2.3
  • Sections 3
  • Music of the Requiem 4
  • Instrumentation 5
  • Recordings 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Composition history

After Gioachino Rossini's death in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini's honor. He began the effort by submitting the concluding movement, the Libera me. During the next year a Messa per Rossini was compiled by Verdi and twelve other famous Italian composers of the time. The premiere was scheduled for 13 November 1869, the first anniversary of Rossini's death.

However, on 4 November, nine days before the premiere, the organising committee abandoned it. Verdi blamed this on the scheduled conductor, Helmuth Rilling premiered the complete Messa per Rossini in Stuttgart, Germany.

In the meantime, Verdi kept toying with his Libera me, frustrated that the combined commemoration of Rossini's life would not be performed in his lifetime.

On 22 May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem—this time entirely of his own writing—for Manzoni. Verdi traveled to Paris in June, where he commenced work on the Requiem, giving it the form we know today. It included a revised version of the Libera me originally composed for Rossini.

Performance history

19th century

Requiem poster for La Scala premiere, 1874
The second performance of the Requiem, at La Scala on 25 May 1874, with Verdi conducting. The soloists depicted are (left to right) Ormondo Maini, Giuseppe Capponi, Maria Waldmann, and Teresa Stolz

The Requiem was first performed in the church of San Marco in Milan on 22 May 1874, the first anniversary of Manzoni's death. Verdi himself conducted, and the four soloists were Teresa Stolz (soprano), Maria Waldmann (mezzo-soprano), Giuseppe Capponi (tenor) and Ormondo Maini (bass).[3]

As Aida, Amneris and Ramfis respectively, Stolz, Waldmann, and Maini had all sung in the European premiere of Aida in 1872, and Capponi was also intended to sing the role of Radames at that premiere but was replaced due to illness. Teresa Stolz went on to a brilliant career, Waldmann retired very young in 1875, but the male singers appear to have faded into obscurity. Also, Teresa Stolz was engaged to Angelo Mariani in 1869, but she later left him.

The Requiem was repeated at La Scala three days later on 25 May with the same soloists and Verdi again conducting.[4] It won immediate contemporary success, although not everywhere. It received seven performances at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, but the new Royal Albert Hall in London could not be filled for such a Catholic occasion. In Venice, impressive Byzantine ecclesiastical decor was designed for the occasion of the performance.

It later disappeared from the standard choral repertoire, but made a reappearance in the 1930s and is now regularly performed and a staple of many choral societies.[5]

The playwright and music critic

  • Schuth, Brian (30 July 2013). "Montanaro Conducts Verdi on Short Notice". Boston Musical Intelligencer. Retrieved August 2013. 

(Verdi)RequiemFree scores of in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)

External links

  • Holroyd, Michael (1997), Bernard Shaw: A Biography, London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 07011-6279-1
  • Kennedy, Michael (2006), The Oxford Dictionary of Music. ISBN 0-19-861459-4
  • Kreuzer, Gundula (2010), Verdi and the Germans: From Unification to the Third Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-51919-9 ISBN 0-521-51919-5
  • Resigno, Eduardo (2001), Dizionario Verdiano. Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, ISBN 88-17-86628-8
  • Rosen, David (1995), Verdi: Requiem, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-39448-1
  • Summer, Robert J. (2007), Choral Masterworks from Bach to Britten: Reflections of a Conductor. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5903-3
  • Verdi, Giuseppe; (Ed., Marco Uvietta, 2014) Messa da requiem. Critical edition. Kassel: Bärenreiter Verlag.


  1. ^ Summer, p. ??
  2. ^ Rosen (1995), p.vii
  3. ^ Messa da Requiem, on Retrieved 29 December 2013
  4. ^ Resigno, Eduardo (2001), p. 14
  5. ^ a b CD liner notes (Verdi: Requiem /  
  6. ^ Holroyd, p. 792
  7. ^ Jeremy Eichler, "Honoring the conductor who gave Terezin its Requiem", Boston Globe, April 5, 2013
  8. ^ "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin" on Retrieved 29 December 2013: See Theresienstadt concentration camp for "Terezin"
  9. ^ "Rafael Schächter" on Retrieved 29 December 2013
  10. ^ "Giuseppe Verdi: Messa da Requiem": Trailer for Deutsche Oper's dramatic staging of the work on
  11. ^ Jean-Luc Vannier, de Verdi d’une sombre beauté au Deutsche Oper de Berlin"Messa da Requiem" (French)
  12. ^ Oper Köln website details of the staging by Clemens Bechtel. (In German) on
  13. ^ Review: Cologne Opera staging of the Bechtel version (in German) on der-neue-merker. (German)
  14. ^ a b c d e Kreuzer, p. 60—61
  15. ^ Gazzetta Piemontese (in Italian). 22 November 1868. p. 3. Se io fossi nelle buone grazie del Santo Padre, lo pregherei a voler permettere, almeno per questa sola volta, che le donne prendessero parte all'esecuzione di questa musica, ma non essendolo, converrá trovar persona piu di me idonea ad ottenere l'intento 




  1. ^ the third flute doubles on piccolo
  2. ^ an obsolete instrument usually replaced by a tuba or cimbasso in modern performances
strings: violins I, II, violas, violoncellos, double basses.
percussion: timpani, bass drum
brass: 4 horns, 8 trumpets, 3 trombones, Ophicleide[instr 2]
woodwind: piccolo, 3 flutes,[instr 1] 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons

The work is scored for the following orchestra:


At the time of its premiere, the Requiem was criticized by some as being too operatic in style for the religious subject matter.[14] According to Gundula Kreuzer, "Most critics did perceive a schism between the religious text (with all its musical implications) and Verdi's setting." Some viewed it negatively as "an opera in ecclesiastical robes," or alternatively, as a religious work, but one in "dubious musical costume." While the majority of critics agreed that the music was "dramatic," some felt that such treatment of the text was appropriate, or at least permissible.[14] As to the music qua music, the critical consensus agreed that the work displayed "fluent invention, beautiful sound effects and charming vocal writing." Critics were divided between praise and condemnation with respect to Verdi's willingness to break standard compositional rules for musical effect, such as his use of consecutive fifths.[14]

At the time the Requiem was composed, female singers were not permitted to perform in Catholic Church rituals (such as a requiem mass).[14] However, from the beginning Verdi intended to use female singers in the work. In his open letter proposing the Requiem project (when it was still conceived as a multi-author Requiem for Rossini), Verdi wrote: If I were in the good graces of the Holy Father [i.e., the Pope], I would beg him to permit—if only for this one time—that women take part in the performance of this music; but since I am not, it will fall to someone else better suited to obtain this decree."[15] In the event, when Verdi composed the Requiem alone, two of the four soloists were sopranos, and the chorus included female voices. This may have slowed the work's acceptance in Italy.[14]

The Sanctus (a complicated eight-part fugue scored for double chorus) begins with a brassy fanfare to announce him "who comes in the name of the Lord". Finally the Libera me, the oldest music by Verdi in the Requiem, interrupts. Here the soprano cries out, begging, "Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death ... when you will come to judge the world by fire."

Throughout the work, Verdi uses vigorous rhythms, sublime melodies, and dramatic contrasts—much as he did in his operas—to express the powerful emotions engendered by the text. The terrifying (and instantly recognizable) Dies irae that introduces the traditional sequence of the Latin funeral rite is repeated throughout. Trumpets surround the stage to produce a call to judgement in the Tuba mirum, and the almost oppressive atmosphere of the Rex tremendae creates a sense of unworthiness before the King of Tremendous Majesty. Yet the well-known tenor solo Ingemisco radiates hope for the sinner who asks for the Lord's mercy.

Beginning of the introit

Music of the Requiem

  • 7. Libera me (soprano, chorus)
    • Libera me
    • Dies irae
    • Requiem aeternam
    • Libera me
  • 5. Agnus Dei (soprano, mezzo-soprano, chorus)
  • 3. Offertory
    • Domine Jesu Christe (soloists)
    • Hostias (soloists)
  • 2. Dies irae
    • Dies irae (chorus)
    • Tuba mirum (chorus)
    • Mors stupebit (bass)
    • Liber scriptus (mezzo-soprano, chorus)
    • Quid sum miser (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor)
    • Rex tremendae (soloists, chorus)
    • Recordare (soprano, mezzo-soprano)
    • Ingemisco (tenor)
    • Confutatis (bass, chorus)
    • Lacrymosa (soloists, chorus)
First edition title page, Ricordi, 1874


Franz Liszt transcribed the Agnus Dei for solo piano (S. 437). It has been recorded by Leslie Howard.

Versions accompanied by four pianos or brass band were also performed.

For a Paris performance, Verdi revised the Liber scriptus to allow Maria Waldmann a further solo for future performances.[5]

Versions and arrangements

In 2011, Oper Köln premiered a full staging by Clemens Bechtel where the four main characters were shown in different life and death situations: the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a Turkish writer in prison, a young woman with bulimia, and an aid worker in Africa.[12][13]

The Requiem has been staged in a variety of ways several times in recent years. Achim Freyer created a production for the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2006 that was revived in 2007, 2011 and 2013.[10] In Freyer's staging, the four sung roles, "Der Weiße Engel" (The White Angel), "Der Tod-ist-die-Frau" (Death is the Woman), "Einsam" (Solitude), and "Der Beladene" (The Load Bearer) are complemented by choreographed allegorical characters. [11]

In 2006, Murry Sidlin performed the Requiem in the same hall in which the Red Cross performance had taken place and rehearsed the choir in the same basement where the original inmates learnt and practised their parts. It was part of the Prague Spring Festival and children of the survivors sang in the choir with their parents sitting in the audience.[7][8][9]

The Requiem was performed 16 times between 1943 and 1944 by prisoners in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt (also known as Terezín) under the direction of Rafael Schächter. The performances were extraordinary on several counts: first, they had only a single vocal score with piano accompaniment, so every part had to be learned from memory; second, they practised in a dark, cold, damp basement with only a broken piano after long days of forced labour; and third, as the performances took place over an extended period, many of the singers were removed by the Nazis and had to be replaced. The final performance particularly provided a basis for dignified self-expression as well as attempting to symbolically communicate the circumstances at the camp to a visiting International Red Cross delegation in 1944.

20th century and beyond


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