We have two works by Giuseppe Verdi for you tonight, and we’re going to start with one of his few sacred works, his Messa da Requiem. The work originated with the death of another great Italian composer, Gioachino Rossini. When he died in 1868, a group of Italian composers, including Verdi, got together at Verdi’s suggestion to compile a Requiem in Rossini’s honor. The music was prepared, with Verdi contributing the conclusion to the work, a Libera me. However, the performance of the work was cancelled just prior to its scheduled performance in November of 1869. A few years later, the Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni passed away. Verdi was a fan of Manzoni, and decided to revise the Libera me that he had written in Rossini’s honor and use it as part of a Requiem for Manzoni. The completed work was premiered on 22 May 1874, with Verdi himself conducting. While it was not a part of the standard choral repertoire for a while, it has been performed regularly since the 1930s.
Tonight’s recording is a 1965 recording that is considered to be among the best available recordings of the Requiem. It features a great performance from the legendary Wagnerian soprano Birgit Nilsson, along with Lili Chookasian, Carlo Bergonzi, and Ezio Flagello. Erich Leinsdorf leads Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Chorus Pro Musica.
Our second Verdi work of the evening is his longest opera. Verdi was commissioned by the Paris Opera to write Don Carlos in 1866. He completed the music that year, but the length of the piece was already at the point where, with a ballet to be added to conform with Paris Opera traditions, it was too long. He edited the opera down, but upon the beginning of rehearsals for its 1867 premiere, found that the opera as it then stood would run past midnight. So he made more changes, and this version was premiered in Paris on March 11, 1867. An Italian translation was premiered in London on June 4th of that same year. In the following years, Verdi made numerous edits and alterations, more than he did for any of his other works. The original edition, with 5 acts, runs in excess of four hours. Tonight’s version, which has only three acts, runs for about 3 hours and 15 minutes. However, in recent years, many performances of the opera have used the original French version and its initial Italian translation.
Tonight’s recording is from 1965, and features Renata Tebaldi, Carlo Bergonzi, Nicolai Ghiaurov (whom we heard last week in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and who again gives an excellent demonstration of his strong bass voice), the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Grace Bumpry, and Martti Talvela. Georg Solti directs the Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus.
We close the show this evening with a selection of songs written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While Mozart is certainly well known for his larger scale works, he also wrote a number of art songs. In German, the art songs are referred to as “lied” (singular) or “lieder” (plural), and Mozart was, along with Beethoven, one of the early great practitioners of the form that was at that time only beginning to develop, in conjunction with the dawn of the Weimar Classicism period of German literature. Although he only wrote a few lied (as opposed to Franz Schubert, who wrote over 600), the songs that he wrote are quite notable for their quality, and are frequently performed in lieder recitals. Tonight we’ll hear:
- Das Veilchen, (“The Violet”), K. 476 – written on June 8, 1785, the only poem by the great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that Mozart set to music. The song is only 65 bars in length, and Mozart added two stanzas of his own in a brief coda. The same poem was also set to music by numerous other composers, including Felix Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann.
- Dans un Bois Solitaire, K. 308 – Written in 1777 – 1778 for the daughter of a flutist in the Manheim orchestra, using a five verse text by Antoine Hodart de la Motte.
- Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling, K. 596 – written in 1791, using a text by Christian Adolf Overbeck. The title translates as “Longing for the Spring”, and serves as a cheerful glorification of various points of the season. The piece was actually written for children, but has achieved fame as a lied. The theme is reminiscent of his last piano concerto, but with differences.