Messa da Requiem, G. Verdi
When the beloved Italian composer Gioachino Rossini died in 1868, Giuseppe Verdi felt obliged to honour his colleague in his final passage. Thus, he gathered a group of contemporary composers who would each contribute a movement to a requiem to Rossini. Despite some delays and troubles, the Messa per Rossini eventually came together, but it was not performed as intended. Verdi was not happy. The death of writer Alessandro Manzoni in 1873 gave the Maestro a second chance to compose a full requiem on his own and to pay proper respects to another landmark Italian. Thus, his Messa da Requiem was born. It premiered on 22 May 1874 at the Basilica of San Marco in Milan and became a regularly performed concert piece. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma revives Verdi’s dramatic and dynamic score.
Verdi’s Messa da Requiem enjoyed popularity at the time of its debut, but it was not uncontroversial. It features female soloists and choir members during a time period when the Catholic Church excluded women from any active part in the liturgy, including musical performances. Also due to the Vatican’s disapproval, Verdi’s Requiem did not become an overnight success, but it gained its fame step by step. While churches generally shunned the mass, concert houses were very eager to perform it. Full of Verdi’s signature operatic flame and musical dramatics, Messa da Requiem was sure to earn its place among the concert classics of any period. Today, we mention it in the same breath as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s own famous Requiem.
Musically, Verdi kept to the traditional requiem mass structure, but he did not shy away from turning up the dramatic appeal of each segment. There are sharp contrasts between the terrifying Dies irae, Tuba mirum and Rex tremendae with their larger-than-life scoring and ominous brass versus the pious and humble Ingemisco. The theatricality of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem is undeniable, a fact that rubbed some critics the wrong way. Today, Teatro Costanzi revives a unique entry into the requiem genre, to the delight and awe of many.