The Messa da Requiem by Verdi started life as a collaborative project to honour the first anniversary of the death of Rossini in 1869. Initiated by Verdi, the individual movements were written by the great and the good in Italian music at the time, most of whom have passed into obscurity – Verdi himself wrote the Libera Me. Various problems ensued with the first performance of this Requiem by committee, and it was shelved and only very recently (1985) performed as originally intended.
When Alessandro Manzoni (considered the greatest Italian poet) died in 1873, Verdi revisited the idea, and wrote the lot himself. He re-worked the Libera Me into the new composition, which was first performed in Milan in 1874 on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, to great critical acclaim.
Although Verdi totally dismissed the accusation (being fairly anti-religious and anti-clerical at this point), the great German conductor Hans von Bülow described it as ‘an opera in ecclesiastical costume’ (von Bülow later rescinded the comment and apologised to Verdi). The dramatic treatment of the Dies Irae/Tuba mirum sections (complete with off-stage Trumpets), and the use of the soloists, certainly do point towards operatic origins, but this is also a choral tour de force (the Sanctus written as a double-choir fugue for example) with a huge range of expression and dynamics, from the smallest whispered ppp to ear-splitting fff.
We have assembled a large orchestra, complete with 66’ Verdi Bass Drum (for the thunderclaps in the Dies Irae), including eight Trumpets (four offstage – actually behind you!) to do justice to the tremendous sound world that Verdi has conjured up. And of course, being Verdi, it is filled with glorious melodies without detracting from the message of hope in the resurrection of the dead, though not before we are all judged at the sound of the last Trumpet(s)…..
Please do support this concert so we can give a generous donation to the fantastic St Raphael’s Hospice in Cheam.