Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

For information about listening to Vermont Public Radio, please go here.

Timeline: Giuseppe Verdi

U.S. Public Domain
Giuseppe Verdi has been called one of the greatest and most popular opera composers of the 19th century.

Early 19th century Italian opera was dominated by the works of the three “E’s”; Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. But if there is one composer whose work stands on par with Mozart and Wagner in the operatic repertoire, it’s Giuseppe Verdi.

Verdi had an innate flair for the dramatic, which aided him in the creation of his works but also serves to obscure some of the details of his life. For instance, he liked to claim that he came from poverty and that he was completely self-taught. However, the evidence shows that there is a long list of supporters and teachers that helped to shape Verdi into the musical and political figure we know today.

First, it was the people of his hometown, the village Roncole, near Busseto. They recognized his musical talents when he was very young. He was 3 when he began to take lessons and shortly after he was given a spinet with which to practice and compose. This instrument became his prized possession. He took it with him everywhere he went throughout his long life. It even followed his body to the “House of rest” in Milan when he passed away.

Verdi married young, had two children and some success with his first opera Oberto, then came a year of tragedy. In 1840, he lost his son, his daughter and his wife. To add insult to injury, his second opera Un giorno di regno was an abysmal failure. Verdi slipped into a deep depression and vowed to never compose again.

Until, a friend convinced him to write one more operatic work, which became Nabucco. This stunning success was the springboard that Verdi’s career needed. Verdi later wrote, “This is the opera with which my artistic career really begins. And though I had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star.” The work was performed in opera houses across Europe and made Verdi quite famous. Over the next 16 years he composed 20 original operas. A shrewd business man, Verdi was constantly raising his commission fees according to his popularity and began investing his wealth in land and property, securing his future.

Credit US-PD
An illustration of Guiseppe Verdi from a 1879 edition of Vanity Fair.

Verdi’s operas, including Rigoletto, La traviata and Aida have become some of the most frequently performed works in houses around the world. Perhaps because of this fame and popularity, the musical establishment did not consider Verdi’s work worthy of serious academic study.  This is until the “Verdi renaissance” began in Germany in the 1920’s and 30’s. Today he has been called one of the greatest and most popular opera composers of the 19th century.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
Latest Stories