Wednesday, June 8, 2011


The Baltimore Symphony ended their subscription season with a performance of Verdi's Requiem. Their audience was in for a treat.  This Requiem  has no musical peer.  Maestro Marin Alsop spoke with a reporter on NPR before the first performance.  She used all the accolades usually associated with descriptions of Verdi's masterpiece: "epic" , "transcendental", "magic".  And she offerd the view shared by many that Verdi's piece is an agnostic tribute to his friend, the great Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni. and not a musical mass. Pope Pius X banned it from use in a church service along with other music that, in the view of Rome, distracted the listener from the message of the text.  The Gregorian chant was considered the perfect, non-distracting genre.

The ecclesiastical concerns that motivated Pius, and that have lead critics to conclude that Verdi was agnostic, are based on a conventional filter for "religious".   Form your own opinion.   Listen to the Requiem yourself.  Not as background.  Put on your earphones and go for a ride.  Your heart will pound.  Your palms will sweat.  Adrenalin will flow.  When the full power of the piece comes to its conclusion, "Libera me", (Free me), you, too will become the supplicant.  Verdi intended to bring you to your knees.  He intended to have you question what was beyond the edge of your vision.  To me, this is the essence of spirituality.

I recommend George Martin's biography of Verdi, "Verdi, His Music, Life and Times".  Let me quote from his analysis of the Requiem.  "(Verdi) succeeded, not only by the excellence of his music but also by stirring in the audience the ancient feelings and fears of primitive man peering nervously into the night, trying to find his God and establish some sort of relationship with him .... Verdi knocks the world apart with the violence of his music...By the end of his Requiem Verdi has his singers and audience praying for peace and light, not for the dead, but for themselves, the living."  Martin's book is available in print and for Kindle.  Martin helps you see that Verdi interpreted the text magnificently - just differently than the view from the Vatican.

Verdi's masterpiece may not have appealed to Pius, but it does to audiences all over the world.  Enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment