Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Verdi Requiem

My friend an amateur cello player had the following to say about her recent experience.  Her correspondent is a Verdi scholar.

"Philadelphia has a reading orchestra that meets every week.  It’s for amateurs.....  You can go or not go, depending on how you feel about the piece for that week. It’s just for the love of playing – no rehearsals; no performances; .....

A few weeks ago, they did Verdi’s Requiem.  ....

.... we had about 150 singers, and four good soloists.

Instrumentalists came out of the woodwork...  My only previous experience with the piece was as a chorister, in the back, with the other medium-to-tall altos.  But in the cello section at this event, I had the tenor soloist just to my left, and the brass and percussion on my right, playing almost directly at my head, and buffered only by the viola section.  I have always been awed by the emotional range of the piece, but this was in a different league. It’s hard to describe, except to say that the terrifying parts raised my hair and the plaintive parts choked me up.  It was like being in the middle of a huge, loud, natural disaster, with people in trouble everywhere, but not yet devoid of hope. 

For days after that, all I wanted to do was listen to the piece again and again.  The best recording I found on YouTube was La Scala’s most recent (Karajan, Price, Cassotto, Pavarotti, Ghiaurov).   Almost enough to make me an opera fan, and certainly enough to make me see why Verdi means so much to you."

(the reply)

 " Oh, my!  I have been slow to reply because of course I had to listen to the Requiem again.  And, Oh, yes!  it raises the hair and chokes me up.  Part of what gets me excited about Verdi is the thought that he was a farmer, not just a farmer, to be sure, yet  a full-time farmer in that he raised sheep, sold cattle and grains, and went to market.  But when sitting in his garden, or more likely, when tramping over his fields, he had these thoughts about how the piece should go.  Most composers are urban creatures, bound in some way to a church or court, but not Verdi.  I think you have to go back to the Greek poet Hesiod to find an artist  who was a farmer.  Well, there is no explaining genius.  One of the stories I like about Verdi is that one day, when he was tramping his fields, he came upon two of his laborers resting themselves behind a hedge, and he overheard one saying to the other:  “I don’t get it.  He draws little fish-hooks on paper and then goes to the bank, and they give him money!”  I suppose it may not be true, but I like to think so."

Here is the La Scala Performance from YouTube.

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