Verdi, Giuseppe (Fortunato Francesco)

The Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral Mass (called the Requiem from the first word of the text, which begins Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, meaning, "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord"—see the entry at "Dies Irae"). It was completed to mark the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi. The piece is also sometimes referred to as the Manzoni Requiem. A typical performance takes around 85-90 minutes.


The Requiem is scored for a large orchestra consisting of three flutes (third flute doubling on piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, four bassoons, four French horns, eight trumpets (four of which play from offstage during the Tuba mirum), three trombones, one ophicleide (an obsolete instrument usually replaced by a tuba in modern performances), timpani, bass drum, and strings.

There is also a quartet of solo singers (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass), as well as a double chorus.

Historical context

When Gioacchino Rossini died in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers should collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini's honor, and began the effort by submitting a "Libera me." During the next year a Messa per Rossini was compiled by 13 composers (of whom the only one well known today is Verdi himself). The premiere was scheduled for the first anniversary of Rossini's death in 1869, but the performance was cancelled and the piece fell into oblivion until 1988, when Helmuth Rilling premiered the complete Requiem for Rossini in Stuttgart.

In the meantime, Verdi kept toying with his "Libera me," frustrated that the combined commemoration of Rossini's life would not be performed in his lifetime.

In May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem—this time entirely of his own writing—for Manzoni. Verdi travelled to Paris in June, where he commenced work on the Requiem, giving it the form we know today. It included a revised version of the "Libera me" originally composed for Rossini. The Requiem was first performed the following May in the church of San Marco in Milan, on the first anniversary of Manzoni's death.

The music

Throughout the work, Verdi uses vigorous rhythms, sublime melodies, and dramatic contrasts—much as he did in his operas—to express the powerful emotions engendered by the text. The terrifying (and instantly recognizable) "Dies Irae" that introduces the traditional sequence of the Latin funeral rite is repeated throughout for a sense of unity, which allows Verdi to explore the feelings of loss and sorrow as well as the human desire for forgiveness and mercy found in the intervening movements of the Requiem. Trumpets surround the stage to produce an inescapable call to Judgement in the "Tuba mirum" (the resulting combination of brass and choral quadruple-fortissimo markings resulting in some of the loudest unamplified music ever written), and the almost oppressive atmosphere of the "Rex tremendae" creates a sense of unworthiness before the King of Tremendous Majesty. Yet the well-known tenor solo "Ingemisco" radiates hope for the sinner who asks for the Lord's mercy. Verdi also recycles and reworks the duet "Qui me rendra ce mort? Ô funèbres abîmes!", from Act IV of Don Carlos, in the beautiful "Lachrymosa" which ends this sequence.

The joyful "Sanctus" (a complicated eight-part fugue scored for double chorus) begins with a brassy fanfare to announce him "who comes in the name of the Lord" and leads into an angelic "Agnus Dei" sung by the female soloists with the chorus. Finally the "Libera me," the oldest music by Verdi in the Requiem, interrupts. Here the soprano cries out, begging, "Free me, Lord, from eternal death ... when you will come to judge the world by fire."

Structure of the work

  • IntroitKyrie (chorus, soloists)
  • Sequence:
    • Dies irae (chorus)
    • Tuba mirum (chorus)
    • Mors stupebit (bass)
    • Liber scriptus (mezzo-soprano, chorus)
    • Quid sum miser (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor)
    • Rex tremendae (soloists, chorus)
    • Recordare (soprano, mezzo-soprano)
    • Ingemisco (tenor)
    • Confutatis (bass, chorus)
    • Lacrimosa (soloists, chorus)
  • Offertory (soloists):
    • Domine Jesu Christe
    • Hostias
  • Sanctus (double chorus)
  • Agnus Dei (soprano, mezzo-soprano, chorus)
  • Communion (mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass)
  • Libera me (soprano, chorus):
    • Libera me
    • Dies irae
    • Requiem aeternam
    • Libera me


Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conductor S. Young . NAxos

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