Giuseppe Verdi: Requiem
One of the monumental masterpieces of Western music, Verdi’s Requiem is an equally thrilling experience for the lifelong music-lover and for the new listener discovering choral and orchestral music for the first time. Few works of music are so directly filled with tragedy, grandeur and human pity.
Like many Italians, Verdi was raised a Catholic, but he was not himself in the conventional sense a religious person. He could be outspoken about the conservative trappings of religion, and he certainly did not intend this piece to be understood as ordinarily "religious" (in the sense of being performed in church). And you, the listener, do not have to be religious to be thrilled and moved by it.
What drew this great composer to the ancient words of the Requiem Mass was first and foremost the profound and universal human drama that the text unfolds.
This is hardly surprising. Most people who love music will think of Verdi as one of the greatest musical dramatists in Western culture, the composer of some of the best-loved operas ever written. And this Requiem is certainly astoundingly dramatic, and has even been described as almost an "opera" in itself, albeit not one intended to be staged. And it seems especially natural that an artist of this kind should have been intensely drawn to the medieval words of the Dies Irae, familiar to him from childhood and describing the end of the world and of human life on earth in terms as starkly realistic today as when they were first written centuries ago.
But it was not only the drama that mattered to Verdi. From his youth onwards, he had been deeply involved in and concerned with politics, and with the tragic and heroic events that led to the historical reunification of Italy in the course of his long lifetime. Indeed, many of Verdi’s operas were understood by his countrymen at their first appearance to be directly connected to the struggle for national unity and freedom – a fact that gave the composer almost legendary status among his fellow citizens during his own lifetime – and the specific stimulus to writing this great piece came, in part, from his desire to create a musical monument to those who had given their lives to the creation of a new Italian state.
But what is most moving to us now, in this Requiem as indeed in his operas, is that Verdi created something that speaks from far beyond the events of his own time and to something that touches us all, wherever we may live, appealing passionately to the highest human values: to truth, compassion, justice, the experiences of suffering and mourning and, above all, a longing for a better future for those who will come after us.
– San Diego Symphony Creative Consultant GERARD MCBURNEY