Giuseppe Verdi

I was in a cab this morning, and the driver was good enough to be playing something edifying on the radio instead of the usual nonsense. He had on the classical station, and the announcer mentioned that it was the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great composer, Giuseppe Verdi.

Verdi is best known for his works of opera, and much of his music has become part of the popular culture. One need only think of the ballad “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto, which, even if we don’t know what the words mean, is certainly a tune recognizable to all:

(The first two lines mean, “The woman is flighty, like a feather in the wind…”!)

Verdi’s talent was certainly not limited to opera. He composed a requiem (funeral Mass setting) in memory of the great Italian writer Alexander Manzoni, whom he greatly admired. Manzoni was author of the novel The Betrothed, a literary masterpiece (and, incidentally, on my wish list). Here’s the famous and explosive Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem:

Then there is also his famous string quartet. I was surprised to find this video of a performance in – of all places – Huntsville, Alabama!

Verdi still enjoys great popularity in his native Italy (and abroad), and many Italians could recite several of his pieces from memory, if not sing along. I was rather surprised to find out that he was an atheist – a position that would have been a bit more unusual then than now. His incredible talent was a gift from God, and it is a tragedy that he (apparently) did not recognize that.

On this, the 200th anniversary of his birth, we give thanks to God for the gift of Verdi’s life and Verdi’s music, while at the same time praying that God will have mercy on him and grant him eternal rest. I wonder how many people have ever prayed for his soul? Probably not too many – popular figures like that tend to be celebrated more than thought of as needing redemption. But we can be among the number of those who have not only celebrated him, but more importantly, prayed for him.

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