NOTES BY ROBERT STEVENSON
Rossini died November 13, 1868. Four days later Verdi wrote his Milan publisher Tito Ricordi (1811-1888) proposing that a group of Italians headed by Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) honor Rossini with a collectively composed Messa da Requiem to be performed in San Petronio Church, Bologna, on November 13, 1869. As the result of Verdi's letter (published in Gazzetta Musicale) a three-member committee at the Milan Conservatory parceled out the movements to thirteen "illustrious composers" including Carlo Coccia (87), Gaetano Gaspari (61), Errico Petrella (56), and Teodulo Mabellini (52), but leaving out Giovanni Bottesini (47), Amilcare Ponchielli (34), Arrigo Boito (26), and Angelo Mariani (1822-1873). The latter, whom Verdi expected to conduct the collective Rossini Requiem, instead conducted a Rossini commemoration at the composer's birthplace, Pesaro, in August of 1869. Meantime Mariani botched prospects for the Bologna commemoration by suggesting that the star singer (the soprano Antonietta Fried) sing in only the Libera me composed by Verdi - ignoring the five sections composed by Antonio Cagmoni (41), Federico Ricci (59), Coccia, Gaspari, and Mabellini (Quid sum miser, Recordare, Lacrymosa, Domine Jesu, and Lux aeterna) that also included soprano solos.
Despite the fact that all thirteen composers picked by the Milan committee did deliver their promised contributions by the deadline, September 15, 1869, the anticipated performance on November 13 never came off. Their portions even today still lie fallow in Ricordi archives, except Verdi's which he rewrote for his so-called Manzoni Requiem premiered at the Church of San Marco in Milan May 22, 1874, to mark the first anniversary of the death of the celebrated novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873).
In order to accommodate the already composed last movement, the Libera me, to the scheme of the "Manzoni" Requiem as we now know it, he lifted the tessitura of the soloist from that of a mezzo to a soprano, inserted a recapitulation of the Dies irae composed in 1873, followed by a reminiscence of the introit (transposed from A minor to B flat minor). Apart from the Libera me, Verdi also incorporated in the Manzoni Requiem a duet originally composed for Don Carlos, but expunged before the premiere at the Paris Opera March 11, 1867. The Lacrymosa (final section in the Dies irae) that incorporates the reworked Don Carlos duet – like all his reworkings of earlier material – shows Verdi's unerring instinct for improvements (more flexible rhythms, in this instance).
Between 1869 and 1874 Verdi composed Aida (Cairo, December 24, 1871, Milan Teatro alla Scala, February 7, 1872) and his one String Quartet. The Aida and Amneris of the Aida Italian premiere, Teresa Stolz (1836-1902) and Maria Waldmann (1844- 1920), also created the soprano and mezzo roles in the Requiem. With them and with Angelo Masini (1844-1926) and Paolo Medini (1831-1911) as tenor and bass soloists Verdi took his Requiem on its first triumphal round of European capitals in the spring of 1875. After seven performances conducted by him at the Paris Opera Comique (April 19-May 4), four at Royal Albert Hall in London (with a chorus of 1200 singers), and four at the recently opened Court Opera at Vienna (in June), the work henceforth rated as the greatest 19-century Italian choral work - and in the opinion of numerous critics became the greatest Requiem ever written.
Even Hans von Bülow who had denounced it as Verdi's "latest opera, in ecclesiastical dress" when it was premiered at Milan, eventually had to yield to Brahms, who called Bülow a blunderer, "since this (Requiem) could be done only by a genius." Seventeen years later, Bülow himself wrote a contrite letter to Verdi, proclaiming "Illustrious Master, I admire and love you" for what Verdi had done in not only Aida and Otello but in the Requiem above all.
Verdi's sense of architecture comes never more to the fore than in his binding together of the Requiem with recapitulations. At the first performance, the Requiem included not just the Sanctus and Libera me fugues but also a fugue in the Uber scriptus of the Dies irae. Sensing that the first reprise of the Dies irae angry subject matter faltered because the Liber scriptus choral fugue anticipated its color and key, he replaced the fugue at the May 15,1875, performance (and thereafter) with a mezzo-soprano solo (backed by muttering chorus) that makes a sharp contrast to the reprise.
The fugues were greatly appreciated at the New York first performances conducted by Emmanuele Muzio (1821- 1890), who wrote Verdi an ecstactic letter ending thus: "I have sent you the newspaper reviews that unite in praising the immense effect made by the fugues. The Sanctus always had to be repeated." On the other hand, the Chicago Times reviewer who heard one of the seven Paris Opera-Comique performances raved over the female soloists, whose voices were the "most perfectly ever listened to. Both Stolz and Waldmann could stand up muffled in Indian blankets and after a few notes have the world at their feet."