The son of Carlo Giuseppe Verdi and Luigia Uttini, Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was born October 10, 1813 in Le Roncole, Italy. As a young boy, Verdi studied the organ. By age seven, he had become the organist at San Michele Arcangelo, where he was also an altar boy. Verdi moved to Busseto, Italy to attend music school in 1823.
After finishing school with Antonio Provesi in Busseto, he applied to and was rejected from the Milan Conservatory because he older than their typical entrants. Verdi then studied composition under Vincenzo Lavignia, a composer and the maestro at La Scala. He was named Maestro of the Busseto Philharmonic in March 1836.
In May 1836, Verdi married his childhood sweetheart Margherita Barezzi (who was also the daughter of his greatest benefactor), and returned to Milan several years later with a young family. His first opera, Oberto, opened in November 1839, and was successful enough to garner Verdi a contract for three additional operas. However, in the space of one year, his son, daughter and wife all died due to illness. Additionally, his second opera, Un Giorno di Regno, was a total failure. Verdi vowed never to compose another comedy, and developed a personal belief that human lives were controlled by inescapable destiny.
The libretto for Nabucco gave Verdi great inspiration and was an important turning point in his career, convincing him to begin composing once more following his personal tragedy. Verdi saw the oppressed Jews in the story as a symbol for the Italians. From then on, Verdi and his operas came to symbolize Italian independence and patriotism. The most famous example of Verdi’s patriotism was the chorus sung by the Hebrew slaves in Nabucco, “Va, pensiero.”
Nabucco was a huge success and propelled Verdi to great fame. In fact, Verdi enjoyed personal success and recognition for the rest of his life–from then on, he commanded a higher fee than any other composer of his time. In all, he wrote 26 operas, 16 of which are still regularly performed. The most famous include La Traviata, Otello, Aida, Rigoletto and Il Trovatore.
His masterpiece Rigoletto premiered in Venice in 1851. After numerous revisions to meet censorship requirements, Verdi almost gave up on the production entirely. However, the social and cultural complexity of Rigolettoquickly made it a success.
During his 70s, Verdi came out of retirement and produced Otello, an opera based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy. It rose to popularity and came to be one of his best tragic operas. Shortly thereafter, Verdi composed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893. While staying at a hotel in Milan, Verdi suffered a stroke that eventually led to his death on January 27, 1901. Arturo Toscanini organized Verdi’s funeral by bringing orchestras and choirs from all over Italy. To date, this event remains the largest public assembly in Italy.