Saturday 8 September, 7.30pm
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Verdi wrote his Requiem in 1873 when he was at the height of his powers as an operatic composer. By then, he was also a national hero, his works a symbol and expression of the Italians’ quest for unity and self-rule. This Requiem, so filled with dramatic power and unforgettable melodies, is also a monument to the Italian spirit, and a perfect work for the orchestra’s 2018 season, which focuses on nationalism in music.
To call this Requiem viscerally exciting is the literal truth: the titanic strokes of the bass drum and the roar of the brass in the opening to the Dies Irae can be felt through your entire body. Certainly Verdi calls on a well-honed sense of theatre that turns up the emotional temperature to the fullest. If Verdi’s piety is questionable — and he was fiercely anti-clerical — his ability to encompass humanity’s joys and sorrows is not. Verdi’s voice is filled with faith and triumph. The work, structured in 18 parts, builds from a broken murmur pleading for the peace of eternal rest to a joyful high point in the Sanctus before falling away to a final intense appeal for mercy in the Libera Me.
When he wrote this Requiem, Verdi was reaching a peak in his career and from this point on, his leading place in Italian music was assured. But Verdi did not only measure his life by his career successes. He was a nationalist, dedicated to the cause of Italian reunification and independence, and he was deeply moved by the political events of his time. When Milan revolted in 1848, Verdi told his librettist Francesco Piave: “Honour to these heroes! Honour to all Italy, which in this moment is truly great! The hour of her liberation has sounded.” The only music Italy should hear, he said, was cannons.