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The purpose of this thesis is to discuss and analyze Verdi’s use of orchestral techniques to illuminate and reinforce the dramatic considerations of his opera Ot ello .

The first chapter deals with the historical background of the work, including the events surrounding the planning of the opera, the preparation of the libretto, the composition, and the first production in 1887.

Chapter Two is a general survey of Verdi’s use of the orchestra for dramatic emphasis from his first opera Oberto ,

Conte di San Bonifacio (1837) to his final creation Falstaf f

(1893) .

The Third Chapter is a detailed examination of Verdi’s Otello from the aspect of the composer’s use of the orchestra to support and emphasize the dramatic moments in the work. The opera is examined act by act in detailed narration, supported by a selection of musical examples.

It is the contention of the writer that Otello is Verdi’s supreme masterpiece and possibly the greatest of all Romantic operas. This opinion is based largely on Verdi’s ability to apply orchestral devices and techniques which support and inten¬ sify the dramatic development of the opera.






The Early Operas . 21

Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio . 21

lln Giorno dl Regno . 22

Nabucco . 23

I Lombardi alia Prima Crociata . 25

Ernanl . 27

I Due Foscari . 28

Giovanna d’Arco . 29

Alzira . 20

Att ila . 20

I Masnadieri . 21

II Corsaro . 22

La Battaglia di Legnano . 23

The Middle Period . 34

Luisa Miller . 34

Rigoletto . 36

II Trovatore . 40

La Traviata . 44

I Vespri Sicilian! . 48

Aroldo . 49

Un Ballo in Maschera . 50

The Mature Works . 56

Macbeth . 56

La Forza del Destino . 59

Aida . . . . . 66

Simon Boccanegra . 74

Don Carlo . 79

Fal staff . 84





Ac t One . 94

Act Two . 112

Act Three . 132

Act Four . 155

CONCLUSION . . . 172










Following the Cairo premiere of Aida in December of 1871 and the first Italian production of that work at La Scala in February of the next year, Giuseppe Verdi faded into what most observers considered to be a well-deserved and permanent retirement from operatic composition. Indeed, it seemed that the composer, although only fifty-eight years old, was content to slip quietly from the musical scene and live out his last years as a gentleman- farmer on his country estate at Sant'Agata.

It is unlikely that any serious thought of composing another major work had even occurred to Verdi before 1873. The death of the great Italian writer and patriot Alessandro Manzoni on May 22 of that year, however, prompted Verdi's return to work. The resulting Requiem, first performed in Milan on the first anni¬ versary of Manzoni 's death, was a work of obvious dramatic and even operatic proportions. The masterly dramatic utilization of the orchestra, even more advanced and innovative than in its predecessors Don Carlo and Aida , raised speculation that an opera of similar music-drama dimensions was imminent.

Following a triumphant European tour of the Requiem, however, Verdi returned to Sant'Agata believing his career as a composer to be at an end. During the thirty-seven years that had passed since



Oberto, he had given the operatic world twenty-four works; after

Aida, he felt neither the desire nor the obligation to write again.

A letter dated March 11, 1875, to his close friend and benefactress

Countess Clarina Maffei reflects this attitude.

Are you right when you speak of my conscientious obligation to write? No, no. You are joking, because you know better than I do that the account is balanced. That is to say, I have always conscientiously carried out the undertaking I entered into; the public has met me equally conscientiously, with sincere hisses, applause, etc. So nobody has the right ^ to complain, and I repeat once more: the account is balanced.

It was not until June of 1879 that there appeared any serious

indication that Verdi was perhaps considering a return to operatic

composition. In Milan to conduct a performance of the Requiem in

memory of the victims of the Po Valley flood, Verdi entertained

his associate and long-time friend, publisher Giulio Ricordi and


the conductor. Franco Faccio at his residence in the Albergo Milano. During the course of the evening, the discussion turned to possible operatic subjects, in particular Shakespeare and Othello . Ricordi insisted that the play would be a worthy vehicle

"Ma dite davvero dell'obbligo di coscienza di scrivere?

No, no. Voi scherzate perche sapete meglio di me che le partite sono saldate. Vale a dire che io ho sempre soddisfatti gli impegni presi con tutta coscienza: il pubblico gli ha accolti egualmente con tutta coscienza, con buoni fischi, od applausi ecc. Nissuno dunque ha diritto di lagnarsi e ripeto ancora: Partita saldata."

The above translation is by this writer. See Gaetano Cesari and Alessandro Luzio, ed . , I Copialettere di Giuseppe Verdi (Milan: Stucchi Ceretti, 1913), p. 510.


Faccio (1840-91) was himself the composer of a Shakespearian opera, Amletto (1865), with a libretto by Boito. He was the leading Italian operatic conductor of his day, and in 1871, he became the principal conductor at La Scala, where he conducted the first performances of Aida and Otello, as well as the first Italian performances of a Wagner opera, Lohengrin.

for a new opera by Verdi. The publisher was anxious to have the

composer collaborate with the young Italian librettist and composer, 3

Arrigo Boito.

Verdi was by no means unfamiliar with Boito' s work. In 1862,

he had commissioned the twenty- year-old writer to set the text for

his short patriotic cantata Inno delle nazioni which was intended

for Italian representation at the opening of the London Exhibition


the following year. Shortly after, however, relations between Verdi and the young librettist had become strained. Boito had written and subsequently published a poem entitled All1 Arte ital iana ("Concerning Italian Art") in which he referred critically to the sad state of Italian music since Pergolesi and Marcello .


Boito (1842-1918) had already provided the libretto for Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda (1876) under the anagrammatic pseudonym, Tobia Gorrio and for Faccio's Amlet to in 1865. His own opera Mef istofele was premiered at La Scala in 1868, but met with a poor reception. A considerably revised production in Bologna in 1875 proved highly successful.


Hostile political factions within Italy rejected the work as unsuitable for representation at the Exhibition. Instead, the premiere was given at Her Majesty's Theater, London, on May 24, 1862.

"Forse git nacque chi sovra 1'altare Rizzera l'arte, verecondo e puro, Su quel 'altar bruttato come un muro Di lupanare." ("Perhaps the man is already born who, modest and pure, will restore art to its altar stained like a brothel wall.")

Quoted and translated in Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi: A Critical Guide (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1969); reprint edition (London: Pan Books, 1973), p. 446.

Verdi, being the most prominent Italian musician of his day, took the poem as a personal insult.

In 1879, however, Boito, now thirty-seven and wiser for his

years, had come to recognize Verdi as a true musical genius.

Reluctantly, Verdi agreed to meet with Boito and Faccio to discuss

the proposed opera. Three days later, Boito presented the composer

with a scenario for an opera based on the Othello theme. Verdi

read the sketch and was pleased. Though refusing to commit

himself, he urged Boito to write a complete libretto on the subject.

With the young writer enthusiastically at work, Verdi returned to

Sant’Agata. It was there, while reading the Ricordi publication

Gazzetta Musicale di Milano, that he came across an excerpt from

the memoirs of sculptor Giovanni Dupre quoting Rossini as having

said that Verdi, being of somber and tragic disposition, would

never be capable of composing a successful comic opera. His

feelings hurt, Verdi wrote to Giulio Ricordi:

I have read in your paper Dupre’s words on our meeting, and the sentence pronounced by Jupiter Rossini (as Meyerbeer called him)- But just a moment. For the last twenty years I have been searching for an opera buffa libretto, and now that I may have found it you print an article that will encourage the public to damn the work before it is even written, thus prejudicing my interests and yours . But

have no fear. If by chance, misfortune or destiny, despite the Great Sentence, my evil genius drives me to write this opera buffa, I repeat^you need have no fear... I shall ruin some other publisher.

Ricordi was understandably alarmed at the possibility of losing Verdi to another publishing house, and he was bewildered over the mention of a comic opera. He had believed that the aging composer had no plans for further composition except, possibly, for the Othello project. ^ In an attempt to pacify Verdi, Ricordi suggested that he and "a friend" visit the composer at his estate.

Verdi’s reply was characteristically witty and suspicious:

A visit from you with a friend, who would of course be Boito, will always be a pleasure. But on this subject let me speak very clearly and frankly. A visit from him would commit me too definitely, and I wish absolutely to avoid committing myself. You know how this "Chocolate Project" came into being. You and Faccio dined with me. We spoke about Othello . We spoke of Boito. The next day, Faccio brought Boito to me at the hotel. Three days later, Faccio brought me his Otello scenario which I read and liked. "Write the libretto," I told

"Ho letto sulla vostra Gazzetta le parole di Dupre sul primo nostro Incontro, e la sentenza di Giove Rossini (come lo chiamava Meyerbeer). Ma guardate un po...Ho cercato per vent’anni un libretto d’ opera buffa, ed ora che l’ho si pud dir trovato, vol, con quell articolo , mettete in corpo del pubblico una voglia matta di fischiarmi 1 ’opera anche prima di essere scritta, rovinando cosi i miei ed i vostri interessi. Ma niente paura.

Se per caso, per disgrazia, per fatalita malgrado la Gran Sentenza, il mio cattivo genio mi trascinasse a scrivere quest’opera buffa, niente paura, ripeto . . . Ruinero un altro editore." See Cesari and Luzio, I Copialettere, pp . 308-9.

^The comic subject in question may have been Moliere’s Tartuf f e which Verdi had discussed with librettist Camille du Locle just before the composition of Aida. Du Locle had, in fact, prepared a scenario on the subject in French which Verdi had kept.


him. "It will come in handy for you, for me, or for someone else." If you come here now with Boito, I shall have to read the finished libretto he will bring with him. If I find it completely satisfactory, then I am somewhat committed to it. If I like it, but suggest modifications which he accepts, then I am even more committed. If, however good it is, I don’t like it, it would be difficult to say so to his face. No, no, you have gone too far^and must stop before there is any gossip or unpleasantness.

Nevertheless, Boito ’s completed libretto was in Verdi's hands by Christmas of 1879. The composer was very favorably impressed but was still reluctant to commit himself to the opera. Instead, he purchased the libretto and filed it away beside Antonio Somma’s Re Lear , which had been left undisturbed for some thirty years.

"Sara sempre cosa gradita una vostra visita con un amico (che sarebbe Boito, s’intende) ma permettetemi che su quest 'argomento vi parli molto chiaro . Una sua visita mi impegnerebbe troppo. Voi sapete come nacque questo progetto di cioccolatta. Pranzavate meco con Faccio. Si par lo d Otello , si parld di Boito. II giorno dopo Faccio mi porto Boito; tre giorni dopo Boito mi porto lo schizzo d’ Otello. Lo lessi e lo trovai buono . Dissi, fatene la poesia, sara buona per voi, per me, per un altro. Ora venendo con Boito, bisogna che io legga il libretto. 0 io lo trovo completamente buono, voi me lo lasciate, ed io mi trovo in certo modo impegnato. 0 io, anche trovandolo buono, suggerisco qualche modif icazione che Boito accetta, ed io mi trovo impegnato ancora di piu. 0 non mi piace, e sarebbe troppo duro che io gli dicessi in muso quest 'opinione. No, no! Voi siete andato gia troppo avanti, e bisogna ora fermarsi prima che nascano pettegolezzi o disgusti." See Cesari and Luzio, I Copialettere, p. 311.

Late in 1879, Verdi again began to compose. By November, he had completed an Ave Maria for soprano and string orchestra and a Pater Noster for chorus and orchestra, both commissioned by the Milan Orchestral Society for performance the following year .

Early in 1880, the composer went to Paris to supervise the first French production of Aida, and by the time he returned to Milan in March, the ever— scheming Ricordi had devised another plan for bringing Verdi and Boito together. He suggested revising Simon Boccanegra which had been produced only infrequently since its premiere in Venice in 1857. Verdi was interested, and Boito, recognizing the collaboration as a possible stepping stone to the Othello project, set about repairing the patchwork libretto of Francesco Maria Piave. Within six months, the revision was complete. The premiere was given at La Scala on March 24, 1881, to overwhelming response. More important, however, was the fact that during the months in which they had worked together, Verdi and Boito had frequently discussed Othello , and it now seemed that both men took their collaboration on the "Chocolate Project" for granted.

It was not until three years later, however, that Verdi


began the mammoth task of composing Qtello , in March of 1884.

No sooner had the composition begun, however, than the entire

project almost came to a sudden and unfortunate end. Boito was

in Naples for a production of his Mef istof ele at the Teatro San

Carlo. At a dinner reception following the opening performance,

Boito had said something to his neighbor at the table which was

partially overheard by a local journalist who misreported the

statement to the effect that Boito had been unhappy providing the

lago libretto for Verdi and now that it was completed, he

regretted not being able to compose the opera himself. Verdi read

the report, was hurt and indignant, and, through a letter to

Faccio, offered to return the libretto to Boito as a gift.

The worst of it is that by regretting he cannot set it to music himself, Boito creates the impression that he does not expect me to be able to set it the way he would like it. I admit this possibility. I admit it completely, and so I ask you, as Boito* s oldest and best friend, to tell him when he returns to Milan, not in writing but by

At the beginning of the project, the proposed title of the opera was to ,have been lago to distinguish it from Rossini's Of ello (1816) and to indicate where the dramatic center of gravity of the work was eventually to be found. It was not until 1886 that Verdi wrote to Ricordi stating, "lago was the demon who set everything in motion. Otello is the one who acts, who loves, who is jealous, who kills, and kills himself." Comparison with Rossini no longer bothered him. He would rather have people say, "He wanted to challenge a giant and failed" than "He wanted to hide behind the title lago." See Spike Hughes, Famous Verdi Operas (New York: Chilton Book Company, 1968), p. 427.

word of mouth, that I am ready, without resentment or


regret, to give the manuscript back to him.u

Warned by Faccio and Ricordi, Boito wrote to Verdi immediately, assuring him that the report had been completely false.

This theme and my libretto are yours by right of conquest.

You alone can set Ot ello to music. All the creations you have given us speak this truth. H

Verdi accepted the explanation of the incident and friendly relations between he and Boito were resumed. He made no promises, however, to continue his work on the Otello score, complaining that he was too old and that no one really cared if he wrote again or not.

The turning point came in May of 1884 when Boito sent Verdi the revised text to Iago* 1 s "Credo." The composer had been unhappy with the scene in the second act written in penta- syllabic line and requested a style less lyrical and freer in

"II peggio si e che Boito, rammar icandosi di non poterlo musicare lui stesso, fa naturalmente suppore, com'egli non isperasse vederlo da me musicato com’egli vorrebbe. Ammetto perf ettamente questo, lo ammetto completamente , ed e percio che io mi rivolgo a voi, al piu antico, al piu saldo amico di Boito, affinche quando ritornera a Milano gli diciate a voce, non in inscritto, che io senz’ombra di r isentimento , senza rancore di sorta gli rendo intatto il suo manoscr itto . " See Cesari and Luzio,

I Copialettere, p. 324.

"^"Questa tema e il mio libretto sono tuoi a rigore di conquista. Tu solamente puoi fare Otello musicato. Tutti degli creazioni dated parlano questa verita." Quoted in Piero Nardi, Vita di Arrigo Boito (Verona: Hondadori, 1942), p. 494.

form. Boito’s new "evil Credo" un symmetrical and in broken metre delighted Verdi, and he called Boito to Gant’Agata late in September for three days of discussions.. On December 9, Boito received the message he had been waiting for:

Dear Boito,

It seems impossible, and yet it is true!!

I am busy. I am writing!!

G. Verdi22

The Otello score was written in three relatively short sessions of composition: the first in March of 1884, previous to the Naples incident; the second and most productive at Genoa from December, 1884 to April, 1885; and the final session at


Sant’Agata from the middle of September to early October of 1885. Boito was at Verdi’s complete disposal, a good many of the textual problems of the opera being settled verbally at frequent meetings at Sant’Agata and Genoa. The scoring of the opera, along with some significant revisions in the first act, occupied almost another entire year. While Verdi toiled over the final details


Translated in Franz Werfel and Paul Stefan, ed . , Verdi :

The Man in his Letters (New York: L.B. Fischer Publishing, 1942), p. 245.


See Frank Walker, The Man Verdi (London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1962), p. 493.

of his orchestration, Boito busied himself searching for a suitable Desdemona and discussing costume and scenery possi¬ bilities with the designer Edel. In September, he embarked on a French translation of the third and fourth acts, while his friend du Locle began work on the first two acts.

On November 1, 1886, Boito received a short note from Verdi, announcing the completion of Otello .

Caro Boito,

E finitol

Salute a noi...(ed anche a Lui!!)



G. Verdi

Despite this proclamation, it seems that the composer found it necessary to revise the score further. In a letter dated December 18, 1886, Verdi acknowledges receipt of a two— line revision of the text for the end of Iago’s Act II serenade.

Verdi went to Milan early in January of 1887 to supervise the rehearsals of Otello . A blanket of secrecy was thrown over the proceedings. The rehearsals were absolutely closed to any observers and, through his contract with the theater, Verdi had reserved the right to cancel the production even after the final dress rehearsal. The cast included Francesco Tamagno as Otello,


See Cesari and Luzio, I Copialet tere, p. 700.

Romilda Pantaleoni as Desdemona, the great French baritone Victor Maurel as Iago,"^ Giovanni Paroli as Cassio, Ginerva Petrovitch as Emilia, and Francesco Navarrini as Montano. Faccio conducted the premiere at La Scala on February 5, 1887.

While critical accounts of the first performance were

cautious, public reaction to the new opera was near frenzy.

Blanche Roosevelt, an American singer and writer who was in Milan

for the event, wrote a humorous account of the Otello premiere:

The scenery, costumes, and orchestra were nearly perfect; the cast was certainly weak. Victor Maurel is the only real artist in the opera, and he is a Frenchman. In voice, acting, appearance, and dress he is the ideal of what an operatic artist should be, and the ideal of what any operatic Iago could be. He sang as even his best friends never dreamed he could sing, and his acting was the consummate work which we always have at hisk artistic hands. He entered at once into the fullest sympathies of the audience, and I could not help then and there contrasting the Iagos we have seen in other countries with the Iagos we always see in Italy. Iago even seems a persona grata to the public; the qualities which raise a thrill of horror in the righteous Anglo-Saxon are received by this susceptible nation with placid contentment and relief. His vileness, ruses, and perfidy are accepted for their art, not their nature; his ingenious devices arouse heart-felt plaudits, and let me add that never will you hear a gallery god in Italy express any disapprobation with a successful knave. Had Iago not succeeded there is every reason to believe that Othello would be left out of the Italian Shakespearian repertory. On noting his more than prominence in this opera, rendered doubly so by Maurel’ s sublime creation, I could well understand Boito’s and Verdi's inclination to call their work Iago , and not Othello . Iago is essentially Italian, not in the sense of vice, but of artistic villainy: he reasons from the personal standpoint, and his reasons find a universal echo in the land which gave

^Maurel, renowned for his singing and acting ability, also created Falstaff at Verdi’s request in 1893.

birth to such a student of human nature as Macchiavelli.

Othello, you vri.ll see, is an inferior creature, and plays an inferior part.

Maurel -will be well remembered as one of the most gifted artists we have ever seen at Covent Garden. His Iago ranks with Nilsson* s Ophelia to my mind the finest lyric creation on the operatic stage. His elegance, grace, subtlety, and exquisite style in Iago find their most perfect expression.

I need not refer to his appearance, the beau-ideal of a handsome Venetian, whose years are but "four times seven" and whose graces in this artist's hands are the climax of elegance and histrionic art. But you will see him in London, and I am sure will allow that you have never witnessed or heard anything to equal his impersonation of this part. Tamagno, the tenor, looked and acted Othello, but he did not sing he bleated. Desdemona has never been a favorite of mine in history, and the present exponent of the role suggested to me all my thousand unavenged wrongs laid at the door of Brabantio's daughter. Madame Pantaleoni is an excellent person, but as Desdemona she ou’ght to have been suppressed the night before at her dress rehearsal. Her voice is naturally fine and dramatic, but she has no more knowledge of the pure art of singing than I have of the real science o*f astronomy. She has a vile emission of tone in the medium open notes; the upper notes are clear, but rarely in tune. The lovely music assigned to Othello's wife must have splendid resisting powers not to have fallen flat in her hands or throat. In appearance Madame Pantaleoni is like-wise unfortunate: she is short, slightly cross-eyed, and of a physical plainness, which dwarfed the already insignificant Desdemona. She acted very well in the first and third acts, but not so well in the last. Of the other singers, I will add that Petrovitch as Emilia was deservedly hooted; V. Fornari as Roderigo was not important enough to help or hinder the work; and M. Paroli as Cassio was a really fair second tenor; he, at least, knows how to sing, but Nature evidently never intended him to sing at La Scala .

The ovations to Verdi and Boito reached the climax of enthusiasm. Verdi was presented with a silver album filled with the autographs and cards of every citizen In Milan.

He was called out twenty times, and at the last calls hats and handkerchiefs were waved, and the house rose in a body.

The emotion was something indescribable, and many wept.

Verdi's carriage was dragged by citizens to the hotel. He was toasted and serenaded; and at five in the morning I had not closed my eyes in sleep for the crowds still singing

and shrieking "Viva Verdi! viva Verdi!" Who shall say that this cry will not re-echo all over the world? At seventy- four this second conqueror may well exclaim: Veni, vidi, vici, Verdi! 16

Otello was first performed in the United States at the New York Academy of Music on April 16, 1888 with Francesco Marconi as the Moor, Eva Tetrazzini as Desdemona, and Antonio Galassi as Iago . Cleofonte Campanini conducted. The first London production occurred at the Lyceum on July 5, 1889, conducted by Faccio with a cast that included Tamagno and Maurel. Otello was first presented in Paris on the twelfth of October, 1894, when, much to Verdi’s disgust, he was obliged to insert a ballet into Act III between the Otello— Iago-Cassio trio and the finale.

At the age of seventy-four, sixteen years after he had supposedly given the world his final operatic creation in Aida , Verdi had proven that his musical genius was not only still very much alive, but that it had grown to incomparable dramatic and technical dimensions.

Historians generally acknowledge Otello as the greatest of Italian Romantic operas* In it, Verdi achieves the music-drama concept which he had begun to develop forty years earlier in Macbeth . He had successfully combined text and music into one entity with a single purpose the dramatic revelation of the plot.

"^Blanche Roosevelt, Verdi: Milan and "Othello" (London:

Ward and Downey, 1887), p. 32-33.

This, trend towards drama in Italian opera did not originate with Verdi, but rather developed from the operas of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini. Rossini’s early retirement from composition and the premature deaths of both Bellini and Donizetti kept them from achieving the prominence necessary to shape operatic trends. Verdi, however, after a career of fifty years, had created a work in which the music was continuous with lyrical moments arising from the drama almost imperceptibly.

Verdi’s Otello is also typically Romantic in two very important literary aspects. First, the entire motivation of the drama is based upon emotion rather than reason. Second, the opera utilizes nature as a backdrop to human drama, as observed in the scenes of storm, fire, and evening calm in the first act.

A Romantic theme recurring in many of Verdi’s operas also has its finest illustration in Otello that being "that man can be immensely noble and, because of it, suffer a terrible fate."^

Many critics and observers accused Verdi of adopting Wagnerian techniques and principles in his Otello score. On the contrary, however, he had devised a music— drama that was wholly Italian in style. Otello utilizes the same Italian operatic inventions used to excess by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and the young Verdi himself the storm scene, the drinking song, the

See George Martin, Verdi: His Music, Life and Times (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1963), p. 530.

- :


victory chorus, the vengeance aria, and the furtive prayer scene. In this instance, however, they are so much a part of the character and drama of the piece that they are not obtrusive to the continuity.

It must be recognized, too, that Otello , in the true Italian tradition, is still a singer rs opera, not in the sense of the highly ornate bel canto works of the early nineteenth century, but rather in respect to the dramatic strength carried in the vocal lines. Even in sections of dialogue, the drama is sung rather than being musically spoken, a style adopted by many German composers of the day.

In Otello , Verdi’s Italianate melodies are supported by a highly advanced and expanded orchestral technique. The work, in fact, represents the culmination of Verdi’s orchestration.

Through it he achieves a powerful dramatic and musical expression that had been developing from the very outset of his career. The following chapters will examine in detail the evolution of Verdi’s orchestral technique and the manner in which he utilized that technique for dramatic effect.




Orchestral music since Beethoven has undergone its greatest developments chiefly at the hands of composers who contemplated music from the standpoint of the theater.

It is true that Liszt wrote nothing for the theater, and that Berlioz’s operas were brilliant failures; but the fact remains that nearly everything that marks an advance in nineteenth-century orchestral technique since Beethoven is an advance in essentially dramatic orche¬ stration and this is in the narrow sense that the characteristic orchestral discoveries would be even more useful in an opera than in a purely symphonic work.^

The importance of opera in the history of orchestration

cannot be overestimated. Many instruments and instrumental

devices entered the realm of absolute music through the operatic

door. Monteverdi, for instance, invented both the pizzicato and

the string tremolo effects to depict the sounds of battle in his


hybrid opera Combat timen to di Tancredi e Clorinda in 1624.

Francis Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis, Vol. II (London Oxford Press, 1935), p. 9.


Adam Carse, The History of Orchestration (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd., 1925); reprint edition (New York: Dover Publications, 1964), pp. 47-48.


Alessandro Scarlatti brought the horn into the orchestra for the


first time in his opera Tigrane (1715). Except for a single

isolated instance a 1720 Mass by the Belgian composer J.A.J. Faber

preserved in Antwerp Cathedral the modern clarinet was unused as

an orchestral instrument until Rameau T s opera Acante et Cephise 4

in 1751. The English horn, greatly utilized in the Baroque opera and oratorio orchestra, had fallen into disuse until 1808 when it was reintroduced to the orchestra in a ballet score, Alexandre chez Apelle by the French composer Char les-Simon Cat el. From that time on, the instrument appears in nearly every French operatic and symphonic score of the nineteenth century.^ The trombone had been used in the theater almost since the beginnings of opera. Its first appearance in symphonic literature, however, was not until more than two hundred years later in the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in 1807 . ^

These few examples serve to illustrate the debt that modern orchestration technique owes to operatic and theatrical com¬ position. It is significant, also, that, in each of the three

Donald Grout, A Short History of Opera, 2nd edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), p. 178.


Cecil Forsyth, Orchestration, 2nd edition (London: The MacMillan Press, 1935), p. 271.

5Ibid., pp. 220-226.

^ John Owen Ward, ed. , The Oxford Companion to Music, 10th edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp . 1046-1047.

countries of musical dominance, the culmination of nineteenth- century orchestration occurs in the hands of predominantly operatic composers. In France, where a simple and delicate orchestral sonority had developed in reaction to the musical and cultural excesses of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. Hector Berlioz had come to represent the pinnacle of both practical and theoretical orchestration. In Germany, Richard Wagner had taken that country's natural affinity for counterpoint and orchestral specialization and produced his music-dramas in which the orchestra relates and explains the drama in lush, extravagant textures.

Twenty— five years after the parallel developments in France and Germany, nineteenth-century Italian orchestration technique culminated in the late operas of Giuseppe Verdi. This late development was due, in part, to the complacency of the Italians in their position as the undisputed leaders in vocal composition and, also, to the notoriously low standard of orchestral playing in that country. ^

Two of the major aspects of Romantic music were the increasing importance of texture in musical expression and the heightened meaning given to the accompaniment in vocal music.

^Francis Irving Travis, Verdi's Orchestration (Zurich:

Juris, 1956), p. 14.

Paul Henry Lang, in his Music in Western Civilization, states

that, "The promotion of sonority to an element of inspiration is perhaps the most important single factor in musical


romanticism. In his comprehensive study on romantic music,

the eminent German musicologist Alfred Einstein noted that,

"...both in song and in opera, the Romantics had altered the

significance of the role which the accompaniment played in


relation to the vocal parts." Both of these aspects are evident in Verdi Ts work, and because he composed almost exclusively in the operatic genre, texture and accompanimental considerations involve orchestral qualities.

This chapter traces the development of Verdi’s use of the orchestra from a simple harmonic support to its intense partici¬ pation in the dramatic expression of the late operas.^


Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton, 1941), p. 865.


Alfred Einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (New York:

W.W. Norton, 1947), p. 35.

"^Unless otherwise stated, all observations on orchestral techniques in the Verdi operas are based upon the author's study of the full orchestral scores housed In the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the New York City Public Library, and upon examination of recorded materials.


The Early Operas

The orchestration of Verdi1 s first surviving opera,

Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio is not unskillful. At its best, it is comparable to Donizetti or uninspired Rossini. The unyielding symmetry and squareness of melody and form are paralleled by a like— wise methodical style of orchestration.

The instruments are treated in "blocks," being added to or omitted from the texture of the score in their family groups only. The general aim of this device is simply to strengthen or weaken the volume. The only places of orchestral interest occur in the introductions to the acts and in the interludes.