Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was first performed in 1874, “per l’anniversario della morte di Alessandro Manzoni XXII Maggio MDCCCLXXIV”.
The impact on its premiere responds to its powerful message, and also shows the groundbreaking nature that comes by when people compare it with Verdi’s opera works.
It is well known that Verdi had no religious beliefs. Therefore, his Requiem has always been considered a death-lament dedicated to his friend Manzoni, rather than an expression of faith in salvation and life after death.
A sample for that is his Dies irae, which emphasizes the terrors of the Last Judgment, far beyond from picturing a wishful portrait of the meeting with the Lord. The same feeling arises with the Requiem’s impressive finale. Music vanishes in the soprano’s soft-spoken Libera me, which makes people tremble and reflects the exact meaning of the word Requiem (rest) accurately.
- Learn to sing Verdi’s Requiem
- Together but not mixed
- Verdi’s Requiem structure and sections
Would you like to learn to sing Verdi’s Requiem?
Here is just an example of how a tenor, an alto or a soprano can learn Verdi’s Requiem’s Dies irae. Quickly, by adapting the volume of each voice depending on their needs. All from the same score sheet, edited and original on the app. You will no longer need to search for, print, or copy it.
Though it was initially written to be performed by professional singers, technology today enables amateur choir singers to sing the most complicated pieces, as well.
Together but not mixed
The Requiem is not an opera in itself, not that it intends to be one. However, operatic resorts are inevitable in Verdi’s composition. Similarities with some passages from Aida are evident in pieces like Lux aeterna or Liber scriptus, as well. In his composing reality, Verdi was able to create a religious work that equals Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, or Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts. It built a new perception of religion within the Romanticism way of thinking.
The sacred music that mixes its basics with the musical theatre did not start with Verdi. There are already operatic influences in religious compositions since Bach’s oratorios or Haendel’s Messiah. These will later inspire works such as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
The similarities already appear with compositions created for soloists, mixed choir, and orchestra. Although there are no character roles to play, the fact that the soloists play their part in the work takes us mentally to the lyrical universe of theater. And we can feel the desperate performance of their pleas and feel touched when they try to convey their sense of peace to us.
Considering that from the outset, Verdi tried to distance the operatic idea from the performance of his Requiem, he left essential warnings about it:
“One must not sing this Mass in the way one sings an opera, and therefore, phrasing and dynamics that may be fine in the theater will not please me at all – not at all.”
Verdi’s Requiem structure and sections
The parts of a Requiem Mass in the Catholic liturgy are Introitus, Kyrie Eleison, Graduale, Tractus, Sequentia, Offertorium, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Communio.
These texts, coming from Gregorian chant, meet for the first time in a single polyphonic work by Johannes Ockeghem.
Many authors have composed masses for the dead since then, and Verdi following that classic structure divides his Requiem into seven sections, without the Glory:
- Requiem aeternam and Kyrie (SATB and choir)
- Sequentia Dies irae
- Dies irae
- Tuba mirum (bass and choir)
- Mors stupebit (bass and choir)
- Liber scriptus (mezzo-soprano and choir)
- Quid sum miser (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor)
- Rex tremendae (SATB, choir)
- Recordare (soprano, mezzo-soprano)
- Ingemisco (tenor)
- Confutatis (bass and choir)
- Lacrymosa (SATB, choir)
- Offertorium – Domine Jesu (SATB)
- Sanctus (double choir)
- Agnus Dei (soprano, mezzo-soprano, choir)
- Lux Aeterna (mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass)
- Libera me (soprano and choir)
In the absence of a unified text of the Requiem “formally” accepted, each composer usually selects the sections of the liturgy they will use. Verdi added the Libera me to the primary texts and extended the Dies irae.
All sections of this Requiem are full of a melancholy sonority, which shows us Verdi’s reflection on death, mystery, and doubt. The walk into the light through mercy, fear, conflict, and the search for rest.
One of the most shocking and innovative parts of the Requiem is the Dies irae, which embodies the expression of emotion, supplication, and fear of condemnation. A fragment of unprecedented emotional intensity and no wonder that it has subsequently been used frequently in movies, such as George Miller’s Mad Max or Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.