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Giuseppe Verdi

The picture on this page is of the house wherein a great composer was born. Of course, one is not born a great composer. He has to become that. So, at the moment this story begins there is, within this house, a little boy quite like any other boy. He loved to play and to make a noise and to have a good time. But most of all—what do you think he loved?

A hand organ.

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Whenever the organ man came into the village of Roncole, in Italy (where Verdi was born, October 10, 1813), he could not be kept indoors. But he followed the wonderful organ and the wonderful man who played it, all day long, as happy as he could be.

[Pg 4] When Giuseppe was seven years old his father, though only a poor innkeeper, bought him a spinet, a sort of small piano. So faithfully did the little boy practise that the spinet was soon quite worn out and new jacks, or hammers, had to be made for it. This was done by Stephen Cavaletti, who wrote a message on one of the jacks telling that he made them anew and covered them with leather, and fixed the pedal, doing all for nothing, because the little boy, Giuseppe Verdi, showed such willingness to practise and to learn. Thus the good Stephen thought this was pay enough.

Here is a picture of the little piano. In Verdi's language (Italian) it is called a spinetta.

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It was on this spinet that the little boy discovered one day a wonderful chord, for so it seemed to him. It was this:

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The tones delighted him and he pressed the keys over and over again to drink them in. But the next day when he sought again the keys which made the lovely [Pg 5] sound, he could not find them. This made him so impatient and finally so curious that he began to break the spinet to pieces with a hammer. Fortunately the noise he made brought his father into the room and the spinet was saved.

When Giuseppe was making his first attempt to find beautiful chords on the spinet he was, as we have said, seven years old. That was in 1820.

When he was ten years old (what year was that?) Giuseppe became organist at the old church of Roncole. Truly a little boy for so great a position! One day he scratched his name on the woodwork. Here is a picture of the organ:

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Here is the scratching of his name:

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[Pg 6] And here is the way he wrote his name, as a man:

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Then there came the question of education—of reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic—for this music-loving boy. The Verdis wanted Giuseppe to grow up as he should; so it was arranged for him to go to school in the neighboring town of Busseto. A cobbler lived there who was a friend of the family, and with him Giuseppe went to live, having board, lodging and tuition at the school, and all for six cents a day.

Giuseppe still played the organ at Roncole, going thither afoot every Sunday morning and back after nightfall.

He must have been a weary little boy after the day's music-making at the church. One Sunday night when it was dark and he was too weary to notice where he was going, he fell into a ditch, from which he was rescued by an old woman, who, hearing his call for help, pulled the half-frozen boy out of the water.

[Pg 7] Our little hero had another talent besides music. He knew how to win the friendship of people. So at Busseto a man named Barezzi offered to take him into his business. He sold spices, drugs and perfumes. But besides this he played the flute in the church. At his house Giuseppe heard lots of good music, for the town orchestra rehearsed there. Here is a picture of Giuseppe's friend:

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Then Giuseppe made another friend who gave him a wonderful bit of advice. HE URGED HIM TO BECOME A COMPOSER!

Better still he helped the boy in every way he could until he was sixteen years old. By that time our little Giuseppe was grown to be quite a man. His friend, whose name was Ferdinando Provesi, was proud of him, for already he was becoming a master. He played the cathedral organ at times; he conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra; he led its rehearsals, and he composed music for its concerts.

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So you see—all the wonderful operas that were to come were already on the way!

[Pg 8] It has been written that Provesi was the first person to see and understand Verdi's real genius. The boy worked hard and advanced so rapidly that it was soon necessary for him to go to a larger city for lessons.

Now a good friend is always a good friend, so it is pleasing to tell that Barezzi sent Giuseppe to Milan, the lovely city of Lombardy, to study. And here a curious thing happened. He was refused a scholarship at the Conservatory of Milan; the reason given was that the authorities considered him to show no special talent for music. But this made no difference to the boy. He believed in his talent and kept at work to perfect it.

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So, as the years went by, he kept on learning more and more, doing his work well and always preparing himself for better things. Then one day he was ready to begin to compose the operas that made him famous.

Some time when you read the full list of Verdi's operas you will learn that he wrote thirty. The first was performed in 1839, when he was twenty-six years old, and the last in 1893, when he was eighty. You will not need to remember the titles of them all, but [Pg 9] you must know the names of the great ones, for one day you will see and hear them performed.

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Here are the principal ones:

Ernani, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore,
La Traviata, Sicilian Vespers, Othello,
Aida, Masked Ball, Falstaff.

Do you know that of one of Verdi's operas the scene is laid in our country? The MASKED BALL was first entitled Gustavo III. But the authorities would not allow reference to certain political matters in it. Therefore the libretto (or story) of the opera was changed, and the scene laid in Boston, Massachusetts. One of the characters was the Governor of Boston, a humorous matter to us, for there never was any such official.

Another famous opera by Verdi, the scene of which is laid in a foreign country, is Aida. It was written for the Khedive of Egypt, and first performed [Pg 10] in Cairo in 1871, when the composer was fifty-eight years old.

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After Verdi had composed Aida he wrote no more operas for sixteen years. Then to the great surprise of all the world he wrote two others, the finest of them all—Othello and Falstaff.

Meanwhile he was a farmer. He planted, harvested, helped his tenants, urged them to cultivate the land carefully. He bought all kinds of American farming machinery to show the Italians how to cultivate the ground to best advantage.

The great man, who was once a simple little boy, died in 1901, on January 27, which day is the anniversary of Mozart's birth.

All his life long Verdi had succeeded, doing a little more and a little better each year, so that, at the end of his life, he was able to do a truly wonderful thing: namely, to build a home where musicians—who [Pg 11] had not succeeded in life—could find a comfortable abiding place in their old age.

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No. 14

In this House are many souvenirs of the great Italian. Here, too, is the tomb of Giuseppe Verdi.

Verdi was loved by his fellow-countrymen. His music is their joy—and ours—and will so remain for years to come; perhaps forever.

The great sculptor, Vincenzo Gemito, has molded wonderful [Pg 12] bronze busts of Verdi, which shows us how the little boy of Roncole grew to be a man of world renown.


Read these facts about Giuseppe Verdi, and try to write his story out of them, using your own words.

When your story is finished, ask your mother or your teacher to read it. When you have made it as perfect as you can, copy it on pages 14, 15 and 16.

1. Giuseppe Verdi was born in Roncole, Italy, October 10, 1813.

2. He began to learn the Spinet when he was seven years old.

3. The Spinet is an early form of the piano.

4. Among the great composers who were alive when Verdi was a little boy were: Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz and Schumann.

5. He became organist at Roncole when he was ten years old (1823).

6. He went to school in Busseto and lived with a cobbler.

7. After a time he studied in Milan.

8. But not at the famous Milan Conservatory, for he was told there that he had no special talent for music.

9. Verdi wrote thirty operas.

10. The first was performed in 1839, when he was twenty-six years old.

11. One of his operas has its scene laid in Boston, Mass.

[Pg 13] 12. Another is about Egypt, and the scene is laid in Memphis and Thebes, in the time of the Pharaohs.

13. Verdi founded, for aged musicians, the Casa di Riposo (House of Rest).

14. Besides the thirty operas Verdi wrote a string quartet, The Manzoni Requiem, and a National Hymn.

15. For a period of sixteen years Verdi wrote no operas. Then he produced his two great works, Othello and Falstaff.

16. He died at St. Agatha, January 27, 1901.


1. When and where was Verdi born?

2. How old was he when he died?

3. Can you mention three works of Verdi that are not operas?

4. How many operas can you name from memory?

5. What instruments did Verdi play as a boy?

6. What was the title of Verdi's first opera?

7. The title of his last two operas?

8. What did Verdi love to do besides compose music?

9. What is a Spinet?

10. In what famous city did he study as a boy?

11. How many operas, in all, did Verdi compose?

12. Where is the scene of Aida laid?

13. To what did Verdi devote his fortune? [Pg 14]


Written by .......................................

On date ..........................................

No. 15