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Verdi in Victorian London

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Massimo Zicari

13. Inno delle nazioni (1862)

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  • 1 Budden, Verdi, p. 88.
  • 2 The Athenaeum, July 6, 1861, p. 20.

1In 1862, Verdi’s cantata Inno delle nazioni was the object of an animated discussion which unfolded in the columns of The Times.1 From 1 May until 1 November 1862, the Great Exhibition, a world’s fair, was to be held in London and sponsored by the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Trade. A new gigantic building was constructed to house the fair in South Kensington, and four musicians of international prominence were asked to compose a new work to inaugurate the event. On 6 July 1861, The Athenaeum informed its readers that, on the basis of a proposal submitted to the Royal Commissioners by Chorley, an invitation to compose a march for the occasion had been extended to Meyerbeer, Auber and Rossini. Rossini having already declined the invitation, the name of Verdi was offered as a possible substitute, since he was the most popular living Italian composer.2

2On 28 January 1862, The Times announced that important decisions had been taken on the location and decoration of the building that would host the Exhibition, and on the possible avenues by which the public might access it. An additional reference was made to the fast-advancing arrangements concerning the musical portion of the programme, but some confusion arose with regard to the names of the composers who had accepted the Commissioners’ invitation. Rossini, Meyerbeer, Auber and Verdi were mentioned, but Verdi, and not Rossini, was said to have declined the invitation.

  • 3 The Times, January 28, 1862, p. 6.

The arrangements for the musical portion of the programme to be gone through at the opening are fast advancing towards completion. It will be recollected that at an early period the Commissioners invited Rossini, Meyerbeer, Auber, and Verdi each to write a march for the occasion, and eventually the invitation was accepted by all but the last-named artist. Dr Sterndale Bennett has been also invited to set to music some words to be written for the occasion by the Poet Laureate. Subsequently, Mr. Costa was invited to undertake the musical arrangements, and to conduct the music at the opening on the 1st of May. Mr. Costa has accepted the invitation of the Commissioners; and since then attention has been given to the extent of the orchestra which would be required to render the opening worthy of the occasion.3

  • 4 Ibid.
  • 5 The Times, March 17, 1862, p. 6.

3William Sterndale Bennett was also invited to contribute to the event, while Michael Costa would supervise it and conduct an impressively large number of performers. “After full consideration it has been determined to employ a musical force of no less than 1800 performers, of whom 400 will be instrumentalists—viz., 240 stringed instruments and 160 wind instruments, the large number of the latter being required for M. Auber’s march, which is almost entirely written for wind instruments.”4 The remaining 1400 musicians to be involved were vocalists joining a massive choir. In addition to the initial confusion, on 17 March another report appeared in The Times where it was stated that “Rossini, Meyerbeer, Verdi, and Auber have each composed special marches and anthems for this occasion.”5 Not only had Verdi not declined the invitation, but he had already composed a piece to be included in the programme where, surprisingly, the name of Rossini was still mentioned.

  • 6 The Times, April 22, 1862, p. 7.
  • 7 See Verdi’s letter to Arrivabene, 2 May 1862. Alessandro Luzio (ed.), Carteggi verdiani (Rome: Real (...)

4On 22 April, a new report was published in the columns of The Times, announcing that, since there was no time for more extensive preparation, only three rehearsals had been planned for the inaugural concert, starting on the 29th. About the compositions, it was reported that “Meyerbeer’s music has been ready some time, but the score of Auber’s great trumpet march, and that of Bennett’s cantata only came to hand last week, and Verdi’s music has not yet arrived at all.”6 Two days later Verdi, who had just arrived in London, wrote a letter which was immediately translated into English by his friend Manfredo Maggioni and sent to the editor of The Times in order to clarify his position.7 It was not true that he had failed to submit his composition on time; the work consisted of a cantata and the decision to compose a vocal piece instead of the requested march resulted from a conversation with Auber, who had already written a march for the same occasion. Verdi also argued that the Commissioners’ claim that there was no time to prepare his cantata was unjustified, for a few days would suffice to learn and perform such a short piece. As a matter of fact, the Commissioners refused Verdi’s cantata and preparations were soon made to have Auber’s, Meyerbeer’s and Bennett’s compositions performed. On 30 April, another long article was published in the columns of The Times, summarising the intricate events that had accompanied the preparation of the inaugural ceremony and describing the magnificence of the forthcoming event. The critic had examined the scores of the three composers now involved (Auber, Meyerbeer and Bennett) and could make a detailed report of the first rehearsal, giving the reader a first rough idea of the unsurpassed pomp that would characterise the opening ceremony. The critic was quite sympathetic to Verdi and, recognising his effort to comply with the commissioners’ demands, had to admit that it would be their fault if he could not have his music played.

  • 8 The Times, April 30, 1862, p. 5. The same article was published by The Musical World on 3 May.

Signor Verdi’s cantata—but why speak of that which, after having been written in such good faith, and with a feeling not less honourable to its distinguished composer than complimentary to ourselves, has been unceremoniously rejected? We should only be too happy to place on record how worthily Italy—the “Land of Song,” the cradle and nursery of music—had done her part in this great festival. But that pleasing task has been denied us—not by Signor Verdi (to his credit be it said), but by Her Majesty’s Commissioners.8

  • 9 The Musical World, April 19, 1862, p. 248.
  • 10 The Musical World, April 26, 1862, pp. 264–65.
  • 11 The Musical World, May 3, 1862, p. 279.

5Apparently, the hitches leading to Verdi’s music being refused originated with the director Michael Costa, whose antagonistic attitude towards his colleagues caused a series of difficulties not only with Verdi, but also with Bennett. In fact, Costa further refused to conduct Bennett’s Cantata, whose performance had to be entrusted to a second conductor.9 Because of the nationalistic implications and the patriotic feelings aroused by the possible exclusion of William Sterndale Bennett and the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, from the opening concert, Costa’s contemptible behaviour became the object of further critical discussion. According to The Musical World, neither the conduct of Costa nor that of the Commissioners could be considered acceptable, for a private quarrel dating back to 1853 and Costa’s consequent vindictive reaction were now interfering with the fulfilment of a public duty.10 Costa tried to defend himself by sending a letter to the editor of The Times (the letter was also reproduced in the columns of The Musical World) in which he explained that his refusal to conduct Bennett’s compositions had been clear from the very beginning.11 Not surprisingly, the pending exclusion of Verdi’s cantata did not provoke the same reactions in the press or receive the same level of attention. Nevertheless, on 3 May the critic of The Musical World published a long article in which he addressed the commissioners’ narrow-minded attitude; he described them as “Commissioners of the anti-national Exhibition” and expressed his deep disappointment with the manner in which they had treated the Italian composer.

But these unfortunate men [the Commissioners] have had a long artistic rope given them, and we are glad to see that they are hanging themselves very fast indeed. Their last movement in this direction has been to reject a cantata offered to them in the kindest manner, in the best and most generous spirit, by Sig. Verdi. Some eminent composers, if you asked them for a cantata, would give you a march; Sig. Verdi, asked for a march, gives a cantata.

“This is too long,” say the Commissioners. “You send us choruses, and even some solo verses to be sung by a man named Tamberlik. You must not trouble us with anything of this kind. Take back your contribution. It is a product of industry for which we can find no place.”

  • 12 Ibid., pp. 280–81.

We hope Sig. Verdi will understand the deep disgust which the news of the rejection of his kind, sympathetic co-operation has caused among the musical and general public of London. Our Opera Houses are not endowed with money by the Government, as is the case in many other countries; and Sig. Verdi, however much we may admire his music, could never hope to receive in London anything like the myriads of roubles which the Emperor of Russia gives him, simply as an honorarium, for having written La Forza del Destino for the Opera of St. Petersburg. Nor do we imagine that Sig. Verdi attaches any undue importance to such pecuniary trifles. But he probably expected to find the Commissioners of the “Great Exhibition” endowed by Providence with sense, and with some capacity for appreciating art and the intentions of artists. We are sorry for his sake, as the most popular composer in Europe, and for our own as Englishmen, and the compatriots of those disreputable Commissioners, to find that in both these very natural expectations he has been entirely deceived.12

  • 13 See also Tal. P. Shaffner and W. Owen, The Illustrated Record of the International Exhibition of th (...)
  • 14 The Times, May 2, 1862, p. 12.

6The Great Exhibition was granted ample coverage in the London press and its preparation was chronicled in detail with reference to the musical part. Owing to the quality of the rehearsals, a successful opening was anticipated. A shower of praises was bestowed by the critics of The Times and The Musical World upon both the composers and the performers involved, whose contribution to the success of the forthcoming event was beyond dispute. On 1 May, all expectations were fulfilled and the ceremony was a grand, splendid event, although the queen had decided not to preside over it: she was still mourning for the loss of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who had passed away on 14 December 1861. After the opening speech delivered by Lord Earl Granville and the reply by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Cambridge, the special musical performances commenced with Michael Costa conducting Meyerbeer’s Ouverture en forme de Marche. Upon its conclusion, Costa, having refused to conduct Bennett’s music, yielded the baton to Prosper Sainton, who conducted Bennett’s Ode composed on verses written by Tennyson. Then Costa resumed his role and conducted Auber’s March.13 Upon the conclusion of the special music, the Bishop of London read a fervent prayer, after which the Duke of Cambridge rose and in a loud voice declared, “By command of the Queen, I now declare the Exhibition open.”14

  • 15 The Musical World, May 10, 1862, pp. 297–98.
  • 16 The Times, March 31, 1862, p. 8.

7One week later, the critic of The Musical World announced that the production of Verdi’s undeservedly rejected cantata had been rehearsed at Her Majesty’s Theatre and suggested that justice should be done to one of the greatest living dramatic composers. In his apologetic article, the critic insisted on the manner in which Verdi had been mistreated by the commissioners, whose rejection did not appear to be justified by the claim that the cantata would take too long to rehearse. This decision, as unfair as it appeared to be, roused feelings of sympathy among theatre- goers and music lovers, who now cherished the opportunity afforded to them to attend its performance and judge with their own ears.15 At this point, the figure of James Henry Mapleson, who in the meantime had taken over management of Her Majesty’s Theatre, comes into question, for his testimony about the arrangements leading to the performance of Verdi’s cantata seems to match what was reported in the newspapers. In his Memoirs Mapleson states that the 1862 operatic season at Her Majesty’s Theatre was a complete financial success, not least because of the large audience attracted by the Exhibition. At the end of March, Gye had announced the forthcoming opening of the Royal Italian Opera season at Covent Garden, commencing on 8 April; similarly, Mapleson made his announcement that the opera season at Her Majesty’s Theatre would begin on the 26th. The programme announced by Mapleson included Verdi’s Ernani, Il trovatore, Rigoletto and La traviata, along with the new and successful Un ballo in maschera, which would open the season; the part of Renato would feature Leone Giraldoni, the baritone who had created the role in Rome in 1859. At Covent Garden, meanwhile, the same role would be taken by Enrico Delle Sedie, and the programme would include Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien (as Don Sebastian) in addition to the usual repertoire of stock operas.16

  • 17 Mapleson, Memoirs, p. 43.
  • 18 The Times, May 26, 1862, p. 9.

8Based on the manager’s reminiscences, it is possible to argue that at the beginning of May he may have considered taking advantage of the incident between the composer and the Commissioners to offer Verdi an alternative location for the performance of his new piece. In his account, Mapleson goes so far as to describe his fortuitous meeting with Verdi, whom he encountered by chance on his way back home, and who expressed his deep disappointment at the treatment he had received at the hands of the Commissioners. Mapleson, to cheer him up, offered Verdi the opportunity to have his cantata performed at the opera house instead.17 As a result, Verdi’s Inno delle nazioni, whose text had been provided by Arrigo Boito, was performed on 24 May at Her Majesty’s Theatre, after the Barbiere di Siviglia and under the baton of Luigi Arditi. The solo, originally intended for Tamberlik, was successfully performed by Thérèse Tietjens and the whole cantata, The Times reported, “by unanimous desire, was given twice from beginning to end, and the composer summoned no less than three times after the first, and twice after the second performance.”18 Verdi was described by The Times as a composer whose operas had elicited universal acclaim in England and elsewhere, and it was indisputable that he had achieved another legitimate and brilliant triumph. Again, the review that appeared in The Times on 26 May was reproduced in the columns of The Musical World a few days later, on 31 May.

  • 19 After the Austrian defeat in the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, Giuseppe Garibaldi led (...)
  • 20 The Athenaeum, May 31, 1862, p. 732.

9The critic of The Athenaeum remained unconvinced. He raised a few critical points and argued that Verdi’s cantata was unsuitable to the occasion for which it was designed. In fact, the critic held that in advocating the nationalistic claims of a single country, Italy, and in leaving Germany out of the picture, the cantata’s text betrayed the spirit of brotherhood that should have informed it. In fact, Verdi’s music incorporated three songs, each of them bearing a strongly symbolic value: God Save the King represented England, La Marseillaise represented France, and Il Canto degli Italiani, best known as Inno di Mameli, represented Italy. The lyrics mentioned England, “Queen of the Seas,” and referred to France, whose military help had been instrumental in the process leading to Italian unification, but failed to include Austria, the eternal enemy. It was thanks to the French military intervention that in 1859 the Sardinian army had defeated Austria and taken possession of the Italian regions until then under the Austrian control.19 The critic’s remark was correct for, in the aftermath of the Second Italian War of Independence, it was unlikely that Verdi would include Austria in a fraternal, musical embrace. Furthermore, the critic of The Athenaeum questioned the quality of the music; the opening chorus was ill-modulated and the long recitative allotted to Tamberlik ineffective, the melody being the only good thing in the whole piece. In the end, the critic declared, the intricate circumstances leading to Verdi’s exclusion had been beneficial to the composer, for, had his music been performed alongside that of his French and German contemporaries, he would have suffered from the comparison.20

Notes

1 Budden, Verdi, p. 88.

2 The Athenaeum, July 6, 1861, p. 20.

3 The Times, January 28, 1862, p. 6.

4 Ibid.

5 The Times, March 17, 1862, p. 6.

6 The Times, April 22, 1862, p. 7.

7 See Verdi’s letter to Arrivabene, 2 May 1862. Alessandro Luzio (ed.), Carteggi verdiani (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1935–1947).

8 The Times, April 30, 1862, p. 5. The same article was published by The Musical World on 3 May.

9 The Musical World, April 19, 1862, p. 248.

10 The Musical World, April 26, 1862, pp. 264–65.

11 The Musical World, May 3, 1862, p. 279.

12 Ibid., pp. 280–81.

13 See also Tal. P. Shaffner and W. Owen, The Illustrated Record of the International Exhibition of the Industrial Arts and Manufactures, and the Fine Arts, of all Nations, in 1862 (London: London Printing & Publishing Co., 1862), p. 15.

14 The Times, May 2, 1862, p. 12.

15 The Musical World, May 10, 1862, pp. 297–98.

16 The Times, March 31, 1862, p. 8.

17 Mapleson, Memoirs, p. 43.

18 The Times, May 26, 1862, p. 9.

19 After the Austrian defeat in the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, Giuseppe Garibaldi led an expedition to regain the Kingdom of Naples. In 1861 Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed King of Italy and Rome, although still under the military and political control of the Pope, was declared capital of the new Kingdom.

20 The Athenaeum, May 31, 1862, p. 732.

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