Verdi’s Requiem is one of the greatest works ever written. I know of no better recording than the one that is referenced here. Besides the soloists, who were all in their prime when this was recorded, this Requiem was conducted by Tullio Serafin. Serafin was an extremely famous Italian conductor who had steered the careers of Rose Ponselle and Maria Callas, among others. This piece is over an hour, but it is well worth the time to listen to it.

This historic performance – recorded August, 1939 at the Teatro Reale (Royal Opera House) — features Maria Caniglia (soprano; 1905-1979), Ebe Stignano (mezzosoprano; 1903-1974), Beniamino Gigli (tenor; 1890-1957), and Ezio Pinza (bass; 1892-1957). The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Rome is conducted by Tullio Serafin (1878-1968), artistic director of the Teatro Reale from 1934 to 1943. The work is sung in Latin. Requiem et Kyrie Dies Irae (7:42) Offertorium (40:03) Sanctus (48:33) Agnus Dei (51:00) Lux Aeterna (55:32) Libera Me (60:13)

Requiem and Kyrie
Chorus:
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam:
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Quartet and Chorus:
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

II. Sequence
Chorus:
Dies irae,
dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
per sepulcra regionem,
coget omnes ante thronum.

Bass:
Mors stupebit et natura, cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.

Mezzo-soprano and Chorus:
Liber scriptus proferetur, Dies irae!
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur. Dies irae!
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit: Dies irae!
nil inultum remanebit.

Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.

Soprano, Mezzo-soprano and Tenor:

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis:
salva me, fons pietatis.

Soprano and Mezzo-soprano:
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus;
redemisti crucem pacem:
tantus labor non sit causas.
Juste judex ultionis:
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.

Tenor:
Ingemisco tamquam reus,
culpa rubet vultus meus;
supplicanti parce, Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Preces meae non sunt digne,
sed tu, bonus, fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

Bass and Chorus:
Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis,
voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.

Chorus:
Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
Lacrymosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla,
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus.
Pie Jesu Domine:
dona eis requiem.
Amen.

III. Offertorio
Quartet:
Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae:
libera animas omnium fidelum
defunctorum de poenis inferni
et profondo lacu; libera eas de ore leonis;
ne absorbeat eas tartarus,
ne cadant in obscurum.
Sed signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam.
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.
Hostias et preces tibi, Domine, laudis offerimus.
Tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie
memoriam facimus.
Fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam,
quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.
Libera animas omnium fidelum defunctorum
de poenis inferni;
fac eas de morte transire ad vitam.

IV. Sanctus
Double Chorus:
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!
Benedictus qui venit in nomini Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

V. Agnus Dei
Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and Chorus:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.

VI. Lux aeterna
Mezzo-soprano, Tenor and Bass:
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternam; quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternam; quia pius es.

VII. Libera me Soprano and Chorus:
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda;
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra:
dum veneris judicare saeclum per ignem.
Tremens factus sum ego et timeo, dum discussio venerit atque ventura irae, quando coeli
movendi sunt et terra.
Dies irae, dies illa calamitatis et miseriae;
dies magna et amara valde.
Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda.
Libera me, Domine, quando coeli movendi sunt et terra;
dum veneris judicare saeclum per ignem.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda.
Libera me.

Requiem and Kyrie
Chorus:
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord
and may perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn in Zion befits you, O God
and a debt will be paid to you in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer:
all earthly flesh will come to you.
Quartet and Chorus:
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

II. Sequence (Dies Irae)
Chrorus:
The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world into ashes,
As David and the Sibyl prophesied.
How great will be the terror,
When the Judge comes
who will smash everything completely!
The trumpet, scattering a marvelous sound
through the tombs of every land,
will gather all before the throne.

Bass:
Death and Nature shall stand amazed,
when all Creation rises again
to answer to the Judge.

Mezzo-Soprano and Chorus:
A written book will be brought forth,
which contains everything
for which the world will be judged.
Therefore when the Judge takes His seat,
whatever is hidden will be revealed.

The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world into ashes,
as David and the Sibyl prophesied

Soprano, Mezzo-Sporano, and Tenor:
What can a wretch like me say?
Whom shall I ask to intercede,
when even the just are unsafe?

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
King of dreadful majesty
who freely saves the redeemed,
save me, O font of pity.

Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano:
Recall, merciful Jesus,
that I was the reason for your journey:
do not destroy me on that day.
In seeking me, you sat down wearily;
enduring the Cross, you redeemed me:
do not let these pains to have been in vain.
Just Judge of punishment:
give me the gift of redemption:
before the day of reckoning.

Tenor:
I groan as a guilty one,
and my face blushes with guilt;
spare the supplicant, O God.
You, who absolved Mary Magdalen..
and heard the prayer of the thief,
have given me hope, as well
My prayers are not worthy,
but show mercy, O benevolent one,
lest I burn in forever in fire.
Give me a place among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
placing me on your right hand.

Bass and Chorus:
When the damned are silenced,
and given to the fierce flames,
call me with your saints.
I pray, suppliant and kneeling,
with a heart contrite as ashes:
take my leave into your care.

Chorus:
The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes,
As David and the Sibyl prophesied.

Solo Quarter and Chorus:
That day is one of weeping,
on which shall rise from the ashes
the guilty man, to be judged.
Therefore, spare this one, O God.
Merciful Lord Jesus:
grant them peace
Amen

III. Offertorio
Quartet:
O Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory:
deliver the souls of all the faithful
dead from the pains of hell and from the
deep pit; deliver them from the mouth of the lion;
that hell may not swallow them and
that they may not fall into darkness.
But may the holy standard-bearer Michael
show them the holy light;
which you once promised to Abraham and his seed.
We offer to you, O Lord, sacrifices and prayers.
Receive them on behalf of those souls whom we commemorate today.
Grant, O Lord, that they might pass from death into that life
which you once promised to Abraham and his seed.
Deliver the souls of all the faithful dead from the
pains of hell;
Grant that they might pass from death into that life.

IV.Sanctus
Double Chorus:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

V. Agnus Dei
Sporano, Mezzo-Soprano, and Chorus:
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
grant them rest everlasting.

VI.Lux aeterna
Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor, and Bass:
Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord,
with your saints forever; for you are merciful.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them
with your saints forever; for you are merciful.

VII.Libera me
Soprano and Chorus:
Deliver me, O Lord from eternal death and that awful day,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved:
when you will come to judge the world by fire.
I tremble, and I fear the judgment and the wrath to come, when the heavens and the earth
shall be moved.
The day of wrath, that day of calamity and misery;
a great and bitter day, indeed.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and may perpetual light shine upon them.
Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that awful day.
Deliver me, O Lord, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved,
when you will come to judge the world by fire.
Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that awful day.
Deliver me.

Verdi and the Requiem

Giuseppe Verdi was born on October 9, 1813, in Le Roncole, near Busseto, Italy. He died on January 27, 1901, in Milan, Italy. Verdi completed his Requiem Mass in April 1874 and conducted the first performance on May 22, 1874, at the church of San Marco in Milan.

Verdi was a man of great spirituality. But, after his childhood–when he walked three miles to church every Sunday morning, sometimes barefoot, to his job as organist–he wasn’t a churchgoer. Later, when he was famous and wealthy, he would drive his wife Giuseppina to church, but wouldn’t go in with her. He was never an atheist–simply, as Giuseppina put it, “a very doubtful believer.” Like Brahms’s A German Requiem completed five years earlier, Verdi’s Requiem Mass is a deeply religious work written by a great skeptic. When Hans von Bülow, whose acrid opinions on music have outlived his importance as a conductor, stole a look at the requiem score just days before the Milan premiere, he offered his famous snap judgment, “Verdi’s latest opera, though in ecclesiastical robes,” and decided to skip the concert. When he finally heard it, at a mediocre parish performance eighteen years later, he was moved to tears. Bülow wrote to Verdi to apologize, and Verdi replied, with typical generosity, that Bülow might have been right the first time. By then, after a fifty-year career in the public eye, Verdi had grown accustomed to critical disdain, especially from the followers of Richard Wagner. And he knew that Bülow, who once switched his allegiance from Wagner to Brahms, wasn’t the last listener who would change his mind about this music as well. Verdi’s Requiem Mass has often provoked dissension. Brahms and Wagner, who shared little aside from their dislike for each other’s music, took predictably opposing views. “Only a genius could have written such a work,” Brahms wrote, angered by Bülow’s original verdict. Wagner attended a performance in Vienna in 1875 without comment; “It would be best to say nothing,” his wife Cosima explained, with customary tact. The prevailing Viennese response was enthusiastic– “into the torrid zone,” according to Verdi’s wife Giuseppina, but performances had been sparsely attended six months earlier in London, and Verdi skipped town in a foul mood. The Italian public, who revered Verdi as people today idolize movie stars and sports figures, couldn’t get enough of his newest work; Verdi’s publisher finally had to crack down on unauthorized arrangements. Early in the twentieth century, Bernard Shaw, who had always admired Verdi’s music, suggested that none of Verdi’s operas would prove as enduring as the requiem. Before the requiem, Verdi was known exclusively for his operas. The early success of Nabucco in 1842 made his name; the melody of its grand “Va, pensiero” chorus swept the nation. In the early 1850s, a great midcareer trio of operas– Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata–made Verdi the most popular composer in all Europe. After that, with a series of increasingly inventive stage works–including Simon Boccanegra, A Masked Ball, The Force of Destiny, Don Carlo, and Aida–Verdi continued to stretch his talents in new directions, testing the expressive possibilities of Italian opera. After the great success of Aida in 1871, Verdi seemed set on retirement; he spent his days growing wheat and corn, raising chickens, and puttering in the garden at Sant’Agata, his farmhouse south of Milan. By then, however, part of a requiem mass was already written. The story begins in 1868, with the death of Rossini in Paris. Verdi suggested that the city of Bologna, where Rossini grew up and first tasted success, honor him with a composite requiem, commissioning separate movements from Italy’s leading composers. The idea was approved, the various movements assigned–diplomatically, Verdi was given the final Libera me–and the mass completed. But a performance never took place. (There were disputes, as there often are, over scheduling and money.) At the time of Rossini’s death, Verdi called him “one of the glories of Italy,” asking, “When the other one who still lives is no more, what will we have left?” The other one was Alessandro Manzoni, a celebrated poet and the author of the landmark nineteenth-century novel, I promessi sposi (The betrothed); and when he died, on May 22, 1873, Verdi returned to the idea of a requiem. Verdi first read I promessi sposi at sixteen; it remained his favorite novel throughout his life. Manzoni was a great national hero in Italy, a distinction poets in our time–except, perhaps, for Václav Havel–can scarcely imagine. To Verdi, Manzoni was a personal hero; he was both a great artist and a great humanitarian–a leader, like Verdi, in the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian independence and unification. Knowing that Manzoni treasured his privacy as much as he himself, Verdi never attempted a meeting. Even after his wife was introduced to Manzoni through a mutual friend, Verdi was satisfied with the autographed photograph she brought home, inscribed “to Giuseppe Verdi, a glory of Italy, from a decrepit Lombard writer.” Verdi hung the picture in his bedroom and sent Manzoni his photo, writing across the bottom, “I esteem and admire you as much as one can esteem and admire anyone on this earth, both as man and a true honor of our country so continually troubled. You are a saint, Don Alessandro!” The two men didn’t meet until the spring of 1868, when Verdi visited Milan for the first time in twenty years. Verdi reported to the Countess Maffei, who arranged the meeting, “I would have knelt before him if it were possible to adore mortal men.” Verdi didn’t attend Manzoni’s funeral, preferring instead to visit the grave “alone and unseen.” He proposed that “after further reflection and after taking stock of my strength,” he might “suggest a way of honoring his memory.” In fact, the very night of his visit to Manzoni’s grave, he wrote to Giulio Ricordi, head of the publishing house, of his intention to compose a requiem mass to be performed on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. (He offered to conduct himself and to assume the costs of copying the parts.) Shortly before the premiere of Aida in Cairo in 1871, when the critic and composer Alberto Mazzucato reminded Verdi of the Libera me he had written for the Rossini Requiem, he dismissed the idea of setting the entire text: “There are so many, many, many requiem masses; there’s no point in adding one more.” But now, clearly, there was, and Verdi moved quickly. On June 25, Verdi and Giuseppina left for Paris, where he began work on the requiem. He continued writing at Sant’Agata in the fall and in Genoa that winter. On February 28, he wrote to Camille du Locle, his librettist for Don Carlo, “I feel as if I’ve become a solid citizen and am no longer the public’s clown who, with a big bass drum, shouts ‘Come, come, step right up.'” The deadline, May 22, the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, swiftly approached. Verdi handpicked his four soloists, including Teresa Stolz and Maria Waldmann, the original Aida and Amneris at La Scala in 1872. The work was finished on April 10; rehearsals began early in May. Reading Manzoni’s obituary notices, Verdi noticed that “not one speaks the way it should. Many words, but none of them deeply felt.” Verdi was a man of few words and genuine expression. The requiem he composed to honor two men for whom he had the greatest admiration is a work of the most highly concentrated emotion. Seldom had he traversed the range of human feeling in so few pages. Music so direct and powerful was unexpected, and therefore disquieting, in a somber religious work; Bülow was only the first to refer, patronizingly, to the theatricality of a work designed for the church.

Tullio Serafin

Serafin was born on September 1, 1878 and died on February 2, 1968.

Serafin was a leading Italian opera conductor with a long career and a very broad repertoire who revived many 19th-century bel canto operas by Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti to become staples of 20th-century repertoire. He had an unparalleled reputation as a coach of young opera singers and famously harnessed and developed Maria Callas’s considerable talents.

Born in Rottanova (Cavarzere), near Venice, and trained in Milan, he played viola in the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan under Arturo Toscanini, later being appointed Assistant Conductor. He took over as Music Director at La Scala when Toscanini left to go to New York, and served 1909–1914, 1917–1918, and returned briefly after the Second World War, 1946 -1947.

He joined the conducting staff of the Metropolitan Opera in 1924, and remained for a decade, after which he became the artistic director of the Teatro Reale in Rome. During his long career he helped further the careers of many important singers, including Rosa Ponselle, Magda Olivero, Joan Sutherland, and most notably Maria Callas, with whom he collaborated on many recordings.

Serafin was instrumental in expanding the repertory, conducting the Italian premieres of works by Alban Berg, Paul Dukas, and Benjamin Britten. He also conducted important world premieres by both Italian and American composers, such as Franco Alfano, Italo Montemezzi, Deems Taylor, and Howard Hanson. His goddaughter was the soprano Claudia Pinza Bozzolla.