Giuseppe Verdi: Messa da Requiem

Verdi Edition

Edited by David Rosen (1990)

Two-volume set: score pp. LX, 338 + critical commentary | NR 135334
Piano vocal score | CP 134164
Study score (paperback edition) | NR 141464
Piano vocal score (Practical Series – with abridged introduction and no critical notes) | CP 141354

The critical edition of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem does not pretend to offer the listener major new revelations about the work. After all, Verdi himself was involved in early performances in Italy and abroad, and he personally examined the proofs of the reduction for voice and piano prepared by Ricordi (though not of the full orchestral score, issued many years later). Yet, this new edition will provide important new insights into Verdi’s art, insights that will ultimately benefit performers, scholars, and the public.

The most significant new material associated with the Requiem will not (and should not) figure in most modern performances. In two cases, Verdi prepared earlier versions of major sections of the score, and both will be printed in appendixes to the critical edition. The first is the original version of the “Libera me” movement. On the death of Rossini in 1868, Verdi proposed that a memorial mass be prepared by Italy’s most important composers. Although the composite mass was completed, it was never actually performed. But Verdi kept his contribution, the “Libera me”, and later revised it for insertion into the Messa da Requiem. Perhaps even more important, the new edition will make available for the first time a complete score of the original version of the “Liber scriptus” section in the Dies irae. The familiar version, for mezzosoprano solo, replaced an earlier fugue for chorus and orchestra, actually performed at the premiere of the Messa da Requiem in Milan on 22 May 1874. The revised version, completed in February 1875, was first performed in London on 15 May 1875. There can be no doubt that the revision is preferable, but the fugue is a mature composition by Verdi and is not negligible. It might appropriately figure in choral programs or in recordings (as an appendix to the entire Requiem).

The critical edition of the definitive Messa da Requiem corrects numerous errors or ambiguities in the earlier printed sources. By drawing on Verdi’s autograph, early manuscripts prepared by Ricordi, printed and manuscript orchestral parts, and the printed reduction for piano and voices, the new edition resolves various textual problems in the work. There are many changes throughout the score. Only those intimately involved in the performance may be able to identify them, but the audience ultimately benefits from their cumulative effect. A special category of changes involves places where Verdi himself made alterations late in the history of the work, alterations that never found their way into the previously prepared printed sources.

Finally, there are innumerable corrections of details, some of which performers have instinctively emended over the years. Anyone who has examined the printed score of the “Lacrymosa” section in the Dies irae, for example, cannot have failed to be struck by the incoherence of its slurs. The problems are many-layered. Verdi’s own slurs in the autograph are unclear: because the score is thickly orchestrated, with all soloists and chorus singing, the notation is often approximate. But the earliest printed edition went further and introduced changes in slurs at points where Verdi changed from one page of his manuscript to another, even though Verdi surely intended his slurs to carry across these changes of page in the manuscript. Later printed editions compounded the problem by dividing the slurs further, at points where the early printed edition changed from one printed system to another. The result is musical nonsense, and intelligent singers have always performed the passage in a basically legato style throughout. Surely it is a worthy goal, however, to produce a printed text that attempts to capture Verdi’s meaning as fully as possible. That too is one of the aims of the new critical edition.