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Sheet Music of the Week: Verdi Birthday Edition

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The following is a guest post from Head of Acquisitions & Processing Denise Gallo.

"Bird of the forest" by Verdi. Published in New York by Firth, Pond & Co. Music Division, Library of Congress.

This past weekend marked the 198th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi. Born in Le Roncole, Italy, Verdi went from humble origins to become one of the most influential opera composers of his day. And that fame continues, as works like Rigoletto, Aida, La traviata and Il trovatore remain among the most popular operas in the international repertory.

Not far behind his European admirers, Americans too came to appreciate the power of Verdi (although his music often confounded reviewers). Four years after its Milan premiere in 1843, I lombardi alla prima crociata was the first Verdi work to reach the New York stage. When opera companies flourished there in the 1850’s, Verdi was performed with surprising consistency – sometimes the same operas twice or three times in a season. Virtually every touring divo and diva willingly performed works like Il trovatore and La traviata to showcase their dramatic voices.

Verdi’s popularity extended as well into America’s parlors and living rooms since piano and vocal arrangements were best-sellers for music publishers. Talented members of the household could entertain guests with pieces like this week’s featured Sheet Music of the Week — “Bird of the Forest,” an arrangement of “E il sol dell’anima” from Rigoletto. One hopes the guests wouldn’t have known the original text, though, for “translator” George Linley took one of the Duke’s most elegant love songs to Gilda and made it a ditty about a cheerful forest bird. Ah, well, all the same,

“buon compleanno, caro Maestro! – Happy birthday!”

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