Verdi's 'Requiem' cuts as deep as life, death
Since there's nothing more dramatic than life and death, it should be no surprise that the most musically dramatic Requiem is by operatic master Giuseppe Verdi.
"The conductor Hans von Bulow said more than a century ago that (Verdi's Requiem) is 'church music in the clothes of an opera.' Since then, people call this is Verdi's best opera," says Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony music director.
When Honeck took the Swedish Radio Orchestra on tour in 2001 and performed the Verdi Requiem at the Kennedy Center, the concert was named best classical event of the year by the Washington Post.
Honeck will lead four vocal soloists, the Mendelssohn Choir and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the Verdi Requiem in performances Friday to Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
The Verdi will be preceded by three brief pieces of sacred baroque music performed by Chatham Baroque. Verdi was keenly aware of musical traditions and even recommended music students work on old music in preference to the new music of his time. For liturgical music in particular, there are traditions of word painting that continue across the centuries.
"The thing I love about Verdi is that he is not bound to tradition, but breaks it, too," Honeck says. "The most obvious example is the way the music for the opening of the Dies Irae returns in the final section of the Requiem, the Libera Me." The Dies Irae is the longest section of Verdi's piece, lasting more than half an hour to express the Day of Wrath with the utmost vividness. The Libera Me text is a prayer for deliverance from eternal death.
Honeck spoke about the traditions of religious music at a special Pittsburgh Symphony fundraising event Nov. 22 at the Senator John Heinz History Center, following a viewing of the "Vatican Splendors" art exhibit. He started with Gregorian Chant and moved forward in time. His recorded musical examples included part of Verdi's Dies Irae with former Pittsburgh Symphony music director Fritz Reiner conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.
Honeck didn't know "Vatican Splendors" would be coming to Pittsburgh when he planned this weekend's concert. After viewing the exhibit, he said, "I was very surprised there was a bit of connection to the Verdi Requiem, especially a Michelangelo mural to Verdi's Dies Irae."
When Honeck started studying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem, which he conducted at Heinz Hall a year ago, he felt he understood the words and the liturgy right away. But with Verdi's he says "I thought that's another way of expressing things. Verdi composed from the word and the meaning of words can change over time. I looked for a translation from Verdi's time of all the Latin words. I called a friend in Rome and got a wonderful letter from the Vatican, which included an explanation in German (Honeck's native tongue) of the Dies Irae sequence from 1882, eight years after the premiere of the Requiem. Then I understood very quickly what Verdi expressed with every word.
"Verdi set even small words in a dramatic way. Reading the words in the program, many people will not really understand. I had Latin and even I didn't understand some things," Honeck says. "When you hear the music, you know."Additional Information:
Presented by: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Manfred Honeck, conductor; and the Mendelssohn Choir
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $20 to $93
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown
Details: 412-392-4900 or website
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Zimbabwe alleges Murrysville doctor illegally killed lion
- Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
- Steelers swap draft pick for Eagles cornerback
- Ability to clog the trenches crucial to Steelers defense
- After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
- Penguins not alone in top-heavy approach to salary cap
- EPA diktats: Pushing back
- Shell shovels millions into proposed Beaver County plant site
- Starting 9: Examining Pirates’ deadline decisions
- Pirates notebook: New acquisition Happ more than happy to fill spot in rotation
- Steelers notebook: Injuries finally become issue at training camp