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Opera's most popular composer, was a 2nd-generation Fenaroli Partimento student

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

According to Operabase.com, Giuseppe Verdi holds the top spot today as the most performed composer within the field of Opera:

Among the most popular titles, Verdi's "La Traviata" holds the top spot:

Many of the top 100 operas are Verdi's titles, such as Rigoletto, Aida, Nabucco, Il trovatore and more.

When Verdi was 11 he studied privately with Ferdinando Provesi for several years after which Provesi claimed there was nothing more he could teach him. Verdi then unsuccessfully applied to the Conservatory at Milan.

In the Story of Giuseppe Verdi by Gabriele Baldini, more is told about his music education:

Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841), Paganini's teacher

One of the judges of his application was Alessandro Rolla, the teacher of Paganini (the most famous violinist in history). Rolla demurred on his application but told Verdi to study privately with a teacher in the city, recommending Vincenzo Lavigna or someone called "Negri".

Francesco Basily (1767-1850)

Despite the rejection of his application, the judges did see Verdi's potential as a composer. In reviewing the compositions in his application, the director of the Milan Conservatory, Francesco Basily, stated that:

"If he applies himself to a serious study of counterpoint, he would have the freedom to be able to channel his imagination and achieve success as a composer."

Then, his patron Antonio Barezzi, arranged for him to study privately with Vincenzo Lavigna. Lavigna had been a student of the great Neapolitan teacher Fedele Fenaroli at the Neapolitan Conservatorio Santa Maria di Loreto.

Fedele Fenaroli (1730-1818)

Fedele Fenaroli was an influential music teacher from the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto in Naples. Some of his students included Niccolo Zingarelli and Domenico Cimarosa, who's fame rivaled that of Mozart's in his lifetime. Lavigna's counterpoint studies with Fenaroli can be viewed HERE on the new Partimenti.org website.

In the Story of Giuseppe Verdi by Gabriele Baldini, Verdi remarks about his instruction with Lavigna, detailing the pride of his efforts:

"..Profound were the studies in musical grammar and language... In a word, a completely practical instruction, solid, serious, without exaggeration"
"..in three years with him I did nothing but canons and fugues, fugues and canons of every kind."

We continually see the Neapolitan Partimento connection in the lives of many of the great composers of the 18th and even 19th century, and also see the primacy in the study of counterpoint in training musicians.

The key takeaway is that music students today should apply themselves to a serious study of counterpoint. The methodology of the Neapolitan conservatories were famed for their efficacy and results. Perhaps we should consider applying some of the principles of their training to music education today.

To end off, here is Verdi's famous "Libiamo, ne' lieti calici", from La Traviata:

To hear an expert on 19th century Opera and the Partimento tradition, listen to Professor Marco Pollaci on the Nikhil Hogan Show:

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