13. VERDI'S FULL HOUSE
with RICHARD GRAVES
Street buskers are still with us even in these relatively prosperous
days. At least their activities are curbed and we no longer have to put
up with itinerant brass bands, cornettists and barrel organ players (with
or without monkeys) in residential areas. A century or so ago such performers
constituted a real menace - they disturbed your sleep, they interrupted
your work and, in short, were a confounded nuisance. It was bad enough for
any householder - but imagine what it was like for a composer in the grips
of inspiration yet suddenly having to contend with the off-key bleatings
of a street musician outside the window.
This was a problem throughout the Western world. Poor Guiseppe Verdi
suffered from it more than most - particularly when the buskers chose arias
from his own operas which had quickly become an essential part of the street
The conductor and pianist Wilhelm Ganz (1833-1914) was a great admirer
of Verdi. He had previously heard the maestro conduct the Requiem
at the Albert Hall and, not surprisingly, had been greatly impressed. Much
later when the aging composer was working on Falstaff, Ganz visited
Verdi at his house in Genoa. In his Memoirs of a Musician (John Murray,
London 1913) Ganz recalls that Verdi told him that he still enjoyed composing
- and even gave the visitor his autograph. Verdi usually was very chary
about doing this, so Ganz felt justifiably pleased with himself. Later Ganz
met a friend who had recently visited Verdi in a rented villa in Moncalieri.
Strangely, Ganz's friend found that the revered and prosperous composer
was living in just one room - sleeping, eating and working in the same small
||I have two other large rooms - but they are full of things I have hired
for the season.
was the only explanation offered. When the visitor expressed some surprise
at this display of unwonted economy, Verdi threw open two other doors. The
friend looked in. Both rooms were indeed full - filled with several dozen
barrel organs. Verdi hastily tried to explain
||When I arrived here, all these organs were playing airs from 'Rigoletto',
'Trovatore' and my other operas from morning till night. I was so annoyed
that I hired the whole lot for the season. It has cost me about a thousand
francs, but at all events I am left in peace.
And thank heavens he was - otherwise we might never have had Falstaff,
Otello and so much more.
Copyright © Richard Graves, October
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