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Learn about the piece:

Overture to Nabucco

Composed by

Giuseppe Verdi



2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings

Giuseppe Verdi was a highly expressive composer from the Romantic period whose works embody rich expression and captivating depth. Though composing pieces for various genres, his oeuvre is most notable for his operas. His contributions to operatic conventions ultimately helped restore Italy as the center of musical innovation during the late nineteenth century. Throughout his career and tumultuous personal life, Verdi was considered the king of Italian opera and had his works premiered in the country’s major cities and beyond, especially in Paris and Saint Petersburg. After the unfortunate death of his first wife and two children, Verdi worked through his emotions composing Nabucco, his first commercially successful work.

Verdi was born in 1813 in Le Roncole, Italy, a small village outside the cosmopolitan Busseto in Parma where his family owned an inn. Though opportunities and resources were faint, Verdi still found inspiration from music. His parents allowed him to take organ lessons at age six in Busseto, helping with church services where needed. Seeing the young Verdi exhibit excitement with lessons, his father supported him in attaining a musical education beyond his tenure at the local school. In his teenage years, Verdi attended a ginnasio—a school for adolescent boys—in Busseto, where he studied Latin, humanities, and rhetoric. It was here that Verdi took composition lessons for the first time, studying with the renowned opera composer Ferdinando Provesi. Through Provesi’s expertise, Verdi discovered his ability to compose energetically powerful works, including symphonies, concertos, and operas. The Società Filarmonica (Philharmonic Society) fostered more composition opportunities for the aspiring composer. Verdi’s early works proved promising, especially his operas.

Though simple and direct, the harmonic understanding of Verdi’s style gradually grows in intensity to match the drama that unfolds on the stage. In 1837, Verdi moved to Milan in hopes of gaining success composing operas and having them premiered in the prestigious La Scala theater.

Hope seemed lost to the young composer, with his first two operas being unsuccessful. Verdi even vowed never to compose a note ever again. The impresario Bartolomeo Merelli sought to revive Verdi’s passion for composing operas by introducing him to the librettist Temistocle Solera. Solera met Verdi and showed him an early draft of a forthcoming libretto: Nabucco. Verdi showed disinterest initially, but after casually examining the manuscript a few months later, he was hooked. In 1841, sketches of Nabucco began to emerge, and a complete copy was made a year later. The premiere occurred in 1842 at La Scala, meriting great success.

Nabucco is a four-act opera that recounts the story of King Nebuchadnezzar II and the divine punishment he brought against the Israelites as told in the biblical books of 2 Kings, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Daniel. The plot involves the Jews being exiled from their homeland and held captive by the rule of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. While exiled, the Jews were brutally assaulted, conquered, and enslaved. Though tragic, Verdi retells the story with themes of romanticism and naturalism as the rest of the opera unfolds with themes of love and politics.

The Overture, a prelude in Act I, introduces themes, moods, and characteristics to unite the opera. The Overture is where Verdi notes “his artistic career really begins. And though [he] had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star.” The Overture begins with a chorale-like passage treated with homophony. Suddenly, the rest of the orchestra responds with grandeur and poise. Verdi enlivens the mood with his use of tirades, rapidly-performed notes played after points of sustain. The work builds through the composer’s use of dotted rhythms, prominent dynamic contrasts, and elongated phrases with a rhythmical drive. A grand climax is reached towards the end, where the entire orchestra performs the opening theme with a bombastic quality.

Coming 04/08/23

Beethoven: Three Great Works

Experience the power of Beethoven’s music with three masterworks, including his Eighth Symphony and the Redlands Symphony debut of Trio Arbol.

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