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Questa  sera,  Sabato  5  Febbralo  1887.  8  y. 



Le  Scdie  e  ie  Poltroae  souo  esaurile.  -  NeMa  Ptalea  mb 
vi  sow  pesli  is  piedi  ed  H  piccolo  atrio  e  chhtso  al  Pabblko. 

BigOcUo  dlngresso  aHe  Sedle  ed  ai  Paldii  .  lire  8 

>  >  al  Loggione . .  >  5 

>  >  pei  &%.'  MiliUri  in  oniforme  >  2,9# 

it/o  d  apr*  all*  ora  T  1/4  D  Logfione  all©  ore  T 










FALL,  19 8Q 


The  purpose  of  this  thesis  is  to  discuss  and  analyze 
Verdi’s  use  of  orchestral  techniques  to  illuminate  and  reinforce 
the  dramatic  considerations  of  his  opera  Ot ello . 

The  first  chapter  deals  with  the  historical  background 
of  the  work,  including  the  events  surrounding  the  planning  of 
the  opera,  the  preparation  of  the  libretto,  the  composition, 
and  the  first  production  in  1887. 

Chapter  Two  is  a  general  survey  of  Verdi’s  use  of  the 
orchestra  for  dramatic  emphasis  from  his  first  opera  Oberto , 

Conte  di  San  Bonifacio  (1837)  to  his  final  creation  Falstaf f 


(1893) . 

The  Third  Chapter  is  a  detailed  examination  of  Verdi’s 
Otello  from  the  aspect  of  the  composer’s  use  of  the  orchestra  to 
support  and  emphasize  the  dramatic  moments  in  the  work.  The  opera 
is  examined  act  by  act  in  detailed  narration,  supported  by  a 
selection  of  musical  examples. 

It  is  the  contention  of  the  writer  that  Otello  is  Verdi’s 
supreme  masterpiece  and  possibly  the  greatest  of  all  Romantic 
operas.  This  opinion  is  based  largely  on  Verdi’s  ability  to 
apply  orchestral  devices  and  techniques  which  support  and  inten¬ 
sify  the  dramatic  development  of  the  opera. 






The  Early  Operas . 21 

Oberto,  Conte  di  San  Bonifacio  .  21 

lln  Giorno  dl  Regno . 22 

Nabucco . 23 

I  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata . 25 

Ernanl . 27 

I  Due  Foscari . 28 

Giovanna  d’Arco  .  29 

Alzira .  20 

Att  ila .  20 

I  Masnadieri .  21 

II  Corsaro .  22 

La  Battaglia  di  Legnano .  23 

The  Middle  Period . 34 

Luisa  Miller .  34 

Rigoletto .  36 

II  Trovatore . 40 

La  Traviata .  44 

I  Vespri  Sicilian!  .  48 

Aroldo . 49 

Un  Ballo  in  Maschera .  50 

The  Mature  Works . 56 

Macbeth . 56 

La  Forza  del  Destino . 59 

Aida  .  .  .  . . 66 

Simon  Boccanegra . 74 

Don  Carlo .  79 

Fal  staff . 84 





Ac  t  One . 94 

Act  Two . 112 

Act  Three . 132 

Act  Four . 155 

CONCLUSION  .  . . 172 










Following  the  Cairo  premiere  of  Aida  in  December  of  1871  and 
the  first  Italian  production  of  that  work  at  La  Scala  in  February 
of  the  next  year,  Giuseppe  Verdi  faded  into  what  most  observers 
considered  to  be  a  well-deserved  and  permanent  retirement  from 
operatic  composition.  Indeed,  it  seemed  that  the  composer, 
although  only  fifty-eight  years  old,  was  content  to  slip  quietly 
from  the  musical  scene  and  live  out  his  last  years  as  a  gentleman- 
farmer  on  his  country  estate  at  Sant'Agata. 

It  is  unlikely  that  any  serious  thought  of  composing  another 
major  work  had  even  occurred  to  Verdi  before  1873.  The  death  of 
the  great  Italian  writer  and  patriot  Alessandro  Manzoni  on  May  22 
of  that  year,  however,  prompted  Verdi's  return  to  work.  The 
resulting  Requiem,  first  performed  in  Milan  on  the  first  anni¬ 
versary  of  Manzoni 's  death,  was  a  work  of  obvious  dramatic  and  even 
operatic  proportions.  The  masterly  dramatic  utilization  of  the 
orchestra,  even  more  advanced  and  innovative  than  in  its 
predecessors  Don  Carlo  and  Aida ,  raised  speculation  that  an  opera 
of  similar  music-drama  dimensions  was  imminent. 

Following  a  triumphant  European  tour  of  the  Requiem,  however, 
Verdi  returned  to  Sant'Agata  believing  his  career  as  a  composer  to 
be  at  an  end.  During  the  thirty-seven  years  that  had  passed  since 



Oberto,  he  had  given  the  operatic  world  twenty-four  works;  after 

Aida,  he  felt  neither  the  desire  nor  the  obligation  to  write  again. 

A  letter  dated  March  11,  1875,  to  his  close  friend  and  benefactress 

Countess  Clarina  Maffei  reflects  this  attitude. 

Are  you  right  when  you  speak  of  my  conscientious  obligation 
to  write?  No,  no.  You  are  joking,  because  you  know  better 
than  I  do  that  the  account  is  balanced.  That  is  to  say,  I 
have  always  conscientiously  carried  out  the  undertaking  I 
entered  into;  the  public  has  met  me  equally  conscientiously, 
with  sincere  hisses,  applause,  etc.  So  nobody  has  the  right  ^ 
to  complain,  and  I  repeat  once  more:  the  account  is  balanced. 

It  was  not  until  June  of  1879  that  there  appeared  any  serious 

indication  that  Verdi  was  perhaps  considering  a  return  to  operatic 

composition.  In  Milan  to  conduct  a  performance  of  the  Requiem  in 

memory  of  the  victims  of  the  Po  Valley  flood,  Verdi  entertained 

his  associate  and  long-time  friend,  publisher  Giulio  Ricordi  and 


the  conductor.  Franco  Faccio  at  his  residence  in  the  Albergo 
Milano.  During  the  course  of  the  evening,  the  discussion  turned 
to  possible  operatic  subjects,  in  particular  Shakespeare  and 
Othello .  Ricordi  insisted  that  the  play  would  be  a  worthy  vehicle 

"Ma  dite  davvero  dell'obbligo  di  coscienza  di  scrivere? 

No,  no.  Voi  scherzate  perche  sapete  meglio  di  me  che  le  partite 
sono  saldate.  Vale  a  dire  che  io  ho  sempre  soddisfatti  gli  impegni 
presi  con  tutta  coscienza:  il  pubblico  gli  ha  accolti  egualmente 
con  tutta  coscienza,  con  buoni  fischi,  od  applausi  ecc.  Nissuno 
dunque  ha  diritto  di  lagnarsi  e  ripeto  ancora:  Partita  saldata." 

The  above  translation  is  by  this  writer.  See  Gaetano  Cesari  and 
Alessandro  Luzio,  ed . ,  I  Copialettere  di  Giuseppe  Verdi  (Milan: 
Stucchi  Ceretti,  1913),  p.  510. 


Faccio  (1840-91)  was  himself  the  composer  of  a  Shakespearian 
opera,  Amletto  (1865),  with  a  libretto  by  Boito.  He  was  the 
leading  Italian  operatic  conductor  of  his  day,  and  in  1871,  he 
became  the  principal  conductor  at  La  Scala,  where  he  conducted  the 
first  performances  of  Aida  and  Otello,  as  well  as  the  first  Italian 
performances  of  a  Wagner  opera,  Lohengrin. 


for  a  new  opera  by  Verdi.  The  publisher  was  anxious  to  have  the 

composer  collaborate  with  the  young  Italian  librettist  and  composer, 

Arrigo  Boito. 

Verdi  was  by  no  means  unfamiliar  with  Boito' s  work.  In  1862, 

he  had  commissioned  the  twenty- year-old  writer  to  set  the  text  for 

his  short  patriotic  cantata  Inno  delle  nazioni  which  was  intended 

for  Italian  representation  at  the  opening  of  the  London  Exhibition 


the  following  year.  Shortly  after,  however,  relations  between 
Verdi  and  the  young  librettist  had  become  strained.  Boito  had 
written  and  subsequently  published  a  poem  entitled  All1 Arte 
ital iana  ("Concerning  Italian  Art")  in  which  he  referred  critically 
to  the  sad  state  of  Italian  music  since  Pergolesi  and  Marcello . 


Boito  (1842-1918)  had  already  provided  the  libretto  for 
Amilcare  Ponchielli's  La  Gioconda  (1876)  under  the  anagrammatic 
pseudonym,  Tobia  Gorrio  and  for  Faccio's  Amlet  to  in  1865.  His  own 
opera  Mef istofele  was  premiered  at  La  Scala  in  1868,  but  met  with 
a  poor  reception.  A  considerably  revised  production  in  Bologna 
in  1875  proved  highly  successful. 


Hostile  political  factions  within  Italy  rejected  the  work 
as  unsuitable  for  representation  at  the  Exhibition.  Instead,  the 
premiere  was  given  at  Her  Majesty's  Theater,  London,  on  May  24, 

"Forse  git  nacque  chi  sovra  1'altare  Rizzera  l'arte, 
verecondo  e  puro,  Su  quel 'altar  bruttato  come  un  muro  Di 
lupanare."  ("Perhaps  the  man  is  already  born  who,  modest  and  pure, 
will  restore  art  to  its  altar  stained  like  a  brothel  wall.") 

Quoted  and  translated  in  Charles  Osborne,  The  Complete  Operas  of 
Verdi:  A  Critical  Guide  (London:  Victor  Gollancz  Ltd.,  1969); 
reprint  edition  (London:  Pan  Books,  1973),  p.  446. 

Verdi,  being  the  most  prominent  Italian  musician  of  his  day,  took 
the  poem  as  a  personal  insult. 

In  1879,  however,  Boito,  now  thirty-seven  and  wiser  for  his 

years,  had  come  to  recognize  Verdi  as  a  true  musical  genius. 

Reluctantly,  Verdi  agreed  to  meet  with  Boito  and  Faccio  to  discuss 

the  proposed  opera.  Three  days  later,  Boito  presented  the  composer 

with  a  scenario  for  an  opera  based  on  the  Othello  theme.  Verdi 

read  the  sketch  and  was  pleased.  Though  refusing  to  commit 

himself,  he  urged  Boito  to  write  a  complete  libretto  on  the  subject. 

With  the  young  writer  enthusiastically  at  work,  Verdi  returned  to 

Sant’Agata.  It  was  there,  while  reading  the  Ricordi  publication 

Gazzetta  Musicale  di  Milano,  that  he  came  across  an  excerpt  from 

the  memoirs  of  sculptor  Giovanni  Dupre  quoting  Rossini  as  having 

said  that  Verdi,  being  of  somber  and  tragic  disposition,  would 

never  be  capable  of  composing  a  successful  comic  opera.  His 

feelings  hurt,  Verdi  wrote  to  Giulio  Ricordi: 

I  have  read  in  your  paper  Dupre’s  words  on  our  meeting, 
and  the  sentence  pronounced  by  Jupiter  Rossini  (as  Meyerbeer 
called  him)-  But  just  a  moment.  For  the  last  twenty  years 
I  have  been  searching  for  an  opera  buffa  libretto,  and  now 
that  I  may  have  found  it  you  print  an  article  that  will 
encourage  the  public  to  damn  the  work  before  it  is  even 
written,  thus  prejudicing  my  interests  and  yours  .  But 


have  no  fear.  If  by  chance,  misfortune  or  destiny,  despite 
the  Great  Sentence,  my  evil  genius  drives  me  to  write  this 
opera  buffa,  I  repeat^you  need  have  no  fear... I  shall  ruin 
some  other  publisher. 

Ricordi  was  understandably  alarmed  at  the  possibility  of 
losing  Verdi  to  another  publishing  house,  and  he  was  bewildered 
over  the  mention  of  a  comic  opera.  He  had  believed  that  the  aging 
composer  had  no  plans  for  further  composition  except,  possibly, 
for  the  Othello  project. ^  In  an  attempt  to  pacify  Verdi,  Ricordi 
suggested  that  he  and  "a  friend"  visit  the  composer  at  his  estate. 

Verdi’s  reply  was  characteristically  witty  and  suspicious: 

A  visit  from  you  with  a  friend,  who  would  of  course  be  Boito, 
will  always  be  a  pleasure.  But  on  this  subject  let  me  speak 
very  clearly  and  frankly.  A  visit  from  him  would  commit  me 
too  definitely,  and  I  wish  absolutely  to  avoid  committing 
myself.  You  know  how  this  "Chocolate  Project"  came  into 
being.  You  and  Faccio  dined  with  me.  We  spoke  about  Othello . 
We  spoke  of  Boito.  The  next  day,  Faccio  brought  Boito  to  me 
at  the  hotel.  Three  days  later,  Faccio  brought  me  his  Otello 
scenario  which  I  read  and  liked.  "Write  the  libretto,"  I  told 

"Ho  letto  sulla  vostra  Gazzetta  le  parole  di  Dupre  sul 
primo  nostro  Incontro,  e  la  sentenza  di  Giove  Rossini  (come  lo 
chiamava  Meyerbeer).  Ma  guardate  un  po...Ho  cercato  per  vent’anni 
un  libretto  d’ opera  buffa,  ed  ora  che  l’ho  si  pud  dir  trovato, 
vol,  con  quell ’ articolo ,  mettete  in  corpo  del  pubblico  una  voglia 
matta  di  fischiarmi  1 ’opera  anche  prima  di  essere  scritta, 
rovinando  cosi  i  miei  ed  i  vostri  interessi.  Ma  niente  paura. 

Se  per  caso,  per  disgrazia,  per  fatalita  malgrado  la  Gran 
Sentenza,  il  mio  cattivo  genio  mi  trascinasse  a  scrivere 
quest’opera  buffa,  niente  paura,  ripeto . . . Ruinero  un  altro 
editore."  See  Cesari  and  Luzio,  I  Copialettere,  pp .  308-9. 

^The  comic  subject  in  question  may  have  been  Moliere’s 
Tartuf f e  which  Verdi  had  discussed  with  librettist  Camille  du 
Locle  just  before  the  composition  of  Aida.  Du  Locle  had, 
in  fact,  prepared  a  scenario  on  the  subject  in  French  which 
Verdi  had  kept. 


him.  "It  will  come  in  handy  for  you,  for  me,  or  for  someone 
else."  If  you  come  here  now  with  Boito,  I  shall  have  to  read 
the  finished  libretto  he  will  bring  with  him.  If  I  find  it 
completely  satisfactory,  then  I  am  somewhat  committed  to  it. 
If  I  like  it,  but  suggest  modifications  which  he  accepts, 
then  I  am  even  more  committed.  If,  however  good  it  is,  I 
don’t  like  it,  it  would  be  difficult  to  say  so  to  his  face. 
No,  no,  you  have  gone  too  far^and  must  stop  before  there  is 
any  gossip  or  unpleasantness. 

Nevertheless,  Boito ’s  completed  libretto  was  in  Verdi's 
hands  by  Christmas  of  1879.  The  composer  was  very  favorably 
impressed  but  was  still  reluctant  to  commit  himself  to  the  opera. 
Instead,  he  purchased  the  libretto  and  filed  it  away  beside 
Antonio  Somma’s  Re  Lear ,  which  had  been  left  undisturbed  for  some 
thirty  years. 

"Sara  sempre  cosa  gradita  una  vostra  visita  con  un  amico 
(che  sarebbe  Boito,  s’intende)  ma  permettetemi  che  su 
quest 'argomento  vi  parli  molto  chiaro .  Una  sua  visita  mi 
impegnerebbe  troppo.  Voi  sapete  come  nacque  questo  progetto 
di  cioccolatta.  Pranzavate  meco  con  Faccio.  Si  par lo  d ’ Otello , 
si  parld  di  Boito.  II  giorno  dopo  Faccio  mi  porto  Boito;  tre 
giorni  dopo  Boito  mi  porto  lo  schizzo  d’ Otello.  Lo  lessi  e  lo 
trovai  buono .  Dissi,  fatene  la  poesia,  sara  buona  per  voi,  per 
me,  per  un  altro.  Ora  venendo  con  Boito,  bisogna  che  io  legga  il 
libretto.  0  io  lo  trovo  completamente  buono,  voi  me  lo  lasciate, 
ed  io  mi  trovo  in  certo  modo  impegnato.  0  io,  anche  trovandolo 
buono,  suggerisco  qualche  modif icazione  che  Boito  accetta,  ed  io 
mi  trovo  impegnato  ancora  di  piu.  0  non  mi  piace,  e  sarebbe 
troppo  duro  che  io  gli  dicessi  in  muso  quest 'opinione.  No,  no! 
Voi  siete  andato  gia  troppo  avanti,  e  bisogna  ora  fermarsi 
prima  che  nascano  pettegolezzi  o  disgusti."  See  Cesari  and 
Luzio,  I  Copialettere,  p.  311. 

Late  in  1879,  Verdi  again  began  to  compose.  By  November, 
he  had  completed  an  Ave  Maria  for  soprano  and  string  orchestra 
and  a  Pater  Noster  for  chorus  and  orchestra,  both  commissioned 
by  the  Milan  Orchestral  Society  for  performance  the  following 
year . 

Early  in  1880,  the  composer  went  to  Paris  to  supervise 
the  first  French  production  of  Aida,  and  by  the  time  he  returned 
to  Milan  in  March,  the  ever— scheming  Ricordi  had  devised  another 
plan  for  bringing  Verdi  and  Boito  together.  He  suggested  revising 
Simon  Boccanegra  which  had  been  produced  only  infrequently  since 
its  premiere  in  Venice  in  1857.  Verdi  was  interested,  and  Boito, 
recognizing  the  collaboration  as  a  possible  stepping  stone  to  the 
Othello  project,  set  about  repairing  the  patchwork  libretto  of 
Francesco  Maria  Piave.  Within  six  months,  the  revision  was 
complete.  The  premiere  was  given  at  La  Scala  on  March  24,  1881, 
to  overwhelming  response.  More  important,  however,  was  the  fact 
that  during  the  months  in  which  they  had  worked  together,  Verdi 
and  Boito  had  frequently  discussed  Othello ,  and  it  now  seemed 
that  both  men  took  their  collaboration  on  the  "Chocolate  Project" 
for  granted. 

It  was  not  until  three  years  later,  however,  that  Verdi 


began  the  mammoth  task  of  composing  Qtello ,  in  March  of  1884. 

No  sooner  had  the  composition  begun,  however,  than  the  entire 

project  almost  came  to  a  sudden  and  unfortunate  end.  Boito  was 

in  Naples  for  a  production  of  his  Mef istof ele  at  the  Teatro  San 

Carlo.  At  a  dinner  reception  following  the  opening  performance, 

Boito  had  said  something  to  his  neighbor  at  the  table  which  was 

partially  overheard  by  a  local  journalist  who  misreported  the 

statement  to  the  effect  that  Boito  had  been  unhappy  providing  the 

lago  libretto  for  Verdi  and  now  that  it  was  completed,  he 

regretted  not  being  able  to  compose  the  opera  himself.  Verdi  read 

the  report,  was  hurt  and  indignant,  and,  through  a  letter  to 

Faccio,  offered  to  return  the  libretto  to  Boito  as  a  gift. 

The  worst  of  it  is  that  by  regretting  he  cannot  set  it 
to  music  himself,  Boito  creates  the  impression  that  he 
does  not  expect  me  to  be  able  to  set  it  the  way  he  would 
like  it.  I  admit  this  possibility.  I  admit  it  completely, 
and  so  I  ask  you,  as  Boito* s  oldest  and  best  friend,  to 
tell  him  when  he  returns  to  Milan,  not  in  writing  but  by 

At  the  beginning  of  the  project,  the  proposed  title  of 
the  opera  was  to  ,have  been  lago  to  distinguish  it  from  Rossini's 
Of ello  (1816)  and  to  indicate  where  the  dramatic  center  of 
gravity  of  the  work  was  eventually  to  be  found.  It  was  not 
until  1886  that  Verdi  wrote  to  Ricordi  stating,  "lago  was  the 
demon  who  set  everything  in  motion.  Otello  is  the  one  who 
acts,  who  loves,  who  is  jealous,  who  kills,  and  kills  himself." 
Comparison  with  Rossini  no  longer  bothered  him.  He  would  rather 
have  people  say,  "He  wanted  to  challenge  a  giant  and  failed" 
than  "He  wanted  to  hide  behind  the  title  lago."  See  Spike 
Hughes,  Famous  Verdi  Operas  (New  York:  Chilton  Book  Company, 
1968),  p.  427. 

word  of  mouth,  that  I  am  ready,  without  resentment  or 


regret,  to  give  the  manuscript  back  to  him.u 

Warned  by  Faccio  and  Ricordi,  Boito  wrote  to  Verdi 
immediately,  assuring  him  that  the  report  had  been  completely 

This  theme  and  my  libretto  are  yours  by  right  of  conquest. 

You  alone  can  set  Ot ello  to  music.  All  the  creations  you 
have  given  us  speak  this  truth. H 

Verdi  accepted  the  explanation  of  the  incident  and  friendly 
relations  between  he  and  Boito  were  resumed.  He  made  no  promises, 
however,  to  continue  his  work  on  the  Otello  score,  complaining 
that  he  was  too  old  and  that  no  one  really  cared  if  he  wrote  again 
or  not. 

The  turning  point  came  in  May  of  1884  when  Boito  sent 
Verdi  the  revised  text  to  Iago*  1 s  "Credo."  The  composer  had  been 
unhappy  with  the  scene  in  the  second  act  written  in  penta- 
syllabic  line  and  requested  a  style  less  lyrical  and  freer  in 

"II  peggio  si  e  che  Boito,  rammar icandosi  di  non  poterlo 
musicare  lui  stesso,  fa  naturalmente  suppore,  com'egli  non 
isperasse  vederlo  da  me  musicato  com’egli  vorrebbe.  Ammetto 
perf ettamente  questo,  lo  ammetto  completamente ,  ed  e  percio  che 
io  mi  rivolgo  a  voi,  al  piu  antico,  al  piu  saldo  amico  di  Boito, 
affinche  quando  ritornera  a  Milano  gli  diciate  a  voce,  non  in 
inscritto,  che  io  senz’ombra  di  r isentimento ,  senza  rancore  di 
sorta  gli  rendo  intatto  il  suo  manoscr itto . "  See  Cesari  and  Luzio, 

I  Copialettere,  p.  324. 

"^"Questa  tema  e  il  mio  libretto  sono  tuoi  a  rigore  di 
conquista.  Tu  solamente  puoi  fare  Otello  musicato.  Tutti 
degli  creazioni  dated  parlano  questa  verita."  Quoted  in  Piero 
Nardi,  Vita  di  Arrigo  Boito  (Verona:  Hondadori,  1942),  p.  494. 

form.  Boito’s  new  "evil  Credo" — un symmetrical  and  in  broken 
metre — delighted  Verdi,  and  he  called  Boito  to  Gant’Agata  late 
in  September  for  three  days  of  discussions..  On  December  9,  Boito 
received  the  message  he  had  been  waiting  for: 

Dear  Boito, 

It  seems  impossible,  and  yet  it  is  true!! 

I  am  busy.  I  am  writing!! 

G.  Verdi22 

The  Otello  score  was  written  in  three  relatively  short 
sessions  of  composition:  the  first  in  March  of  1884,  previous 
to  the  Naples  incident;  the  second  and  most  productive  at  Genoa 
from  December,  1884  to  April,  1885;  and  the  final  session  at 


Sant’Agata  from  the  middle  of  September  to  early  October  of  1885. 
Boito  was  at  Verdi’s  complete  disposal,  a  good  many  of  the  textual 
problems  of  the  opera  being  settled  verbally  at  frequent  meetings 
at  Sant’Agata  and  Genoa.  The  scoring  of  the  opera,  along  with 
some  significant  revisions  in  the  first  act,  occupied  almost 
another  entire  year.  While  Verdi  toiled  over  the  final  details 


Translated  in  Franz  Werfel  and  Paul  Stefan,  ed . ,  Verdi : 

The  Man  in  his  Letters  (New  York:  L.B.  Fischer  Publishing,  1942), 
p.  245. 


See  Frank  Walker,  The  Man  Verdi  (London:  J.M.  Dent  and 
Sons  Ltd.,  1962),  p.  493. 

of  his  orchestration,  Boito  busied  himself  searching  for  a 
suitable  Desdemona  and  discussing  costume  and  scenery  possi¬ 
bilities  with  the  designer  Edel.  In  September,  he  embarked  on  a 
French  translation  of  the  third  and  fourth  acts,  while  his  friend 
du  Locle  began  work  on  the  first  two  acts. 

On  November  1,  1886,  Boito  received  a  short  note  from  Verdi, 
announcing  the  completion  of  Otello . 

Caro  Boito, 

E  finitol 

Salute  a  noi...(ed  anche  a  Lui!!) 



G.  Verdi 

Despite  this  proclamation,  it  seems  that  the  composer  found 
it  necessary  to  revise  the  score  further.  In  a  letter  dated 
December  18,  1886,  Verdi  acknowledges  receipt  of  a  two— line 
revision  of  the  text  for  the  end  of  Iago’s  Act  II  serenade. 

Verdi  went  to  Milan  early  in  January  of  1887  to  supervise 
the  rehearsals  of  Otello .  A  blanket  of  secrecy  was  thrown  over 
the  proceedings.  The  rehearsals  were  absolutely  closed  to  any 
observers  and,  through  his  contract  with  the  theater,  Verdi  had 
reserved  the  right  to  cancel  the  production  even  after  the  final 
dress  rehearsal.  The  cast  included  Francesco  Tamagno  as  Otello, 


See  Cesari  and  Luzio,  I  Copialet tere,  p.  700. 

Romilda  Pantaleoni  as  Desdemona,  the  great  French  baritone  Victor 
Maurel  as  Iago,"^  Giovanni  Paroli  as  Cassio,  Ginerva  Petrovitch  as 
Emilia,  and  Francesco  Navarrini  as  Montano.  Faccio  conducted  the 
premiere  at  La  Scala  on  February  5,  1887. 

While  critical  accounts  of  the  first  performance  were 

cautious,  public  reaction  to  the  new  opera  was  near  frenzy. 

Blanche  Roosevelt,  an  American  singer  and  writer  who  was  in  Milan 

for  the  event,  wrote  a  humorous  account  of  the  Otello  premiere: 

The  scenery,  costumes,  and  orchestra  were  nearly  perfect; 
the  cast  was  certainly  weak.  Victor  Maurel  is  the  only 
real  artist  in  the  opera,  and  he  is  a  Frenchman.  In  voice, 
acting,  appearance,  and  dress  he  is  the  ideal  of  what  an 
operatic  artist  should  be,  and  the  ideal  of  what  any  operatic 
Iago  could  be.  He  sang  as  even  his  best  friends  never  dreamed 
he  could  sing,  and  his  acting  was  the  consummate  work  which 
we  always  have  at  hisk  artistic  hands.  He  entered  at  once 
into  the  fullest  sympathies  of  the  audience,  and  I  could  not 
help  then  and  there  contrasting  the  Iagos  we  have  seen  in 
other  countries  with  the  Iagos  we  always  see  in  Italy.  Iago 
even  seems  a  persona  grata  to  the  public;  the  qualities  which 
raise  a  thrill  of  horror  in  the  righteous  Anglo-Saxon  are 
received  by  this  susceptible  nation  with  placid  contentment 
and  relief.  His  vileness,  ruses,  and  perfidy  are  accepted 
for  their  art,  not  their  nature;  his  ingenious  devices  arouse 
heart-felt  plaudits,  and  let  me  add  that  never  will  you  hear 
a  gallery  god  in  Italy  express  any  disapprobation  with  a 
successful  knave.  Had  Iago  not  succeeded  there  is  every 
reason  to  believe  that  Othello  would  be  left  out  of  the 
Italian  Shakespearian  repertory.  On  noting  his  more  than 
prominence  in  this  opera,  rendered  doubly  so  by  Maurel’ s 
sublime  creation,  I  could  well  understand  Boito’s  and  Verdi's 
inclination  to  call  their  work  Iago ,  and  not  Othello .  Iago 
is  essentially  Italian,  not  in  the  sense  of  vice,  but  of 
artistic  villainy:  he  reasons  from  the  personal  standpoint, 
and  his  reasons  find  a  universal  echo  in  the  land  which  gave 

^Maurel,  renowned  for  his  singing  and  acting  ability,  also 
created  Falstaff  at  Verdi’s  request  in  1893. 

birth  to  such  a  student  of  human  nature  as  Macchiavelli. 

Othello,  you  vri.ll  see,  is  an  inferior  creature,  and  plays 
an  inferior  part. 

Maurel  -will  be  well  remembered  as  one  of  the  most  gifted 
artists  we  have  ever  seen  at  Covent  Garden.  His  Iago  ranks 
with  Nilsson* s  Ophelia — to  my  mind  the  finest  lyric  creation 
on  the  operatic  stage.  His  elegance,  grace,  subtlety,  and 
exquisite  style  in  Iago  find  their  most  perfect  expression. 

I  need  not  refer  to  his  appearance,  the  beau-ideal  of  a 
handsome  Venetian,  whose  years  are  but  "four  times  seven"  and 
whose  graces  in  this  artist's  hands  are  the  climax  of  elegance 
and  histrionic  art.  But  you  will  see  him  in  London,  and  I  am 
sure  will  allow  that  you  have  never  witnessed  or  heard  anything 
to  equal  his  impersonation  of  this  part.  Tamagno,  the  tenor, 
looked  and  acted  Othello,  but  he  did  not  sing — he  bleated. 
Desdemona  has  never  been  a  favorite  of  mine  in  history,  and 
the  present  exponent  of  the  role  suggested  to  me  all  my 
thousand  unavenged  wrongs  laid  at  the  door  of  Brabantio's 
daughter.  Madame  Pantaleoni  is  an  excellent  person,  but  as 
Desdemona  she  ou’ght  to  have  been  suppressed  the  night  before 
at  her  dress  rehearsal.  Her  voice  is  naturally  fine  and 
dramatic,  but  she  has  no  more  knowledge  of  the  pure  art  of 
singing  than  I  have  of  the  real  science  o*f  astronomy.  She  has 
a  vile  emission  of  tone  in  the  medium  open  notes;  the  upper 
notes  are  clear,  but  rarely  in  tune.  The  lovely  music  assigned 
to  Othello's  wife  must  have  splendid  resisting  powers  not  to 
have  fallen  flat  in  her  hands  or  throat.  In  appearance  Madame 
Pantaleoni  is  like-wise  unfortunate:  she  is  short,  slightly 
cross-eyed,  and  of  a  physical  plainness,  which  dwarfed  the 
already  insignificant  Desdemona.  She  acted  very  well  in  the 
first  and  third  acts,  but  not  so  well  in  the  last.  Of  the 
other  singers,  I  will  add  that  Petrovitch  as  Emilia  was 
deservedly  hooted;  V.  Fornari  as  Roderigo  was  not  important 
enough  to  help  or  hinder  the  work;  and  M.  Paroli  as  Cassio 
was  a  really  fair  second  tenor;  he,  at  least,  knows  how  to 
sing,  but  Nature  evidently  never  intended  him  to  sing  at 
La  Scala . 

The  ovations  to  Verdi  and  Boito  reached  the  climax  of 
enthusiasm.  Verdi  was  presented  with  a  silver  album  filled 
with  the  autographs  and  cards  of  every  citizen  In  Milan. 

He  was  called  out  twenty  times,  and  at  the  last  calls  hats 
and  handkerchiefs  were  waved,  and  the  house  rose  in  a  body. 

The  emotion  was  something  indescribable,  and  many  wept. 

Verdi's  carriage  was  dragged  by  citizens  to  the  hotel.  He 
was  toasted  and  serenaded;  and  at  five  in  the  morning  I  had 
not  closed  my  eyes  in  sleep  for  the  crowds  still  singing 

and  shrieking  "Viva  Verdi!  viva  Verdi!"  Who  shall  say  that 
this  cry  will  not  re-echo  all  over  the  world?  At  seventy- 
four  this  second  conqueror  may  well  exclaim:  Veni,  vidi, 
vici,  Verdi! 16 

Otello  was  first  performed  in  the  United  States  at  the 
New  York  Academy  of  Music  on  April  16,  1888  with  Francesco  Marconi 
as  the  Moor,  Eva  Tetrazzini  as  Desdemona,  and  Antonio  Galassi  as 
Iago .  Cleofonte  Campanini  conducted.  The  first  London  production 
occurred  at  the  Lyceum  on  July  5,  1889,  conducted  by  Faccio  with 
a  cast  that  included  Tamagno  and  Maurel.  Otello  was  first 
presented  in  Paris  on  the  twelfth  of  October,  1894,  when,  much  to 
Verdi’s  disgust,  he  was  obliged  to  insert  a  ballet  into  Act  III 
between  the  Otello— Iago-Cassio  trio  and  the  finale. 

At  the  age  of  seventy-four,  sixteen  years  after  he  had 
supposedly  given  the  world  his  final  operatic  creation  in  Aida , 
Verdi  had  proven  that  his  musical  genius  was  not  only  still 
very  much  alive,  but  that  it  had  grown  to  incomparable  dramatic 
and  technical  dimensions. 

Historians  generally  acknowledge  Otello  as  the  greatest  of 
Italian  Romantic  operas*  In  it,  Verdi  achieves  the  music-drama 
concept  which  he  had  begun  to  develop  forty  years  earlier  in 
Macbeth .  He  had  successfully  combined  text  and  music  into  one 
entity  with  a  single  purpose — the  dramatic  revelation  of  the  plot. 

"^Blanche  Roosevelt,  Verdi:  Milan  and  "Othello"  (London: 

Ward  and  Downey,  1887),  p.  32-33. 

This,  trend  towards  drama  in  Italian  opera  did  not  originate 
with  Verdi,  but  rather  developed  from  the  operas  of  Mozart, 
Rossini,  Donizetti,  and  Bellini.  Rossini’s  early  retirement 
from  composition  and  the  premature  deaths  of  both  Bellini  and 
Donizetti  kept  them  from  achieving  the  prominence  necessary  to 
shape  operatic  trends.  Verdi,  however,  after  a  career  of  fifty 
years,  had  created  a  work  in  which  the  music  was  continuous  with 
lyrical  moments  arising  from  the  drama  almost  imperceptibly. 

Verdi’s  Otello  is  also  typically  Romantic  in  two  very 
important  literary  aspects.  First,  the  entire  motivation  of  the 
drama  is  based  upon  emotion  rather  than  reason.  Second,  the 
opera  utilizes  nature  as  a  backdrop  to  human  drama,  as  observed 
in  the  scenes  of  storm,  fire,  and  evening  calm  in  the  first  act. 

A  Romantic  theme  recurring  in  many  of  Verdi’s  operas  also 
has  its  finest  illustration  in  Otello — that  being  "that  man  can 
be  immensely  noble  and,  because  of  it,  suffer  a  terrible  fate."^ 

Many  critics  and  observers  accused  Verdi  of  adopting 
Wagnerian  techniques  and  principles  in  his  Otello  score.  On  the 
contrary,  however,  he  had  devised  a  music— drama  that  was  wholly 
Italian  in  style.  Otello  utilizes  the  same  Italian  operatic 
inventions  used  to  excess  by  Rossini,  Donizetti,  Bellini,  and  the 
young  Verdi  himself — the  storm  scene,  the  drinking  song,  the 

See  George  Martin,  Verdi:  His  Music,  Life  and  Times 
(New  York:  Dodd,  Mead  and  Company,  1963),  p.  530. 

-  •  •  : 


victory  chorus,  the  vengeance  aria,  and  the  furtive  prayer  scene. 
In  this  instance,  however,  they  are  so  much  a  part  of  the 
character  and  drama  of  the  piece  that  they  are  not  obtrusive  to 
the  continuity. 

It  must  be  recognized,  too,  that  Otello ,  in  the  true 
Italian  tradition,  is  still  a  singer rs  opera,  not  in  the  sense 
of  the  highly  ornate  bel  canto  works  of  the  early  nineteenth 
century,  but  rather  in  respect  to  the  dramatic  strength  carried 
in  the  vocal  lines.  Even  in  sections  of  dialogue,  the  drama  is 
sung  rather  than  being  musically  spoken,  a  style  adopted  by  many 
German  composers  of  the  day. 

In  Otello ,  Verdi’s  Italianate  melodies  are  supported  by  a 
highly  advanced  and  expanded  orchestral  technique.  The  work,  in 
fact,  represents  the  culmination  of  Verdi’s  orchestration. 

Through  it  he  achieves  a  powerful  dramatic  and  musical  expression 
that  had  been  developing  from  the  very  outset  of  his  career.  The 
following  chapters  will  examine  in  detail  the  evolution  of  Verdi’s 
orchestral  technique  and  the  manner  in  which  he  utilized  that 
technique  for  dramatic  effect. 





Orchestral  music  since  Beethoven  has  undergone  its 
greatest  developments  chiefly  at  the  hands  of  composers 
who  contemplated  music  from  the  standpoint  of  the  theater. 

It  is  true  that  Liszt  wrote  nothing  for  the  theater,  and 
that  Berlioz’s  operas  were  brilliant  failures;  but  the 
fact  remains  that  nearly  everything  that  marks  an  advance 
in  nineteenth-century  orchestral  technique  since 
Beethoven  is  an  advance  in  essentially  dramatic  orche¬ 
stration  and  this  is  in  the  narrow  sense  that  the 
characteristic  orchestral  discoveries  would  be  even  more 
useful  in  an  opera  than  in  a  purely  symphonic  work.^ 

The  importance  of  opera  in  the  history  of  orchestration 

cannot  be  overestimated.  Many  instruments  and  instrumental 

devices  entered  the  realm  of  absolute  music  through  the  operatic 

door.  Monteverdi,  for  instance,  invented  both  the  pizzicato  and 

the  string  tremolo  effects  to  depict  the  sounds  of  battle  in  his 


hybrid  opera  Combat timen to  di  Tancredi  e  Clorinda  in  1624. 

Francis  Tovey,  Essays  in  Musical  Analysis,  Vol.  II  (London 
Oxford  Press,  1935),  p.  9. 


Adam  Carse,  The  History  of  Orchestration  (London:  Kegan 
Paul,  Trench,  Trubner  and  Co.,  Ltd.,  1925);  reprint  edition 
(New  York:  Dover  Publications,  1964),  pp.  47-48. 


Alessandro  Scarlatti  brought  the  horn  into  the  orchestra  for  the 


first  time  in  his  opera  Tigrane  (1715).  Except  for  a  single 

isolated  instance — a  1720  Mass  by  the  Belgian  composer  J.A.J.  Faber 

preserved  in  Antwerp  Cathedral — the  modern  clarinet  was  unused  as 

an  orchestral  instrument  until  Rameau T s  opera  Acante  et  Cephise 

in  1751.  The  English  horn,  greatly  utilized  in  the  Baroque 
opera  and  oratorio  orchestra,  had  fallen  into  disuse  until  1808 
when  it  was  reintroduced  to  the  orchestra  in  a  ballet  score, 
Alexandre  chez  Apelle  by  the  French  composer  Char les-Simon  Cat el. 
From  that  time  on,  the  instrument  appears  in  nearly  every  French 
operatic  and  symphonic  score  of  the  nineteenth  century.^  The 
trombone  had  been  used  in  the  theater  almost  since  the  beginnings 
of  opera.  Its  first  appearance  in  symphonic  literature,  however, 
was  not  until  more  than  two  hundred  years  later  in  the  finale  of 
Beethoven’s  Fifth  Symphony  in  1807 . ^ 

These  few  examples  serve  to  illustrate  the  debt  that  modern 
orchestration  technique  owes  to  operatic  and  theatrical  com¬ 
position.  It  is  significant,  also,  that,  in  each  of  the  three 

Donald  Grout,  A  Short  History  of  Opera,  2nd  edition  (New 
York:  Columbia  University  Press,  1965),  p.  178. 


Cecil  Forsyth,  Orchestration,  2nd  edition  (London:  The 
MacMillan  Press,  1935),  p.  271. 

5Ibid.,  pp.  220-226. 

^ John  Owen  Ward,  ed.  ,  The  Oxford  Companion  to  Music,  10th 
edition  (London:  Oxford  University  Press,  1970),  pp .  1046-1047. 

countries  of  musical  dominance,  the  culmination  of  nineteenth- 
century  orchestration  occurs  in  the  hands  of  predominantly 
operatic  composers.  In  France,  where  a  simple  and  delicate 
orchestral  sonority  had  developed  in  reaction  to  the  musical 
and  cultural  excesses  of  the  Revolutionary  and  Napoleonic  periods. 
Hector  Berlioz  had  come  to  represent  the  pinnacle  of  both 
practical  and  theoretical  orchestration.  In  Germany,  Richard 
Wagner  had  taken  that  country's  natural  affinity  for  counterpoint 
and  orchestral  specialization  and  produced  his  music-dramas  in 
which  the  orchestra  relates  and  explains  the  drama  in  lush, 
extravagant  textures. 

Twenty— five  years  after  the  parallel  developments  in  France 
and  Germany,  nineteenth-century  Italian  orchestration  technique 
culminated  in  the  late  operas  of  Giuseppe  Verdi.  This  late 
development  was  due,  in  part,  to  the  complacency  of  the  Italians 
in  their  position  as  the  undisputed  leaders  in  vocal  composition 
and,  also,  to  the  notoriously  low  standard  of  orchestral  playing 
in  that  country. ^ 

Two  of  the  major  aspects  of  Romantic  music  were  the 
increasing  importance  of  texture  in  musical  expression  and  the 
heightened  meaning  given  to  the  accompaniment  in  vocal  music. 

^Francis  Irving  Travis,  Verdi's  Orchestration  (Zurich: 

Juris,  1956),  p.  14. 

Paul  Henry  Lang,  in  his  Music  in  Western  Civilization,  states 

that,  "The  promotion  of  sonority  to  an  element  of  inspiration 
is  perhaps  the  most  important  single  factor  in  musical 


romanticism.  In  his  comprehensive  study  on  romantic  music, 

the  eminent  German  musicologist  Alfred  Einstein  noted  that, 

"...both  in  song  and  in  opera,  the  Romantics  had  altered  the 

significance  of  the  role  which  the  accompaniment  played  in 


relation  to  the  vocal  parts."  Both  of  these  aspects  are  evident 
in  Verdi Ts  work,  and  because  he  composed  almost  exclusively  in 
the  operatic  genre,  texture  and  accompanimental  considerations 
involve  orchestral  qualities. 

This  chapter  traces  the  development  of  Verdi’s  use  of  the 
orchestra — from  a  simple  harmonic  support  to  its  intense  partici¬ 
pation  in  the  dramatic  expression  of  the  late  operas.^ 


Paul  Henry  Lang,  Music  in  Western  Civilization  (New  York: 
W.W.  Norton,  1941),  p.  865. 


Alfred  Einstein,  Music  in  the  Romantic  Era  (New  York: 

W.W.  Norton,  1947),  p.  35. 

"^Unless  otherwise  stated,  all  observations  on  orchestral 
techniques  in  the  Verdi  operas  are  based  upon  the  author's  study 
of  the  full  orchestral  scores  housed  In  the  Library  of  Congress 
in  Washington,  D.C.  and  the  New  York  City  Public  Library,  and 
upon  examination  of  recorded  materials. 


The  Early  Operas 

The  orchestration  of  Verdi1 s  first  surviving  opera, 

Oberto,  Conte  di  San  Bonifacio  is  not  unskillful.  At  its  best, 
it  is  comparable  to  Donizetti  or  uninspired  Rossini.  The 
unyielding  symmetry  and  squareness  of  melody  and  form  are 
paralleled  by  a  like— wise  methodical  style  of  orchestration. 

The  instruments  are  treated  in  "blocks,"  being  added  to  or 
omitted  from  the  texture  of  the  score  in  their  family  groups 
only.  The  general  aim  of  this  device  is  simply  to  strengthen 
or  weaken  the  volume.  The  only  places  of  orchestral  interest 
occur  in  the  introductions  to  the  acts  and  in  the  interludes. 

The  orchestra  is  completely  undistinguished  when  it  is  associated 
with  the  voice,  becoming  a  simple,  purely  accompanimental  device. 
Verdi,  being  a  "singer Ts  composer,"  was  primarily  concerned  with 
having  the  solo  voice  easily  heard. 

Immediately  visible  in  the  Oberto,  Conte  di  San  Bonifacio 
score  is  the  standard  scheme  of  aria  orchestration  adopted  by  Verd 
from  his  predecessors  Rossini,  Bellini,  and  Donizetti.  A  short 
introduction  presents  the  main  melody  played  by  the  woodwinds. 

With  the  entry  of  the  vocal  line,  the  strings  take  over  the 
accompaniment,  the  woodwinds  thereafter  being  reserved  for 
variations  in  coloration.  This  orchestration  scheme  remained  a 
trademark  of  Verdi’s  compositional  style  for  as  long  as  the  aria 

form  was  used  by  him. 

In  Un  Giorno  di  Regno  (1840),  Verdi  typified  the  opera-buff a 
style  to  which  he  had  been  exposed  in  Busseto  and  Milan.  Quick 
tempi,  much  utilization  of  triple  meter,  repeated  notes,  and  short 
fragmentary  melodies  are  used  to  create  a  light,  playful 
atmosphere.  Also  for  humorous  effect,  Verdi  frequently  employed 
a  heavy  unison  staccato  for  all  the  brass  in  their  lowest  register, 
often  followed  by  a  high— register  string  reply.  Verdi  maintained 
a  general  brightness  and  brilliance  throughout  the  Un  Giorno  di 
Regno  score  through  the  extensive  use  of  the  piccolo.  The  per¬ 
cussion  section  of  the  orchestra  is  overused,  also  in  an  apparent 
attempt  to  produce  comic  effect.  During  the  entire  second  theme 
of  the  overture,  for  instance,  the  triangle  plays  every  eighth- 
note  beat  in  a  context  of  high  woodwinds.  As  it  was  in  Oberto, 
Conte  di  San  Bonifacio,  the  brass  writing  in  Un  Giorno  di  Regno 

tends  to  be  heavy  and  thick,  often  creating  a  cluttered  and 

„ .  „  11 
distorted  texture. 

Un  Giorno  di  Regno  contains  recitatives  with  basso  continuo 
accompaniment.  It  is,  in  fact,  the  only  Verdi  opera  in  which  the 
orchestra  does  not  play  throughout.  Verdi  labelled  the  continuo 
part  as  cembalo  in  some  instances  and  as  pianoforte  in  others. 

The  work  also  contains  recitatives  that  are  string-accompanied. 

Verdi's  orchestral  technique  here  is  not  inferior  to  that 
of  many  of  his  contemporaries,  but,  as  yet,  there  is  little 


Travis,  Verdi's  Orchestration,  p.  21. 




indication  of  the  later  dramatic  sensitivities.  The  voice  is  still 
the  absolute  center  of  attention.  The  orchestra  is  never  allowed 
its  own  expression  or  even  a  counter-melodic  expression.  There  is 
scarcely  a  vocal  accompaniment  in  the  work  that  is  not  a  minimal 
"bass-chord"  support. 

The  most  interesting  technique  displayed  in  this  early  work 
is  Verdi’s  introduction  of  a  solo  instrument  into  the  texture  of 
the  score  to  double  the  voice  part  at  melodic  climaxes.  This 
underlining  device  became  an  important  means  by  which  Verdi  could 
enhance  the  dramatic  significance  of  a  melodic  phrase  in  the 
later  operas. 

Another  orchestral  technique  found  frequently  in  the  later 
works  had  its  birth  in  Un  Giorno  di  Regno.  A  main  theme  is  played 
in  the  orchestra  after  it  has  already  been  introduced  in  the  vocal 
line.  The  voice  then  comments  upon  the  theme.  A  favorite  device 
for  reintroducing  motives  in  the  late  operas,  Verdi  confined  its 
use  in  this  opera  to  the  closing  sections  of  arias. 

Nabucco  (1842)  offers  the  first  signs  of  originality  in 
Verdi’s  orchestration.  Most  impressive  in  the  work  are  the 
coloristic  revelations  which  allow  the  orchestra  greater  partici¬ 
pation  in  the  total  drama.  More  elaborate  accompaniments 
frequently  contain  several  independent  figures  which  combine  to 
produce  dense  orchestral  textures.  For  the  first  time,  Verdi 
seemed  aware  of  the  expressive  possibilities  of  orchestral  color. 

In  Nabucco ,  he  tended  towards  somber  and  melancholy  tonal  shades, 
achieved  primarily  through  the  employment  of  solo  wood'd  id 



combinations.  When  scored  in  a  widely  spaced  texture,  they 
produce  a  hollow  and  mournful  effect  representative  of  the  captive 
Hebrew  people. 

Verdi  obtained  a  delicacy  and  clarity  in  most  of  the  piano 
passages  of  this  opera;  the  forte  sections,  however,  seem  too 
dense  and  too  much  alike  with  the  possible  exception  of  the 
first— act  chorus  of  the  Hebrews.  Here,  an  immense  sweep  of  sound 
expressively  depicts  the  despair,  confusion  and  anger  of  the  Jews 
at  the  capture  and  desecration  of  their  temple  by  the  Babylonians. 

The  dirge— like  processional  music  at  the  beginning  of  the 
final  scene  illustrates  a  new  scoring  technique  for  Verdi.  He 

employed  a  woodwind  melody  in  octaves  over  very  'soft  and  ponderous 
chords  in  the  low  brass.  The  combination  of  this  instrumentation 
and  the  widely  spaced  texture  gives  the  effect  of  spent  effort  and 
lack  of  further  resistance  from  the  captive  race. 

Orchestral  excitement  is  attained  at  various  points 

throughout  the  work  through  the  frequent  utilization  of  the 


string  tremolo  and  extended  use  of  brass  band a  sonorities. 

Undoubtedly  the  most  famous  number  in  Nabucco  is  the  third- 
act  chorus  "Va,  pensiero,  sull’ali  dorate."  Much  of  the  success 
of  this  piece  must  be  attributed  to  the  appeal  of  its  orchestral 
setting.  In  the  overture  to  the  opera,  the  main  theme  in 
triple  meter  Is  presented  as  a  contrast  to  a  fortissimo  allegro 

In  nineteenth-century  Italian  opera,  banda  most  often 
refers  to  the  brass  band  which  is  used  on  the  stage  or  behind 
the  scene. 

.  ■ 


section.  Here  the  setting  is  simple,  the  melody  played  by 
clarinets  and  oboes  in  octaves  above  pizzicato  strings  sounding  on 

beats  one  and  two.  Its  return,  following  the  contrasting  middle 

section  of  the  overture,  is  amplified  by  having  the  trumpets  join 

the  oboes  and  clarinets  on  the  melody  over  a  triplet— embellished 

version  of  the  pizzicato  string  accompaniment.  The  actual  chorus, 

in  Act  III,  scene  11,  employs  a  full,  lush  orchestration.  The 

choral  melody  is  doubled  by  the  first  violins,  cellos,  solo  oboe, 

two  clarinets,  and  two  bassoons  with  a  "bass— chord— chord" 


accompaniment  in  the  double  basses,  cimbasso ,  violas,  and  four 
horns.  In  addition,  a  broken— chord  figure  in  sextuplets  is  played 
by  the  second  violins. 

Verdi’s  next  work,  I  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata,  was 
premiered  at  La  Scala  in  1843,  and  shows  few  new  signs  of  his 
development  as  an  orchestrator .  In  respect  to  the  texture  of 
Verdi’s  orchestration,  however,  Giselda’s  "Salve  Maria"  from  Act  I 
is  of  interest.  The  aria  is  an  excellent  example  of  a  particular 
accompaniment  sonority  which  would  eventually  produce  some  of  the 
most  expressive  and  dramatic  moments  in  La  Traviata,  Un  Ballo  in 
Ma sc her a.  La  Forza  del  Destino,  Aida ,  and  Ot ello .  The  texture  is 

This  term  originally  referred  to  the  narrow— bore  Italian 
tuba  in  B— flat.  It  is  found  frequently,  in  Italian  operatic  scores 
and  has  come  to  represent  the  lowest  brass  instrument,  usually  the 
bass  trombone  or  tuba.  See  Sibyl  Marcuse,  Musical  Instruments:  A 
Comprehensive  Dictionary  (New  York:  W.W.  Norton,  1975),  p.  102. 

.  . 

characterized  by  sustained  strings  in  the  middle  and  upper 

registers.  The  violins  are  d iv i s i  in  four  parts,  two  players  to 

a  part,  with  violas  and  cellos  entering  a  few  measures  after  the 

beginning  of  the  aria.  Light,  graceful  arpeggi,  played  first  by 


the  clarinet  and  then  by  the  flute,  punctuate  the  vocal  line. 

Part  way  through  the  aria,  the  strings  become  silent  and  the 
flute  and  clarinet  are  left  to  accompany  the  voice  in  a  brief 
trio,  followed  by  the  re-entry  of  the  strings.  The  entire 
accompaniment,  with  its  sustained  ethereal  quality,  scarcely  goes 
below  middle  C. 

A  further  orchestral  innovation  in  I  Lombardi  alia  Prima 
Crociata  is  Verdi’s  use  of  a  solo  violin  in  the  prelude  to  the 
third  act.  This  is  actually  an  "aria"  for  violin  consisting  of 
a  primary  lyrical  section  followed  by  a  section  of  virtuosic 
embellishment . 

The  final  point  of  interest  in  the  orchestration  of 
I  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata  is  the  restraint  the  composer 

Andrew  Porter,  in  the  notes  accompanying  the  Philips 
recording  of  I  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata  (6703  032) ,  points 
out  that  the  woodwind  flourishes  here  are  a  direct  quotation 
from  the  Willow  Song  in  Rossini’s  Otello  (1816)  . 

displayed  in  the  last  measures  of  the  opera.  He  ignored  the 
tradition  of  concluding  the  work  with,  the  usual  allegro  alternation 
of  dominant  and  tonic  chords.  instead,  he  dramatically  maintained 
a  majestic  andante  through  a  long  crescendo  to  the  end  of  the  opera 
thus  retaining  the  expressive  character  of  the  opera’s  solemn  final 
sc ene. 

The  orchestra  of  Ernani  (1844)  is  most  impressive  for  its 
coloristic  mood  setting  of  the  underground  tomb  of  Charlemagne  in 
the  prelude  to  the  third  act.  Verdi  achieved  this  atmosphere  with 
a  melody  in  G  minor  played  by  a  solo  bass  clarinet,  accompanied 
chordally  by  two  bassoons.  The  texture  of  the  scoring  is  simple 
and  transparent;  yet,  when  coupled  with  the  haunting  quality  of 
the  low  woodwinds,  the  dramatic  effectiveness  is  undeniable.  In 
general,  the  aria  accompaniments  of  Ernani  display  much  more 
delicacy  than  those  in  any  of  the  earlier  works.  Most  important, 
however,  is  the  increased  sense  of  orchestral  timing.  There  is  a 
heightened  feeling  of  dramatic  unity  here  because  changes  in 
orchestral  texture  coincide  with  shifts  of  dramatic  action  in  the 
opera.  The  best  illustration  of  this  concept  in  Ernani  is  to  be 
found  in  the  short  postlude  to  Carlo’s  third  act  aria  "Oh,  de’ 
verd’anni  miei."  As  Carlo  descends  slowly  into  the  tomb,  the  final 
melodic  phrase  of  the  aria  is  repeated  by  the  full  woodwind  section 
followed  by  the  last  two  measures  of  the  theme  played  by  high  winds 
alone,  and  finally  by  pizzicato  strings.  This  gradual  thinning  of 
the  texture  along  with  the  application  of  a  continuous  diminu endo 

reflects  aurally  what  is  happening  visually  on  the  stage. 

Also  in  Ernani,  melodies  with  a  particular  significance  in 
the  plot  are  embedded  further  into  the  overall  drama  through  their 
utilization  in  the  orchestra.  Ernani,  in  fact,  contains  what  might 
be  considered  Verdi’s  first  employment  of  the  Leitmotiv  ideal,  the 
music  associated  with  Ernani.’ s.  horn  occurring  in  the  prelude  and 
the  second  and  fourth  acts.^ 

I  Due  Foscarl  (1844)  is  noted  for  its  use  of  solo  winds — 
not  in  combinations  as  in  Nabucco ,  but  as  individual  instruments. 

In  the  overture,  for  instance,  the  solo  flute  and  the  solo  clarinet 
present  short,  independent  themes  associated  with  particular 
characters  in  the  opera.  Each  of  these  character  motives  returns 
in  the  work  and  is  played  by  the  same  instrument . 

The  greatest  single  advance  in  I  Due  Foscari,  however,  is 
Verdi’s  growing  ability  to  create  a  mood  through  the  orchestration. 
Charles  Osborne,  in  his  study  of  this  opera,  acknowledges  the 
"shadowy  gloom  which  predominates  throughout  the  opera"^  and  states 
that  "the  darkly  pessimistic  orchestral  colour  never  seems  merely 
applied  to  the  vocal  line,  but  it  is  used  as  an  intrinsic  element 
in  the  sound  texture."^  As  was  the  case  with  Ernani ,  this 

Francis  Toye,  Giuseppe  Verdi:  His  Life  and  Works  (New  York: 
Alfred  A.  Knopf  Inc.,  1931);  reprint  edition  (New  York:  Vintage 
Books,  1959),  p.  243. 

"^Osborne,  Operas ,  p.  100. 


Ibid .  ,  p .  104 . 


atmosphere  is  developed  primarily  through  the  use  of  thin  textures 

and  low  woodwind  sonorities.  The  final  entrance  of  the  "Council 

of  Ten"  in  Act  Til  of  the  opera  is  a  fine  example  of  this  dark  and 

solemn  mood— painting .  The  entire  accompaniment  for  the  processional 

consists  of  a  clarinet  and  a  bassoon  in  low  register  with  the 

occasional  interpolation  of  cello  and  bass  pizzicato . 

Verdi’s  next  opera  Giovanna  d’Arco  of  1845  offers  little  new 

orchestrally  with,  the  exception  of  the  delicate  writing  for  solo 

woodwind  combinations  in  the  Andante  Pastorale  section  of  the 

overture  and  in  the  accompaniment  to  Giovanna ’s  Romanza  in  the 

garden  at  Rheims  in  Act  I,  scene  ii. 

Unfortunately  prominent  in  this  opera  is  the  exceptionally 

poor  quality  of  the  choral  accompaniment.  In  the  prologue  of  the 

opera,  for  instance,  Verdi  presented  his  audience  with  a  coro  di 


spiriti  malvagi  ("chorus  of  demons")  accompanied  by  harmonium 

and  triangle,  and  a  coro  di  spiriti  eletti  ("chorus  of  angels") 


supported  simply  by  harp  and  accordion. 

A  free— reed  keyboard  instrument  using  wind  under  pressure 
supplied  by  compression  bellows  (as  opposed  to  suction  bellows 
as  in  the  American  organ) .  The  harmonium  was  invented  by 
Alexandre-Francois  Debain  in  Paris  in  1840.  Gee  Marcuse, 

Musical  Instruments,  p.  228. 


The  accordion,  invented  in  1822  in  Berlin  by  Friedrich 
Buschmann,  had  become  the  instrument  of  the  common  man  in  Italy 
by  the  1830’s.  Like  the  harmonium,  Verdi's  utilization  of  it 
was  primarily  due  to  its  popularity  with  the  general  public. 

See  ibid . ,  p .  2 . 



In  August  of  1845,  Verdi’s,  eighth  opera  Alzira  was  given 
its  first  production  in  Naples.  The  opera  is  generally  considered 
to  be  the  composer’s  least  successful  work,  primarily  because  of 
the  haste  in  which  it  was  written — less  than  one  month-  Here, 

Verdi  retained  the  block  orchestration  technique  with  the  orchestra 
regressing  to  a  purely  accompanimental  function.  Percussion  and 
brass  elements  are  greatly  over-used  in  music  and  textures  that 
seem  oblivious  to  the  dramatic  intention.  Only  in  the  overture, 
which  opens  exotically  with  woodwinds  and  drums  alone,  and  in  the 
full— textured ,  almost  symphonic  introduction  to  Act  II,  scene  ii 
does  one  find  any  orchestral  interest  in  the  piece  at  all. 

The  overture  to  Attila  (1846)  marks  a  milestone  in  the 
development  of  Verdi's  orchestral  technique.  Here  are  found  the 
first  extended  passages  of  intense  string  writing,  the  forerunners 
of  the  highly  expressive  sonorities  of  La  Traviata,  La  Forza  del 
Destino ,  and  Aida .  First  and  second  violins  join  in  a  lush 
divisi  texture  which  spans  three  octaves.  The  accompaniments  of 
the  opera  represent  Verdi’s  most  transparent  and  delicate  supports 
to  date. 

The  orchestral  score  of  Alzira  exists  only  in  Verdi's 
manuscript  and  the  author’s  observations  of  the  orchestration  of 
this  work  are  based  on  Charles  Osborne’s  study  of  the  original 
score,  housed  in  Archivio  Storico  Ricordi  in  Milan.  See  Osborne, 
Operas ,  pp.  121-130. 

Attila  also  signals  the  beginning  of  a  breakdown  in  the 

block  technique  of  orchestration.  Instruments  are  no  longer 
exclusively  associated  with  their  families  in  accompanimental 
responsibilities.  Rather,  they  achieve  independent  functions  in 
conjunction  with  a  variety  of  sonorities  within  the  texture  of 
the  score. 

With  I  Masnadieri  of  1847,  Verdi  began  to  fill  out  and  give 
contour  to  his  score  through  the  use  of  the  orchestra.  This  he 
achieved  primarily  through  two  methods,  both  of  which  employ  the 
woodwinds . 

The  first  method  concerns  the  addition  of  a  melody-doubling 
instrument,  usually  of  a  woodwind,  to  emphasize  the  shape  of  a 
phrase.  Verdi  had  already  utilized  this  device  in  a  rudimentary 
form  in  his  earlier  works,  but  here  it  is  more  than  a  purely 
musical  technique.  In  I  Masnadieri,  for  the  first  time,  he  used 
this  method  in  direct  relation  to  the  dramatic  emphasis  of  the 
text.  The  second  innovation  involves  the  entrance  of  woodwind 
instruments  at  focal  points  in  the  vocal  line  in  order  to  close 
off  and  highlight  important  phrases  with  a  woodwind— colored 
cadence.  In  both  techniques,  the  woodwinds  comment  on  and 
accentuate  the  dramatic  possibilities  of  the  melody  and  the 
related  text . 

Other  new  orchestral  features  found  in  I  Masnadieri  include 
the  excited  staccato  upwards  arpeggi  as  Francesco  enters  at  the 

beginning  of  Act  IV,  terrified  by  the  dream  he  has  just  had,  and 

the  thick,  mysterious  chords  in  the  low  brass  and  bassoons 
accompanying  his  recounting  of  that  dream  to  Arminio  in  the  same 
act . 

Of  Verdi’s  next  opera,  II  Corsaro,  written  in  Paris  during 

the  winter  of  1847-48,  Francis  Toye  says,  "It  is  perhaps  the  only 

opera  In  which  Verdi  was  definitely,  if  not  deliberately,  false 

to  his  fine  ideals  of  craftsmanship.  It  possesses,  however,  the 


merit  of  extreme  brevity." 

Musically  and  dramatically,  II  Corsaro  leaves  much  to  be 

desired;  but  as  the  1966  revival  at  St.  Pancras  in  London 

illustrated,  some  sections  of  the  score  contain  music  of  high 

quality.  For  instance,  CorradoTs  aria  "Tutto  parea  sorridere," 
which  opens  the  opera,  indicates  a  further  development  in  Verdi’s 
dramatic  utilization  of  the  orchestra.  Following  the  first  verse 
of  the  aria,  the  main  theme  is  given  to  the  strings  while  the 
voice  punctuates  the  melody  with  complete  phrases  of  recitative 
commentary,  reinforcing  the  emotional  expressions  of  the  first 
vocal  verse.  This  is  the  first  example  in  Verdi’s  music  of  this 
technique  using  full-phrased  narrative  recitative  in  the  vocal 
part.  It  developed  directly  from  the  one—  or  two— word  Inter¬ 
jections  over  a  main  theme  employed  earlier  in  Un  Giorno  di  Regno. 


Toye,  Verdi,  p.  279. 


Osborne,  Operas ,  p.  186. 

Throughout  the  opera  are  various  examples  of  fine  orchestral 
writing.  The  prelude  to  the  opera,  for  instance,  as  well  as  the 
Act  I,  scene  ii  aria  for  Medora  illustrate  the  composer rs  con¬ 
tinuing  refinement  of  high  d ivisi  string  sonorities. 

La  Battaglia  di  Legnano,  premiered  in  Rome  in  January  of 
1849,  marks  the  end  of  Verdi’s  early  developmental  period.  The 
opera’s  self-contained  overture,  one  of  the  finest  Verdi  ever 
wrote,  displays  delicate  conciseness,  orchestrally  and  harmonically 
In  La  Battaglia  di  Legnano,  Verdi  clearly  reverted  to  the  use  of 
woodwind  and  brass  sonorities  as  dramatic  elements,  as  he  had  done 
so  effectively  in  Ernani  and  I  Due  Foscari. 

The  composer’s  entire  orchestral  technique  is  here  enhanced 
by  the  employment  of  a  greater  variety  of  dynamic  levels  and 
textures.  Throughout  the  work,  there  Is  a  constant  strengthening 
and  dilution  of  the  orchestration,  directly  related  to  the  dramatic 
situation . 

Also  noticeable  in  this  score  is  a  heightened  awareness  of 
coloristic  possibilities  for  the  recitative  accompaniments.  This 
is  particularly  evident  In  Arrigo’s  jealousy  recitative  ME  vero?. . 
sei  d’altri?...”  preceding  his  Act  I,  scene  ii  duet  with  Lida. 

The  use  of  forte  brass  and  low  winds  is  an  obvious  forerunner  of 
Iago ’ s  "Credo"  in  Otello .  Here,  however,  the  dramatic  effect  is 
soon  destroyed  by  the  trivial  "stock"  duet  form  that  foJ lows  the 
recitative . 

The  orchestral  introduction  to  Act  III,  scene  i  in  the 
crypt  of  Milan  Cathedral  displays  the  same  highly  effective 




sonorities  as  in  the  third  act  of  Ernani.  This  subdued  Andante 
sostenuto  section  makes  extensive  use  of  thin  textures  and  the 
unearthly  quality  of  low,  sustained  brass  instruments  alone. 

The  Middle  Period 

On  December  8,  1849,  Verdi’s  Luisa  Miller  was  premiered  in 
Naples.  This  work,  and  more  specifically  Act  III,  is  considered 
by  most  Verdi  scholars  to  mark  the  beginning  of  the  composer’s 
mature  compositional  period.  Luisa  Miller  displays  a  greater 
freedom  of  structure  in  recitative  and  transitional  sections  and 
the  start  of  a  breakdown  in  conventional  aria  and  ensemble  forms. 
This  movement  away  from  traditional  patterns  is  due  to  Verdi’s 
increasing  sensitivity  to  the  dramatic  possibilities  in  the  music 
and  the  realization  that  the  drama  was  not  always  best  served  by 
rigid  models. 

The  opera  also  finds  the  composer  utilizing  further  the 
dramatic  powers  of  the  orchestra  in  respect  to  instrumental  color, 
texture,  and  dynamics.  The  entire  work  is  pervaded  by  an  atmosphere 
of  pastoral  tranquillity.  Orchestrally ,  this  docile  and  peasant- 
like  mood  is  portrayed  through  the  use  of  simple  woodwind  and 
string  sonorities  in  chordal  textures.  The  solo  clarinet,  in 
particular,  becomes  a  symbol  of  the  peacefulness  and  contentment 
of  country  life. 

The  Luisa  Miller  score  is,  by  comparison  with  other  Verdi 
works,  quite  plentiful  in  purely  orchestral  effects,  comparable 





in  this  respect  only  to  Aida,  and  Falstaf f .  Backstage  chimes 
are  utilized  to  depict  the  tolling  of  the  village  clock  in 
Act  I,  scene  i,  while  small  orchestral  hells  sound  as  the  clock 
in  the  Miller’s  cottage  in  the  final  scene  of  the  opera.  Act  I, 
scene  iii  opens  with  two  horns  backstage,  indicating  the 
activities  of  the  huntsmen  in  the  woods.  Off-stage  organ, 
illustrating  the  proximity  of  the  village  church,  and  string 
tremolo  figures,  which  open  the  final  scene  of  the  work,  provide 
a  mournful  foreboding  of  the  tragic  demise  of  the  lovers.  This 
scene  is  in  fact  an  almost  exact  parallel  of  the  closing  scene 
of  Otello ,  still  some  thirty— eight  years  away.  Following  a 
prayer  scene  for  the  heroine,  a  brief  orchestral  section  accom¬ 
panies  the  entrance  of  the  jealous  lover  who  believes  that  his 
lady  has  been  unfaithful  to  him.  Enraged,  he  kills  her, 
realizing  only  too  late  that  he  has  been  deceived  and  that  the 
woman  was  innocent.  The  dramatic  similarities  between  the  two 
scenes  are  obvious,  and  regarding  texture  and  the  use  of  coloristic 
effects,  one  can  perceive  here  the  seeds  that  would  develop  in 
1887  into  one  of  the  greatest  scenes  in  all  opera. 

This  scene  is  a  fine  example  of  dramatic  situation  portrayed 
through  the  implementation  of  the  orchestra.  From  the  abrupt, 
heavily  accented  low  string  phrases  that  punctuate  Rodolfo’s 
accusations  and  the  feeble  woodwind  ’’sighs"  that  accompany  Luisa’s 


Travis,  Verdi’s  Orchestration,  p.  26. 


admissions,  of  guilt,  to  the  four  ominous  bass  clarinet  figures 

heard  as  Luisa  drinks  the  poisoned  wine  and  the  terrible  timpani 

strokes  at  the  end  of  this  action,  the  orchestra  is  used  to  relate 

the  conflict  and  frustration  of  the  lovers.  As  the  final  trio 

begins,  a  triplet  string  figure  symbolizes  the  poison  and  soft 


woodwind  arpeggi  indicate  the  ebbing  of  Luisa’s  life. 

In  Rigoletto  (1851) ,  Verdi  continued  the  process  he  had 
begun  in  the  final  act  of  Luisa  Miller — a  move  towards  opening 
the  closed  forms  of  nineteenth-century  Italian  opera.  In  this 
work,  more  than  ever  before,  he  utilized  orchestral  devices  in 
direct  relationship  to  the  dramatic  features  they  represent.  Verdi 
followed  the  concept  that  with  each  change  of  dramatic  situation 
there  must  be  a  consequent  change  in  sound — either  a  new  harmony, 
a  new  melodic  figure,  a  different  dynamic  treatment,  a  fresh 
instrumental  color,  or  a  combination  of  any  of  these  characteristics 

Block  orchestration  is  minimized  in  Rigoletto ,  and,  as  a 
result,  solo  instruments  are  used  independently  for  their  coloristic 
effect.  An  example  of  this  is  the  addition  of  a  solo  English  horn 
in  the  second  section  of  Rigoletto* s  famous  Act  II  aria  "Cortigiani, 
vil  razza."  This  instrument,  with  its  melancholy  and  mournful  tone, 
accompanies  the  pleading  vocal  line  in  thirds  with  an  accompaniment 
of  pizzicato  violins,  violas,  and  basses  playing  on  the  first  and 


Vincent  Godefroy,  The  Dramatic  Genius  of  Verdi:  Studies 
of  Selected  Operas,  Vol.  I  (London:  Victor  Gollancz  Ltd.,  1975), 
p.  185. 


third  heats  of  each  measure  and  an  arpeggiated  sextuplet  figure 
played  by  solo  cello. 

In  the  third  act  of  the  opera,  Verdi  made  effective  use 
of  a  single  oboe  in  the  dialogue  between  Rigoletto  and  the 
assassin  Sparafucile  where  they  plan  the  murder  of  the  Duke 
("Venti.  scudi  hai  tu  detto?")  .  Another  particularly  effective 
use  of  solo  instruments  is  found  in  the  Act  I,  scene  ii  duet  sung 
by  the  same  characters.  Here,  two  dark  solo  voices — bass  and 
baritone — converse  in  recitative— like  phrases  while  solo  cello 
and  solo  double  bass,  both  muted,  play  a  unison  melody,  accompanied 
softly  with  chords  played  by  clarinets,  bassoons,  violas,  cellos, 
and  double  basses. 

The  majority  of  solo  instrumental  treatment  in  this  work, 
however,  is  exercised  in  an  orchestration  technique  new  to  Verdi. 

In  works  before  Rigoletto ,  the  composer  had  employed  the  orchestra 
in  the  description  of  isolated  dramatic  actions  or  physical 
settings.  In  Rigoletto ,  however,  Verdi  introduced  particular 
orchestral  qualities  and  associated  them  with  specific  individuals 
or  objects  throughout  the  entire  opera. 

In  the  case  of  the  title  character,  Verdi  manipulated  string 
sonorities  into  the  various  phases  of  Rigoletto' s  personality. 

The  dark,  twisting  string  figures  that  accompany  his  first  act 
soliloquy  "Pari  siamo!"  indicate  the  bent  body  and  mind  of  '  e 
jester.  As  he  mocks  the  Duke  in  "Questo  padrone  mio,"  the 
accompaniment  takes  on  a  playful  and  sarcastic  nature  through  the 


utilization  of  low  string  pizzicati .  Rigoletto's  feelings  of  loss 
and  yearning  following  the  abduction  of  his  daughter  are  indicated 
in  the  "sobbing"  violin  figure  at  his  entrance  in  the  second  act, 
and  imitated  in  his  first  vocal  line  of  that  scene,  "La  ra,  la  ra." 
The  turbulent  string  introduction  to  his  enraged  "Cortigiani" 
builds  to  an  orchestral  tu tti  and  then,  as  he  breaks  down  in 
humiliation,  reverts  to  a  simple,  chordal  string  accompaniment 
in  the  subdued  and  desperate  second  section  of  the  aria.  In  the 
duet  "Tutte  le  feste  al  tempio"  reuniting  father  and  daughter,  his 
phrases  of  consolation  are  supported  by  a  string-dominated  tutti . 

In  the  final  act  of  the  work,  when  the  Duke  is  heard  singing  in 
the  distance,  Verdi  utilized  an  excited  string  tremolo  to  depict 

the  pounding  heart  of  Rigoletto,  who  had  thought  his  opponent 

,  ,  25 

dead  . 

Throughout  the  opera,  the  character  of  Gilda  is  associated 
with  sold  flute  and  high,  light  string  sonorities,  first  heard  in 
her  Act  I,  scene  ii  aria  "Caro  nome."  Here  solo  flute  trills, 
solo  violin,  and,  muted  divisi  solo  violins  (marked  pppp)  represent 
the  girl's  innocence  and  naivete.  In  the  Act  II  duet  "Tutte  le 
feste  al  tempio,"  Gilda's  pleas  for  her  father's  forgiveness  are 
doubled  by  the  flute  and  underlined  by  light,  detached  string 
chords.  In  the  famous  Act  III  quartet  "Bella  figlia  dell'amore," 
Gilda's  vocal  line  is  doubled  by  flute,  first  violins,  .and  solo 


Ibid.,  p.  221. 


oboe.  In  the  opera’s  final  duet,  as  Gilda  dies  in  her  father’s 
arms  ("Lassu  in  cielo") ,  the  flute  plays  a  repeated  arpeggiated 
figure  indicating  the  girl’s  dying  breaths. 

The  other  major  orchestral  characterization  in  Rigoletto 
is  the  curse  of  Monterone.  Verdi:  used  low  brass  and  woodwinds 
to  denote  the  curse  placed  upon  Rigoletto  and  the  Duke.  The  theme 
Is  first  played  by  solo  trumpet  and  trombone  in  the  prelude  to  the 
opera,  and  then  again  in  Act  I,  scene  i  during  the  actual  curse 
by  Monterone.  Verdi  then  proceeded  to  incorporate  the  dark, 
fateful  quality  of  the  brass  and  winds  into  the  score  whenever 
any  reference  to  the  curse  occurs. 

Special  orchestral  effects  are  less  numerous  in  Rigoletto 
than  they  are  in  Luisa  Miller.  The  onstage  string  orchestra  of 
Act  I,  scene  i,  the  orchestral  tutt i  reinforcements  of  Rigoletto’ s 
eight  knocks  on  Sparafucile’ s  door,  and  the  two-fold  chiming  of 
the  town  clock  in  Act  III  are  examples  of  such  devices,  utilized 
purely  for  dramatic  effect. 

Undoubtedly,  the  most  important  orchestral  characterization 
in  the  opera  is  the  famous  Act  III  storm  scene.  Here,  Verdi 
employed  a  variety  of  instrumental  effects  to  produce  a  highly 
dramatic  presentation  of  the  tempest.  Tremolando  strings  give 
the  impression  of  uneasiness  and  the  impending  storm.  Verdi 

wrote  fragmentary  scale  passages,  for  the  flute  and  piccolo  tv 
portray  the  flashes  of  lightning.  The  bass  drum  produces  the 


distant  rumbling  of  thunder  and  a  thunder  sheet  is  added  to  the 

score  as  the  storm  strikes  with  all  its  fury.  The  ferocity  of 

the  scene  is  increased  by  the  inclusion  of  percussive  brass  and 

woodwind  parts  and  churning  strings.  A  non— orchestral  contributor 


to  this  atmosphere  is  the  male  chorus  bocca  chiusa  representing 
the  howling  of  the  wind. 

The  basic  orchestral  forces  and  techniques  in  Verdi’s  next 
opera  11  Trovatore  (1853)  closely  parallel  those  of  Rigoletto . 

The  solemn,  martial  atmosphere  of  II  Trovatore  is  effectively 
portrayed  by  the  orchestra  in  the  opening  measures  of  the  work. 

A  triple  roll  of  timpani  and  bass  drum,  a  descending  fanfare  for 
tutti  orchestra,  and  echo— like  fanfare  figures  for  solo  horn  and 
then  solo  trumpet  establish  the  mood  for  the  dramatic  prologue 
to  the  opera.  Solo  clarinet  and  solo  bassoon  predominate  in  the 
scoring  of  this  narration  by  Ferrando,  and  the  use  of  sequential 
and  chromatic  movement  provides  the  appropriate  mood  for  his  story 
of  gypsies,  witchcraft,  and  murder. 

Verdi  employed  a  "slithering"  chromatic  figure  in  the 
woodwinds  and  strings  in  the  short  postlude  to  Ferrando ’s  aria 

2  6 

This  is  a  large  rectangular  sheet  of  thin  metal,  usually 
tin  or,  more  recently,  aluminum  which,  when  struck  by  a  mallet, 
effectively  reproduces  the  sound  of  thunder. 


Humming  with  a  closed  mouth. 

"Abbletta  zingara,"  thereby  adding  to  the  ominous  atmosphere  of 
the  scene.  With  the  abrupt  interruption  of  the  offstage  chiming 
of  the  village  clock,  Ferrando  and  his  guards  scatter  in  fear, 
and  Verdi  incorporated  an  agitated  tutt i  to  depict  their  hysteria 
followed  by  a  gradual  diminuendo  and  thinning  of  the  orchestral 
texture  portraying  their  flight  into  the  distance. 

One  of  the  most  vivid  orchestral  descriptions  in  this  opera 
is  that  of  the  Act  XI,  scene  i  gypsy  camp.  Verdi  scored  the 
short  orchestral  opening  for  strings  and  woodwinds  alone, 
omitting  the  brass  and  lending  a  Bohemian  feeling  to  the  scene. 

A  strongly  rhythmic  folk— like  melody,  highly  ornamented  with 
trills,  is  played  in  octaves  and  unisons.  An  additional  gypsy¬ 
like  element  in  the  orchestra  is  Verdi’s  inclusion  of  the  triangl 
The  scene  quickly  builds  to  the  famous  "Anvil  Chorus,"  in  which 

the  composer  employs  a  tutti  of  eighteen  different  instruments. 


Verdi  called  for  martelli  sulle  incudini,  tuned  in  octaves,  to 
secure  the  rhythm  of  the  piece.  Though  simplistic  by  comparison, 
one  cannot  help  but  think  of  Wagner’s  Nibelheim  and  the  anvils  of 
Alberich’s  domain,  still  sixteen  years  away.  Half-way  through 
this  chorus,  Verdi  introduced  the  character  of  Azucena  in  the 
mysterious  E  minor  "Stride  la  vampa . "  This  aria  parallels  the 


Literally  translated  as  "hammers  on  the  anvils."  Ve.  li 
asks  for  paired  anvils  tuned  in  octaves  to  C,  although  no 
specific  number  of  anvil  pairs  is  indicated. 

Act  I  narrative  of  Ferrando  in  respect  to  form  and  tonality.  Its 
greater  dramatic  success,  however,  is  primarily  due  to  the 
composer’s  handling  of  the  orchestra.  In  Ferrando ?s  aria,  Verdi 
utilized  a  full— textured  accompaniment,  while  in  "Stride  la  vampa," 
he  supported  the  voice  with  more  economy.  The  simple  waltz  rhythm 
is  played  by  the  cellos  and  double  basses  while  the  vocal  line  is 
doubled  by  the  first  violins,  complete  with  ornamentation.  In  the 
middle  section  of  each  verse,  this  doubling  line  is  replaced  by 
soft,  sustained  chords  in  the  clarinets  and  bassoons.  At  the  end 
of  each  verse  the  voice  executes  a  four-measure  trill  doubled  by 
bassoons,  while  paired  clarinets  play  a  chromatic  figure  in  minor 
thirds . 

Following  the  departure  of  the  gypsies,  Azucena  relates  the 
horror  of  her  past  to  Manrico,  accompanied  by  violins  and  a  solo 
oboe.  As  she  tells  of  the  tragic  events  of  her  youth  in  frantic 
phrases  of  recitative,  Verdi  inserted  woodwind  and  staccato  string 
"flickers"  into  the  score,  representing  flames.  The  violins  divide 
and  play  the  "Stride  la  vampa"  theme  as  Azucena  recalls  her  mother’s 
death  at  the  stake.  As.  she  screams  for  vengeance,  a  fortissimo 
orchestral  tuttl  is  heard,  followed  immediately  by  a  sudden 
diminuendo  to  a  pianissimo  pulsation  in  the  cellos  and  double 
basses.  Verdi,  through  the  frequent  alternation  between  full 
for tissimo  textures  and  quiet,  brooding  string  sonorities  drama¬ 
tically  portrayed  the  instability  of  the  woman’s  mind. 

In  addition  to  the  anvils  and  chimes,  Verdi  employed  two 
other  special  dramatic  sound  effects.  The  first  is  the  offstage 



harp  which  represents,  the  lute  accompanying  Manrico’s  distant 
serenade  in  the  first  act  of  the  opera.  The  other  is  the  Act  II 
offstage  horn  which  signals  RuizTs  entrance  into  the  gypsy  camp. 

Another  notable  dramatic  effect  is  produced  in  the  Act  III 

interrogation  of  Azucena  by  di  Luna.  To  the  Count’s  question 

"Ove  vai?"  she  replies  "Nol  so."  She  then  continues  to  answer 

in  fragmentary  phrases,  but  is  constantly  interrupted  by  the 

strings  as  though  she  is  hesitating,  thinking  of  what  to  say  next. 

This  same  device  can  be  found  thirty— four  years  later  following 

the  Cassio— Montano  brawl  in  Act  I  of  Otello .  Iago,  asked  by 

Otello  what  the  disturbance  is  about,  answers  "Non  so."  He  then 

explains  the  situation,  again  interrupted  by  short  string  figures 


symbolizing  his  evil  intentions. 

An  almost  Wagnerian  technique  is  evident  in  the  scoring  of  II 
Tr ovatore ’ s  Act  IV,  scene  i  Miserere.  In  Act  III,  Manrico  warns 
Leonora  that  the  fortress  is  to  be  attacked  at  dawn,  and  she  fears 
for  their  impending  marriage.  A  pianissimo  melody  played  by  the 
cellos  and  double  basses  accompanies  her  words  of  concern.  Then 
in  the  Act  IV  Miserere,  the  same  theme,  with  the  much  stronger 
dramatic  implication  of  full  orchestra,  underlies  her  words  "Quel 
suon,  quelle  preci,  solenni  funeste,"  effectively  depicting  the 
realization  of  her  previous  fears. 


Godefroy,  Studies,  Vol.  I,  p.  241. 

:  ' 

The  final  scene  of  the  opera  is  dramatically  preceded  by  a 

brief,  solemn  homophonic  prelude  for  tutt i  orchestra.  The 
wandering  of  Azucena’s.  mind  is  again  conveyed  by  the  "Stride  la 
vampa"  theme  played  by  solo  flute,  clarinet,  and  bassoon, 
supported  by  tremolo  strings. 

One  final  point  of  orchestral  interest  in  II  Trovatore  is 
the  delicate  use  of  muted  violins  d ivisi  in  Manrico’s  "lullaby" 
as  Azucena  falls  to  sleep. 

The  score  of  La  Traviata  (1853)  is  known  more  for  its 
refinement  of  devices  already  in  Verdi’s  orchestral  language  than 
for  its  presentation  of  new  orchestral  techniques.  The  work  is 
an  excellent  example  of  the  economical  utilization  of  the 
orchestra  for  maximum  dramatic  revelation. 

One  of  the  most  striking  moments  of  this  score  is  the 
melancholy  Prelude  to  the  opera,  a  foreboding  of  the  work’s 
ultimate  tragedy.  Verdi  scored  the  Prelude  for  sixteen  solo 
violins  d ivisi  in  four  parts.  The  full  but  fragile  texture  most 
successfully  expresses  what  Vincent  Godefroy  calls  "the  pity  and 
terror  of  the  heroine’s  inner  decay. 

Verdi  utilized  a  form  of  reminiscence  technique  when  the 
opening  passage  of  this,  prelude  returns  as  the  introduction  to 
the  final  act  of  the  opera,  in  which  Violetta  meets  her  long- 
destined  death. 


Ibid.,  p.  281. 



The  contrast  between  the  closing  curtain  of  one  act  and  the 
opening  of  the  next  is  one  of  the  operatic  composerh  most  valuable 
devices.  In  La  Traviata,  as  he  later  did  so  strikingly  in  Otello , 
Verdi  followed  the  full  ensemble— finale  of  Act  II  with  an  ex¬ 
pressive  prelude  which  leads  to  a  mournful  aria  for  the  heroine. 

The  delicacy  and  economy  of  the  scoring  employed  in  the 

Preludes  is  in  evidence  throughout  the  opera.  More  than  ever 

before,  the  score  is  filled  with  detailed  instructions  concerning 

the  orchestra,  particularly  regarding  the  specific  number  of 

strings  and  woodwinds  required.  A  fine  example  of  this  attention 

to  detail  is  found  in  the  first  act,  where  Verdi,  concerned  for 

the  clarity  of  the  important  dialogue  at  the  beginning  of  the 

scene,  stipulated  that  the  accompaniment  be  restricted  to  two 

first  violins,  two  second  violins,  two  violas,  one  cello,  and 

one  double  bass.  Through  this  string  octet  instrumentation,  the 

audience  is  introduced  to  Flora  and  is  allowed  to  hear  the 

important  introduction  of  Alfredo  to  Violetta  by  Gastone.  At  the 

entrance  of  the  Baron,  Verdi  added  solo  oboe  to  the  texture, 

gradually  thickening  the  orchestration  up  to  the  tut t i  outburst 

at  the  brindisi. 

La  Traviata  contains  the  fewest  purely  instrumental  effects 
to  date,  the  Act  I  offstage  band a — the  dance  orchestra  in  an 

This  term  is  derived  from  the  Italian  fare  brindisi — to 
drink  to  one’s  health.  In  Italian  opera  the  word  has  come  to 
represent  the  traditional  drinking  song.  See  Harold  Rosenthal  and 
John  Warrack,  The  Concise  Oxford  Dictionary  of  Opera  (London: 
Oxford  University  Press,  1964),  p.  52. 

adjacent  room — being  the  only  instance  in  the  opera. 

Dramatically,  the  orchestra  maintains  two  major  functions  in 
La  Traviata.  The  first  is  the  representation  of  an  over— all 
atmosphere,  as  in  sections,  of  the  party  scenes  of  Act  I  and  Act  II, 
scene  ii.  In  both  cases,  much  of  the  important  dramatic  dialogue 
and  action  of  the  scene  is  combined  with  an  orchestral  accompaniment 
that  seems,  oblivious  to  the  main  dramatic  thrust.  An  example  of 
this  device  occurs  in  the  Act  II  gambling  scene  at  Flora’s  party. 
Here,  a  quick,  frivolous  waltz  theme,  scored  for  strings,  clarinets, 
and  flutes  depicts  the  festive  mood  of  the  party  while  the  main 
action  of  the  scene  finds  Alfredo  cruelly  ignoring  and  then 
mocking  the  emotionally-tortured  Violetta.  There  is  also  the  lively 
2/4  rhythm  of  the  opera’s  opening  scene,  in  which  most  of  the  major 
characters  are  introduced,  as  well  as  the  brilliant  waltz  tempo 
which  underlies,  both  the  beginning  and  conclusion  of  the  passionate 
Act  I  Violet ta-Alf redo  love  scene. 

The  second  and  most  frequent  dramatic  function  of  the 
orchestra  is  the  strengthening  and  highlighting  of  the  dramatic 
dialogue  and  action.  Nowhere  Is  this  more  evident  than  in  the 
extended  scene  between  Violetta  and  the  elder  Germont  in  Act  II, 
scene  i. 

Following  Germont ’ s  initial  plea  for  Violetta  to  leave 
Alfredo,  a  simple,  tranquil  melody  is  played  by  the  violins, 
indicating  Violetta’s  agreement  to  see  less  of  Germont ’s  son. 

As  the  father’s  demands  increase,  however,  the  orchestration 



builds  to  a  great  tutta  forza.  Shaken,  Violetta  tries  to  reason 

with  Germont,  her  "Non  sapete"  section  sung  in  short  fragmentary 
phrases,  constantly  interrupted  by  the  orchestra,  indicating  a 
mounting  agitation  and  despair.  Then,  as  she  realizes  the  hope¬ 
lessness  of  the  situation,  she  bursts  forth  in  an  emotionally- 
charged  passage  bewailing  her  fate.  Verdi  scored  this  dramatic 
outburst  with  a  full  orchestral  texture,  complete  with  three 
trombones,  cimbasso ,  and  timpani. 

In  the  duet  that  follows,  in  which  Germont  tries  to  console 
the  distraught  Violetta,  Verdi  utilized  the  barest  of  textures, 
with  woodwind  "sighs"  doubling  the  father's  words  "piangi,  piangi" 
and  low  pizzicat i  accompanying  Violetta’s  talk  of  death. 

Similar  orchestral  reinforcement  of  the  drama  occurs  in 
Act  II,  scene  ii  in  the  bitter  confrontation  between  Alfredo  and 
Violetta  at  Flora's  party.  As  the  "festive  waltz"  theme  dies  away, 
it  is  replaced  by  an  upward  surge  of  violins  and  a  tutt i  orchestral 
crash  as  Violetta  and  Alfredo  re-enter  the  gambling  salon.  Their 
dialogue,  in  which  he  accuses  her  of  infidelity  and  she  desperately 
claims  innocence,  is  accompanied  by  a  pulsating  figure  in  the 
strings,  effectively  portraying  the  tension  of  the  situation. 
Another  orchestral  tutta  forza  accompanies  the  entrance  of  the 
alarmed  party  guests,  and  the  scene  is  prepared  for  the  great 
ensemble-f inale . 

Many  factors  complicate  the  analysis  of  Verdi’s  development 
as  an  orchestrator  in  the  period  between  La  Traviata  and  Aida , 



comprised  of  I  Vespri  Siciliani,  Simon  Boccanegra,  Aroldo  (a 
reworking  of  Stif f elio) ,  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera,  La  Forza  del  Destino, 
the  second  version  of  Macbeth,  and  Don  Carlo,  Verdi's  orchestral 
technique  becomes  largely  static  as  it  nears  its  final  point  of 
development.  During  this  period,  the  composer  appeared  to  be 
concerned  mainly  with  relating  the  orchestral  expression  more 
closely  to  the  dramatic  content  of  the  works  rather  than  with 
experimenting  with  new  textures  or  devices. 

Furthermore,  two  of  these  works  (Aroldo  and  Macbeth)  are 

revised  versions  of  previous  works,  making  this  period  one  of 


disunity — a  mixture  of  late  and  early  styles. 

Richard  Wagner  labelled  I  Vespri  Siciliani  "a  night  of 

33  N 

carnage."  To  a  libretto  by  Eugene  Scribe  and  Charles  Duveyrier, 
the  opera — Verdi's  first  work  written  for  Paris — -is  indeed  an 
endless  expression  of  gloom.  The  composer  utilized  a  wide  variety 
of  orchestral  sonorities,  but  all  are  subdued  and  dark — parti¬ 
cularly  with  respect  to  his  extensive  use  of  low-pitched  woodwind 
and  brass  instruments.  It  is  noteworthy  that  the  only  sections 
of  true  musical  interest  are  the  purely  orchestral  pieces — the 


For  the  purpose  of  this  chronological  survey,  discussion 
pertains  to  the  "standard"  performance  version  of  any  opera  that 
exists  in  two  or  more  versions. 


Toye,  Verdi ,  p.  93. 




overture,  the  preludes  to  the  second  and  fourth  acts,  and  the 

Act  III  ballet  entitled  ”The  Four  Seasons."  By  far  the  best 

piece  in  I  Vespri  Sicilian!  is  the  overture,  based  upon  three 

prominent  themes  from  the  opera.  With  respect  to  the  musical 

craftsmanship  and  orchestral  imagination  and  compared  with  the 

level  set  by  La  Traviata,  11  Trovatore,  and  Rigoletto,  however, 

Francis  Toye  is  certainly  correct  when  he  acknowledges  the 


undeniable  recession  in  the  quality  of  this  work.  This  is 

undoubtedly  due ‘ to  Verdi* s  preoccupation  with  establishing  himself 

in  competition  with  Meyerbeer  In  Meyerbeer's  own  domain,  and  at 

having  to  deviate  from  his  own  style  of  orchestration  to  favour 


the  Parisians'  traditional  taste  for  the  spectacular. 

The  orchestra  of  Aroldo  (1857)  is  woven  into  the  drama  of 
the  opera  to  a  much  greater  extent.  The  score  is  pervaded  with  an 
unprecedented  orchestral  forcefulness  and  intensity,  foreshadowing 
the  dramatic  scenes  of  conflict  between  Alvaro  and  Carlo,  Philip 
and  Roderigo,  and  Iago  and  Otello.  Act  II  opens  with  the  dark, 
brooding  orchestral  introduction  to  Mina's  aria  "Ah,  dagli  scanni 
eterei."  The  orchestra  plays  a  vital  part  in  developing  the 
atmosphere  of  this  scene.  In  the  accompaniment  to  Mina's  aria, 
one  finds  the  most  complicated  division  of  strings  ever  undertaken 
by  Verdi.  Two  groups  of  solo  strings  con  sordino  (violin  I, 



Ibid .  , 
Ibid . 

p.  33Q . 

violin  II,  viola,  cello,  and  double  bass)  are  given  individual, 
delicate  melodic  passages  which  are  played  against  a  pianissimo 
arpeggiated  figure  in  the  remaining  tutti  strings..  This 
arrangement,  though  more  elaborate,  does  not  carry  the  same 
dramatic  intensity  as  the  highly  expressive  string  divisions  in 
La  Traviata. 

The  Act  IV  storm  scene  is  an  advance  over  the  previous 
examples,  due  mainly  to  its  heightened  dynamic  sensitivity.  It 
still,  however,  bears  a  nearer  resemblance  to  the  Rigolet to  tempest 
than  to  the  Otello  one.  Lightning  is  again  depicted  by  jagged 
flute  and  piccolo  figures  and  the  moaning  of  the  wind  by  string  and 
woodwind  chromatic  passages  in  parallel  minor  thirds.  The  chorus 
also  participates,  not  with  bocca  chiusa  (as  in  Rigoletto)  but  by 
vocalizing  on  "ah,"  interspersed  with  short  phrases  of  text. 

Un  Ballo  in  Maschera  (1858)  marks  the  end  of  Verdi's  middle 
compositional  period.  The  work  represents  an  important  point  in 
the  composer’s  progress  musically  and  or chestrally .  It  contains 
far  greater  musical  variety  and  orchestral  inventiveness  than  any 
of  Verdi’s  previous  works,  and  more  than  ever  before,  Verdi’s 
scoring  is  attuned  to  the  dramatic  structure  of  the  opera.  It 
combines  the  warmth  and  vigour  of  the  composer’s  early  works  and 
the  lightness  and  elegance  of  La  Traviata  with  a  new  emotional 
intensity.  The  desperate  passion  of  Riccardo  and  Amelia,  Renato’s 
blind  rage,  the  light-hearted  wit  of  Oscar,  the  ominous  presence 
of  Ulrica,  and  the  sardonic  humor  of  the  conspirators  are  all 


qualities  which,  are  portrayed  through  Verdi’s  utilization  of 
orchestral  elements. 

In  this  work,  the  composer  demonstrates  a  much  greater 

flexibility  in  his  use  of  orchestral  color,  particularly  with 

regard  to  the  woodwinds.  Inner  voices  such  as  bassoons  and  violas 

are  given  much  more  active  parts,  resulting  in  a  subtle  inner 

orchestral  life  not  found  before.  This  was  the  feature  which 

caused  Italian  critics  to  herald  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera  as  "more 
,  _  „36 

polyphonic  In  style. 

In  this  score,  Verdi  brings  together  many  of  the  orchestral 
resources  that  he  had  previously  used  with  mastery — the  discrimi¬ 
nating  woodwind  writing  of  Luisa  Miller  and  Rigoletto,  the 
expressive  divisi  string  technique  of  La  Traviata  and  Aroldo ,  a 
witchcraft  scene,  already  found  in  the  first  version  of  Macbeth 
(1847) ,  and  the  creation  of  a  ghostly  atmosphere,  accomplished 
much  earlier  (although  in  a  completely  different  fashion)  in 
■Ernani  and  La  Battaglia  di  Legnano. 

The  work  opens  with  a  short  orchestral  prelude  consisting 
of  three  themes  from  the  opera.  The  first  is  the  solemn,  hymn— like 
tune  which  is  sung  by  the  courtiers  at  the  opening  of  Act  I  as  they 
await  Riccardo.  It  is  scored  for  clarinets  in  the  chalumeau 
register,  bassoons,  violas  and  violoncellos,  and  violins  on  their 
G  string.  This  melody,  punctuated  by  a  short  unison  woodwind 


Travis,  Verdi’s  Orchestration,  p.  28. 

■  ■  ■ 




figure,  is  a  foreboding  of  the  opera’s  ultimate  tragedy.  The  somber 
mood  is  broken  by  a  brief  fugato  for  strings  on  a  theme  in  the 
cellos  and  basses,  assal  piano  e  staccato,  which  gives  an  unmis¬ 
takable  impression  of  betrayal  and  stealth.  This  is  the  theme 
associated  with  Sam,  Tom,  and  the  conspirators.  It  is  heard  in 
each  of  the  three  acts  of  the  opera  in  scenes  dealing  with  the 
conspiracy  to  assassinate  Riccardo.  The  third  theme  of  the 
Prelude,  connected  with  Riccardo’ s  longing  for  Amelia,  is  intro¬ 
duced  by  flute  and  oboe  in  unison  in  their  lower  registers  with 
the  clarinet  an  octave  lower.  This  melody  is  decorated  by  the 
figure  previously  played  by  the  woodwinds  over  the  first  theme. 

This  time,  however,  the  figure  is  played  in  violin  harmonics. 

The  use  of  harmonics,  otherwise  rare  until  Aida,  is  characteristic 
of  the  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera  score. 

As  each  of  these  themes  reappeared  in  the  opera,  Verdi 
utilized  the  same  scoring,  illustrating  the  importance  he  placed 
upon  the  relationship  of  orchestral  coloring  to  dramatic  purpose, 
even  in  accompanimental  functions. 

Though  there  is  a  great  deal  of  music  depicting  sorrow, 
conspiracy,  and  evil  in  the  opera,  it  also  represents  the  first 
instance  of  fun  and  gaiety  playing  an  integral  part.  Verdi  had 
previously  achieved  these  moods  through  ballet  and  chorus  scenes. 

In  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera,  however,  he  created  several  moments  of 
light— heartedness  through  solo  scenes — Riccardo ’s  high-spirited 
"Ogni  cura  si  doni  al  diletto"  at  the  end  of  the  first  scene,  his 



laughter  at  hearing  Ulrica1 a  prophecy  in  the  second  scene  of 
Act  X  scherzo  od  e  folia")  ,  and  the  mocking  laughter  of  the 

conspirators  in  Act  II  when  Renato  discovers  his  wifeTs  supposed 

The  coloratura  role  for  Oscar  the  page,  however,  contains 
the  most  uninhibited  examples  of  frivolity.  Much  of  this 
atmosphere  is  achieved  through  the  composer’s  orchestral  setting 
of  his  music.  For  these  moments,  Verdi  shifted  towards  brighter 
instrumental  colors,  with  high  violin  and  flute  writing  and 
extensive  use  of  the  piccolo.  Spike  Hughes  has  noted  that  the 

piccolo  is  here  "stretching  its 

limbs,  as  it  were,  in  preparation 

for  the  almost  concertante  part 


it  eventually  takes  in  Falstaff." 

One  of  the  most  effective 

orchestral  characterizations  in 

the  opera  is  the  introduction  to  Act  I,  scene  ii  creating  the 
mysterious  atmosphere  of  the  fortune-teller  Ulrica’s  den. 
Following  three  attention-getting  tutti  fortissimo  chords,  two 
clarinets  in  the  low  register  and  cellos  on  their  C  stf  ing  pi  ay 
an  eerie  theme  as  Ulrica  hovers  over  her  cauldron.  Interjections 
of  a  solo  trumpet  on  a  low  repeated  C  are  played  throughout  *"his 
highly  dramatic  introduction,  combined  with  faint,  sporadic  drum¬ 
beats  used  by  Verdi  to  create  tension. 

The  accompaniment  to  Ulrica’s  dramatic  aria  "Re  dell’abisso 
affrettati"  is  distinguished  by  its  orchestral  restraint.  The 


Hughes,  Famous  Verdi  Operas,  p.  246. 

opening  measures  are  supported  solely  by  violins  and  violas 
doubling  the  vocal  line — the  violins  in  unison  with  the  voice 
and  the  violas  an  octave  lower.  Pianissimo  timpani  strokes 
punctuate  the  melody  during  empty  beats.  The  winds  gradually 
enter — the  flute  in  its  lowest  register  with  the  bassoon  at  the 
top  of  its  range  in  unison  with  the  oboe.  The  repeated  Cfs  of 
the  solo  trumpet  persist  throughout. 

Later  in  the  scene,  Ulrica  tells  Amelia  that  she  must  gather 
herbs  in  the  shadow  of  the  gallows  ("Dalla  citta  all ’occaso") ,  and 
Verdi  introduced  a  simple  homophonic  string  accompaniment  moving 
homorhythmically  with  the  voice.  This  device  becomes  increasingly 
common  in  his  later  works.  In  fact,  the  third  and  fourth  measures 
of  this  theme  are  an  obvious  forecast  of  lago  ’  s  ?,Era  la  notte"  in 
Act  II  of  Otello ,  melodically,  texturally,  and  orchestrally . 

The  Trio  which  closes  Act  I  is  noteworthy  for  its  fortissimo 
sections,  which  at  a  glance  appear  to  be  normal  orchestral  tutti* s . 
Closer  scrutiny  reveals  that  Verdi  omitted  flutes,  trumpets,  and 
trombones,  and  included  the  bass  brass  known  today  as  c imbasso 
(bass  trombone  and  tuba).  This  scoring  keeps  the  voices  at  the 
focal  point  of  the  ensemble,  and  the  orchestra  is  kept  strictly 
within  the  singers’  registers. 

Other  sections  of  orchestral-dramatic  interest  in  this  opera 
include  the  solo  flute  and  string  tremolando  passage  in  the  Prelude 
to  Act  II  depicting  the  nobility  and  innocence  of  Amelia,  the 
mournful  English  horn  obbligato  in  her  aria  ”Ma  dall’arido  stelo 

divulsa”  (an  obvious,  foreboding  of  Desdemona’s  "Salce,"  still  nearly 
thirty  years  away) ,  and  the  equally  plaintive  cello  obbligato  to 
her  Act  III  aria  "Morro,  ma  prima  in  grazia." 

Verdi’s  utilization  of  the  harp  in  the  Act  II  Riccardo-Amelia 
duet,  portraying  their  excitement  and  passion,  is  strangely  similar 
to  Otello's  jealous  yet  equally  passionate  ravings  in  Act  II  of 
Otello  ("'Ora  per  sempre  addio") . 

The  suspenseful  quality  of  exposed  solo  trumpet  is  once  again 
utilized  by  Verdi  in  the  scene  in  which  Sam,  Tom,  and  Renato  draw 
lots  for  the  "honour"  of  killing  Riccardo.  The  trumpet  creates 
mounting  tension  by  playing  a  long  sequential  theme  over  a 
sustained  tremolo  played  by  violas  and  basses,  with  pianississimo 
unison  bassoons,  trombones  and  tuba,  and  short  chromatic  runs  in 
the  violins  and  cellos. 

Renato ’s  famous  third  act  aria  MEri  tu"  consists  of  two 
contrasting  sections,  consequently  accompanied  by  two  opposing 
orchestral  natures.  The  martial  string  figures  of  the  first 
section  are  followed  by  a  remorseful,  reflective  section,  fittingly 
supported  by  solo  flute,  harp,  and  strings. 

Offstage  chimes  denoting  midnight  and  the  onstage  string 
orchestra  of  the  final  ballroom  scene  are  the  only  instances  of 
special  orchestral  effects  in  the  work.  The  continual  interruption 
of  the  action  of  the  final  scene  by  the  stage  orchestra  proves  an 
effective  method  of  building  dramatic  tension  towards  the  opera’s 

tragic  climax. 

The  Mature  Works. 

Macbeth  was  premiered  in  Florence  in  1847.  Verdi  revised 
and  expanded  the  work  for  a  French  production  in  Paris  in  1865. 
This  version  was  subsequently  translated  back  into  Italian  and 
has  since  become  the  standard  version  for  modern  performances. 

Verdi  paid  particular  attention  to  the  creation  of  an 
atmosphere  of  mystery  and  evil  for  Shakespeare 1 s  tragedy.  This 
is  achieved  through  the  full  employment  of  all  instruments  which 
can  be  made  to  sound  hollow  or  eerie,  particularly  the  oboe, 
English  horn,  and  bass  clarinet.  A  fine  example  of  this  dramatic 
tonal  painting  is  found  in  the  Prelude  to  the  opera  where  the 
oboe,  clarinet,  and  bassoon  play  a  theme  in  unison  which  is 
associated  with  the  Witches.  The  second  section  of  the  prelude 
is  a  loud  thickly-textured  fanfare  passage  for  two  trumpets,  four 
trombones,  and  four  horns,  representative  of  the  many  martial 
aspects  of  the  plot.  The  third  and  final  section  is  a  fore¬ 
shadowing  of  the  music  that  later  creates  suspense  in  the  famous 
Act  IV,  scene  ii  "Sleep-walking  Scene."  This  section  begins  with 
a  tranquil  passage  consisting  of  light,  pulsating  staccato 
repeated  notes  in  the  upper  register  of  the  first  and  second 
violins.  This  brief  theme  is  interrupted  by  another  short  brass 
fortissimo  outburst.  A  broad,  mournful  pianissimo  tune  is  then 
played  by  the  violas,  accompanied  by  low  pizzicato  arpeggiated 

figures.  This  section  successfully  creates  the  mysterious, 
trance— like  mood  and  emotional  contrasts  characteristic  of  Lady 



Macbeth’s  insanity. 

A  storm  scene  similar  to  that  of  Rigolet to  opens  the  action 
of  the  opera.  Tremolando  violins  represent  the  wind  in  the 
Scottish  heath.  Short,  ascending  scale  passages  played  by  the 
flute  depict  flashes  of  lightning,  as  downward  staccato  woodwind 
figures  indicate  rain.  The  full  orchestra  is  combined  with  a 
thunder  sheet  to  create  the  impression  of  the  tempest’s  fury. 

The  mysterious  and  eerie  quality  depicted  in  the  opening 

theme  of  the  Prelude  is  also  present  in  the  central  scene  of  the 

opera — the  presentation  of  the  apparitions  to  Macbeth  in  Act  III. 

A  loud  unison  fanfare,  again  scored  for  four  trombones  and  four 

horns,  precedes  the  Witches’  invocation  of  the  first  vision.  With 

a  roll  of  thunder,  the  first  spirit  appears  and  speaks  to  Macbeth, 

3 1 

accompanied  by  soft,  solemn  chords  in  the  trumpets  and  trombones. 

The  vanishing  of  each  apparition  is  marked  by  an  orchestral 
tutti ,  with  the  unusual  inclusion  of  fortissimo  gong  or  tam-tam 
offstage.  This  special  percussion  device,  which  was  added  in  the 
1865  version,  illustrates  the  influence  of  French  composers,  who 
had  long  associated  the  gong  with  situations  of  high  intensity 
and  terror . 

Verdi  here  followed  the  eighteenth— century  tradition  of 
associating  trombones,  with  the  supernatural,  perhaps  best 
exemplified  in  Mozart’s  Don  Giovanni  in  the  scenes  involving  the 
statue  of  the  Commend at or e . 



As  the  images  of  the  eight  future  kings  of  Scotland  pass 

before  Macbeth,  "bagpipes"  are.  heard  ascending  from  the  depths 

of  the  earth.  For  the  1847  production  of  the  opera,  Verdi  had 

written,  "The  music  under  the  stage  will  have  to  be  reinforced  for 

so  vast  a  theater,  but  I  want  neither  trumpets  nor  trombones.  The 

sound  must  come  as  from  afar;  hass  clarinets,  bassoons,  contra- 


bassoons,  and  nothing  else."  For  the  Paris  version  of  the  opera, 

Verdi  was.  even  more  specific.  Re  stipulated  that  the  group 

representing  the  bagpipes  be  placed  just  underneath  an  open 

trapdoor  in  the  stage  and  be  comprised  of  two  oboes,  six  clarinets, 


two  bassoons,  and  one  contrabassoon .  Each  appearance  of  a  king 
is  punctuated  by  a  cry  from  Macbeth  and  effective  outbursts  from 
the  pit  orchestra,  creating  a  dramatic  contrast  between  the  ghostly 
world  of  the  apparitions  and  the  reality  of  Macbeth’s  acceptance  of 

In  Macbeth,  Verdi  made  imaginative  use  of  brass  orchestration, 
both  in  the  Act  III  ballet,  where  harsh  dissonances  create  the  mood 
of  supernatural  evil,  and  in  the  Act  IV  battle  scene,  for  which 
Verdi  composed  a  fugue  for  trumpets  and  trombones.  Here,  the 
contrast  of  subject  and  counter— subj ect ,  the  clash  of  the  harsh 

Travis,  Verdi’s  Orchestration,  p.  53. 


Macbeth  is  the  first  of  only  two  operas  in  which  Verdi  used 
the  contrabassoon,  the  other  being  Don  Carlo. 

brass  dissonances,  and  the  general  uproar  of  the  accompanying  tutti 

forces  express  the  sounds  of  battle  in  a  highly  effective  manner. 

The  masterful  orchestration  of  the  "Sleepwalking  Scene"  is 
one  of  the  dramatic  highlights  of  the  opera.  The  third  theme  of 
the  Prelude  is  here  played  by  muted  strings  colored  by  the  English 
horn,  whose  melancholy  quality  is  exploited  throughout  this  scene 
and  indeed  throughout  the  entire  opera.  Much  in  the  manner  of 
Amelia’s  "Ma  dall'arido  stelo  divulsa"  in  Act  II  of  Un  Ballo  in 
Maschera  and  Desdemona’s  impending  "Salce,"  Lady  Macbeth’s  "Una 
macchia  e  qui  tuttora.’"  is  an  emotional,  mournfully-colored  aria, 
supported  by  a  short  rising  figure  played  by  the  violas  and  cellos 
in  unison,  with  a  wailing  descending  semitone  in  the  English  horn 
part  (and  later  in  the  clarinet  part  an  octave  lower) . 

A  very  simple,  yet  exceptionally  effective  instrumental- 
dramatic  device  is  found  in  the  ensemble  immediately  following 
the  discovery  of  Duncan’s  body,  where  the  full  chorus  and  ensemble 
of  soloists  is  accompanied  solely  by  the  death-march  beats  of  the 
timpani . 

Additional  special  orchestral  devices  in  Macbeth  include  the 
offstage  banda  which  accompanies  Duncan’s  March  in  Act  I,  scene  ii, 
the  offstage  snare-drum  roll  that  heralds  the  entrance  of  Macbeth 
and  Banquo  in  the  first  scene,  and,  once  more,  the  chiming  of  a 
distant  bell  just  before  the  murder  of  Duncan. 

Verdi’s  next  opera.  La  Eorza  del  Destino,  was  premiered  in 
St.  Petersburg  on  November  10,  1862  and  was  revised  for  its 

.  '  "  ■ 


La  Scala  production  in  1869.  The  musical  progress  in  this  opera 
is  the  direct  result  of  Verdi’s  tendency-  to  move  further  away  from 
the  confinements  of  rigid  aria  form.  More  weight  is  placed  on 
accompanied  recitatives,  and  their  orchestration,  accordingly, 
receives,  more  attention.  These  recitative  passages  frequently 
foreshadow  the  dramatic  forcefulness  of  the  almost  through-composed 
orchestration  of  Otello.  For  example,  Don  Carlo's  interrogation 
of  Trabuco  in  Act  I  demonstrates  the  same  continuous  flow  of 
lyrical  string  writing  that  accompanies  Iago ’ s  harassment  of  Cassio 
in  Act  I  of  Otello .  Likewise  in  Act  III,  scene  iii,  the  fragmentary 
phrases  of  the  conversation  between  Don  Carlo  and  Alvaro  are 
accompanied  by  a  gentle,  idyllic  passage  in  the  strings,  highly 
reminiscent  of  the  deceptive  charm  of  the  Act  XI  and  III  scenes 
between  Otello  and  Iago.  Another  of  the  music— drama  techniques 
prominent  in  the  Otello  score  is  evident  at  the  beginning  of 
La  Forza  del  Destino’s  first  scene  between  Leonora  and  the  Marquis. 
Here,  through  a  sequence  of  four-part  string  writing,  Verdi  created 
the  impression  that  a  conversation  had  been  in  progress  and  was 
becoming  audible  as  it  reached  its  most  interesting  part.  Verdi 
again  used  this  technique  in  the  opening  of  Act  III  of  Otello ,  as 
Iago  and  Otello  discuss  Desdemona’s  supposed  infidelity. 

La  Forza  del  Destino  is  noteworthy  for  its  extensive  use  of 
solo  winds,  particularly  in  the  dramatic  situations  involving 
Don  Alvaro.  One  example  of  this  association  is  the  melody  of 
Don  Alvaro’s  Act  IV,  scene  i  aria  "Le  minaccie,  i  fieri  accenti," 

first  quoted  in  the  overture  to  the  opera  by  the  solo  flute,  oboe, 

and  clarinet.  The  mournful  quality  of  these  instruments  combined 
with  the  wandering  melody  effectively  characterize  Alvaro’s  remorse 
and  the  hopelessness  of  his  situation.  Verdi  again  employed  this 
combination  of  solo  winds  in  the  introduction  to  the  actual  aria 
in  Act  TV . 

Alvaro’s  entrance  into  the  grenadiers’  camp  in  Act  III, 
scene  i  is  accompanied  by  a  long,  slow  passage  played  by  the  solo 
clarinet,  based  upon  a  theme  that  he  had  sung  in  the  first  scene 
of  the  opera.  As  Alvaro  declaims  his  weariness  and  sadness  at  the 
loss  of  Leonora,  the  clarinet  continues  its  melancholy  obbligato 
supported  by  tremolando  upper  strings  and  pizzicato  first  beats  in 
cellos  and  basses. 

Following  the  battle  of  Act  III,  scene  ii,  the  seriously- 
wounded  Alvaro  is  carried  onstage  on  a  stretcher.  The  ensuing 
scene,  in  which  Alvaro  makes  Carlo  promise  to  destroy  the  incrimi¬ 
nating  letter,  is  given  great  dramatic  intensity  through  relatively 
simple  means — a  persistent  three-note  pizzicato  bass,  a  few 
sustained  dissonant  woodwind  chords,  and  two  particularly  chilling 
measures  where  two  bassoons,  sound  in  thirds.  As  Alvaro  and  Carlo 
bid  each  other  farewell,  Verdi  wrote  staccato  arpeggi  for  paired 
flutes  and  solo  clarinet,  indicating  the  trust  and  contentment 
the  men  have  found  in  their  friendship. 


The  opera  was  originally  preceded  by  a  short  orchestral 
prelude.  Verdi  greatly  expanded  and  developed  the  material  into 
the  existing  overture  for  the  1869  revision. 

In  the  third  scene  of  Act  III,  the  recovered  Alvaro  enters 
the  camp,  again  lost  in  thoughts  of  Leonora.  Once  more  the 
composer  used  the  dark,  somber  sonority  of  clarinet  to  reflect 
Alvaro’s  depressed  state  of  mind,  echoing  the  same  theme  as  in 
the  opening  of  Act  III,  scene  i.  Later  in  this  scene,  Alvaro’s 
vow  to  enter  a  monastery  as  penance  for  his  crime  is  accompanied 
by  a  series  of  solemn  homophonic  chords  in  the  woodwinds,  symbolizing 
his  guilt  and  desperation. 

Verdi  created  an  atmosphere  of  darkness  and  gloom  for  the 

Act  III  military  camp  scene  with  open  fifths  in  piccolo,  flute, 

paired  oboes,  and  horns  sustained  over  long  legat issimo  phrases 


for  violas  and  cellos  in  octaves. 

One  of  the  most  dramatically  effective  moments  in  the  work 
occurs  in  the  final  scene.  As  Leonora  leaves  the  stage  to  aid 
her  wounded  brother,  a  hollow,  sinister  forte  E— flat  is  held  by 
low  register  clarinet — an  audible  and  bitter  omen  of  her  impending 
doom.  The  fatally-wounded  Leonora  tells  her  story  to  Padre. 

Guardiano  and  bids  farewell  to  Alvaro  in  monotone  fragments 
accompanied  by  sustained  unison  G’s  played  by  the  piccolo,  flute, 
two  oboes,  and  two  clarinets  pitted  against  a  fortissimo 
rhythmically-throbbing  figure  for  brass,  strings,  and  bass  drum, 
followed  by  the  identical  figure  p Ian Is s issimo  played  by  strings 

Hughes  has  noted  the  similarity  of  both  mood  and  orche¬ 
stration  to  the  opening  of  Act  III  of  Puccini’s  La  Boheme. 

See  Hughes,  Famous  Verdi  Operas,  p.  302. 






alone.  This  orchestral  passage  successfully  depicts  the  con¬ 
trasting  emotions  of  remorse  and  angry  bitterness  at  the  now- 
realized  destiny  of  the  lovers. 

Verdi  expressed  the  despair  and  innocence  of  Leonora 
primarily  through  the  use  of  the  strings,  as  in  the  instrumental 
motive  associated  with  her  destiny  heard  in  the  overture,  in 
Act  I,  scene  i  at  the  entrance  of  her  enraged  father,  in  Act  II, 
scene  ii  before  her  pleading  aria  "Madre,  pietosa  Vergine,"  and 
at  the  beginning  of  the  opera's  final  scene  before  her  famous 
aria  "Pace,  pace."  This  theme  is  always  played  by  violins  and 
cellos  in  octaves,  punctuated  by  pianissimo  bassoons  and  trombones 
in  their  low  register. 

The  soaring  phrase  "Deh,  non  m'abbandonar"  near  the  end  of 
"Madre,  pietosa  Vergine"  is  given  a  particularly  ethereal  quality 
through  the  use  of  two  violins  con  sordini  and  tremolando  in  their 
upper  register. 

The  harp  is  also  an  important  component  in  Leonora’s  music, 

portraying  her  innocence  in  her  Act  II,  scene  iii  "La  Vergine  degli 

angeli"  solo  with  the  chorus  of  monks,  her  "Pace,  pace"  of  Act  IV, 


scene  ii,  and  in  the  Act  II  duet  with  Padre  Guardiano. 

Historically  and  dramatically  interesting  is  Verdi’s 
inclusion  of  the  three  powerful  unison  E’s  played  twice  by  tutti 

The  theme  of  this  duet  is  quoted  in  the  overture,  played 
by  two  harps — the  only  instance  of  writing  for  harp  duo  in  the 
opera . 




brass,  at  the  beginning  of  the  overture  and  Act  hi.  They  are  highly 
reminiscent  of  the  brass  chords  which  announce  the  arrival  of  the 
Statue  of  the  Comm end at ore  in  the  final  act  of  Mozart rs  Don 
Giovanni.  Verdi’s  justification  for  their  use  is.  not  so  much  to 
evoke  a  feeling  of  the  supernatural  (as  in  the  Mozart  score) ,  but 
rather  to  call  the  audience  to  attention  much  in  the  manner  of  the 
three— fold  knocking  of  the  prompter  in  the  Classical  French 

Special  orchestral  effects  in  La  Forza  del  Destino  are 
numerous.  Preziosilla ’ s  famous  "Rataplan”  song  of  Act  III,  scene  ii 
is  accompanied  by  two  side  drums  onstage  with  only  a  few  measures 
of  orchestral  assistance  to  maintain  the  pitch.  Verdi  effects  the 
Act  III,  scene  I  call  to  battle  with  a  progressive  orchestration 
of  two,  four,  and  finally  six  trumpets  offstage.  The  nearby  sounds 
of  fighting  in  Act  III,  scene  Ii  include  dramatic  utilization  of 
offstage  solo  trumpet  in  the  high  register,  sounding  over  an 
orchestral  tutti  sequence,  rhythmically  similar  to  the  battle 
music  in  Act  II  of  Simon  Boccanegra.  Finally,  Verdi  used  an 
offstage  organ  in  the  prelude  to  the  third  scene  of  Act  II  to 
create  the  ecclesiastical  atmosphere  of  the  monastery. 

The  utilization  of  orchestral  elements  for  dramatic  purposes 
became  progressively  more  important  with  each  of  Verdi’s  successive 
operas..  Around  the  time  of  the  revision  of  La  Forza  del  Destino 


Osborne,  Operas,  p.  372. 



'  ■ 

and  during  the  composition  of  Aida,  Verdi,  became  conscious  of  a 

factor  outside,  of  his  score  which  affected  the  sound  of  his 

orchestra — the  seating  arrangement  of  the  players  in  the  orchestra 

pit.  This  is  evident  in  two  letters  written  by  Verdi  around  this 

time.  The  first  letter,  dated  July  23,  1869  to  his  friend 

Francesco  Florimo  contains  the  following  remarks: 

I  should  want  your  theater  to  adopt  certain  modifications, 
rendered  indispen sable  by  modern  scores... and  perhaps  in 
the  orchestra  itself.  To  give  you  an  example,  how  can  you 
still  tolerate  the  violas  and  cellos  not  being  all  together? 
How  can  there  thus  be  attack,  color,  accent,  etc.,  etc.? 
Besides  that,  the  mass  of  the  string  instruments  will  lack 
body.  This  is  a  relic  of  times  past  when  violas  and  cellos 
played  in  unison  with  the  basses.  Inexecrable  customs! 

And  apropos  of  customs,  I  want  to  tell  you  about  one.  When 
I  went  to  Vienna,  seeing  all  the  double-basses  together 
right  in  the  middle  of  the  orchestra,  I  (accustomed  to  seeing 
them  scattered  here  and  there)  gave  a  great  start  of  surprise 
and  a  certain  little  smile  that  would  say  "These  pigs  of 
Germans!"  ("Toderi  di  Tedeschi,"  literally  "These  German 
squids!").  But  when  T  descended  into  the  orchestra  and 
found  myself  before  the  double-basses,  and  heard  their 
powerful  attack,  their  precision,  their  neatness,  their 
piani  and  their  for ti,  etc.,  etc.... I  perceived  that  I  was 
the  todero,  and  I  stopped  smiling.  From  this  you  will 
understand  my  ideas  about  how  the  violas  and  cellos  should  ^ 
be  placed,  which  play  such  important  parts  in  modern  works. 

The  second  letter,  to  his  publisher  Giulio  Ricordi  and  dated 

July  10,  1871,  also  illustrates  the  growing  importance  Verdi 

placed  on  the  arrangement  of  his  orchestra: 

Quoted  in  translation  in  Frank  Walker,  "Verdi  and 
Francesco  Florimo — Some  Unpublished  Letters,"  Music  and  Letters 
(October,  1945),  p.  115. 

The  arrangement  of  the  orchestra  is,  much  more  important 
than  is  usually  assumed,  for  the  color  i^ixtures  of  the 
instruments,  for  the  sonority,  for  the  effect.  Such 
small  improvements  should  pave  the  way  for  us  to  other 
innovations  that  will  certainly  come  some  day.  ^ 

Aida  (1871)  is  one  of  the  most  interesting  of  Verdi’s  scores. 
For  the  only  time  in  his.  career,  the  composer  occupied  himself 
with  the  creation  of  local  color,  and  adapted  the  normal  orchestral 
ensemble  in  an  attempt  to  depict  the  exotic  atmosphere  of  ancient 

In  Aida,  Verdi  delved  more  deeply  than  ever  before  into  the 
technical  capabilities  of  the  instruments.  The  score  abounds  in 
the  instrumental  devices  and  orchestral  techniques  that  he  had 
worked  out  so  carefully  through  his  long  career.  Through  them, 
he  was  able  to  create  such  contrasting  moods  as  the  tropical 
evening  mystery  of  the  Nile  scene,  the  martial  spectacle  of  the 
triumphal  march,  and  the  gloomy  despair  of  the  final  tomb  scene. 

As  well,  Verdi  manipulated  his  orchestra  to  portray  poignant 
emotions  such  as  the  homesick  nostalgia  of  Aida,  the  corrupt 
ambition  of  Ramfis,  the  bitter  jealousy  of  Amneris,  and  the 
hopeless  love  and  frustration  of  Radames  and  Aida. 

HO  x 

"Questa  collocazione  d’orchestra  e  d’un1 import an za  ben 
maggiore  di  quello  che  comunemente  si  crede,  per  gl’impasti  degli 
stromenti,  per  la  sonorita  e  per  l’effetto.  Quest!  piccoli 
perf ezionamenti  apriranno  poi  la  strada  ad  altre  innovazioni,  che 
verranno  certamente  un  giorno."  See  Cesari  and  Luzio,  I  Copia— 
lettere.,  p.  264. 

In  thj.s  opera,  Verdi  employed  a  lavi&hness  of  orcheatral 

forcea  as  never  "before.  In  fact,  for  the  very  first  time,  he 

atipulated  the  exact  number  of  strings  he  desired  in  the 

orchestra.  For  the  Cairo  premiere  of  the  opera,  Verdi  requested 
and  received  fourteen  first  violins,  twelve  second  violins,  twelve 
violas.,  twelve  cellos,  and  twelve  double  basses  (!).  The 
augmented  second  violin,  viola,  cello,  and  bass  sections  reflect 
Verdi's  new  concept  of  string  orchestration.  No  longer  did  the 
lower  strings  fulfill  merely  supporting  and  accompanying  roles.. 

In  Aida,  they  became  equal  partners  of  the  first  violins  in  a 
much  more  contrapuntal  texture. 

Verdi's  use  of  string  sonorities  and  techniques  in  Aida  is 
much  advanced  beyond  his  previous  works.  This  is  immediately 
evident  in  the  Prelude  to  the  opera,  where  two  prominent  themes 
are  first  presented.  The  first  is  the  theme  associated  with  Aida's 
love  for  Radames,  played  pianissimo  by  muted  violins  later  joined 
by  muted  violas.  This  melody,  which  recurs  throughout  the  opera, 
effectively  portrays  the  sad  longing  of  Aida  for  a  love  she  cannot 
possess.  The  second  theme  represents  the  vindication  of  the  high 
priests.  This  motive,  based  on  a  descending  scale,  is  played  by 

The  specifications  were  listed  in  a  letter  to  his  publisher 
Giulio  Ricordi  on  April  11,  1871.  See  Werfel  and  Stefan,  Verdi : 

The  Han  in  his  Letters,  p.  301. 

cellos  coi  sordini.  At  the  end  of  the  Prelude  this  theme  is 

heard  in  conflict  with  fragments  of  Aidars  theme.  The  dramatic 
idea  is  obvious  but  effective. 

The  opening  of  the  opera  displays  the  same  style  of  four- 
part  string  writing  that  denoted  a  "conversation  in  progress"  in 
La  Forza  del  Destino.  In  this  instance,  the  audience  becomes 
party  to  the  exchange  between  Radames  and  Ramfis. 

One  of  the  most  ethereal  of  all  of  Verdi’s  aria  accompaniments 
occurs  in  Radames’  famous  Act  I  "Celeste  Aida."  Verdi  accomplished 
this  effect  through  the  use  of  various  string  devices.  The  first 
verse  is  accompanied  by  a  thin,  transparent  scoring  of  six  muted 
violins  tremolando  in  high  register  with  pizzicati  in  the  remaining 
tu tti  strings.  The  second  verse  uses  six  solo  violins  d iv i s i  in 
three  parts  (without  mutes)  and  first  violins  of  the  tu tti  playing 
pianississimo  staccato  repeated— note  figures  leggerissimo .  This 
texture  is  supported  by  pizzicato  beats  in  the  second  violins, 
violas,  and  double  basses  while  the  cellos  double  the  vocal  part. 

Verdi  used  a  similar  "shimmering"  texture  to  accompany  Aida’s 
pleading  phrase  "Numi,  pieta"  at  the  end  of  her  Act  I,  scene  i  aria 
"Ritorna  vincitor"  and  again  when  this  identical  vocal  phrase 
returns  at  the  end  of  Act  LI,  scene  i  following  the  Aida— Amneris 
duet.  In  both  instances,  violins,  violas,  and  cellos  play 
sustained  tones  tremolando ,  effectively  indicating  the  inner 

turbulence  of  Aida’s  emotions. 


This  same  effect  is  used  once  again  by  the  composer  in  the 

final  duet  of  Radames  and  Aida  in  the  tomb,  "0  terra  addio." 

First  violins  and  cellos  play  tr emolando  upper  harmonics  with 
sustained  harmonics  played  by  the  second  violins.  Violas  and  solo 
double  bass  play  pizzicato  first  and  third  beats,  completing  the 
accompaniment  of  the  duet’s  first  stanza.  The  second  verse  uses 
divisi  first  violins  and  the  cellos  playing  triadic  leaps  in 
harmonics,  while  the  second  violins,  divisi  e  coi  sordini,  play 
high  register  tremolando.  The  solo  bass  and  the  violas  continue 
their  pizzicato  punctuation.  The  third  and  final  verse  is  sung 
over  long  tremolando  tones  played  by  the  first  violins,  second 
violins,  and  violas  (all  divisi  in  two  parts),  with  sustained 
harmonics  in  the  cello  part  and  occasional  pizzicato  beats  in 
tutti  basses.  Harp  and  high  register  winds  add  a  celestial 
quality  to  this  setting,  as  the  lovers  bid  farewell  to  the  earth 
and  talk  of  their  union  in  heaven.  Four  muted  solo  violins 
conclude  the  opera  by  playing  the  opening  phrase  of  M0  terra 
addio,"  the  theme  ending  on  the  highest  note  ever  written  by 

Muted  basses  become  melodic  instruments  in  the  Act  TV, 
scene  i  judgement  scene  of  Aida  where  they  play  nine  measures 
of  the  solo  theme  associated  with  the  priests.  This  melodic 
writing  for  tutti  double  basses  in  unison  foreshadows  the  ominous 


Travis,  Verdi’s  Orchestration,  p.  30. 

double  bass  section  interlude  in  the  fourth  act  of  Otello. 

The  most  dramatically  effective  mood  painting  in  Aida 
occurs  in  the  Act  III  Nile  scene,  where  Verdi  employed  four  special 
string  techniques  simultaneously  to  create  the  mysterious  tropical 
atmosphere  inherent  in  the  scene.  Muted  first  violins  play  a 
repeating  staccato  sixteenth-note  figure  sounding  GTs  in  four 
consecutive  octaves,  ascending  and  then  descending.  Muted  second 
violins,  alternate  between  sustained  tremolando  intervals  of  a 
perfect  fourth  and  minor  third.  Violas,  also  muted,  play  a 
pizzicato  figure  consisting  of  three  ascending  eighth-note  GTs 
in  three  consecutive  octaves,  followed  by  an  eighth  rest.  Divisi 
cellos  sustain  long  harmonic  pedals  beneath  this  transparent 
orchestration . 

Most  of  the  Egyptian— like  color  in  Aida  is  provided  by  the 


woodwinds,  particularly  the  flute  and  piccolo.  One  of  the  most 
conspicuous  instances  occurs  in  the  introduction  to  the  Act  III 
Nile  scene  with  an  exotic  triadic  melody  for  solo  flute  above  the 
string  effects  described  above.  The  hollow,  melancholy  sonority 
of  single  flute  here  depicts  the  mystery  of  the  evening  and  the 
sorrow  of  Aida.  The  flute  theme  continues  through  the  brief 
opening  dialogue  between  Ramfi.s  and  Anneris^  As  Aida  enters. 

Verdi  had  gone,  to  Florence  to  examine  an  ancient  Egyptian 
flute  on  display  in  a  museum  there.  He  had  thought  of  using  an 
actual  Egyptian  instrument  for  creating  color  but  dismissed  it  as 
"a  reed  with  four  holes  in  it — like  the  ones  our  shepherds  have.” 
See  Osborne,  Operas,  p.  425. 


three  flutes  play  her  love  motive  as  an  introduction  to  her  aria 
M0  patria  mia."  The  actual  aria  uses  a  solo  oboe  in  a  counter- 
melodic  function,  with  the  tremolando  of  the  three  flutes  main¬ 
taining  the  feeling  of  intrigue  and  impending  doom. 

Verdi  also  used  the  three  flutes  to  create  an  Egyptian 
atmosphere  in  the  dance  of  the  Priestesses  in  Act  I,  scene  ii. 

Here,  the  instruments  are  scored  staccato  in  three  parts  in  the 
middle  register,  accompanied  by  simple  string  pizzicat i .  The 
detached  chordal  texture  and  the  chromatic  style  of  the  flute 
parts  create  a  very  exotic  effect. 

Two  solo  flutes  in  combination  .with  the  clarinet  and 
bassoon  are  largely  responsible  for  the  pleading  quality  of  the 
"Pieta  ti  prenda  del  mio  dolor"  section  of  the  Act  II,  scene  i 
Amneris-Aida  duet.  The  sorrowful  quality  of  the  solo  oboe  is 
utilized  in  the  introduction  to  the  desperate  Radames— Aida  duet 
"La,  tra  foreste  vergini"  in  Act  III.  Besides  its  routine 
orchestral  duties,  the  solo  clarinet  is  employed  for  its  plaintive 
quality  in  many  of  the  frequent  statements  of  Aida’s  love  motive. 
Solo  bassoon  is  utilized  to  great  effect  in  the  Radames-Amneris 
duet  of  Act  IV,  scene  i  in  which  the  embittered  Princess  tries  to 
convince  Radames  to  renounce  his  love  for  Aida.  The  dark  sound 
of  the  bassoon  arpeggi  dramatically  depict  her  jealousy  and  deceit. 

In  Aida  for  the  first  time,  the  bass  clarinet  and  English 
horn  are  used  to  play  inner  parts  within  the  woodwind  section  of 
the  orchestra,  as  opposed  to  their  purely  solo  function  in  Verdi’s 


earlier  scores.  Their  addition  to  the  woodwind  ensemble,  and  thus 
to  the  orchestral  tutt i,  creates  a  new  richness  of  sonority. 

Aida  also  contains  prominent  writing  for  brass  ensemble, 
primarily  associated  with  the  military  aspects  of  the  plot. 

Examples  occur  in  the  fanfare  for  two  trumpets  and  three  trombones 
which  introduces  "Celeste  Aida"  in  Act  I,  scene  i  and  the  fanfare 
scored  for  two  trumpets,  three  trombones,  four  horns,  and  cimbasso 
heralding  the  king’s  entrance  in  the  same  scene.  A  backstage 
brass  band a  usually  consisting  of  two  trumpets  and  three  trombones 
is  heard  near  the  end  of  Act  II,  scene  i,  playing  the  theme  from 
the  king’s  invocation  to  the  troops  "Su!  del  Nilo"  in  the  preceding 
scene.  The  dramatic  implication  of  the  returning  army  in  the 
distance  is  simple,  yet  immensely  powerful  as  it  interrupts  the 
string  and  wind— dominated  scene  between  Aida  and  Amneris. 

The  most  unusual  use  of  brass  in  the  opera  undoubtedly 
involves  the  six  straight— bored  Egyptian  trumpets  played  sul 
palco~*^  in  the  triumphal  scene  of  Act  II.  Verdi  had  the  instruments 
(three  tuned  in  A-flat  and  three  in  B-natural)  built  in  Milan  and 
sent  to  Cairo  for  the  premiere. 

In  the  Judgement  Scene  of  Act  IV,  scene  i,  Verdi  used  four 
trombones,  four  trumpets,  and  bass  drum  to  punctuate  the  accusations 
of  the  priests  in  the  offstage  tomb.  This  effect,  combined  with 
the  sporadic,  contrasting  outbursts  of  Amneris  and  the  full  pit 

*^”0n  the  stage." 




orchestra,  create  a  dramatic  situation  without  comparison  in  Verdi’s 

More  intimate  scoring  for  brass,  though  still  connected  with 
the  military  aspects  of  the  plot,  is  also  found  in  Aida.  One  such 
instance  is  the  use  of  two  trumpets  leggerissimo  e  staccato  in  the 
Act  III  duet  between  Aida  and  Radames,  where  the  young  general 
tells  Aida  that  she  shall  he  his  prize  for  his  victory  over  the 
Ethiopians . 

The  solemnity  of  the  priests’  religious  order  is  depicted  by 
the  noble  sonority  of  three  trombones  accompanying  their  suppli^ 
cation  in  the  temple  at  the  end  of  Act  I,  scene  ii.  Verdi  again 
used  these  three  trombones  as  Ramfis  and  the  priests  return  from 
the  tomb  after  Radames’  condemnation.  Here  they  play  a  single, 
ominous,  sustained  tone  beneath  the  priests’  theme  from  the 

In  Aida,  the  harp  functions  more  as  a  martial  instrument 
than  as  a  celestial  one.  Examples  of  this  occur  in  the  march 
rhythm  of  two  harps  in  the  Act  I,  scene  ii  chorus  of  the 
priestesses  and  in  the  slaves’  chorus  in  Amneris’  chamber  in 
Act  II,  scene  i. 

Verdi  reserved  the  use  of  the  gong  or  tam-tam  for  only  two 
moments  in  the  opera,  both  associated  with  the  terrible  realization 
of  Radames’  doom.  The  first  is  heard  at  the  exact  moment  that  he 
is  condemned  by  Ramfis  and  the  priests.  Minutes  later,  as  Amneris 
collapses  in  despair  outside  the  tomb,  Verdi  called  for  one  final 
death-like  stroke  on  the  gong  with  the  last  chord  of  the  scene. 


Simon  Boccanegra,  premiered  in  1857  in  Venice,  was 

extensively  revised  by  Verdi  and  Boito  in  1881.  The  revised  opera 
which  was  first  presented  in  Milan  on  March  24,  has  become  the 
standard  version  for  modern  performances. 

Due  to  its  major  alterations,  Simon  Boccanegra  has  the 
definite  "feel"  of  Verdi's  late  period,  strongly  foreshadowing 
Otello  and  Falstaf f .  The  composer  set  the  work  in  a  much  more 
continuous  musical  style,  further  breaking  down  the  discernible 
divisions  between  numbers. 

The  orchestral  quality  of  Simon  Boccanegra  is  dark,  solemn, 
and  gloomy,  almost  without  relief.  This  is  achieved  orchestrally 
by  Verdi's  constant  use  of  the  low  registers  of  the  instruments, 
particularly  the  strings. 

The  opera  opens  with  a  Prologue  in  media  res,  Verdi  again 
using  the  "conversation— in— progress"  technique.  The  rising  of  the 
curtain  finds  Paolo  and  Pietro  discussing  their  plan  to  name 
Simon  Boccanegra  as  the  first  Doge  of  Genoa.  Their  scheming  words 
are  sung  in  a  monotonic  recitative  style  while  strings  in  five 
parts  play  a  gently-moving  theme  depicting  the  tranquil  evening. 
The  string  melody  used  by  Verdi  here  is  very  similar  in  movement 
and  nature  to  the  opening  of  Otello ' s  third  act  where  Otello  and 
Iago  discuss  the  supposed  infidelity  of  Desdemona  and  Cassio. 

The  Prologue  continues  with  another  of  Verdi's  orchestral/ 
dramatic  trademarks — the  stealthy,  subdued,  quick  pizzicato  string 

associated  with  conspirators,  abductors,  and  murderers.  In  the 

Simon  Roccanegra  Prologue,  the  chorus  of  conspirators  is  intro¬ 

duced  by  a  rising  pizzicato  figure  played  by  the  violins,  violas, 
and  cellos,  touching  the  tonic  and  dominant  of  the  chords  only. 

Paolo  informs  the  conspirators  of  past  events  in  a  scene 
reminiscent  of  Ferrando’s  story-telling  in  II  Trovatore.  In 
Simon  Boccanegra,  however,  the  orchestral  accompaniment  is  much 
more  advanced,  foreshadowing  the  "bonfire”  music  of  Otello . 

The  orchestra,  with  its  active,  independent  movement,  provides 
more  of  a  dramatic  background  than  a  support  for  the  voice  part. 

The  strength  and  nobility  of  Fiesco  is  aptly  illustrated  by 
the  orchestra  upon  his  initial  appearance.  A  majestic  fortissimo 
unison  figure,  played  four  times  by  the  low  strings  and  punctuated 
each  time  by  pianissimo  brass  chords  immediately  gives  the 
impression  of  power  and  dignity.  Throughout  the  opera,  whenever 
Fiesco  is  involved,  the  composer  used  rich,  low  string  sonorities 
with  somber  brass  colors  adding  a  further  sense  of  refined  strength. 
One  other  example  of  this  particular  tonal  color  association  is 
evident  in  the  scene  where  Fiesco  gives  his  approval  to  the 
betrothal  of  Amelia  and  Gabriele.  Here,  Verdi  accompanied  Fiesco ?s 
blessing  with  soft,  sustained  brass  chords,  giving  an  almost 
religious  feeling  to  the  scene. 

The  opening  of  Fiesco rs  famous  Prologue  aria  "II  lacerato 
spirito"  is  accompanied  solely  by  mournful  brass  chords  with 
intermittent  "death"  beats  on  side  drum.  Then,  as  he  turns  to 
Heaven  for  help,  the  orchestral  color  and  dramatic  direction  of 


the  aria  change.  Fie sc o '  a  desperate  plea  to  God  is  effectively 
accompanied  by  transparent  tremolando  strings,  double  bass 
pizzicato ,  and  offstage  chorus  voices  mourning  the  death  of  Maria. 
In  a  brief  tremolando  postlude  to  the  aria,  Verdi  scored  the  solo 
trumpet  on  the  second  beat  of  each  measure,  giving  the  effect  of 
a  death-bell  toll. 

An  impressive  example  of  orchestral  scene— paint ing  is  found 
in  the  short  prelude  to  Act  I,  scene  i.  Verdi  used  muted  violin 
trills,  pianissimo  high— register  sextuplet  figures  played  by  the 
piccolo  depicting  various  bird  noises,  and  then  a  cantab ile 
upper— range  cello  theme  over  tremolando  violins  and  violas  to 
create  a  musical  picture  of  the  sea  at  sunrise.  The  shimmering 
quality  of  the  strings  dramatically  portrays  the  glistening 
reflection  of  the  rising  sun  on  the  water. 

This  Prelude  leads  directly  to  Amelia's  aria  "Come  in 
quest 'ora  bruna,"  where  a  continuous  sextuplet  figure  played  by 
the  violins  indicates  the  motion  of  waves  rippling  against  the 

Another  dramatic  use  of  instrumental  color  in  the  aria  is 
Verdi's  use  of  sinister— sounding  fifths  scored  for  high  winds  as 
Amelia  remembers  her  murdered  nurse's,  dying  words. 

As  had  been  his  custom  since  the  beginning  of  his.  career, 
Verdi  again  made  use  of  individual  instrumental  colors  in  order 
to  create  a  specific  emotional  feeling.  In  Simon  Boccanegra  this 
device  is  evident  in  several  passages.  The  plaintive  tone  of  the 

solo  oboe  introduces  Amelia's  sorrowful  aria  "Orfanella  il  tetto 

umile"  in  which,  she  tells  Boccanegra  of  her  life  without  parents. 
The  oboe,  always  one  of  Verdins  favorite  instruments  to  depict 
melancholy  and  sadness,  is  again  employed  in  Gabriele’s  recitative 
before  his  pleading  Act  XI  aria  "Cielo  pietoso  rendila."  Here, 
the  desperate  youth  contemplates  killing  Boccanegra  in  order  to 
secure  his  freedom.  The  nasal,  mournful  quality  of  the  oboe 
effectively  depicts  Gabriele Ts  hopeless,  situation. 

Again,  in  the  final  scene  of  the  opera,  the  oboe  lends  its 
peculiar  tonal  color  to  the  creation  of  an  atmosphere  of  sorrow 
and  sadness  as  Fiesco  learns  too  late  that  Amelia  is  really  his 
granddaughter.  To  Fiesco ’s  words  "Piango,  perche  mi  par la  in  te 
del  ciel  la  voce,"  the  oboe  and  divisi  violas  play  Verdi’s  con¬ 
ventional  semitone  falling  and  rising  figures  depicting  weeping. 

The  dark  tonal  color  of  the  bass  clarinet  adds  a  threatening 
quality  to  the  scene  in  which  Boccanegra  lays  the  curse  upon 
Paolo  in  the  Council  Chamber.  This  entire  scene,  new  to  the  1881 
version,  is  a  masterful  example  of  dramatic  utilization  of  the 
orchestra.  The  fierce  tutti  opening  is  remarkably  similar  to  the 
Otello  storm  music — understandably  so,  since  Verdi  was  occupied 
with  the  composition  of  that  opera  at  the  time  of  the  Simon 
Boccanegra  revision. 

As  the  Doge  calls  Paolo  forward  to  deliver  his  curse,  Verdi 
scored  a  fortissimo  brass  unison  motive  which  spans  four  octaves 
and  ends  on  a  violent  trill  for  every  instrument  in  the  pit.  One 
cannot  help  but  notice  the  similarity  between  this  passage  and 



the  opening  of  lago's  "Credo."  As  Boccanegra  tells.  Paolo  that  he 
knows  the  name  of  the  traitor,  the  motive  is  repeated  three  times 
by  bassoon,  cellos,  and  violas,  with  agitated  violins  tremolando 
adding  to  the  tension  of  the  confrontation.  As  the  chorus  repeats 
the  curse  "sia  maledetto,"  the  cello  and  bass  clarinet  play  three 
long,  low  F—sharps,  indicative  of  a  death  knell. 

Another  dramatic  incident  in  the  opera  which  is  effectively 
emphasized  by  orchestral  support  is  the  poisoning  of  Boccanegra 
in  Act  II.  First,  there  is  the  eerie,  syncopated  three-note 
chromatic  phrase  in  octaves,  played  pianissimo  by  the  clarinet 
and  the  bassoon  against  the  dull  thud  of  bass  drum  and  cello  and 
double  bass  pizzicato  as  Paolo  pours  the  poison  into  Boccanegra’ s 
cup.  Later  in  the  same  scene,  as  Boccanegra  pours  himself  a  cup 
of  water,  the  double  bass  pizzicat i  return,  accompanied  by  tension- 
building  drum  rolls  and  pianissimo  brass  chords.  As  he  unwittingly 
drinks  the  poison,  the  trombones  play  a  sudden  fortissimo  chord, 
pointing  out  the  now— assured  doom  of  Boccanegra. 

Simon  Boccanegra  contains  many  examples  of  purely  instrumental 
effects.  The  tolling  death  bell  at  the  end  of  the  opera,  the 
joyous  ringing  of  offstage  chimes  as  Boccanegra  is  proclaimed  Doge 
at  the  end  of  the  Prologue,  the  many  instances  of  backstage  banda 
fanfares,  the  sul  palco  trumpet  call  as  the  Captain  of  the  Archers 
reads  the  proclamation  in  Act  III,  the  use  of  two  offstage  snare 
drums  in  the  citizens’  call  to  arms  ending  Act  II,  and  the  harp 
that  accompanies  the  Act  I,  scene  i  Manrico-like  serenade  of 


Gabriele  are  all  examples  of  such  devices. 

One  last  technique,  used  previously  by  the  composer  in 
Rigoletto ,  is  the  bocca  chiusa  humming  of  offstage  chorus,  here 
indicating  the  rioting  populace  in  the  distance  in  Act  I,  scene  ii. 
As  the  crowd  approaches,  the  hum  becomes  a  sustained  sung  "ah.  ” 

Another  major  example  of  operatic  revision  is  Verdi’s  Don 
Carlo,  originally  a  French  opera  in  five  acts.  It  was  premiered 
in  that  form  at  the  Paris  Opera  on  March  11,  1867.  In  1884  a 
largely  revised  and  shortened  Italian  version  of  the  opera  was 
given  its  first  performances  at  La  Scala  in  Milan.  Verdi  rewrote 
much  of  the  music,  re-orchestrated  many  scenes,  and  completely 
omitted  the  first  act  (the  scene  at  Fontainebleau)  and  the  third- 
act  ballet.  A  further  revision  in  1887  restored  the  work’s  first 
act;  it  is  this  version  which  has  become  the  standard  one  for 
performances  in  the  world’s  major  opera  houses  in  the  last  few 
decades . 

Don  Carlo  requires  the  largest  Verdi  orchestra  to  this  date. 
Included  are  three  flutes  (the  third  flute  player  doubling  on  the 
piccolo),  English  horn,  four  bassoons,  contrabassoon,  two 
trumpets  and  two  cornets,  four  timpani,  and  harmonium.  For  the 
first  time,  Verdi  indicated  the  specific  instrument  he  desired  to 
provide  the  bass  brass  notes.  Instead  of  the  usual  nebulous 

cimbasso  marking,  the  composer  called  for  the  ophicleide, 

a  type 


of  woodwind  tuba  very  common  in  the  Paris  Opera  orchestra. 

The  most  prominent  orchestral  element  in  the  Don  Carlo  score 
is  Verdi’s  growing  preoccupation  with  the  use  of  woodwind  sonorities 
for  dramatic  purposes,  both  in  ensemble  and  individually.  Of  the 
instances  of  this  treatment  in  Don  Carlo,  it  will  suffice  to  cite 
a  few  representative  examples. 

The  solo  clarinet  plays  an  important  role  as  it  comments 
melodically  in  the  recitative  to  Don  Carlo's  hopeful  aria  "Io  la 
vidi  e  al  suo  sorriso"  as  he  anticipates  seeing  his  betrothed  for 
the  first  time.  Moments  later,  as  Elisabetta  reflects  on  her  love 
for  Don  Carlo  ("Di  qual  amor — di  quanto  ardor  quest ’alma  e  plena"), 
the  clarinet  is  again  prominent  with  accompanimental  arpeggios 
supported  by  pizzicato  string  chords. 

The  brief  orchestral  opening  to  the  second  scene  of  Act  II 
creates  the  mood  of  a  lazy,  exotic  Spanish  afternoon,  chiefly 
through  the  use  of  piccolo  and  triangle: — used  in  a  manner  similar 
to  that  in  Aida.  The  piccolo,  playing  a  sustained  piano  passage 

This  instrument  combines  the  funnel-shaped  mouthpiece  of 
brass  instruments  with  a  wood  body  and  woodwind  finger-hole  system. 
The  rarity  of  the  ophicleide  results  in  the  use  of  tuba  in  most 
modern  performances.  One  well-known  example  of  its  use  is  as  the 
instrumental  representation  of  Bottom  in  Mendelssohn's  A  Midsummer 
Night's  Dream.  See  Percy  Scholes,  ed. ,  The  Oxford  Companion  to 
Music ,  10th  edition  (London:  Oxford  University  Press,  1970),  p.  257. 

and  doubled  an  octave  lower  by  s.olo  oboe,  is  featured  in  the 
women ’ s  chorus  that  follows.  This  piece,  in  which  the  ladies 
of  the  court  sing  of  their  peaceful  surroundings,  also  demon¬ 
strates  a  violin  technique  (in  rudimentary  form)  that  would  play 
an  important  function  in  the  "fire  music"  of  Otello .  In  a  series 
of  constantly— repeated  eighth  notes,  the  first  violins  bow  the 
on-beat  eighth  notes  while  the  off-beat  eighths  are  echoed  by 
pizzicato  second  violins. 

Verdi's  "weeping"  semi-tone  figure  is  heard  often  in-  Don 
Carlo — played  by  the  solo  flute  and  the  oboe  as  Don  Carlo  pleads 
with  Elisabetta  to  intervene  for  him  with  Philip  in  Act  II, 
scene  i;  in  Act  II,  scene  ii  by  the  English  horn  as  Elisabetta 
comforts  the  banished  Countess  in  her  aria  "Non  pianger,  mia 
compagna";  and,  as  Rodrigo  tells  Carlo  of  the  miseries  suffered 
by  the  people  of  Flanders,  again  played  by  the  solo  oboe.  This 
final , example  of  the  "sobbing"  motive  is  significant  as  it  emerges 
from  a  much  more  complex  orchestration  than  usual  with  moving, 
independent  string  passages  disguising  it. 

A  purely  instrumental  use  of  this  semi— tone  figure  is  found 
in  the  opening  to  Act  IV,  which  begins  with  three  ponderous  and 
melancholy  A’s,  each  preceded  by  an  ascending  grace  note.  Verdi 
scored  this  fully  for  strings,  four  horns,  and  four  bassoons  over 
a  span  of  two  octaves  giving  the  impression  of  masculine  sorrow. 
The  motive  is  assumed  by  the  solo  flute  in  the  opening  of  Philip's 
famous  monologue  "Ella  giammai  m'amo, "  with  the  "sighing"  A’s 


continuing  in  the  upper  register  of  the  solo  oboe  during  the  second 
section  of  the  aria. 

In  Act  IV,  scene  ii,  the  plaintive  quality  of  the  solo  oboe 
is  once  more  employed  to  depict  the  despair  of  Don  Carlo  In  prison 
as  it  plays  a  reprise  of  the  famous  Rodrigo-Don  Carlo  duet  theme 
("Dio,  che  nell’alma  Infondere")  from  Act  II,  scene  i. 

Some  of  the  most  dramatic  orchestration  in  the  opera  is  found 
in  the  instances  where  Verdi  has  scored  for  low— register  woodwinds 
in  combination  with  brass  and  strings.  These  sections  most 
successfully  portray  the  dark  and  gloomy  atmosphere  which  pervades 
the  entire  work. 

The  most  obvious  and  perhaps  the  most  effective  of  these 
orchestral  mood-paintings  is  the  menacing  passage  that  introduces 
the  Grand  Inquisitor  and  runs  throughout  his  par lante  dialogue  with 
Philip  in  Act  IV.  The  chromatic  theme  is  played  by  the  bassoon 
and  cellos,  doubled  by  the  contrabassoon  and  double  bass  an  octave 
lower.  This  passage  is  accompanied  by  sinister  thumps  of  bass 
drum,  echoed  by  timpani,  and  punctuated  by  piano  syncopated  chords 
in  the  trombone  trio.  The  scene  is  similar  in  melody,  rhythm, 
orchestral  coloring,  and  even  key  to  the  confrontation  between 
Rigoletto  and  Sparafucile  in  the  second  scene  of  Rigoletto. 

The  somber,  religious  atmosphere  of  the  cloister  at  San  Giusto 
in  Act  II,  scene  i  and  Act  V  is  dramatically  depicted  in  short 
orchestral  preludes  to  both  scenes  scored  for  four  bassoons,  four 
horns,  three  trombones,  and  ophicleide. 

This  same  ensemble  of  instruments,  or  a  part  of  it,  is  used 
to  accompany  the  bass  voice  of  the  "mysterious"  monk/ghost  of 
Charles  V  in  Acts  II  and  V.  Also  in  these  scenes,  the  ominous 
chanting  of  the  monks  is  supported  by  a  dark,  subdued  orchestration 
of  violas,  cellos,  bassoons,  trombones,  and  ophicleide. 

The  gloomy  unison  march  theme  of  the  monks  in  Act  II,  scene  ii 
as  they  lead  the  victims  of  the  Inquisition  to  the  stake  is 
orchestrated  in  an  equally  dark  and  ponderous  manner — solo  bassoon, 
three  unison  trombones  sustaining  low  G-sharp,  and  cello  pizzicato 
doubling  the  bowed  tones  of  two  solo  double  basses. 

A  notable  example  of  Verdi's  masterful  string  writing  occurs 
in  the  short  orchestral  prelude  to  Act  III,  scene  i  based  on  the 
theme  of  Don  Carlo's  "Io  la  vidi  e  al  suo  sorriso"  from  Act  I. 
Violins  divisi  a  4,  solo  cello  in  the  high  register,  and  pianissimo 
legato  phrases  played  by  the  piccolo  create  a  translucent  texture 
which  sets  the  moonlit  atmosphere  for  the  scene  that  follows. 

Elisabetta  and  Don  Carlo  reaffirm  their  hopeless  love  in  the 
Act  II,  scene  ii  duet  beginning  "Perduto  ben,  mio  sol  tesor,"  and 
Verdi  created  a  hushed  quality  in  the  orchestra  by  using  violin 
harmonics,  pianissimo  flute  trio,  single  harp  tones,  and  the  English 
horn  doubling  Elisabetta' s  sorrowful  vocal  line. 

As  he  had  done  with  Oscar  in  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera,  Verdi 
brought  light  relief  to  Don  Carlo  in  the  music  of  Tebaldo  the  Page, 
where  high,  trill-ornamented  string  writing  combined  with  the 
piccolo  is  prominent.  Due  to  the  overpowering  heaviness  of  the 


Don  Carlo  plot,  however,  Tehaldo  plays,  a  less  important  part  in 

this  opera  than  Oscar  does  in  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera. 

Special  orchestral  effects  in  Don  Carlo  include  the 
accompaniment  by  the  harp  and  harmonium  of  the  offstage  "Celestial 
Voice"  in  Act  III,  scene  ii.  In  Verdi’s  treatment  of  this  super¬ 
natural  phenomenon  he  momentarily  regressed  to  the  primitive 
theatrics  of  Giovanna  d’Arco. 

The  opening  of  the  opera  illustrates  another  special  effect 
with  Verdi’s  use  of  five  offstage  horns  depicting  the  distant  hunt, 
three  horns  in  E— flat  from  stage  left  answering  two  horns  in  B— flat 
on  stage  right . 

The  military  band a  which  accompanies  the  Act  III,  scene  i 
procession  from  the  palace,  and  the  ever-present  backstage  chime® 
complete  Verdi’s  collection  of  special  instrumental  effects  in 
Don  Carlo. 

Verdi’s  last  opera  Falstaf f  was  premiered  at  La  Scala  on 
February  9,  1893 — some  fifty— four  years  after  the  premiere  of  his 
first  opera  Oberto,  Conte  di  San  Bonfacio  in  the  same  theater. 
Falstaf f  was  Verdi’s  second  attempt  at  comic  opera  and  is  generally 
considered  to  be  a  musical  and  dramatic  masterpiece. 

For  years  Verdi  had  been  trying  to  break  down  the  traditional 
rules  which  governed  the  use  of  orchestral  instruments.  In  Falstaf f 
he  attained  his  greatest  freedom  in  this  respect,  each  instrument 
being  used  according  to  the  composer’s  uncanny  knowledge  of  the 
resulting  sound  and  dramatic  effect. 

Verdi’s,  orchestra  provides  a  running  commentary  on  the 
dramatic  action  of  the  opera.  Although  the  voice  is  still  the 
most  important  element  in  the  score,  the  orchestra  has  attained 
a  fresh,  new  role.  It  does  more  than  simply  delineate  characters 
and  situations.  More  than  in  any  other  Verdi  opera,  the  orchestra 
in  Falstaf f  highlights  and  emphasizes  the  human  emotions  which 
underlie  the  dramatic  progression. 

Scholars  repeatedly  describe  the  orchestration  of  Falstaf f 
as  "chamber— like. "  In  truth,  however,  the  Falstaf f  orchestra  is 
quite  large,  differing  from  the  Aida  orchestra  only  in  that  the 
latter  contains  one  more  harp  and  one  less  trumpet.  If,  on  the 
other  hand,  a  chamber  music  quality  can  be  inferred  by  a  texture 
in  which  each  component  or  instrument  is  given  an  opportunity  to 
make  an  individual  contribution  to  the  total  sonority  without 
being  drowned  out  by  the  remaining  forces,  then  Falstaf f  must 
indeed  be  considered  to  have  a  "chamber"  orchestration.  Within 
this  precise,  transparent  orchestration  is  displayed  a  far  wider 
range  of  orchestral  and  individual  instrumental  expression. 

The  most  numerous  and  most  prominent  solo  instrumentation 
involves  the  woodwind  family.  Verdi's  use  of  the  piccolo  in 
Falstaf f  is  without  parallel,  conjuring  up  a  wide  variety  of  moods. 
For  example,  it  creates  an  atmosphere  of  frivolity  and  brilliance 
as  in  the  exuberant  opening  of  Act  I,  scene  ii,  where  the  piccolo 
dominates  the  ensemble  with  a  playful  theme  doubled  by  the  flutes 
and  supported  by  the  horns,  oboes,  and  clarinets,  as  well  as  in 
the  brief  Act  III,  scene  ii  "Fairy  Dance"  where  a  piccolo  melody 

echoes  a  tune  played  by  the  solo  violin.  The  piccolo  adds  a  note 
of  sarcasm  as  it  doubles  the  oboe  two  octaves  above  when  Dame 
Quickly  relates  to  Meg  and  Alice  how  the  pompous  Falstaff  was 
taken  in  by  her  "act"  at  the  Garter  Inn.  A  sparkling  lyricism 
is  created  by  the  piccolo’s  bright  tonal  quality  in  the  accompani¬ 
ment  to  Falstaff ’s  "Madrigal"  in  Act  II,  scene  i. 

As  the  Merry  Wives  organize  their  chorus  of  elves  and  nymphs 
around  the  fainted  Falstaff  in  the  final  scene  of  the  opera,  the 
piccolo  creates  ominous  tension  in  combination  with  a  sustained 
texture  of  muted  strings,  flutes,  trombones,  and  solo  cello  and 
harp  harmonics.  In  a  similar  sustained  texture,  the  piccolo  con¬ 
tributes  an  intense  eeriness,  as  Quickly  tells  the  story  'of  the 
"Black  Hunter." 

Another  instrument  that  reached  its  greatest  prominence  in 
Verdi’s  late  works  was  the  English  horn.  In  Falstaff  this 
instrument,  with  its  dark,  mournful,  nasal  tone  is  utilized  to 
great  extent.  Verdi’s  employment  of  the  English  horn  differs  from 
that  of  many  of  his  predecessors,  who  seemed  to  reserve  this 
instrument  for  the  creation  of  idyllic  and  pastoral  effects.  Verdi 
most  often  used  the  English  horn’s  plaintive  and  haunting  quality 
to  depict  sorrow  and  longing  in  love.  Amelia’s  "Ma  dall’arido 
stela  divulsa,"  Aida’s  "0  Patria  Mia"  and  Desdemona’s  "Salce" 
Immediately  come  to  mind.  In  Falstaff  it  Is  in  Fenton's  Ac  III, 
scene  ii  aria  "Dal  labbro  II  canto  estasiato  vola"  that  the  English 

horn  participates  in  a  melodic  dialogue  with  the  young  lover  as  he 




VI  ■ 

reflects  on  his  frustrated  love  for  Nanetta. 

Another  effect  created  by  Verdi’s  English  horn,  and  often 
used  in  combination  with  the  above  romantic  expression,  is  that 
of  nocturnal  mystery.  Amelia’s  Act  II  aria  from  Un  Ballo  in 
Maschera  is  again  a  fine  example.  The  atmosphere  of  eerie  mystery 
inferred  by  the  gallows  at  midnight  is  dramatically  aided  by  the 
timbre  of  the  solo  English  horn.  Fenton’s  scene  in  Windsor  Park 
is  also  set  at  midnight  and  the  almost  supernatural  uneasiness 
which  foretells  the  evening’s  proceedings  is  communicated  by  the 
English  horn.  Later  in  this  same  scene,  as  the  nymphs,  fairies, 
and  elves  begin  to  appear,  the  English  horn  combines  with  the  oboe 
and  clarinet  in  a  mystical  "horn— call”  figure  played  over 
pianississimo  tremolando  chords  for  violins  and  violas. 

The  nasal  quality  of  the  English  horn  is  also  used  to  create 
humorous  effects,  as  in  the  par lante  reading  of  Falstaff ’s 
identical  love  letters  to  Meg  and  Alice  in  Act  T,  scene  ii.  Here, 
the  instrument  provides  sardonic  commentary  as  the  wives  make  fun 
of  Falstaff ’s  impetuosity.  Along  with  bass  clarinet,  hern,  and 
bassoon,  it  becomes  a  member  of  the  bass  wind  ensemble  that 
accompanies  the  pseudo— religious  litany  "Domine  fallo  casto"  in 
the  second  scene  of  Act  III,  where  the  wives  mockingly  pray  for 
Falstaff ’s  soul. 

In  Falstaff ,  Verdi  turned  his  famous  "weeping"  woodwind 
figure  into  a  comic  device.  When  Quickly  exaggeratedly  tells 
Falstaff  that  Alice  "weeps  and  moans"  in  Act  III,  scene  i,  her 



story  is  punctuated  with  the  semitone  motive  played  by  the  solo 
oboe  and  clarinet. 

As  might  be  expected,  the  buffo  nature  of  the  Falstaf f  score 
entails  varied  use  of  the  deep  timbre  of  bassoon.  A  good  example 
of  this  is  the  humor  evoked  by  the  staccato  low-register  bassoon 
melody  that  accompanies  Falstaf f’s  pathetic  wooing  of  Alice  in 
Act  II,  scene  ii.  The  instrument  also  contributes  a  gruff  quality 
to  the  scheming  of  Bardolfo,  Pistol,  Ford,  Fenton,  and  Caius  in 
the  second  scene  of  the  opera.  In  the  same  scene,  Bardolfo  and 
Pistol  warn  Ford  of  Falstaff’s  designs  on  his  wife  and  Verdi 
scored  an  ominous  sequence  in  the  dark  tones  of  clarinets, 
bassoons,  cellos,  and  violas  with  double  bass  and  bass  trombone 
sustaining  below. 

In  the  first  scene  of  the  opera  a  comical  but  slightly 
sinister  quality  is  created  by  a  fanfare  figure  played  by  clarinet, 
bassoon,  bass  trombone,  and  horns,  as  Pistol  and  Bardolfo  acclaim 
their  master  Falstaf f  as  a  great  lover. 

In  the  famous  Honor  Monologue  of  Act  I,  scene  i,  Falstaff’s 
emphatic  "No's"  'in  answer  to  his  own  questions  are  doubled  by 
unison  D’s  in  clarinet,  in  lowest  register,  bassoon,  and  two  solo 
double  basses  an  octave  lower  pizzicato  and  scordatura.  Verdi 
used  scordatura  only  in  Ernani  and  in  two  instances  in  Falstaf f 

An  excellent  example  of  divisi  string  writing  is  evident  in 
the  beautiful  accompaniment  to  Nanetta’s  "Fairy  Queen’s  Song"  in 
the  second  scene  of  Act  III.  First  and  second  violins  are  each 

divided  into  three  parts  in  a  shimmering  texture,  equal  in 

dramatic  effectiveness  to  the  opening  of  Aida’s  Nile  Scene  and 

the  beginning  of  the  first  act  of  Simon  Boccanegra.  Half  of  the 

first  violins  play  high-register  sustained  harmonics,  while  the 

remaining  first  violins  are  divisi  a  2  and  muted,  playing  a 

staccatissimo  sextuplet  figure.  This  ethereal  texture  is  doubled 

an  octave  lower  by  half  of  the  second  violins  divisi  and  muted , 

with  the  other  desks  of  the  second  violins  playing  muted  trills. 


Verdi  used  pianlssissimo  harp  harmonics  and  the  bass  clarinet 
to  decorate  Nanetta’s  vocal  line.  This  transparent  orchestration 
effectively  depicts  the  supernatural  mystique  of  the  fairies, 
elves,  and  nymphs. 

The  brass  are  used  prominently  in  Falstaf f ,  as  shown  in  the 
loud  unison  semitone  played  by  four  horns,  then  two  horns,  and 
finally  single  horn  as  the  wives  prepare  to  dump  the  laundry  basket 
containing  Falstaf f  into  the  Thames  River.  Four  horns  also 
effectively  double  Fenton’s  soaring  line  in  the  final  ensemble  of 
Act  I.  The  unfamiliar  A— flat  basso  horn  is  heard  offstage 
depicting  the  distant  call  of  the  forest  warden  in  Act  III., 
scene  li.  Verdi  presumably  called  for  this,  lower— pitched 
instrument  for  its  deeper,  more  haunting  quality,  but  the  common 


in  Verdi  s  manuscript  he  indicates  pppppp .  The  first 
publication,  however,  reduced  the  marking  to  a  more  reasonable 
pianlssissimo .  See  Hughes,  Famous  Verdi  Operas,  p.  517. 

horn  in  F  is  usually  used  because  of  the  rarity  of  the  other 
instrument . 

The  horn  had  also  been  used  since  Mozart’s:  Le  Nozze  di  Figaro 
to  symbolize  cuckoldry.  Nowhere  is  this  better  exemplified  than 
in  Ford’s  "Vengeance”  monologue  "L’ora  e  fissato"  where  horns 
dominate  the  texture  as  Ford  vows  to  make  a  fool  of  Falstaff. 
Effective  brass  ensemble  scoring  is  found  in  Act  III,  scene  i  as 
Quickly  relates  the  legend  of  the  "Black  Hunter"  to  Falstaff 
accompanied  by  a  mysterious  orchestration  of  sustained  pianississimo 
solo  horn  and  piccolo,  sinister  thumps  for  bass  drum,  and  ominous 
sustained  low  notes  for  trumpets,  trombones,  and  the  remaining 
three  horns. 

One  of  the  most  ingenious,  yet  simple  dramatic  characteri¬ 
zations  in  the  opera  is  the  warming  effect  of  the  wine  in  Falstaff ’s 
veins  in  Act  III,  scene  1.  Following  his  "bath"  in  the  Thames, 
Falstaff  returns  to  the  Garter  Inn  and  soliloquizes  about  his 
misery  as  he  drinks  his  wine.  The  liquor’s  effect  is  portrayed 
orchestrally  by  a  single  trill  beginning  in  the  three  flute  parts. 
Then  two  solo  first  violins,  two  solo  second  violins,  and  two  solo 
violas  join  the  trill  followed  quickly  by  the  addition  of  one  oboe, 
one  clarinet,  one  bassoon,  and  two  solo  cellos.  Next,  the  first 
violins  are  increased  to  four,  the  seconds  are  augmented  to  six, 
the  violas  to  four,  and  the  cellos  to  four.  Then  the  trill  grows 
to  include  the  full  body  of  strings,  piccolo,  second  bassoon, 
three  trumpets  and  timpani.  Finally,  with  the  addition  of  four 
trombones  and  bass  drum,  the  wine  has  totally  invaded  the  body 

and  mind  of  Falstaff,  aurally  depicted  by  a  tutt i  orchestral 

Special  effects  in  Falstaff  include  the  twelve  offstage 
chimes  in  the  Windsor  Park  scene,  each  harmonized  differently  by 
the  strings,  creating  an  eerie  atmosphere.  A  guitar  is  played 
offstage  to  mimic  Quickly’ s  lute  playing  in  Act  IT,  scene  ii. 
Hughes  has  noted  that  in  Verdi’s  original  manuscript,  the  composer 
used  five  and  even  six  of  the  guitar’s  strings,  whereas  in  the 

printed  score,  the  "lute"  piece  has  been  simplified  to  cover  only 

r  .  53 

four  strings. 

'  53 

Ibid . ,  p .  502 . 



. . .when  we  come  to  consider  a  music— drama  of  the  calibre 
of  Verdi’s  Otello  we  are  venturing  into  so  profound  a 
merging  of  the  two  worlds — the  musical  and  the  dramatic — 
that  we  have  to  persuade  ourselves  that  we  are  experts 
on  both,  for  here  they  are  inextricably  intertwined . ^ 

Following  the  completion  of  his  Requ iem  in  1874,  Verdi 
lived  in  virtual  retirement  for  the  remainder  of  the  decade, 
composing  only  the  String  Quartet  and  some  alterations  for  Don 
Carlo.  With  operas  like  Thomas’  Hamlet,  Gounod’s  Romeo  et 
Juliette  and  Meyerbeer’s  L’ Af r icaine  becoming  the  rage  in  Europe, 
it  is  possible  that  Verdi  began  to  suspect  that  he  was  no  longer 
"in  vogue"  or,  as  he  frequently  put  it,  "dans  le  mouvement . " 

During  the  mid—  and  late— seventies ,  operas  such  as 
Ponchielli’s  La  Gioconda,  Marchetti’s  Ruy  Bias,  and  the  revised 
Boito  Mef istof ele  were  introducing  Italian  audiences  to  a  new 
style  of  continuous  dramatic  composition.  In  1876  Wagner  opened 
his  Fest spielhaus  in  Bayreuth  with  the  first  complete  performance 
of  Per  Ring  des  Nibelungen.  French  composers  such  as  Massenet 
and  Bizet  were  experimenting  with  new',  innovative  methods  of 
orchestration . 

Vincent  Godefroy,  The  Dramatic  Genius  of  Verdi, 
(New  York:  St.  Martin's  Press,  1977),  p.  250. 

Vol . 




In  a  letter  to  his  friend  Francesco  Florimo  dated  January  5, 

1871,  Verdi  advised  ”... don’t  go  much  to  modern  operas”  and  warned 

Florimo  against  being  "seduced"  by  the  extravagant  new  styles  of 

orchestration.  One  can  sense,  however,  that  Verdi  was  uneasy 
about  being  left  behind  by  new  developments  in  his  art.  As  he 
pondered  these' fears,  he  tinkered  with  revisions  to  Don  Carlo  and 
Simon  Boccanegra,  postponing  facing  the  problem  of  how  to  present 
the  world  with  a  new  opera  acceptable  to  contemporary  thinking. 

It  was  through  a  collaboration  with  Arrigo  Boito,  at  the 
time  considered  among  the  avant-garde,  that  Verdi  finally  succeeded 
in  this  task.  The  librettist’s  brilliant  setting  of  the  Otello 
text  created  the  standard  for  Verdi’s  musical  and  orchestral 
approach  to  the  work.  Boito ’s  verses  seem  to  have  dictated  the 
declamatory  and  dramatic  style  that  Verdi  adopted. 

The  compositional  and  orchestral  techniques  in  Otello  are 
not  revolutionary  departures  from  Verdi’s  style,  however;  they  are 
rather  a  culmination  of  an  existing  ideal — the  perfection  of 
already  established  procedures  developed  in  the  course  of  his  long 
career.  Otello  displays  a  mastery  of  fusion  of  voice  and  orchestra, 
a  perfect  blend  of  recitative  and  aria,  and  a  continuity  of  drama 
unrivalled  in  his  previous  works. 

In  accordance  with  the  higher  level  of  participation  to  which 
the  orchestra  was  raised  in  Otello ,  Verdi’s  orchestral  language 

See  Cesar i  and  Luzio,  I  Copialet tere,  p.  232. 


attained  its  ultimate  dramatic  effectiveness.. 

.Act  One 

The  curtain  rises  Immediately,  revealing  a  savage  storm  in 

progress..  This  scene  is  a  masterpiece  of  dramatic  writing — the 

culmination  of  the  numerous  storm  scenes  Verdi  had  written  before. 


The  syncopated  churning  of  brass  and  woodwinds  and  the  furious 
rising  and  falling  arpeggi  for  violins  and  violas  that  depict  the 
swirling  sea,  the  sudden  flashes  of  lightning  indicated  by  brief 
downward  arpeggiated  figures  in  the  piccolo,  flute,  and  clarinet 
parts,  and  the  oscillating  horn  semitones  that  create  the  howling 
sea  wind  all  combine  to  present  the  aural  effect  of  a  raging 
tempest.  To  these  conventional  devices  Verdi  added  the  unsettling 
presence  of  sustained  tremolando  timpani,  two  bass  drums,  and 
cymbals  (played  with  timpani  sticks) ,  with  an  initial  stroke  of 
the  tam-tam  to  signal  that  some  form  of  danger  or  evil  is  present. 

Possibly  the  most  interesting  element  of  the  storm  orche¬ 
stration,  however,  is  Verdi’s  inclusion  of  a  cluster  of  three  low 
organ  pedal  tones — C,  C-sharp ,  and  D  (Example  1).  This  drone. 

Otello  is  the  first  Verdi  opera  to  begin  without  any  musical 
mood— setting'  preamble  such  as  an  overture  or  prelude.  Godefroy, 
Verdi,  Vol.  TI ,  p.  257. 


Although  there  is  no  specific  indication  in  the  score, 
according  to  Hughes,  Verdi  originally  intended  the  three  tenor 
trombone  parts  to  be  played  on  valve  instruments,  allowing  them  to 
play  rapid  scale  passages  and  trills.  See  Hughes,  Famous  Verdi 
Operas,  p.  431. 



marked  "mettera  il  registro  del  contrabassi  e  timpani,"^  provides 
a  menacing  foundation  for  the  storm  sequence,  which  lasts  for  the 
first  225  measures  of  the  opera. 

One  of  the  striking  differences  between  the  Otello  storm 

music  and  most  of  its  predecessors  is  the  natural  fluctuation  in 

the  intensity  of  the  storm.  It  is  not  portrayed  at  gale  force  all 

the  time,  but  rather  varies  from  fierce  outbursts  to  subdued, 

restless  lulls.  Verdi's  score  clearly  indicates  these  various 

levels  of  intensity.  The  furious  peaks  of  the  storm  are  relayed 

through  thickly— textured  orchestrations  which  contain  many  fast- 

moving  rhythms.  The  moments  of  relative  tranquillity  are  created 

by  sustained,  spar sely— orchestrated  passages  which  feature  many 

instances  of  solo  wind  writing.  One  example  occurs  two  measures 



where  chromatic  triplet  "wind"  figures  played  by  the 

solo  oboe  and  flutej dominate  the  transparent  orchestral  texture 
(Example  2) . 

At  \k[  the  first  voices  are  heard  in  the  opera  as  tenors 
and  basses  catch  sight  of  a  ship  in  the  distance.  Nine  measures 
later  the  opening  tu tti  crash  returns.  A  solo  trumpet  is  heard 
offstage  two  measures  after  [~bJ  sounding  three  fanfare— like  D’s 
and  a  single  cannon  shot,  prepared  hy  a  vicious  staccato  downward 

"To  be  played  in  the  same  register  of  the  double  basses  and 
timpani. " 

^All  Rehearsal  numbers  refer  to  Otello ,  full  orchestral 
score  (Milan:  Ricordi,  c!913) . 


chromatic  sixteenth-note  scale  played  by  oboes,  bassoons,  and 
strings  indicates  the  battle  in  the  harbour  between  the  Cypriot 
and  Turkish  fleets. 

The  agitated  atmosphere  of  the  scene  is  further  heightened 
by  a  pianississimo  molto  staccato  triplet  figure  in  violins, 
violas,  and  cellos  which  Verdi  introduced  seven  measures  after  0 
(Example  3) .  This  subdued  yet  constant  rhythmic  motion  contributes 
an  underlying  uneasiness  to  the  scene. 


At  @  the  restlessness  of  the  storm-tossed  sea  is  reiterated 
by  rising  sixteenth— note  chromatic  scales  for  the  bassoons,  cellos, 
and  double  basses  punctuated  by  "lightning  flashes"  in  the  high 
wo od wind  parts. 

Five  measures  before 


the  dramatic  tension  is  again 

increased  as  bassoons,  cellos,  and  basses  begin  a  driving  ost inato 
figure  of  four  falling  sixteenth  notes  which  continues  for  four— 
and— a— half  measures  over  a  sustained  trombone  trill  with  t r emo 1 i 
in  the  timpani  and  bass  drum  parts. 


The  opposition  of  orchestral  lulls  and  outbursts  continues. 
[eJ,  the  four  measures  of  choral  prayer  "Fende  l’etra  un  torvo 
e  cieco  spirto  di  vertigine"  (accompanied  by  high,  sustained 
tremolando  strings,  organ  pedals,  and  doubled  by  four  bassoons  and 
three  trombones)  are  answered  by  a  two-measure  downward  rush  of 
chromatic  sixteenth  notes  played  by  the  piccolo,  flutes.,  oboes, 
clarinets.,  and  upper  strings.  The  prayer  is  taken  up  again  with 

the  words  "Iddio  scuote  il  ciel  bieco"  and  once  more  it  is  cut 

short  by  the  storm’s  fury  indicated  by  the  heavily— orchestrated , 
plunging  scale  passage. 

Three  measures  before 

,  the  storm  again  subsides  into 

long,  sustained  notes  with  an  ominous  quarter— note  "wind"  figure 
in  horns  marked  come  un  lamento,  while  Verdi’s  "weeping"  semitones 
are  played  by  the  bassoons,  cellos,  and  double  basses  (Example  4) . 

Four  measures  before  the  staccato  triplets  reappear  in 

the  strings,  indicating  another  building  of  the  storm’s  intensity. 
The  tempest  and  the  battle  break  out  in  full  fury  at  |~h]  with  a 
series  of  unison  quarter  notes  for  cornets,  trumpets,  and  tenor 
trombones — playing  first  seven  F— sharps,  then  seven  B's  a  fourth 
higher,  and  finally  seven  E's  above  that.  The  dramatic  "war— call" 
effect  of  these  fortissimo  blasts  is  made  even  more  ferocious  by 
the  inclusion  of  three  rising  grace— notes  to  each  of  the  quarter 
notes.  Four  horns  play  in  unison  with  the  cornets,  trumpets,  and 
trombones,  on  the  first  seven  quarter  notes  and  a  fourth  below  them 
on  the  remaining  fourteen  tones,  but  without  the  acciaccatura 
preparations . 

This  leads  to  the  powerful  tutta  forza  homophonic  prayer 
"Dio,  fulgor  della  bufera"  seven  measures  after 


The  third 

measure  of  the  passage  is  punctuated  by  tr4ills  played  by  the 
cornets,  trumpets,  and  trombones  followed  in  the  next  measure  by 
descending  triplets.  The  choral  prayer  is  taken  up  once  more, 
and  again  it  is  interrupted  by  the  brass. 

Thirteen  measures  before 


there  occurs  another  lull  in 



the  storm,  this  tiine  in  order  to  expose  (for  the  first  time)  the 
evil  character  of  lago.  As  the  ensign  tells  Roderigo  that  he 
hopes  that  Otello’s  ship  sinks.  C'L’alvo  frenetico  del  mar  sia  la 
sua  tomba") ,  Verdi  accompanied  the  descending  vocal  phrase  with 
high  tremolando  violins  and  violas  punctuated  by  accented  off-beat 
descending  quarter  notes  in  the  basson,  cello,  and  double  bass 
parts,  made  all  the  more  foreboding  with  the  addition  of  two 
preparatory  acciaccature  (Example  5) . 

Four  measures  before 

,  however,  the  populace  declares 

Otello’s  ship  saved.  The  agitato  staccato  triplet  figure  returns 
in  the  strings  as  the  ship  prepares  to  dock.  The  soft,  nervous 
pulse  effectively  portrays  the  ship’s  crew  scurrying  about  their 
duties.  The  figure  is  made  even  more  frantic  in  its  setting  against 
duple  staccato  eighth  notes  played  by  the  bassoons.  The  triplet 
pulse  culminates  three  measures  before  0  with  repeated  triplet 
G— sharps  for  tut ti  orchestra  which  gradually  diminish  in  dynamics 
and  descend  through  four  octaves.  These  fanfare— style  repeated 
tones  herald  the  entrance  of  the  triumphant  Otello  with  his  famous 
salutation  "Esultate!  L’orgoglio  musukano  sepolto  e  in  mar." 

This  powerful  vocal  phrase  is  scored  with  great  economy  of  means. 

It  is  accompanied  only  by  sustained  horns  punctuated  by  occasional 
forte  arpeggio  or  heavily-accented  double-stopped  chords  in  the 
string  parts. 

Verdi  took  special  care  to  highlight  the  voice  in  this  section 
of  near  recitative  because  it  provides  the  listener’s  first 


impression  of  Otello.  It  is  possibly  the  most  striking  example  of 
the  declamatory  style  in  the  opera. 

Otello  is  greeted  with,  a  chorus  of  "Eviva,"  and  the  music 
breaks  into  a  lively  6/8  Allegro  vivace  at  the  four th  measure 
after  [mI .  The  first  four  measures  of  this  section  contain  a 
repeated  fanfare  flourish  for  cornets  and  trumpets  as  Otello 
enters  the  fortress.  The  storm,  though  greatly  subsided,  continues 
with  sporadic  bass  drum  tr emoli  and  the  persistent  distant  rumbling 
of  the  organ  pedals. 

An  agitated  "Victory  Chorus"  begins  at  j  n] .  The  light, 
dance-like  accompaniment,  consisting  only  of  fragmentary  three-note 
staccato  figures  played  by  the  oboes,  clarinets,  and  bassoons 
(still  with  the  organ  drone)  is  a  dramatic  contrast  to  what  has 
come  before.  With  its  quick,  detached  nature,  this  music  is 
similar  to  Verdi’s  conspirators,’  and  murderers’  music  in  such 
operas  as;  Rigolet  to ,  Macbeth,  and  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera. 

After  a  final  "Eviva"  at  jll|  ,  the  storm  begins  to  subside, 
the  organ  pedals  becoming  gradually  quieter^  and  the  piccolo  and 
oboe  "lightning"  figures  becoming  fainter.  The  strings  mark  the 
end  of  the  storm  with  descending  pizzicato  tonic  and  dominant  notes 

As  the  organ  finally 

in  the  final  three  measures  before 

Verdi  marked  the  organ  part  "Levare  qualche  registro 
dell’organo  per  fare  piu  piano" — "Use.  softer  registration  on  the 
organ . " 


ceases  its  cluster  drone  at  0  ,  the  chorus  sings  a  morendo 
E  major  cadence  on  the  words  "Si  calma  la  bufera." 

A  recitativo  scene  between  Iago  and  Roderigo  follows,  in 
which  Iago  reveals  his  hate  for  Otello  and  arouses  Roderigo’ s 
jealousy.  The  most  interesting  musical  point  in  this  scene  Is 
a  brief,  deceptively  light-hearted  passage  scored  for  flutes, 
clarinets,  and  first  violins  doubling  Iago ’ s  detached  vocal  line 
and  the  remaining  strings  deployed  in  a  simple  bass— chord— bass- 
chord  dance  accompaniment  (Example  6).  Verdi’s  use  of  a  good- 
natured  dance  style  to  accompany  Iago ’ s  words  is  a  stroke  of 
dramatic  genius.  Throughout  the  opera,  Iago  achieves  his  ends 
by  appealing  to  Otello  as  a  concerned  comrade  and  friend.  The 
happy  dance  tune  in  this  first  scene  is  an  indication  by  Verdi  that 
Iago  is  not  what  he  appears  to  be. 

This  short  passage  is  immediately  followed  by  an  abrupt 
downward  leap  of  an  octave  in  the  orchestra,  the  upper  note 
preceded  by  a  rising  grace— note  (Example  7).  This  figure  is  used 
throughout  the  work  as  a  punctuating  gesture  to  emphasize  Iago ’ s 
statements . 

The  Allegro  beginning  eight  measures  before  X  depicts  the 
flickering  of  the  bonfire  flames  through  falling  and  rising 
sixteenth-note  arpeggi  played  by  the  first  violins,  echoed  for 
one  beat  by  an  upward  arpeggio  in  the  bassoon  part  (Example  8). 
This  "flame"  figure  is  utilized  throughout  the  chorus  scene  that 
follows — "Fuoco  di  goia." 


Although  this  famous  scene  is  a  choral  one,  its  main  interest 
is  found  in  the  orchestra.  It  is  a  brilliant  scherzo  movement  in 
which.  Verdi  demonstrated  some  original  scoring  techniques  and 
masterly  writing  for  woodwinds  and  strings.  The  most  effective 
piece  of  scoring  occurs  in  the  eighth  measure  after  03  ,  in  a 
series  of  rapidly  alternating  staccato  bowed  and  pizzicato  notes 
played  by  the  violins.  These  figures  portray  the  dancing  sparks 
rising  from  the  bonfire  of  the  victorious  Cypriots  (Example  9) . 

Another  remarkable  aspect  of  the  orchestration  of  this  piece 
is  Verdi’s  inclusion  of  a  pianissimo  ringing  of  cymbals  during 
some  of  the  soft  woodwind  passages,  adding  a  subtle  touch  of 
exotic  coloring  to  the  scene.  The  joyful  atmosphere  is  also 
conveyed  in  the  fifth  measure  after  1  BB 1  by  pianississimo 
leggerlssimo  e  staccato  constant  sixteenth— note  figures,  played 
by  the  first  violins  and  the  piccolo,  accompanied  by  detached 
pianissimo  wind  chords  and  pianissimo  pizzicato  notes  in  the 
remaining  string  parts  (Example  10) . 

Seven  measures  before  j  CC j ,  one— beat  fragments  of  the 
arpeggiated  "flickering"  figure  appear  sporadically  in  the  solo 
bassoon,  oboe,  and  flute  parts  and  then  in  the  piccolo,  violin, 
and  cello  parts.  These  isolated  figures,  combined  with  two 
descending  pizzicato  viola  notes  followed  by  two  more  falling 
pizzicato  notes  for  cellos  and  double  basses  together,  dramatically 
indicate  the  dying  fire. 

A  repeated  pizzicato  figure  is  immediately  taken  up  by  the 


violas,  in  the  second  measure  after  ^Cc] ,  providing  a  light-hearted 
continuity  with  the  following  scene  in  which  Iago  initiates  his 
scheme  hy  getting  Cassio  drunk.. 

Verdi  used  the  same  upward  s,ixteenth-note  arpeggio  figures 
that  represented  the  flames  in  the  previous  scene  to  indicate  the 
"fire"  of  the  wine  in  Cassio Ts.  veins.  The  figure  is  first  played 
hy  the  cellos  in  the  third  measure  of 


and  then  by  the  piccolo 

and  oboes  in  octaves  eight  measures  later.  As  Cassio Ts  senses  are 
progressively  dulled  by  the  liquor,  the  one— beat  figure  is  played 
by  the  flute,  piccolo,  oboe,  and  clarinet  together  in  the  third 
and  second  measures  before  | Dp] . 

Cassio  continues:  to  drink,  and  Iago,  sotto  voce,  advises 
Roderigo  to  pick  a  fight  with  the  intoxicated  Captain,  in  a 
recitativo  conversation  accompanied  by  sustained  string  chords 
at  Idd" 

An  explosive  Allegro  con  brio  beginning  eighteen  measures 
before  [ee]  serves  as  an  attention-getting  introduction  to  Iago 1 s 
famous  br indisi  "Inaffia  lTugola."  In  the  ninth  measure  of  the 
brief  introduction,  a  three-measure  unison  passage  with  alter¬ 
nating  staccato  and  legato  figures:  is  played  (Example  11)  . 

This  is  followed  by  a  series,  of  falling  diminuendo  arpeggiated 
figures  played  by  oboes  and  first  violins  for  one  measure,  then  by 
second  violins  and  clarinets  for  one  measure,  and  finally  the  meter 
changes  to  an  ominous— sounding  6/8  "vamp"  for  bassoon  and  alter¬ 

nating  pizzicato  and  arco  notes  in  the  cello  and  double  bass  parts. 


A  further  sense  of  evil  is  conveyed  by  a  single  rising  grace  note 
on  the  off-beat  bowed  pulses. 

Throughout  the  song,  Verdi  incorporated  the  now— characteristic 
octave  drop  with  preceding  grace  note  to  emphatically  punctuate 
IagoTs  .narrative — both  in  the  voice  part  and  in  the  orchestral 
accompaniment.  It  is  not  the  typical,  frivolous  drinking  song  of 
Italian  operatic  convention  but  rather  a  calculating  vehicle 
designed  by  Iago  to  bring  about  the  downfall  of  Cassio.  His  foul 
intentions,  are  indicated  by  his.  twelve-measure  verse  in  the  fore¬ 
boding  instrumental  colors  of  cello,  double  bass,  and  bassoon. 

Cassio ’s  eight-measure  legato  reply  is  scored  for  full  strings, 
solo  flute,  oboe  and  clarinet,  bassoons,  and  horns  in  a  passage 
that  portrays  the  Captain’s  naivete. 

Iago  then  begins  a  detached,  marcato  refrain  of  twenty— two 
measures,  again  dominated  by  dark  instrumentation  with  the  added 
nasal  quality  of  the  solo  oboe.  Iago  ’  s,  foul  nature  is  underlined 
by  Verdi’s  inclusion  of  a  mocking  trill  for  voice,  flute,  oboe, 
and  first  violins  eight  measures  before 


The  refrain  ends 

with  a  striking  series  of  three  "slithering"  chromatic  descending 
runs  on  the  words  "beva  con  me"  in  the  voice  part,  doubled  by  the 
violins,  violas,  cellos,  solo  clarinet,  bassoon,  and  horn  (Example 
12)  .  In  the  tenth  measure  after  [_~FF~]  ,  the  refrain  is  repeated  by 
the  chorus  with  an  orchestral  tu ttj  accompaniment  that  includes 
violins,  flutes,  horns,  oboes,  piccolo,  solo  cornet  and  solo 
trombone  doubling  the  vocal  melody. 


The  second  verse  follows  the  same  form  as  the  first 
including  Iago  ’  s  refrain  and  its  repetition  by  the  chorus,  with 
an  augmented  orchestration.  Verse  three  begins  in  the  fifth 
measure  after  GD-  Cassio  is  by  now  completely  inebriated 
and  interrupts  Iago T s  verse  after  only  three  measures.  Three 
measures  later,  Iago  cuts  back  in,  but  is  again  interrupted  by 
the  tipsy  Cassio  after  two  measures.  Iago  then  attempts  to  start 
the  refrain  anew  but  Cassio  breaks  in  every  second  measure. 

Tension  builds  with  constant  staccato  triplets  played  by  the 
violas,  cellos,  and  bassoons  twelve  measures  before  FjjI,  assumed 
by  the  violins,  double  basses,  cornets,  and  horns  five  measures 
before  [jj)  as  the  chorus,  laughs  at  the  drunken  Cassio. 

At  HD  Cassio  tries  to  Jbegin  the  verse  but  breaks  off  after 
only  one  measure,  unable  to  remember  the  words.  This  is  accom¬ 
panied  by  short,  disjointed  staccato  wind  figures  and  high  string 
pizzicato  leaps  which  effectively  convey  the  unsteady,  intoxi¬ 
cated  state  of  Cassio.  Six  measures  before 
measures  before 


and  again  two 


,  Verdi  scored  a  measure-long  downward  chro¬ 

matic  sixteenth-note  run  in  the  flute,  violin,  and  piccolo  parts 
depicting  the  drunken  staggering  of  Cassio.  At  [  KK]  the  chorus 
sings  a  for ti ssimo  version  of  the  !,bevi  con  me"  ending  of  the 
refrain  accompanied  by  a  four-measure  coda  for  orchestral  tutti 
complete  with  trills  in  piccolo,  flutes,  oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons 
cornets,  trumpets,  and  full  strings. 

The  6/8  meter  continues  into  the  next  scene  of  the  opera, 



the  confrontation  between  Cassio  and  Montano.  Here,  the  orche¬ 
stration  builds  gradually  as  Montano  discovers  that  Cassio  is 
incapable  of  his  duty.  Goaded  by  Roderigo  and  Xago ,  Cassio  draws 
his  sword  and  a  duel  with  Montano  ensues,  the  music  constantly 
growing  in  agitation  and  excitement  as  the  scene  unfolds. 

The  furious  action  ceases  abruptly  with  Otello’s  unaccom¬ 
panied  command  "Abbasso  le  s.pade.,M  followed  by  an  emphatic  tu tta 
forza  chord  and  a  long  dramatic  pause.  Violins,  violas,  and 
cellos  then  thunder  out  a  loud,  staccato  rising  six— note  figure  in 
unison  (with  double  basses  an  octave  lower)  indicative  of  Otello’s 
rage  (Example  13)  .  He  angrily  asks  three  questions  which  Verdi 
left  without  accompaniment,  punctuating  the  first  two,  however, 
with  heavily  accented  chordal  interjections  in  the  strings.  The 
final  question  is  followed  by  the  rising  six— note  figure  of 
Example  13  played  by  strings  and  one  final  chord  for  orchestral 
tutti.  Then,  as  Otello’s  anger  momentarily  wanes,  he  turns  to 
"onesto"  Tago  and  asks  what  has.  happened.  This  change  of  mood 
is  supported  by  a  single  sustained  chord  in  the  strings. 

Iago  now  gathers:,  his  thoughts  in  a  measure  of  silence. 

At  fpp)  ,  he  begins  his  story  in  short  fragmented  phrases  with 
pianississimo  pizzicato  chordal  interjections  played  during  the 
hesitations  in  his  narrative,  representing  the  scheming  thoughts 
in  his  mind  before  he  speaks:  them.  Otello’s  anger  again  aroused, 
he  turns  to  Cassio  and  demands  an  explanation,  with  the  rise  in 
tension  conveyed  by  a  tremolando  and  crescendo  sustained  string 

chord.  Cassio  begs  forgiveness  and  says  that  he  cannot  speak, 
his  vocal  line  drunkenly  broken  by  rests  and  accompanied  by  a 
pathetic  descending  chordal  phrase  played  by  the  clarinets  and 
solo  bassoon  with  pianissimo  string  punctuations  on  the  same 
d  e  sc  end i ng  notes. 

Otello  now  learns  that  Montano  has  been  wounded  and  loses  his 
temper  once  again,  indicated  by  a  forte-piano  chord  played  tremo- 
lando  by  the  strings.  Accompanied  by  crescendo  e  tremolando  string 
chords,  Otello  rages  that  his  blood  boils  in  fury.  This  statement 
is  emphatically  marked  once  more  with  the  rising  six-note  staccato 
string  motive  at  |~ QQ~)  . 

There  is  a  dramatic  change  of  mood  as  Otello  notices 
Desdemona.  A  sustained  piano  string  chord  accompanies  his  query 
whether  the  uproar  has  disturbed  her  sleep.  But  the  rising  "anger" 
motive  returns  Otello  to  the  situation  at  hand.  He  tells  Cassio 
that  he  is  no  longer  his  Captain,  this  declaration  reinforced  by 
two  forte  string  chords  and  one  last  statement  of  the  "anger" 


With  the  Poco  piu  mosso  at  the  ninth  measure  of  QQ 

music  becomes  more  relaxed,  settling  down  to  a  lengthy  sequence 
for  strings  in  which  the  cellos  play  a  throbbing  pedal  on  marcato 
F’s  in  alternating  octaves  for  twelve  measures,  while  the  violins 
establish  a  rocking  "nocturnal"  rhythm  (Example  14) .  This  subdued 
orchestral  passage  accompanies  the  clearing  of  the  populace  from 
the  scene  and  Otello’s  instructions  to  Iago  to  restore  peace. 



At  \  RR|  Otello  and  Desdemona  are  left  alone  and  the  music 
becomes  more  tranquil  over  a  long  pedal  F  in  octaves  in  the  double 
basses  with  pulsating  support  from  the  horns.  At  the  same  time, 
the  rocking  rhythm  of  Example  14  is.  taken  up  by  the  solo  flute, 
clarinet,  bassoon,  violins  and  violas.  This  passage,  marked 
diminuendo  sempre,  subsides  ten  measures  later,  leaving  only  a 
solo  muted  cello  to  continue  the  "rocking"  rhythm,  climbing  to 
high  E-flat  (Example  15) . 

In  the  seventeenth  measure  of  [rr] ,  three  more  muted  cellos 
join  the  texture  in  a  simple  yet  lush  quartet  passage  ’which  serves 
as  an  introduction  to  the  famous  duet  "Gia  nella  notte  densa." 

The  range  and  variety  of  Verdi's  orchestral  inventiveness  increases 
as  the  piece  proceeds.  It  consists  of  a  series  of  lyrical  passages, 
each  distinguished  by  its  own  characteristic  orchestral  texture  and 
instrumental  color. 

The  first  fifteen  measures  of  the  duet  are  sung  by  Otello  and 
accompanied  by  the  entire  cello  section  divisi  a  4.  At  Vss)  , 
this  texture  gives  way  to  an  accompaniment  of  muted  violins  and 
violas  in  four  parts  as  Desdemona  reflects  on  the  trials  and  dreams 
that  marked  their  courtship.  She  asks  Otello  if  he  remembers  their 
early  days  of  romance.  The  simplicity  of  the  dramatic  moment  is 
conveyed  by  the  delicacy  of  the  scoring.  Two  flutes  and  piccolo 
sustain  a  C  major  chord  while  the  harp  plays  a  rising  arpeggio 
allargando  e  morendo  over  a  span  of  four  octaves.  Two  bassoons 

double  the  sustained  low  C  and  G  of  the  muted  cellos  while  muted 


violins  and  violas  also  sustain  a  C  major  chord.  A  rich,  ethereal 
texture  is  produced  when  only  the  harp  arpeggio  is  heard  between 
the  low  G  of  the  bassoons  and  cellos  and  the  G  two  octaves  higher 
in  the  viola  part  (Example  16).  Eight  measures  before  | TT~\ , 
pianissimo  flutes,  English  horn,  clarinets,  bass  clarinet,  horn, 
and  harp  replace  the  strings  in  Desdemona's  accompaniment  as  she 
relates  how  enthralled  she  was  by  the  stories  of  Otello’s  life 
("Quando  narravi  l’esu  le  vita").  Cellos  and  double  basses  supply 
a  discreet  pizzicato  pulse  beneath. 

The  relative  calm  of  this  passage  is  followed  at  ^TT 1  by 
Otello’s  agitated  memories  of  battle;  planississimo  martial  rhythms 
are  played  by  the  cornet,  trumpet,  piccolo,  oboe,  flute,  and 
timpani.  The  harp  plays  rapid  arpeggiated  thirty— second— note 
figures  come  un  mormorio  over  agitated  rising  arpeggi  in  the  first 
violin  part  and  restless  repeated  notes  in  the  second  violin  and 
viola  parts.  The  bassoons  make  a  frenzied  contribution  to  this 
section  of  the  scene  with  staccato  off-beat  sixteenth— note  octave 
leaps,  the  first  note  preceded  by  a  grace— note.  The  cellos  provide 
pizzicato  pulses  on  the  beat  while  the  double  basses  play  a  long 
sustained  counter-melody.  This  busy  texture  builds  in  six  measures 
to  a  climax  reflecting  Otello’s  passion  (Example  17). 

In  the  seventh  measure  after  [tt  j,  a  sudden  tranquility  is 
introduced  by  a  measure  of  repeated  sixteenth  .notes  in  octaves 
played  by  the  violins  staccato,  legger issimo  e  diminuendo.  This 

shift  effectively  sets  the  mood  for  Desdemona’s  "Poi  mi  guidavi 


ai  fulgidi  desert!,, M  in  which,  the  dolcissimo  vocal  line  is  doubled 

by  the  English,  horn  and  solo  flute  in  unison,  accompanied  by  the 

repeated— note  figure  played  by  the  violins  and  violas,  sustained 

high  harmonics  by  the  cellos,  and  piano  arpeggiated  chords  on  the 
first  beat  of  each  measure  by  the  harp  (Example  18) . 

Another  abrupt  change  of  orchestral  color  occurs  at  fuu] 

with  Otello’s.  sweet  and  passionate  reply  "Ingentilia  di  lacrlme 

la  storia  il  tuo  bel  viso."  Sustained  pianississimo  strings  and 

gently-moving  pianissimo  woodwind  parts  accompany  Otello’s 

statement  that  he  was  touched  to  see  her  so  affected  by  his 


The  Poco  piu  largo  two  measures  after  W ,  presents  one  of 

the  most  exquisite  moments  in  the  opera.  Otello  sings  "E  tu 
m’amavi  per  le  miei  aventure"  accompanied  by  a  legg  ero 
pianississimo  high-register  tremolo  for  violins,  violas,  and 
cellos — the  first  violin  tremolo  doubling  Otello’s  noble  vocal 
line  (Example  19) .  Desdemona  repeats  this  phrase  and  text  four 
measures  later  with  the  personal  pronoun  suitably  adjusted  and 
with  an  expanded  orchestration  that  includes  solo  flute  doubling 
the  voice  and  second  flute,  English  horn,  and  bass  clarinet  playing 
counter-melodies.  The  orchestral  texture  then  changes  to  a  rich 
ar co  lovr  string  sonority  as  Otello  and  Desdemona  alternate  vocal 
phrases,  for  four  measures. 

the  orchestral  tension  builds  while  Otello  invites 

death  to  challenge  his  happiness  ("Venga  la  morte")  .  The  voice 





is  accompanied  hy  a  sustained  chord  played  by  the  horns,  oboes, 
clarinets,  and  English  horn,  tremolo  in  flutes,  and  a  rising 
arpeggio  in  bass  clarinet.  After  four  measures  tremolando  strings 
are  added  to  the  texture,  and  the  flutes  cease  their  tremolo . 

As  Otello’s  passion  calms,  the  tremolando  agitation  in  the  strings 
dies  away  and  pianississimo  sustained  chords  in  woodwinds  and 
strings  project  a  more  subdued  musical  background.  Four  measures 


an  orchestral  representation  of  passion— filled  heart¬ 

beats  is  produced  by  B— natural  pulses  in  octaves  for  the  harp  with 
excited  off-beat  syncopated  triads  played  by  the  horns  (Example  20) . 

The  syncopation  continues  at  HQ  now  assumed  by  violins, 
violas,  flutes,  and  English  horn  in  a  rising  triadic  "celestial" 
passage  with  the  harp  providing  broken  chords  as  Desdemona  prays 
for  heaven1 s  protection. 

OtelloTs  reply  "A  questa  tua  preghiera  TAmenT  risponda"  is 
accompanied  in  a  lush  homophonic  setting  for  woodwinds  and  horns. 
Desdemona  repeats  the  two-measure  "TAmenf  risponda"  phrase  supported 
by  full  strings  pianissimo . 

Six  measures  before  PyyI ,  the  first  violins  and  solo  oboe 
commence  a  rising  semitone  sixteenth— note  figure  for  five  measures 
indicative  of  the  "weeping"  motives  of  other  Verdi  operas  as  Otello 
states  that  his  joy  is  so  great  that  he  weeps  (Example  21) .  One 
measure  before  |  YY^ ,  the  violins  play  an  ascending  broken  A— sharp 
diminished-seventh  chord  which  leads,  to  the  famous  "bacio"  motive 

at  \YY \ .  The  motive  is  basically  an  orchestral  one  with  its 



melody  played  by  tremolando  first  violins,  solo  clarinet,  and  oboe, 
with  sustained  chords  played  by  the  remaining  strings,  flutes, 

English  horn,  bass  clarinet,  bassoons  and  horns  (Example  22). 

Otello ’s  sporadic  interjections  of  "un  bacio"  impart  a  dramatic 
pathos  seldom  equalled  in  the  operatic  literature.  The  final  vocal 
phrase  of  the  motive — "ancora  un  bacio" — is  made  even  more  poignant 
doubled  by  the  solo  clarinet. 

At  the  Poco  piu  lento  nine  measures  after  CHI  the  harp  plays 
three  measured  rising  arpeggi  p ian i ss i s s imo  while  violins  and 
violas  sustain  high  pianississimo  ETs.  and  G’s  for  nine  measures. 

Flute  and  English  horn  play  long  unison  notes  that  rise  in  semi¬ 
tones  to  change  the  harmonic  structure  of  the  passage.  This 
transparent,  subdued  orchestral  texture  effectively  creates  the 
atmosphere  of  the  clearing  night  sky  and  the  now— peaceful  evening 
as  Otello  and  Desdemona  walk  slowly  to  the  fortress. 

They  sing  their  final  vow  of  love  with  a  "shimmering" 
orchestral  background  of  high-register  violins  and  flutes  tremolando, 
ethereal  trills  played  by  the  violas  and  piccolo,  sustained  tones 
played  by  the  English  horn,  bassoons,  clarinet,  bass  clarinet,  and 
horns,  and  constant  thirty— second— note  arpeggi  for  the  harp 
(Example  23) . 

As  Otello  and  Desdemona  disappear  into  the  fortress,  the 
first  violins  sustain  a  high  trill  while  the  cellos  diyisi  a  4 
play  the  calm,  contented  theme  of  Otello fs  opening  phrase  of  the 
duet — "Gia  nella  notte  densa."  Three  measures  from  the  end  of 


the  act  the  violin  trill  is.  reduced  to  two  solo  instruments  and 
the  harp  strikes  a  series  of  descending  tonic— dominant  tones  to 
a  low  D— flat  as  the  curtain  falls. 

Act  Two 

In  the  brief  orchestral  prelude  to  the  second  act  of  Otello , 
Verdi  introduced  a  simple  motive  which  is  utilized  for  a  variety 
of  dramatic  purposes  throughout  the  opening  scene.  The  figure, 
always  in  the  minor  mode,  consists  of  a  rising  sixteenth-note 
triplet  and  a  single  descending  quarter  note.  It  is  first  heard 
played  fiercely  in  unison  by  four  bassoons  and  cellos,  followed 
in  the  next  measure  by  clarinets  and  violas..  The  listener  is, 
at  once,  given  the  impression  of  evil  and  plotting  (Example  24) . 
Then  the  music  relaxes  to  a  deceiving  elegance  in  preparation  for 
the  raising  of  the  curtain  and  Iago ' s  scene,  beginning  in  the 
seventh  measure  after  Q.  Here  is  Shakespeare1 s  villain  at  his 
smoothest — advising  Cassio  to  seek  Desdemona's  help  in  retaining 
his  honor.  A  broad,  lyrical  theme  borne  out  of  the  opening  motive 
dominates  this  recitative— like  scene,  usually  in  string  sonorities. 
The  dramatic  action  moves  quickly.  Cassio  retires  to  the  terrace 
to  await  Desdemona  and  Iago  sardonically  declares  that  Cassio’ s 
ruin  is  imminent. 

Eleven  measures  before 

,  the  entire  orchestra  plays  a 

tremendous  fortissimo  melody,  spanning  five  octaves,  which  intro¬ 
duces  Iago  ’  s  famous  Credo  ("Credo  in  un  Dio  crudel")  (Example  25). 

One  of  the  most  powerful  musical  dramatizations  of  evil  ever 



composed,  the  Credo  displays,  inspired  orchestral  technique. 

Iago  sings  his  declamatory  statement  of  belief  over 
fortissimo  trills,  in  thirds  in  the  low.'  register  of  the  clarinets 
and  violas  joined  by  unison  trills  in  oboes  three  measures  later 
and  trills  for  bassoons  with,  timpani  t r emo 1 i  three  measures  before 
a-  The  passage  is  punctuated  by  a  forceful  staccato  e  fortissimo 
sixteenth— note  ascending  scale  played  by  the  piccolo  and  violins 
and  two  heavily-accented  closing  chords  at 

for  full  orchestra. 

In  the  second  measure  of  j  d| ,  the  mood  changes  as  two  string 
passages  denoted  aspr ament e  ("‘bitterly")  are  heard.  The  first 
passage  consists  of  a  unison  theme  made  up  of  a  sixteenth-note 
mordent  and  a  series  of  descending  eighth-note  triplet  figures, 
followed  by  a  one-beat,  rising  scale  for  violas,  cellos,  and 
double  basses  and  a  series  of  falling  piano  tonic  and  dominant 
pizzicato  tones  introducing  Iago 1 s  phrase  "Dalla  vilta  d’un  germe" 
("from  the  vileness  of  a  worm")  (Example  26) .  This  text  is 
punctuated  by  two  abridged  statements  of  this  motive.  Verdi  marked 
these  measures  pppp  and  the  theme  seems  to  indicate  the  crawling 
of  a  worm. 

In  the  seventh  measure  of  jjp] ,  the  composer  wrote  a  second 
phrase  with  the  aspramente  indication  consisting  of  the  opening 
triplet  motive  of  the  act  followed  by  three  trills  scored  for  solo 
oboe,  violins,  and  violas.  This  passage,  played  over  a  cluster  of 
notes  played  in  the  low  register  of  the  bassoons,  double-stopped 
cellos,  and  divisi  double  basses,  portrays  the  relentless  and 



determined  evil  of  lago . 

Five  measures  before  |1Q,  the  strings  play  a  one-beat 
downward  thirty— second— note  scale  which  leads,  immediately  to  a 
return  of  the  powerful  tutta  forza  opening  of  the  Credo ,  this 
time  with  lago  acknowledging  his  belief  at  the  top  of  his  voice, 
"Si,  quest ’e  la  mia  f£I " 

At  |7|  ,  cornets  and  trombones  begin  a  repeated  triplet 
fanfare  figure  on  a  C  minor  chord  while  the  upper  strings,  piccolo, 
flutes,  oboes,  and  clarinets  play  the  falling  mordent— triplet 
figure  of  Example  26  diminu endo  and  with  arco  staccato  notes  as 
opposed  to  pizzicato . 

Beginning  with  the  words  "Credo  con  fermo  cuore"  in  the 
third  measure  of  [i~] ,  the  strings  are  eliminated  from  the  accom¬ 
paniment,  the  first  phrase  of  the  passage  being  supported  solely 
by  the  martial  cornets  and  trumpets.  With  the  words  "siccome  credi 
la  vedovella  al  tempio"  ("as  believes  the  widow  at  the  church") , 
lago  sings  a  deceptively  gentle  melody,  still  accompanied  chordally 
by  cornets  and  trumpets  and  doubled  by  the  solo  oboe,  clarinet, 
and  bassoon.  This  change  in  musical  character  is  again  a  warning 
by  the  composer  of  the  varied  faces  of  lago ’ s  treachery — one  moment 
defiant,  bold,  and  contemptuous,  and  the  next  moment  charming  and 
suave.  The  evil  constantly  turns  in  his  mind,  indicated  orche— 
strally  by  the  sporadic  mordent  figures  in  the  strings  as.  he  vows 
that  his  destiny  in  life  is  to  perform  demonic  deeds. 

At  |^F ]  lago  grows  more  excited  and  frantic,  depicted  by 
constant  alterations  of  the  orchestral  dynamics. 



Second  violins  alone  tremolando  e  pianissimo  support  his  vocal 
line  as  he  reflects  on  the  futility  of  man's  life.  First  violins 
and  violas  are  added  at  the  second  measure  of  [ with  the  bassoons 
and  cellos  playing  the  downward  octave  leap  with  preceding  grace- 
note  (associated  with  Iago  in  the  first  act)  in  the  fifth  measure 
of  {i*]  as  the  orchestration  becomes  dynamically  more  agitated. 

The  seventh  measure  of  \f]  is  a  powerful  f or tissimo  tutti 
with  accented  repeated  triplets  played  by  the  cornets,  trombones, 
trumpets,  horns,  bassoons,  cellos,  and  double  basses  with  the  high 
strings  and  woodwinds  playing  the  sixteenth-note  mordent  and  falling 
eighth-note  figure  that  permeates  the  entire  scene. 

At  the  stringendo  a  poco  a  poco  eight  measures  before 
lago  begins  the  final  statement  of  his  creed,  declaring  that  man 
is  a  toy  of  wicked  fate  from  "the  germ  of  the  cradle"  ("dal  germe 
della  culla") .  An  agitated  orchestral  intensity  is  created  by 
tremolando  violins  and  violas  with  the  cellos,  bassoons  and  solo 
horn  echoing  Iago ' s  vocal  line  one  measure  later.  This  passage 
culminates  four  measures  before  j~G~\  with  a  fortissimo  tutti  chord 
with  string  tremoli  and  rolls  for  the  timpani  and  bass  drum. 

Two  measures  before  \ G~| ,  low-register  strings,  oboes, 
clarinets,  and  bassoons  play  a  rush  of  staccato  sixteenth  notes 
subsiding  two  measures  later  to  a  piano ,  sustained  drone  played  by 

the  violas  and  cellos.  As  Tago  speaks  the  words  "al  verme  dellT 
avel"  ("to  the  worm  of  the  grave"),  the  ominous  presence  of  Death 
is  portrayed  by  a  pianississimo  tremolando  C-sharp  in  low  cellos. 





a  low  sustained  trill  in  violins  and  violas,  drones  in  horns, 
bassoons,  alternating  quarter  notes:  and  tremolo  beats  in  clarinets, 
and  a  sustained  pppp  roll  of  the  timpani  (Example  27). 

Then,  in  the  fifth  measure  after  \  G^,  with  only  a  sustained 
unison  G  in  clarinets  and  violas  still  sounding,  the  atmosphere 
relaxes  and  a  subdued,  harmonized  legato  version  of  the  Credo*  s 
opening  orchestral  statement  is  played  by  the  woodwinds,  horns, 
and  strings,  ending-  on  a  pianissimo  sustained  chord  in  the  low 
register  as  Iago  acknowledges  the  inevitable  coming  of  death. 

His  word  "morte"  coincides  with  another  pianississimo  chord  and 
a  single  stroke  from  the  timpani  and  bass  drum.  After  a  death— like 
pausa  fermata,  another  two  measures,  of  the  soft  legato  version  of 
the  Credo  theme  is  played  by  the  strings  alone,  coming  once  more 
to  a  silent  pause  as  Iago  asks  "e  poi?"  ("and  then?") .  The 
homophonic  string  passage  continues  for  two  more  measures  and  then 
Iago  repeats  his  query.  The  first  three  notes  of  the  Credo  theme 
are  now  heard  in  three  low  pizzicato  notes  for  cellos  followed  by 
a  unison  ar co  half  note  rising  a  semitone  to  a  quarter  note  in 
cellos  and  double  basses  marked  pppp. 

There  is  another  ominous  silence  and  Iago  mockingly  proclaims 
that  death  is  nothing  ("La  Morte  e  il  Nulla") .  A  four-measure, 
brass-dominated  fortissimo  orchestral  coda  begins  eight  measures 
before  |~h]  with  trills  in  upper  strings,  ringing  cymbals,  and 
falling  triplets  and  trills  in  upper  woodwinds,  supporting  his  final 
triumphant  outburst  that  "heaven  is  an  old  fable"  ("e  vecchia  fola 
il  Ciel") . 


The  staccato  triplet  motive  now  descends  through  the  winds 
and  strings:  diminuendo  for  two  measures,  followed  by  two  measures 
of  staccato  eighth— note  duples  descending  from  the  violins,  to  the 
violas,  through  the  cellos  to  the  double  basses.  These  four 
measures  form  a  connecting  bridge  to  the  next  scene  of  the  opera 
which  begins  at  ©• 

The  strings  now  play  a  quick  leggero  e  staccato  passage 
similar  in  nature  to  the  "conspirator"  music  of  Verdi’s  earlier 
works.  This  constant  light,  detached  movement  effectively  portrays 
the  scheming  of  Tago  as  he  puts  his  plan  for  Otello’s  ruin  into 
action.  Otello  enters  and  lago  indicates  Desdemona  and  Cassio 
talking  in  the  garden.  Otello 's  anger  and  jealousy  surface  as 
lago  questions  Desdemona Ts  relationship  with  Cassio. 

Iago’s  treachery  is  perhaps  best  portrayed  by  the  orchestra 

when  he  warns  Otello  to  beware  of 

in  the  ninth  measure  of 

jealousy  with  the  words  "Temete,  signor,  la  gelosia!"  set  by  Verdi 
to  a  mysterious  homophonic  sequence  of  chromatic  movement  for  the 
entire  orchestra.  The  rising— falling  motion  of  the  sinister, 
pianissimo  accompaniment  and  the  sot to  voce  treatment  of  Iago’s 
vocal  line  convey  an  atmosphere  of  evil  and  poisonous  deceit. 

At  Lo  stesso  movimento  twelve  measures  before  0  ,  lago 
tells  Otello  that  jealousy  is  a  "dark  hydra,  malignant,  blind, 
that  poisons  itself  with  its  own  venom,"  his  ominous,  "snake— like" 
vocal  line  doubled  by  unison  violas  and  solo  clarinet  with  bassoon 
and  cellos  an  octave  below.  The  passage  concludes  with  a  demonic 

trill  in  the  voice  part,  violins,  violas,  flutes,  oboes, 
clarinets.,  solo  bassoon,  and  two  horns  one  measure  before  El 
(Example  28)  . 

Otello  states  that  there  must  be  investigation  and  proof 
before  he  will  doubt  his  wife,  his  emotional  turmoil  depicted 
by  a  turbulent,  agitated  orchestration. 

At  \  F|  the  dramatic  tension  suddenly  relaxes  as  the  chorus 
is:  heard  singing  offstage  in  the  garden,  accompanied  solely  by  a 


tonic-dominant  ostinato  for  cornamusa  .  In  this  pastoral  context, 
Iago,  in  a  rapid  recitative  monotone,  advises  Otello  not  to  suspect 
Desdemona  but,  rather,  to  watch  her  carefully  (Example  29). 

During  a  brief  interlude  in  which  the  strings  play  a  series 
of  piano  rising  and  falling  sixteenth— note  figures  con  eleganza, 
Desdemona  enters,  surrounded  by  women,  children,  and  sailors. 
Flutes,  solo  clarinet,  bassoon,  and  horn  enter  four  measures  before 
|'q1  adding  a  gentle,  "rocking"  feeling  to  the  orchestral  accom¬ 
paniment.  This  scene  musically  and  dramatically  provides  the 
necessary  relief  from  the  tremendous  tension  that  has  been  building 
since  the  beginning  of  the  act. 

At  (~Q~1  the  chorus  of  women  and  sailors  sing  the  song  heard 
previously,  accompanying  themselves  on  the  "guzla  (una  specie  di 

Bagpipes.  Verdi,  indicated  in  his  score  that  this  part  may 
be  played  by  two  oboes  and  this  is  the  case  in  most  modern 
performances . 


9  ,  10 

mandola) "  and  "piccole  arpe  ad  armacollo."  Now,  in  addition  to 

the  offstage  cornamusa  (or  two  oboes)  ost inato ,  the  song  is 

accompanied  by  rising  and  falling  sixteenth-note  arpeggi  for 

mandolin^  and  eighth-note  strums  of  guitar^  as  well  as  an 

arpeggiated  ost inato  figure  in  first  violins  and  a  subdued 

dominant-tonic  alternation  in  woodwinds,  horns,  and  lower  strings. 

Second  violins  and  violas  provide  off-beat  pizzicato  pulses  for 

four-and-one—half  measures  and  then  soft  arco  tremolando  on-beat 

chords  for  three— and-one-half  measures. 

At  0  there  is  a  change  of  meter  to  6/8  and  Verdi  left  the 
accompaniment  entirely  to  the  stage  instruments  as  the  children’s 
chorus  sings  a  unison  tune  against  a  "rocking"  vocal  rhythm  set 
by  the  adult  chorus. 

At  the  Un  poco  piu  anfmato  in  the  eighteenth  measure  after 
0  ,  the  baritones  of  the  chorus  sing  a  melody  as  they  offer 
Desdemona  necklaces  of  coral  and  pearl,  accompanied  by  leggerissime 

This  indicates  a  mistake  on  Verdi’s  part  as  the  guzla  is 
"a  kind  of  rebab,  a  bowed  instrument  with  one  string  only."  The 
mandola  is  in  the  lute  class  with  a  rounded  back  and  a  short  neck. 
See  Marcuse,  Musical  Instruments,  p.  328. 




Snail  harps  resting  on  the  shoulders. 

Two  harps,  may  be  substituted. 

Two  harps,  an  octave  lower  may  be  substituted. 


staccato  sixteenth-note  arpeggi  and  doubled  b.y  cornamusa  and 
guitar,  the  rest  of  the  chprus  singing  sustained  pianlsslssimo 
chords  beneath. 

In  the  second  measure  after  HU  the  women  begin  a  melancholy 
unison  tune  in  G— sharp  minor  accompanied  by  a  ,rrockingM  rhythm 
provided  by  the  onstage  instruments,  children’s  chorus,  and  men’s 

The  opening  choral  sequence  is  repeated  beginning  at  Gb 
with  the  pit  orchestra  participating  as  before.  In  the  ninth 
measure  after  HI  ,  Desdemona  begins  a  dolce  coda  echoing  a  vocal 
phrase  sung  by  the  chorus  four  measures  earlier.  An  ethereal 
atmosphere  is  created  by  p ian i s s i s s imo  high  tremolando  chords  in 
the  violins  and  violas,  and  low  pedal  E's  played  by  the  cellos  and 
double  basses.  Flutes,  oboes,  and  clarinets  double  Desdemona ’s 
lyrical  vocal  line  in  thirds,  while  the  bassoon  and  solo  horn  play 
counter-melodies  . 

Otello,  moved  by  the  scene,  sings  a  few  brief  interjections 
while  Iago,  in  a  sotto  voce  aside,  vows  to  ruin  this  love  and 
beauty.  The  high  tremolando  string  chords  and  low  pedals  have  been 
sustained  throughout  the  coda  and  now'  die  away.  An  instrumental 
postlude  begins  at  HI  with  first  violins:  playing  a  long  pianissimo 
legato  sequence  of  constant  sixteenth  notes,  harmonized  by  an  almost 
constant  quarter-note  movement  in  the  remaining  strings,  flutes, 
clarinets,  bassoons,  and  horns.  In  the  sixth  measure  of  the  post¬ 
lude,  the  first  violins • (ht ill  in  sixteenth:  notes)  play  an  E  major 
scale  while  the  accompanying  instruments  come  to  rest  on  a  long 



held  E  major  chord. 

The  chorus  disperses  and  Desdemona  comes  towards  Otello, 
violins  alone  playing  repeated  high,  leggero  ETs  in  octaves.  The 
floating,  celestial  quality  of  the  throbbing,  high— register  strings 
effectively  and  simply  portrays  the  beauty  and  innocence  of  Otello1 s 
wife.  Piano  flutes  and  clarinets  accompany  her  tranquil  opening 
vocal  phrase  in  thirds;,  while  the  solo  oboe  adds  a  plaintive 
quality  as  it  doubles  Desdemona ’s  melody  in  the  tenth  measure 
after  ]Tu|  .  Desdemona  passionately  asks  that  Cassio  be  pardoned 
and  the  texture  gradually  thickens  with  the  addition  of  sustained 
high-register  strings,  woodwinds,  and  horns,  the  violins  doubling 
Desdemona’ s  part  in  octaves.  in  the  first  measure  after 
Otello  refuses  to  forgive  Cassio,  the  abruptness  of  his  refusal 
being  conveyed  by  the  words  "Non  ora"  sung  unaccompanied.  Once 
more  Desdemona  asks  her  husband  to  restore  Cassio Ts  honor,  her 
voice  supported  by  sustained  chords  played  by  the  strings  with  a 
con  espressione  solo  oboe  part  in  the  third  measure  after  0- 
Otello  repeats  his  unaccompanied  refusal  "Non  ora,"  this  time 
marked  con  asprezza  ("with  harshness")  and  followed,  in  the  seventh 
measure  after  0.  by  a  fortissimo  outburst  played  by  the  oboes, 
clarinets,  bassoons,  horns,  and  strings,  including  an  initial 
trilple-stopped  chord  for  first  violins.  In  the  next  measure, 
Desdemona  asks  why  he  reacts  so  viciously,  her  fear  depicted  drama¬ 
tically  by  four  measures  of  tremolando  second  violins  and  violas, 

a  falling  sixteenth-note  chromatic  figure  in  the  first  violins  and 




terrifying  fortissimo  pizzicato  "thuds''  on  the  first  heat  of  each 
measure.  Her  agitation  increases  two  measures  before  0  ,  a  more 
restless  orchestration  portraying  that  feeling  with  a  series  of 
descending  sixteenth-note  scale  runs  played  by  the  violins  and 
loud  syncopated  chords  in  oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons,  horns,  and 

Desdemona  tries  to  wipe  Otello’s  brow  with  her  handkerchief 
at  |  X ] ,  an  underlying  turbulence  provided  by  pianissimo  syncopated 
chords  played  by  the  violins  and  violas  with  urgent  repeated  eighth 
notes  played  by  the  cellos. 

In  the  sixth  measure  after  lx  ,  forte  eighth-note  string 
chords  punctuate  as  Otello  throws  the  handkerchief  to  the  ground 
in  rage.  Following  a  tension— filled  pau sa,  Desdemona  says  that  she 
is  sorry  if  she  has.  unknowingly  offended  Otello.  This  subdued, 
pathetic  apology  is  supported  by  four  measures  of  pianissimo  off-beat 
chords  played  by  the  violins,  violas,  and  cellos  and  three  measures 
of  first  violins  doubling  the  voice  (violas  a  third  below)  with 
sustained  chords  played  by  the  second  violins  and  cellos. 

This  phrase  leads  directly  into  a  quartet  which  begins  in 
the  nineteenth  measure  after  [x|  with  Desdemona' s  words  "Dammi  la 
dolce  e  lieta  parola  del  perdone."  This  piece  represents  a 
dramatic-musical  form  that  Verdi  had  utilized  since  the  outset  of 
his  career — a  quartet  in  which  four  totally-dif f erent  points  of 
view  are  expressed.  Desdemona  laments  her  treatment  by  Otello  in 
a  lyrical  line,  while  Otello,  ignoring  his  wife,  soliloquizes 

bitterly  about  his  suspicions.  Iago  and  Emilia  carry  on  an 
argument  over  Desdemona’s  handkerchief,  Iago  eventually  snatching 
it  away  from  his  wife  and  remarking  that  his  plan  is  already 
working.  It  is  not  a  show-stopping  piece  like  the  Rigoletto 
quartet,  but  the  clear  differentiation  between  characters  and  the 
simultaneous  presentation  of  three  dramatic  situations  make  it 
one  of  Verdi’s,  supreme  ensemble  achievements. 

The  orchestra  plays  an  important  part  in  conveying  the 
dramatic  characterizations  within  the  quartet,  and  perhaps  nowhere 
is  this  more  clearly  indicated  than  in  the  first  few  measures  of 
the  piece.  Desdemona’s  pleading  line  is  supported  by  pianissimo 
legato  chords  in  the. strings  with  first  violins  doubling  her  vocal 
line.  In  the  third  measure  of  the  quartet,  Otello  comments 
bitterly  on  the  situation  with  abrupt  staccato  sixteenth— note 
chords  repeating  pianissimo  in  violins  and  violas,  and  pianississimo 
in  the  cellos  and  double  basses.  The  detached  pulses  sound  as  the 
nagging  and  confused  thoughts  in  Otello ’s  mind  (Example  30). 
Throughout  the  number,  this  alternation  of  short,  agitated  figures 
to  characterize  'Otello’s  annoyance  and  long,  flowing  lines  portray¬ 
ing  Desdemona’s  passionate  pleas  is  maintained. 

At  there  is.  a  momentary  relief  from  the  constantly 

building  tension  as  Desdemona  is  left  singing  alone  a  long, 
descending  line  con  calore  ("with  affection")  accompanied  by 
pianississimo  dolcissimo  triads  played  by  the  solo  flute,  oboes, 

clarinets,  and  tremolando  violins  and  violas. 



As  the  other  characters,  return  to  the  ensemble  in  the  fourth 

.sure  of  ,  the  orchestration  once  more  becomes  more  agitated 

with,  frantic,  rapidly-repeated  B— flats  played  by  the  second  violins 

and  cellos,  upward  octave  leaps  in  the  double  basses  and  bassoons 

(with  preceding  acciaccature) ,  accented  double-stopped  eighth— note 

chords,  for  first  violins  and  violas,  marcato  chords  played  by  the 

horns  on  each  beat,  and  a  constant  crescendo  roll  in  timpani.  ' 

All  the  voices  sing  together  for  the  first  time  in  the  next 

measure.  This  remarkably  effective  passage  of  orchestration 

includes  a  note  by  Verdi  concerning  the  trumpet  and  trombone 

parts — MSe  non  si  pud  ottenere  un  pianissimo,  si  ommettano  Trombe 

e  Trombone.  Nei  piccoli  teatri  sara  meglio  ommetterili 


addirittura.  "  It  is  obvious  from  this,  indication  that  Verdi  was 
trying  to  achieve  a  brief  emotional  "lull"  as  the  characters  con¬ 
template  their  situations.  The  agitated  orchestration  resumes  for 
one  measure  as  passion  rises,  and  then  another  desperate,  emotional 
ebb  is  orchestrated  in  the  eighth  measure  after  0,  followed  by  a 
section  of  unaccompanied  singing  where  all  four  characters  state 
their  predicament  one  last  time.  A  single  pizzicato  chord  is 
played  by  tutti  strings  and  the  orchestra  begins  a  pianissimo 

pos.tlude  at  \Z_  which  includes  a  rising  dolcissimo  vocal  line  for 
Desdemona.  Tremolando  second  violins  and  violas  add  a  touch  of 

"If  it  is  not  possible  to  obtain  a  pianissimo ,  one  should 
omit  the  trumpets  and  trombones..  In  small  theaters  it  will  be 
better  to  omit  them  anyway." 




pathps.  as.  the  distraught  Otello  orders  Desdemona  and  Emilia  away 
and  the  quartet  dissipates  naturally. 

The  succeeding  scene  between  Iago  and  Otello  is  characterized 
orchestrally  by  syncopation,  chordal  punctuation,  and  intense 
string  tremoli  as.  the  Moor,  tormented  by  his  suspicions,  demands* 
proof  from  Iago . 

In  the  last  two  measures  before  \ CC^ ,  a  "horn— call"  upward 
leap  of  a  perfect  fifth,  sounds  twice  in  bassoons,  trombones,  cellos 
and  double  basses,  accompanied  by  sempre  piu  forte  tremolando 
string  chords,  a  long  timpani  roll,  and  sustained  wind  chords. 

This  intense  orchestration,  heralding  another  emotional  outburst, 
supports  Otello’s  questioning  exclamation  "ed  oray...ed  ora..." 
which  leads  to  the  powerful  declamatory  sequence  "Ora  per  sempre 
addio"  at  |cc]  . 

This  piece,  based  on  the  famous  "Farewell  the  tranquil  mind" 
speech  from  Shakespeare’s  play,  represents  Otello’s  acceptance  of 
his  predicament.  The  strong  martial  influence  of  the  number, 
conveyed  by  the  "f our— to— a-measur e"  strumming  of  two  harps  and 
pizzicato  double  basses  divisi  a  quattro,  creates  the  pathetic 
picture  of  a  proud  warrior  felled  by  his  wife’s  indiscretions 
(Example  31).  Throughout  the  number,  fanfare— like  flourishes 
reinforce  the  idea  of  military  strength. — an  ironic  contrast  to 
the  emotionally-devastated  condition  of  the  man  supported  by  this 
orchestration . 

Otello  desperately  exclaims  that  he  is  ruined  ("Della  gloria 

d’Otello  e  questo  il  fin"),  his  bitterness  and  despair  emphasized 
by  two  measures  of  brass— dominated  marcato  chords.  This  leads 
to  \ee\ ,  where  violas  and  cellos  begin  a  constant,  restless 
triplet  figure  pianississimo  molto  staccato  e  tremolando  which 
represents  Otello ’s  agitation  and  frustration  as  he  again  demands 
proof  from  Iago .  The  figure  continues  for  fifteen  measures, 
gradually  being  augmented  by  other  instruments  and  crescendo  poco 
a  poco .  It  culminates  three  measures  before  |jFF]  with  a  fortissimo 
crash  for  orchestral  tutti  and  a  long  descending  sequence  of 
triplets  as  Otello  hurls  lago  to  the  ground.  At  \ FFI  this 
orchestral  outburst  rests  momentarily  on  a  sustained  C  in  three 
octaves  for  woodwinds,  strings,  horns,  and. bass  trombone  as  Iago 
cries  for  divine  grace  to  defend  him  from  Otello’ s  wrath.  Iago 
declares  that  honesty  is  dangerous  and  strings  play  a  measure  of 
rising  sixteenth  notes  ending  with  an  abrupt  tutti  chord  at  [gg). 
Then,  unaccompanied,  Otello  stops  Iago  from  leaving  with  the  words 
"No. . .rimani."  As  Otello  admits  "forse  onesto  tu  sei"  ("Perhaps 
you  are  honest") ,  two  ominous  sustained  chords  are  played  by  oboes, 
clarinets,  and  two  solo  bassoons.  The  haunting  quality  of  the 
Instrumentation  sounds  as  a  death  knell,  indicating  that  Otello ?s 
acceptance  of  Iago 1  s.  story  will  culminate  In  his  eventual  demise 
(Example  32). 

A  piano  e  leggero  accompaniment  of  on— beat  eighth-note  pulses 
in  cellos  and  double  basses  alternating  with  off-beat  eighth  notes 
in  violins  begins  in  the  seventh  measure  of  |  Gg|  as  Otello  says 




that  he  believes,  that  Desdemona  is.  trustworthy.  Then,  as  the 
doubts  re— appear  in  his  mind,  the  alternating  pulses  stop  and 
oboes,  clarinets.,  bassoons  and  two  horns  play  a  triadic  flourish. 

The  alternating  string  accompaniment  resumes  as  he  admits  "e  credo 
che  non  lo  sia"  (’"and  1  believe  she  is  not")  .  Following  his  words 
"te  credo  onesto"  the  string  pulse  again  stops  and  his  suspicions 
are  once  more  indicated  by  the  upward  triads  in  two  horns,  bassoons, 
.oboes,  and  clarinets.  Nine  measures  before  jjfflj ,  the  restless 
alternation  starts  again  as  Otello,  completely  distraught,  says 
he  also  believes  her  insincere  ("e  credo  disleale") .  This 
utilization  of  the  orchestra  to  portray  suspicion  interrupting 
Otello’ s  positive  thoughts  about  his  wife  shows  Verdi’s  unique 
ability  to  translate  the  dramatic  conflict  of  the  scene  into  aural 
terms . 

Iago’s  famous  "Era  la  notte"  beginning  in  the  second  measure 
after  \  II]  demonstrates  orchestral  technique  that  is  brilliant  in 
both  its  dramatic  revelation  and  in  its  simplicity.  Its  first 
section  is  homophonic  in  style  with  muted  first  violins  doubling 
Iago’s  insidious  mezza  voce  vocal  line  as  he  tells  of  Cassio’s 
"supposed"  dream.  Muted  pianissimo  second  violins  and  violas  and 
muted  pianississ imo  cellos  accompany  chordally  for  the  first 
twelve  measures  of  the  piece  with  unmuted  double  basses  joining 
the  texture  in  the  ninth  measure  (Example  33) .  As  Iago  Imitates 
Cassio’s  voice  in  a  monotone  vocal  line,  the  orchestration  changes 
completely,  with  Cassio’s  words  accompanied  by  a  closely— spaced 


series  of  pianississimo  four— part  chorda  for  three  flutes  in  their 
lowest  register  and  solo  oboe  (Example  34)  .  The  resulting  effect 
is  a  strange,  almost  supernatural  one,  highly  suitable  for  the 
narration  of  a  dream.  Two  solo  first  violins  con  sordini,  two 
solo  second  violins  con  sordini,  e  tremolando,  and  a  single  muted 
cello  tremolando  then  join  the  flutes  and  oboe  in  a  downward 
chromatic  run  three  measures  before  which,  when  combined 

with  lago’s  descending  chromatic  line,  give  the  passage  an 
incredible  sense  of  evil  and  seduction. 

Iago  continues  his  description  pppp  at 

now  accompanied  by  constant  eighth-note  movement  in  muted  violins 
and  violas,  the  second  clarinet,  solo  flute,  first  bassoon,  with 
pizzicato  first  beats  in  muted  cellos,  unmuted  basses  and  a  series 
of  pedal  tones  (with  preceding  grace  notes)  for  solo  third  horn. 

In  the  eighth  measure  o  f  1  1  Ji  Iag°  once  more  affects  Cassio’s 

voice  cupo  ("gloomy")  supported  with  dark  pianissimo  chords  in 

clarinets,  single  bassoon  and  solo  horn. 

A  four— measure  dolcissimo  string  phrase  follows  with  the 


first  violins  climbing  to  an  ethereal  E  played  in  harmonics. 

Iago  reassures  Otello  that  he  was  only  narrating  a  dream. 

knowing  full  well  that  he  has  sown  the  seeds  of  suspicion. 

In  a  short  recitative  section  Iago  tells  Otello  that  he  has 
seen  Desdemona's  handkerchief  in  Cassio’s  hand.  The  orchestra 
depicts  Otello’s  anguish  in  a  series  of  syncopated  chordal  inter— 

j  ections . 




In  the  thirteenth,  measure  of  | LLj  agitated  triplet  motion 

begins  in  the  violins,  violas  and  cellos  pianissimo,  while  piccolo 
oboe,  clarinets,  bassoons  and  double  basses  contribute  a  series  of 
punctuating  large  intervallic  leaps,  with  a  grace  note  preceding 
the  first  note.  The  similarity  between  these  figures  and  the 
punctuating  devices  connected  with  Iago  in  the  first  act  is  no 
mistake.  In  this  instance,  it  is  Iago ’ s  verbal  poison  that  has 
caused  the  agitation  and  anger  represented  by  the  triplets.  The 
dynamics  increase  gradually  as  Otello’ s:  passion  rises  and  a 
serpentining  line  for  solo  oboe  and  two  clarinets  (doubling  Otello 
vocal  line)  replaces,  the  intervallic  leaps  three  measures  before 

Otello ’s  anger  reaches  a  climax,  dramatically 

portrayed  by  Verdi’s  orchestration.  The  triplet  ’’agitation” 
figure  is  played  fortissimo  by  flutes,  piccolo,  oboes,  clarinets 
and  full  strings  while  bassoons,  horns,  cornets,  trumpets,  trom¬ 
bones;  and  timpani  play  earth-shattering  fortissimo  syncopated 
chords.  Otello  screams  three  times  for  blood —  (Ah!  sangue! 
sangue!  sangue’.”),  each  cry  punctuated  by  a  tremendous  tutt i  chord 

The  great  "vengeance"  duet  "Si,  pel  ciel"  begins  in  the 
four th. measure  after  [ with  a  change  of  meter  to  3/4  and  one 

last  tutta  forza  chord.  Then,  a  seething  diminu endo  sustained 
tremolando  chord  is  played  by  violins  and  violas  and  Otello  begins 

his  vow  of  vengeance,  his  monotonic  vocal  line  accompanied  by  the 
darkest  of  orchestrations — a  cupo  melody  for  solo  clarinet,  bass 



clarinet,  bassoons,  and  horns  with  pianississimo  off-beat  timpani 
and  an  ominous  stroke  of  bass,  drum  on  the  third  beat  of  each 
measure  and  an  effective  arco  eighth  note  on  the  second  beat  of 
each  measure  in  cellos  (preceded  by  four  rising  thirty-second  notes) 
and  a  pizzicato  eighth  note  on  the  third  beat  of  each  measure  in 
cellos  and  double  basses  (Example  35) . 

In  the  fourteenth  measure  after  |^MM[  ,  the  first  bassoons  and 
violins  double  Otello’s  vocal  line  while  the  violas  and  second 
bassoons  play  a  parallel  line  a  sixth  below.  Cellos  and  double 
basses  play  a  constant  sixteenth-note  sextuplet  figure  based  on 
the  "snake— like"  vocal  melody  and  solo  horn  sustains  a  long  pedal 
G-sharp.  One  measure  later  this  vocal  melody  and  its  harmony  are 
echoed  by  flutes,  piccolo,  oboes  and  clarinets. 

At  1  NNl  Otello  tries  to  raise  himself  from  his  knees,  but 
Iago  forcibly  stops  him  with  the  words  "Non  v/alzate  ancor ! " 

His  command  is  reinforced  by  two  bright  fortissimo  chords  for 
piccolo,  flutes,  cornets,  trumpets,  trombones,  and  pizzicato 
violins,  violas,  and  cellos.  After  a  silence  of  one  measure,  Iago 
joins  in  the  vendetta  oath,  singing  the  words  "Testimon  e  il  Sol 
ch'io  miro”  to  the  woodwind  melody  from  the  opening  of  the  duet. 

The  vocal  line  is  doubled  by  the  ominous  sonority  of  bass  clarinet, 
solo  bassoon,  solo  horn,  accompanied  by  the  constant  pianissimo 
sextuplet  figure  in  violins  and  violas  and  punctuated  by  off-beat 
timpani  strokes  and  pizzicato  third  beats  in  cellos,  and  double 


The  orchestration  builds  in  intensity  and  excitement  (a  poco 
a  poco  ipgendo  e  crescendo)  six  measures  before  j'oo\  .  A  rising 
chromatic  run  in  octaves,  played  by  the  solo  flute,  oboe,  clarinet, 
violins.,  and  violas  and  a  similar  scale  for  three  trombones  in  the 
next  measure  contribute  to  this  electric  effect. 

Otello  and  Iago  sing  together 

(Otello  in  his  opening  monotone  and  Iago  to  the  same  tune  as  in 
the  "Testimon  e  il  Sol  ch’io  miro") .  The  full  orchestral  force  is 
utilized  in  this  concluding  section.  The  score  is  characterized 
by  fierce  off-beat  chords  in  violins,  double  basses,  brass,  and 
high  winds,  doubling  of  Iago 1 s  vocal  melody  by  the  bassoons  and 
bass  clarinet,  syncopated  chords  in  horns,  and  off-beat  strokes 
in  timpani  and  bass  drum  (Example  36) . 

the  frenzied  state  of 

Tn  the  first 

both  men  is.  indicated  by  demonic  fortissimo  trills  in  piccolo, 
flutes,  oboes,  and  clarinets,  fanfare  figures  for  horns,  trumpets, 
and  cornets,  syncopated  horns  on  the  second  and  third  beats  of  the 
measure,  and  descending  staccato  sextuplet  scales  played  by  the 
strings . 

The  climax  of  the  duet  begins  in  the  fifth  measure  of  ( PP| 
with  a  tutta  forza  passage  where  every  instrument  of  the  orchestra 
moves  homorhythm ically  in  a  pes.ante  homophonic  phrase  of  extra¬ 
ordinary  power  (Example  37).  Otello  and  Iago  cry  out  their  final 

invocation  of  vengeance  "Dio  vendicator ”  completely  unaccompanied. 

On  the  final  syllable  of  their  oath,  the  homophonic  tutti  returns 


with  an  arresting  succession  of  pesante  major  chords  as  the 
act  ends. 

Act  Three 

The  short  prelude  to  the  third  act  of  Otello  begins  with  an 

ominous  staccato  e  pianissimo  semitone  alternation  played  by  the 

violas  which  immediately  creates  an  atmosphere  of  mystery  and 

tension.  The  prelude  is  based  on  a  haunting  melody  in  the  minor 

mode,  first  heard  in  connection  with  "jealousy"  in  the  second  act 

of  the  opera.  Here  imbedded  in  a  subdued  contrapuntal  string 
texture,  the  theme  portrays  Otello’ s  jealous  suspicions. 

The  curtain  rises  on  Iago  and  Otello  in  the  armory,  their 
conversation-in-progress  being  interrupted  by  a  herald  announcing 
that  the  Venetian  envoys  to  Cyprus  have  been  sighted  in  the 
harbour.  Otello  dismisses  the  herald  and  the  violins,  violas, 
and  cellos  conclude  the  section  with  the  final  two  measures  of  the 
"jealousy"  theme. 

Iago  continues  to  discuss  his  plan  for  Otello  to  overhear 
Cassio  in  a  revealing  and  incriminating  conversation. 

A  graceful,  piano  two-measure  string  passage  in  which 
triadic  eighth— note  motion  is  prevalent  accompanies  Desdemona's 
entrance  at  [cj .  Supported  by  ben  legato  sustained  string  chords, 

This  is.  the  only  theme  in  the  opera,  besides  the  "bacio" 
motive,  that  appears  outside  of  the  act  in  which  it  originally 
occurs.  See  Hughes,  Famous  Verdi  Operas,  p.  457. 


Desdemona  begins  the  "dolce  e  cantabile"  duet  "Dio  ti  giocondi." 
Otello’s  greeting  to  his.  wife.  "Grazie,  madonna"  is  sung  to  the 
same  melody  and  is  doubled  by  the  melancholy  quality  of  the  solo 
clarinet.  The  addition  of  this  "con  espressione"  clarinet  line 
indicates  the  underlying  sadness  and  misery  that  Otello  feels  as 
he  feigns  a  calm  exterior.  As  the  duet  proceeds,  the  orchestration 
expands  with  the  inclusion  of  flutes,  oboes,  second  clarinet, 
bassoons.,  and  horns,  but  the  tranquil  mood  established  by  the 
strings  in  the  beginning  still  pervades  the  scene.  The  two-measure 
string  passage  which  opened  the  duet  serves  as  a  brief  pianississimo 
postlude  at  fli"l  with  flutes  doubling  the  final  cambiata  and  cadence. 

The  mood  changes  as  Desdemona  tells  Otello  that  she  wants  to 
talk  again  of  Cassio,  her  words  "Ma  riparlar  vi  debbo  di  Cassio" 
left  unaccompanied.  The  name  "Cassio"  triggers  Otello’s  anger 
five  measures  after  ^E~] ,  indicated  in  the  orchestration  by  a 
"seething"  rising  and  falling  sixteenth-note  figure  played  by  the 
first  violins,  a  descending  ostinato  figure  played  by  cellos  and 
violas,  and  a  four-measure  sustained  pedal  A  played  by  the  solo 
oboe  (Example  38).  As  Otello’s  hysteria  mounts,  dark  instrumental 
colors  are  gradually  added  to  the  orchestral  texture- — solo  bassoon 
and  double  basses  ten  measures  before  GEI  and  horns  in  the  next 
measure.  He  demands  that  Desdemona  produce  the  handkerchief  that 

he  had  given  her,  which,  obviously  she.  is  unable  to  do.  He 
threatens  her  in  a  "cupo"  unaccompanied  vocal  phrase  followed 
immediately  by  a  foreboding  sustained  chord  for  the  solo  oboe. 



clarinets.,  bassoons,  and  strings,  creating  a  powerful  dramatic 
effect.  As;  Otello  tells  Desdemona  that  the  handkerchief  is 
enchanted,  the  violas  and  cellos  begin  the  rising  and  falling 
"anger"  motive.  Again  he  asks  her  to  produce  the  handkerchief  and 
the  first  violins  assume  the  motive.  The  utilization  of  a  brighter, 
more  vibrant  instrumental  color  effectively  depicts  Otello’ s 
rising  ardor.  In  the  fifth  measure  after  HI  Otello  asks  for  the 
handkerchief  for  a  third  time,  his  demand  punctuated  by  a  violent 
tu  tti  chord  and  a  descending  sixteenth-note  chromatic  scale  played 
by  violins  and  violas.  The  orchestration  suddenly  thins,  indi¬ 
cating  a  relaxation  of  tension.  The  first  violins  play  a  brief 
descending  figure  which  comes  to  rest  on  a  low  sustained  E— f lat . 

the  meter  changes  to  6/8  and  with  the 

Nine  measures  after 

words  "Tu  di  me  ti  fai  gioco"  Desdemona  dismisses  Otello ’s 
insistence  as  a  ploy  to  divert  her  attention  from  Cassio.  She 
resumes  her  plea  for  Cassio,  her  "con  eleganza"  vocal  line  again 
supported  by  strings  indicating  a  return  to  her  earlier  intention. 

Six  measures  later,  the  cellos  begin  the  nervous  semitone 
alternation  that  opened  the  act,  portraying  Otello ’s  suspicions. 
Desdemona  continues  to  ask  for  Cassio’ s  pardon,  her  vocal  part 
now  doubled  by  the  solo  clarinet.  A  sense  of  growing  tension  is 
created  through  pianissimo  tremolando  violins  and  ominous  pizzicato 
beats  played  by  the  double  basses  on  the  first  beat  of  each  measure, 

Four  measures  before 

H  the  cellos  play  a  rising  chromatic 

scale  of  thirty— second  notes  which  reinforces  Otello ’s  cry  of 

"XL  fazzoletto"  marked  "terribile. "  Oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons, 
horns,  timpani,  and  full  strings  tremolando  sustain  a  fortissimo 
chord  as  Desdemona  finally  realizes  that  Otello  is  serious.  Low- 
register  violins  and  violas  alternate  a  menacing  staccato 
sixteenth-note  ostinato  figure  beginning  at  the  piu  mosso  at  |~h|  . 
This  figure,  puncuated  by  pianississimo  chords  played  by  three 
trombones,  creates  an  electric  atmosphere  as  Otello  forces 
Desdemona  to  swear  that  she  is  faithful.  The  dramatic  tension  of 
the  scene  increases  nine  measures  after  j  h]  as  the  cellos  and  two 
solo  bassoons  join  the  texture  playing  the  descending  ostinato 
figure.  Four  measures  later,  the  horns  and  violas  double  the 
somber  trombone  chords  while  the  bassoons  and  cellos  play  a 
descending  then  ascending  chromatic  scale  in  sixteenth  notes  as 
Otello  accuses  his  wife  of  being  impure. 

Sixteen  measures  after  HD,  the  orchestral  texture  dissipates 
Only  pianississimo  e  tremolando  violins  and  violas  play  as  Otello, 
his  vocal  line  broken  by  two  ascending  chromatic  scales  played  by 
cellos,  orders  Desdemona  to  swear  that  she  is  chaste.  This  she 
does,  supported  by  an  anxious  tremolando  chord  played  by  violins, 
violas,  and  cellos. 

The  solo  flute,  piccolo,  oboe,  clarinet,  and  violins 
suddenly  play  a  rising  sixteenth— note  scale  heard  in  three  octaves, 
culminating  in  a  fortissimo  tutta  forza  chord  seven  measures  before 
0-  This  outburst  is  followed  by  a  series  of  twelve  heavily- 
accented  chords  played  by  woodwinds,  brass,  timpani,  violas,  cellos 

and  double  basses,,  while  violins  play  a  descending  sequence  of 

sixteenth,  notes  derived  from  the  ostinato  figure  first  heard  at  0. 
This  explosive  orchestral  passage  punctuates  Otello’s  enraged 
exclamation  "Giura  e  ti  danna"  C"Swear  and  damn  yourself”) . 

Abruptly  the  orchestration  subsides  into  a  subdued  but  highly 
intense  passage  of  nine  measures  which  portrays  Otello’s  spent 
condition.  As  Desdemona  asks  Otello  to  explain  his  anger,  two 
oboes  in  unison  sustain  a  pedal  E  and  planississimo  bassoons,  horns, 
trombones,  timpani,  pizzicato  cellos  and  double  basses  play  a  dark, 
percussive  repeated  figure  that  represents  Desdemona’ s  frightened 
heart— beats  (Example  39) .  She  begins  a  lyrical  "dolce  con 
passione"  vocal  passage  ten  measures  after  0  ,  accompanied  by 
soft  "throbbing"  quarter  notes  played  by  violins,  violas,  and 
cellos.  Pianississimo  flutes  and  solo  bassoon  contribute  a  quality 
of  innocent  sorrow  as  they  are  added  to  the  orchestral  texture  three 
measures  later. 

At  the  come  prima,  fifteen  measures  before  [j"|,  Desdemona 
sings  a  "cantabile"  phrase  "io  prego  il  cielo  per  te  con  questo 
pianto"  supported  by  the  constantly-repeating  quarter— note  chords 
played  by  the  piccolo,  flutes,  oboes,  clarinets,  two  horns,  violins, 
and  violas.  The  first  bassoons  and  cellos  play  a  counter-melody  in 
quarter  notes  and  a  low  pianissimo  pedal  F  is  played  by  the  double 
basses,  second  bassoons,  and  the  other  two  horns. 

At  Q.  violins  in  octaves  play  the  theme  begun  by  Desdemona 
fifteen  measures  earlier  while  the  woodwinds,  horns,  violas,  cellos, 
and  double  basses  continue  the  pulsing  quarter-note  accompaniment. 



With  this  lush  orchestral  texture  as  the  background,  Qtello  implores 
Desdemona  to  he  honest  with  him  and  she  calmly  states  that  "Heaven 
witnesses  her  faithfulness."  Immediately,  Otello’s  rage  explodes 
again  as,  unaccompanied,  he  exclaims  "No,  la  vede  1’ inferno"  ("No, 
hell  sees  it") .  This  enraged  outburst  is  punctuated  by  two  beats 
of  rising  sixteenth— note  arpeggios  played  by  the  violins,  violas, 
solo  flute,  and  solo  clarinet,  and  a  brief  fanfare  figure  on  a 
D— sharp  diminished  chord  played  by  cornets  and  trumpets. 

Otello  pushes  Desdemona  away  from  him  as;  two  measures  of 
staccato  descending  sixteenth-note  figures  played  by  the  strings 
depict  his  distress  and  frustration.  He  breaks  down  crying,  his 
tears  effectively  portrayed  in  the  orchestration  by  half-note 
D-flats  with  preceding  acciaccature  played  by  the  cellos,  double 
basses,  horns,  and  second  bassoons.  Solo  oboe,  clarinet,  first 
bassoons,  violins,  and  violas  play  a  mournful  rising  eighth-note 
figure  (Example  40) . 

Eleven  measures  before  0,  the  violins,  violas,  oboe, 
clarinet,  and  first  bassoons  play  a  syncopated  chromatically- 
descending  line  which  portrays  Otello' s.  remorse  and  despair.  The 
cellos  play  a  pianissimo  "weeping"  semitone  figure.  Desdemona 
claims,  "con  disperazione"  that  she  is  innocent  in  a  noble  fortissimo 
vocal  lijie  beginning  five  measures;  before  \k}.  Half  of  the  first 
violins,  solo  oboe,  and  clarinet  double  the  voice  while  the 
remaining  strings,  second  oboe,  second  clarinet,  bassoons,  horns. 

and  timpani  tremoli  support  with  sustained  whole— note  chords. 


The  chromatically— descending  line  resumes  at  jtT| ,  played  by 
the  solo  oboe  and  first  violins  alone*  with  syncopated  repeated 
chords  played  by  second  violins,  violas,  and  clarinets.  Cellos 
and  first  bassoons  play  a  short  ost inato  figure  consisting  of  three 
rising  quarter  notes  followed  by  a  downward  leap  of  a  diminished 
sevenths  This  figure  gives  the  passage  an  impression  of  urgency. 

Four  measures  after  0,  the  orchestration  subsides  to  a 
unison  R— natural  drone  played  by  the  oboes,  clarinets,  violins, 
and  violas  as  Desdemona  demands  to  know  her  crime.  Otello  begins 
his  accusation  in  fragmentary  monotonic  phrases  supported  by 
pianissimo  tremoli  played  by  violins  and  divisi  violas  (double- 
stopped  violas  six  measures  later) .  Three  trombones  play  sustained 
pedal  tones  and  cellos  interject  a  pianissimo  rising  and  falling 
sixteenth— note  figure  derived  from  the  "anger"  motive  heard  earlier 
in  the  scene. 

Desdemona  cries  out  in  disbelief  three  measures  before  f  L~| , 
and  the  orchestra  reinforces  her  astonishment  with  a  fortissimo 
tutta  forza  chord,  followed  by  a  series  of  staccato  triplet  chords 
for  the  entire  orchestra.  The  fierce  chordal  punctuation  ceases 
and  the  bassoons,  cellos,  and  double  basses  are  left  alone  to  play 
a  dark,  somber  series  of  descending  tones.  The  mood  shift: s,  from 
angry  agitation  to  relative  calm,  depicted  by  an  orchestral  return 
of  the  opening  theme  of  the  scene  "Dio  ti  giocondi"  played  in  unison 
by  the  solo  oboe,  clarinet,  and  first  violins  six  measures  after 
hi  .  This  tranquil,  ironically  content  passage  accompanies  Otello 



as  he  takes  Desdemona  by  the  hand  and  tells  her  that  he  wishes  to 
make  amends  for  his  actions,  his  voice  joining  the  texture  and 
doubling  the  theme  seven  measures  after  0.  As  the  passage 
continues,  the  orchestration  is  augmented  with  the  addition  of  a 
melody— doubling  flute  and  a  nervous  alternating  figure  played  by 
second  violins..  Otello  gently  asks  Desdemona  to  forgive  him  if 
his  thoughts  were  wrong.  Half— note  chords  played  by  second  violins, 
violas,  and  cellos  accompany  this  apology,  creating  a  dramatic 
orchestral  lull.  Then,  as  he  sarcastically  states  that  he  thought 
her  to  be  ,fquella  vil  cor  tigiana .  .  . "  ("that  vile  whore..."), 
cornets  and  trumpets  play  a  punctuating  flourish  of  rapidly 
repeated  chords  and  trombones  play  a  sixteenth-note  ascending  scale 
followed  by  a  single  marcato  chord  for  full  orchestra.  He  finishes 
the  sentence — "che  e  la  sposa  dT Otello"  ("that  is  the  wife  of 
Otello").  On  this  final  word  "Otello,"  tr emolando  violas  and  cellos 
combined  with  a  low  B— natural  pedal  played  by  solo  horn  and  double 
basses  and  an  ominous  pppp  timpani  roll  provide  a  somber  foundation 
for  his  mocking  accusation.  A  crescendo  applied  to  this  sparse 
orchestration  leads,  with  terrifying  effect  to  a  violent  tutta  forza 
at  ]~M~1  as  Otello  loses  all  control  of  his  emotions.  This  violent 
tuttl  is  characterized  by  a  repeating  fortissimo  rendition  of  the 
"anger"  motive  played  by  flutes,  piccolo,  first  oboe,  first  clarinet, 
and  violins,  fanfare  flourishes  played  by  cornets  and  trumpets, 
accented  fortissimo  chords  for  the  second  oboe,  second  clarinet, 

bassoons,  horns,  trombones,  and  tremolando  violins,  a  percussive 


rising  arpeggiated  figure  played  by  the  cellos  and  double  basses 
in  octaves,  and  t remoll  for  timpani  and  bass  drum  (Example  41) . 
Qtello  thrusts  Desdemona  from  the  room.  In  the  seventh 
,  a  diminuendo  aurally  portrays  the  waning  of 

measure  after 


Otello’s  anger.  The  entire  woodwind  and  brass  sections  sustain  a 
long  diminuendo  chord  while  the  violins  and  violas  play  a  descending 
sixteenth-note  chromatic  scale  for  two  measures,  doubled  an  octave 
lower  by  the  cellos.  This  downward  rush  effectively  portrays 
Otello’s  defeated  emotional  collapse. 

Six  measures  before  |'n|  Otello’s  spent  rage  is  depicted  by 
the  initial  rising  fragment  of  the  "anger"  motive  diminuendo  sempre 
played  successively  by  first  violins,  second  violins,  violas,  and 
finally  staccato  e  pianississimo  by  the  cellos.  A  mor endo  timpani 
roll  provides  a  suitable  sense  of  gloom  (Example  42) . 

At  the  Adagio  at  [n~|  ,  pianississimo  strings  play  a  descending 
chromatic  passage  in  three  octaves  that  depicts  Otello  sinking  into 
depression  (Example  43).  This  simple  yet  evocative  figure 
effectively  introduces  the  major  dramatic  soliloquy  of  the  act 
"Dio!  mi  potevi  scagliar,"  The  Moor  laments  his  misery  and  shame 
in  a  near-monotone  style,  accompanied  by  a  pathetic  figure  played 
by  the  first  violins  beginning  in  the  second  measure  after  |~n|  . 

Two  low-register  horns  and  double  basses  play  a  slow-moving  counter¬ 
melody  to  further  color  this  haunting  orchestral  accompaniment. 

The  chromatic  string  figure  punctuates  between  vocal  phrases. 

Otello 's  resentment  begins  to  rise  and  with  this  increase  in 


passion  the  orchestration  builds  in  intensity  with  the  addition  of 
more  instruments.  This  enlarged  orchestration  is  reinforced  with 
the  indication  poco  crescendo  two  measures  after 
vocal  line  is  marked  "con  voce"  ("with  voice")  as  opposed  to  the 
speech— like  sobbing  that  has  so— far  characterized  this  soliloquy. 

In  a  simple  but  extremely  effective  transformation  of  mood, 
the  key  changes  from  A— flat  minor  to  E— flat  major  as  Otello  shuns 
self-pity  and  accepts  his  fate  in  a  "cantabile"  passage  beginning 
with  the  words  "Ha,  o  pianto,  o  duol!"  Pianissimo  high— register 
tremolando  string  chords,  occasionally  supported  by  woodwinds  and 
horns,  indicate  a  sense  of  inner  peace  and  conviction. 

Seven  measures  before  [cTj  violins,  solo  clarinet,  first 
bassoons  and  solo  horn  play  a  proud  legato  theme,  supported  by 
tremolando  v4©lrins”  and  cellos  as  Otello  expresses  his  bitterness 
in  recitat ive— like  phrases.  At  j~Q~j ,  he  curses  Pate  in  fortissimo 
exclamatory  vocal  phrases,  bassoons,  cellos,  and  double  basses 
reinforcing  each  outburst  with  a  mar cato  rising  figure  while 
tremolando  violins  and  violas  sempre  stringendo  play  sf orzando 
sustained  E— flats  on  the  second  half  of  each  measure.  This  texture 
effectively  creates  an  intensity  which  is  maintained  up  to  the 
moment  when  Iago  rushes,  in  to  announce  that  Cassio  is  approaching. 
He  urges  Otello  to  conceal  himself,  agitated  orchestration 
supporting  the  frantic  stage  action. 

and  Otello’ 



At  0.  first  yiolins  play  a  gentle,  seductive  theme  sulla 
a  15 

4  Corda  ,  accompanied  by  long  pianissimo  sustained  chords  played 
by  the  remaining  strings  ("including  double— stopped  violas). 

Supported  by  this  sensuous  orchestral  background,  Iago  greets  Cassio 
as  a  friend  and  comrade,  the  words  he  sings  and  the  charm  of  Verdi Ts 
orchestration  disguising  his  evil  intentions. 

At  the  allegro  moderato  at  m>  flutes,  piccolo,  oboes, 
clarinets,  and  solo  bassoon  play  a  light-hearted  instrumental 
introduction  characterized  by  piano  trills,  acciaccatur e,  large 
intervallic  leaps,  and  a  dance— like  dotted  rhythm.  Iago  entreats 
Cassio  to  talk  of  his  love  affair  with  Bianca  while  solo  flute 
and  the  first  violins  continue  the  dotted  dance  theme  and  the 
remaining  strings,  oboes,  clarinets,  and  solo  bassoon  play  a 
"leggero"  detached  chordal  accompaniment. 

Eleven  measures  after  | s] ,  the  meter  changes  to  6/8  and  a 
delicate  texture  of  violins,  violas,  cellos,  solo  flute,  piccolo, 
oboe,  clarinet,  and  bassoons  in  the  high  register  accompanies  the 
conversation  between  Cassio  and  Iago.  The  relaxed  "rocking"  triadic 
movement  of  the  instrumental  lines,  ornamented  by  grace  notes  and 
trills,  helps  to  create  the  impression  of  two  men  casually 
gossiping.  Iago  manipulates  the  dialogue,  allowing  the  hidden 
Otello  to  hear  only  what  he  wants  him  to  hear.  At  m  Otello 

"^^Verdi  indicated  that  this  melody  should  be  played  in  high 
position  on  the  fourth  or  G  string  rather  than  on  brighter  sounding 
higher  strings. 


comments  bitterly  on  the  conversation  from  his  hiding  place, 
accompanied  by  somber  sustained  chords  played  by  the  bassoons, 
horns,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses.  Second  violins  play  a 
nervous  sixteenth-note  figure  that  represents  Otello’ s  inner 
turmoil  (Example  44). 

The  "rocking"  accompaniment  and  its  orchestration  of  upper 
woodwinds  and  strings  resumes  in  the  ninth  measure  after  m  as 
the  conversation  between  Cassio  and  Iago  once  again  becomes  the 
center  of  focus.  Eight  measures  before  |lT|  this  tranquil  mood  is 
once  more  disturbed  by  Otello ’s.  stifled  ravings,  supported  as 
before.  The  dramatic  contrast  between  the  light-hearted  conversa¬ 
tion  of  Iago  and  Cassio  and  the  tortured  commentary  of  Otello  is 
painted  vividly  through  the  utilization  of  two  opposing  orchestral 
textures  alternating  within  the  same  piece. 

Iago  now  begins  to  sing  sotto  voce  and  he  moves  Cassio  out 
of  earshot.  The  orchestration  is  reduced  correspondingly  to  four 
first  violins,  four  second  violins,  two  violas,  two  cellos,  one 
double  bass,  flutes,  piccolo,  and  solo  bassoon.  Eleven  measures 
after  I  U  ] ,  and  again  four  measures  before  [v] ,  Cassio ’s  narration 
trails  away  into  inaudibility,  ingeniously  depicted  in  both 
instances  by  a  staccato  e  leggerisslmo  sixteenth-note  descending 
scale  that  begins  where  the  words  fade.  (Example  45) . 

At  [If!  Otello  crimes  out  that  he  cannot  hear  the  words 
("Le  parole  non  odo! ")  with  the  foreboding  quality  of  bassoons, 
oboes,  and  clarinets  coloring  the  orchestration.  His  angry  demand 




"Dove  son  giunto?"  in  the  fifth  measure  after  m  is  doubled  by 
five  forte  stentato  chords  played  by  oboes,  clarinets,  first 
bassoons,  horns,  violins,  violas,  and  cellos.. 

The  words  of  Iago  and  Cassio  again  become  audible  as  they 
discuss,  the  handkerchief  that  Cassio  has  found  in  his  room  (where 
it  was  planted  by  Iago)  .  The  dance-like  woodwind  and  string 
accompaniment  continues,  now  augmented  by  constant  staccato  eighth- 
note  chords  for  the  horns.  Cassio  gives  the  handkerchief  to  Iago 
who  cunningly  displays  it  behind  his  back  for  Otello  to  see. 

The  entire  orchestra  plays  a  fierce  series  of  unison  eighth 
notes  culminating  in  four  "reeling"  low— register  tut ti  trills  as 
Otello  recognizes  his  wife’s  handkerchief.  The  orchestral  outburst 
ceases  abruptly  and  Otello  sobs  that  all  is  finished,  supported 
solely  by  a  morendo  timpani  roll. 

At  the  Allegro  brillante  at  [~y]  Iago  sings  a  rapid  sequence 
of  constant  eighth  notes  pianissimo  e  staccato  in  which  he  gleefully 
and  ironically  tells  Cassio  that  the  handkerchief  is  "a  spider’s 
web  from  which  there  is  no  escape."  First  violins  double  the  vocal 
line  an  octave  higher  while  the  second  violins,  violas,  cellos 
(and  later  the  clarinets,  oboes,  and  bassoons)  play  constant 
staccato  eighth-note  chords,  reminiscent  of  the  frenetic  "con¬ 
spiracy"  music  so  often  found  in  Verdi’s  scores  (Example  46). 

Seventeen  measures  after  0  Cassio  begins  a  soaring  "canta— 
bile  e  dolciss.imo"  vocal  phrase  doubled  by  the  solo  flute  and 
piccolo  and  accompanied  homophonically  by  pianissimo  woodwinds. 


Cellos,  play  constant  off— beat  pulses  and  the  yiolins,  yiolas, 
double  basses,  horns  and  three  bassoons  sustain  high— register  chords. 
The  interruption  of  such  a  frantic,  emotionally  intense  scene  by 
this  ironic,  lyrical  passage  clearly  portrays  Cassio  as  an  innocent 
— completely  oblivious  to  the  incriminating  position  in  which  Iago 
has  placed  him. 

Iago  resumes  his  menacing  pianissimo  molto  staccato  patter 
at  while  short  lyrical  phrases  from  and  bitter  comments 

from  Otello  sound  sporadically  throughout. 

Nineteen  measures  after  a,  all  three  voices  come  together 
in  three  mar cato  C  diminished  chords,  followed  a  measure— and— a-half 
later  by  a  fortissimo  tutta  forza  orchestral  version  of  the  staccato 
sequence,  effectively  depicting  the  evil  power  of  Iago  '  s  scheming. 
After  four  measures  of  this  tut ti  outburst,  the  sequence  returns 
to  its.  pianissimo  e  leggero  state,  played  by  the  flutes,  oboes, 
first  violins,  and  violas  with  regular  quarter— note  pulses  from 
the  cellos,  double  basses,  bassoons,  and  solo  horn.  This  reduced 
texture  closes  the  scene,  accompanying  Iago T s  farewell  to  Cassio 
and  Otello' s  cries  of  "Tradimento . " 

Six  solo  trumpets  are  heard  offstage  playing  a  triadic 
triplet  fanfare  figure.  A  single  cannon  shot  is  fired  heralding 
the  arrival  of  the  Venetian  ambassadors."^  Cassio  exits  and  Otello 

Cannon  fire  Is  usually  indicated  by  a  single  stroke  of  a 
large,  over-sized  bass  drum.  In  modern  performances,  however, 
electronic  audio— tape  effects  are  sometimes  substituted. 



comes  out  from  his  hiding  place  voting  to  kill  Desdemona.  The 
offstage  chorus  greets  the  ambassadors  accompanied  by  the  six 
backstage  trumpets  and  supported  by  sporadic  punctuations  by  full 
strings  from  the  orchestra  pit. 

Iago  suggests  that  Desdemona  greet  the  Venetians  with  Otello 
in  order  to  avoid  suspicion.  Solo  flute,  oboe,  violins,  and 
violas  play  pianissimo  staccato  eighth-note  chords  while  the  solo 
bassoon,  cellos,  and  double  basses  play  an  off-beat  downward  octave 
leap  which  immediately  brings  to  mind  the  evil  motive  associated 
with  Iago  in  the  first  two  acts  of  the  work. 

The  offstage  trumpets,  resume  their  fanfare  calls,  building 
dynamically  through  eight  measures  and  providing  an  impressive 
orchestral  bridge  to  the  next  scene  of  the  opera. ^ 

The  reception  of  the  Venetian  envoys  to  Cyprus  is  depicted  by 
a  grand  choral  number  which  is  characterized  orchestrally  by  a 
lavish  tutta  forza  dominated  by  fanfare  figures. 

Lodovico  greets  Otello  in  a  quasi-recitative  passage  punctu¬ 
ated  by  rising  fanfare  flourishes  for  cornets,  trumpets,  and  three 
trombones.  The  mood  becomes  more  intimate  as  Lodovico  turns  his 
attention  to  Desdemona.  A  mournful  piano  e  dolcissimo  melody  is 
played  by  the  first  violins  accompanied  by  soft  sustained  chords 
for  the  remaining  strings,  effectively  portraying  Desdemona' s 

The  Paris  production  of  Otello  in  1894  included  a  ballet 
that  begins  immediately  after  the  sixth  measure  before}  Cc]^,.  Following 
the  ballet,  the  fanfare  figures  return  beginning  with  the  third 
measure  before  Ice]. 



sorrow  as  she  sadly  acknowledges.  Lodoyico’s  salutation.  Iago 
confides  that  Otello  is  displeased  with.  Desdemona  and  Cassio, 
his  words  punctuated  by  closely— spaced  cadences  played  by  the 
oboe,  clarinet,  and  bassoons  (Example  47). 



Desdemona  says  she  believes  that  Cassio  will  return 

to  grace,  her  desceiiding  phrase  accompanied  by  whole-note  chords 
played  by  the  strings,.  Otello  snaps  angrily  "Ne  siete  certa?" 

("You  are  certain  of  this?")  .  The  tension  of  the  situation  is 
depicted  by  sustained  tremolando  tones  played  by  the  violins  and 
violas.  The  solo  bassoon  and  cellos  echo  the  melody  of  Desdemona' s 
plaintive  phrase  a  third  lower,  and  seven  measures  after  HQ> 

Iago  repeats  Desdemona' s  statement  for  Lodovico's  (and  Otello ' s) 
benefit.  The  descending  melody  is  here  doubled  by  the  solo  oboe, 
musically  indicating  Iago ' s  evil  intent.  Desdemona  states  that 
she  has  a  special  affection  for  Cassio  in  a  long  conjunct  descending 
phrase  which  is  doubled  by  the  first  violins  and  supported  by  legato 
quarter— note  chords  played  by  the  remaining  strings. 

Otello  tells  Desdemona  to  be  silent  and  a  crescendo  of 
tremolando  strings  indicates  rising  agitation.  He  raises  his  hand 
to  strike  her  and  Lodovico  restrains  him  as  four  savage  fortissimo 
chords  for  the  entire  orchestra  convey  the  horror  of  the  on— lookers. 

Otello  sends  for  Cassio  who  enters  accompanied  by  a  nervous 
sixteenth-note  ost inato  figure  -played  hy  the  second  violins  and 
violas  (Example  48) .  Five  heavily— accented  tutt i  chords  are  played 
three  measures  before  [~T] ,  followed  immediately  by  a  sustained 

tremolando  C-sharp  minor  chord  played  by  the  strings  in  their 
low  register  as  Otello  reads  the  Doge's  proclamation  (dropping 
his  voice  occasionally  to  taunt  the  weeping  Desdemona  in  sotto 
voce  asides)  .  As  he  reads  that  Cassio  is  to  be  appointed  the  ‘new 
governor  of  Cyprus,  Iago  utters  a  suppressed  curse,  his  words 
"Inferno  e  morte"  colored  by  a  forte-piano  chord  played  by  oboes, 
clarinets,  bassoons,  horns,  and  a  timpani. 

At  [  Jjl  Lodovico  pleads  with  Otello  to  comfort  his  wife; 
Desdemona 1 s  tears  are  depicted  by  a  series  of  descending  semitones 
played  by  first  violins  and  solo  oboe  (Example  49). 

Four  measures  later,  the  violins,  violas,  and  cellos  play 
a  furious  descending  sequence  of  fortissimo  sixteenth  notes 
followed  by  an  equally  animated  rising  staccato  sixteenth-note 
scale  played  by  the  woodwinds,  cornets,  trumpets,  three  trombones, 
and  full  strings  as  Otello  brutally  throws  Desdemona  to  the  ground. 
His  enraged  command  "A  terra!...  e  piangi!  is  made  even  more 
horrifying  as  it  is  left  unaccompanied,  creating  a  dramatic 
contrast  with  the  frantic,  explosive  orchestral  texture  that 
immediately  precedes  it. 

A  series  of  ominous,  over-powering  chords  are  now  played  by 
the  oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons,,  horns,  trombones,  and  strings 
supported  by  a  constant  piano  timpani  roll.  Each  of  these  instru¬ 
ments  is  scored  in  its  lowest  register  and  is  placed  in  a  closely- 
knit  texture,  producing  a  sinister  and  haunting  aural  effect 
(Example  5.0)  . 


A  single  sustained  pianissimo  string  chord  emerges  from  this 
texture,  ten  measures  before  |~KK~|  .  This  lone  chord  provides  the 
bridge  to  the  ensemble— finale  of  Act  LIT  which  begins  in  the  next 
measure . 

A  descending  pizzicato  figure  which  effectively  portrays 
Desdemona' s  fear  is  played  in  unison  by  the  violas,  cellos  and 
double  basses.  Oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons,  and  horns  play 
pianissimo  punctuating  chords  creating  a  stark,  suspenseful 
atmosphere  as  Desdemona  pathetically  states  that  her  soul  is 
frozen  by  Otello’s  treatment  of  her  (Example  51). 

At  [  KK]  the  violins  and  violas  play  a  tremolando  pianissimo 
e  leggerissimo  rising  arpeggio  which  leads  to  a  dolclssimo  phrase 
in  which  Desdemona  reflects  upon  the  happy  days  of  her  relationship 
with  Otello  ("E  un  di  sul  mio  sorriso") .  Tremolando  first  violins 
climb  to  a  sustained  B— flat  while  the  piccolo  and  first  flute 
double  Desdemona 's  voice  in  "palpitating”  repeated  staccato  e 
pianissimo  sixteenth  notes.  The  second  flute,  oboes,  clarinets, 
first  bassoons,  and  solo  horn  accompany  her  homophonically  while 
tremolando  second  violins  and  violas,  pizzicato  cellos,  flutes  and 
clarinets  punctuate  between  vocal  phrases  (Example  52) . 

At  the  str ingendo  seven  measures  before  1  LL]  ,  Desdcnx  ma  sings 
of  her  despair  and  agony,  the.  "sighing"  descending  semitone  figures 
of  the  vocal  line  doubled  chordally  by  the  oboes,  clarinets, 
violins  and  violas.  Four  measures  before 


,  she  passionately 

exclaims  that  the  happiness  of  the  past  cannot  disperse  her  bitter 


sorrow  In  the  phrase  "Quel  sol  sereno  e  vivido."  This  section  is 
accompanied  by  a  "shimmering'*  orchestration  of  woodwinds,  horns, 
and  strings  with  Desdemona ' s  first  two  vocal  phrases  being  punctu¬ 
ated  by  a  descending  chromatic  scale  of  detached  sixteenth  notes 
played  by  the  solo  oboe  and  pizzicato  first  violins  and  cellos. 

The  second  violins  play  a  rapid  thirty— second— note  figure  marked 
molto  staccato  e  marcato  which  lends  a  sense  of  nervous  urgency  to 
her  phrase  (Example  53) . 

In  the  fifth  measure  after  1  LL] ,  Emil  ia,  Cassio,  Roderigo, 
and  Lodovico  begin  a  pianissimo  homo phonic  section  in  which  they 
comment  on  the  situation,  accompanied  solely  by  a  single  pizzicato 
tone  for  full  strings  at  the  beginning  of  every  second  measure  and 
intermittent  cries  of  "Pieta"  and  "Mistero"  sung  by  the  chorus. 

Four  measures  before  | MMj  Desdemona  resumes  the  melody  of 
"E  un  dr  sul  mio  sorriso"  (first  heard  two  measures  after  |kkT) )  . 
Again  this  phrase  is  accompanied  by  pulsing,  repeated  sixteenth 
notes — now  pianississimo  e  staccato — for  full  woodwinds,  horns  and 
strings . 

Otello  and  lago  join  the  texture  at  j MMj  ,  Iago  urging  -the 
Moor  to  take  his  revenge  swiftly.  The  principals  and  the  men's 

and  ladies'  choruses  all  sing  independent  lines  in  perhaps  the  most 

complex  ensemble  ever  written  by  Verdi.  Solo  flute,  oboe,  and  first 

violins  play  a  relentless,  pianississimo  dotted-triplet  figure  that 

dominates  the  orchestration  lor  eleyen  measures  while  the  bassoons, 

horns,  second  violins,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses  play  a 


rocking  chordal  alternation  (Example  54). 

The  theme  originally  sung  unaccompanied  by  Emilia,  Cassio, 
Roderigo,  and  Lodovico  five  measures  after  [ll]  returns  two  measures 
before  (nN^  for  the  same  four  characters,  now-  doubled  chordally  by 
the  clarinets  and  first  bassoons.  The  chorus,  divided  into  four 
parts,  alternate  quick  fragmentary  phrases  doubled  by  pizzicato 
violins.  Desdemona  rejoins  the  ensemble  three  measures  after  |nn| , 
with  a  "con  espressione"  descending  chromatic  vocal  line  doubled 
by  the  first  oboe,  first  clarinet,  and  first  violins  and  accompanied 
chordally  by  the  second  oboe,  second  clarinet,  bassoons,  horns, 
second  violins,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses.  '  Two  measures 
later,  the  orchestration  is  reduced  to  strings:  and  sustained  solo 
horn  to  allow  the  audience  to  hear  Iago  taunting  Roderigo  with  the 
statement  that  "Desdemona  will  be  leaving  Cyprus  tomorrow  with 
Otello."  Seven  measures  after  I  NNJ ,  the  woodwinds  rejoin  the 

orchestral  texture  with  the  addition  of  solo  flute  doubling 
Desdemona’s  vocal  line.  Three  measures  before  ( 00 j  ,  the  strings 
are  eliminated  from  the  score,  again  making  it  easier  to  hear 
Iago T s  rapid,  recitative— like  conniving. 

The  dotted  descending  triplet  figure  of  Example  54  returns 
at  [oo\  "come  un  lamento"  alternated  between  the  solo  flute,  piccolo, 
horn,  violins,  and  violas  as  each  character  continues  his  or  her 
independent  vocal  commentary. 

At  the  Piu  mosso  eleven  measures  before. 


,  cornets  begin 

a  forte  staccato  fanfare  call  in  repeated  sixteenth: notes  which 


accompanies  quasi— canonic  entrances  for  the  chorus.  The  solo 
trumpet  joins  this,  texture  in  the  next  measure.  Nine  measures 
before.  1 PP) ,  the  full  orchestra  accompanies  the  entire  vocal 
ensemble  C. except  Otello)  in  a  noble,  forte  homophonic  texture. 

The  fanfare  cornets  interrupt  the  tu tt i  in  the  eighth  measure 
after  UHL  this  time  augmented  by  trumpets  and  solo  trombone  in 
the  next  measure.  The  massive  tutti  returns  and  then  Desdemona  is 
left  alone  singing  once  more  the  sorrowful  ME  un  di  sul  mio 
sorriso"  theme.  Here,  her  passionate  vocal  line  is  supported  by 
a  nervous  string  figure  characterized  by  a  downward  arpeggio 
followed  by  repeated  tones  (Example  55) . 

Cornets  and  trumpets  in  octaves  play  five  forte  fanfare 
unison  E-flats  in  the  measure  before  EH-  Suddenly,  a  hushed, 
mysterious  series  of  pianissimo  staccato  triplets  begins,  played 
by  the  oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons,  and  strings  and  moving  homo— 
rhythmically  with  the  voices.  Horns  and  trombones  punctuate  the 
second  and  fourth  beats  of  each  measure  with  pianissimo  chords. 
Marked  animando  sempre  poco  a  poco,  this  texture  builds  dynamically 
with  the  string  triplets  played  tremolando  and  a  sustained  tremolo 
for  timpani  being  added  five  measures  after  HU 

This  passage  leads  directly  to  a  tremendous  fortissimo  tutta 
forza  rendition  of  the  dolce  "Quel  sol  sereno  e  vivido,"  first 
heard  at  the  beginning  of  the  ensemble  four  measures  before  m3- 
The  melody  is  sung  by  Desdemona,  Emilia,  Cassio,  and  chorus 
sopranos,  doubled  in  the  orchestra  by  the  flutes,  piccolo,  first 



oboe*  first  clarinet,  first  cornet,  first  trumpet,  and  tremo land o 
violins*  The  bassoons,  trombones,  cellos,  and  double  basses  double 
the  vocal  parts  of  Iago,  Lodovico,  and  the  chorus  baritones  in 
heavily— accented  triplets.  This  incredible  tutti  passage  cul¬ 
minates  in  a  powerful  unison  allargando  descending  triplet  scale  for 
all  voices  and  the  entire  orchestra  in  the  measure  before  |  QQ~)  . 

Abruptly,  Otello  orders  everyone  from  the  room,  his  single 
word  "Fuggite"  punctuated  by  a  fortissimo  chord  for  the  full 
orchestra  and  an  agitated  descending  arpeggio  for  violins  followed 
by  four  frantic  rising  scale  flourishes  played  by  the  violins, 
flutes,  and  piccolo.  The  remaining  instruments  of  the  orchestra 
play  marcato  syncopated  chords  indicative  of  Otello’ s  uncontrollable 

Iago  clears  the  crowd  away,  the  turmoil  of  the  scene  depicted 
first  by  syncopated,  repeated  tones  for  the  violins  and  violas 
followed  by  sharp  accented  chords  for  full  strings. 

A  backstage  banda  consisting  of  four  trumpets  and  four  trom¬ 
bones  plays  a  dense  triplet  fanfare  figure  as  an  offstage  chorus 
is  heard  singing  Otello fs  praises.  Strings  play  a  violent 
sixteenth-note  rising  figure  which  comes,  to  rest  on  a  tension— filled 
forte— piano  tremolando  chord  played  by  the  violins,  violas,  and 
cellos.  Otello  curses  Desdemona,  his.  word  "maledico"  reinforced 
by  a  shrill  high-register  scale  flourish  for  the  flutes  and  piccolo, 
a  menacing  sixteenth— note  trill  for  fortissimo  cornets  and  trumpets, 

and  a  single  crash  of  cymbal. 



The  erod’d  disperses  and  the  orchestra  dramatically  portrays 
the  panic  and  fear  of  the  people.  The  violins  play  a  descending 
sequence  of  falling  sixteenth  notes,  and  the  flutes,  piccolo, 
oboes,,  and  clarinets  play  a  series  of  off-beat  rising  thirty- 
second— note  scale  flourishes—  Horns,  cornets,  trumpets,  trombones, 
bassoons,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses  provide  an  agitated 
chordal  support. 

Three  measures  before  ] Se|  ,  another  agitato  fortissimo  tutti 
outburst  is  heard,  complete  with  "shrieking"  trills  for  flutes 
and  piccolo  and  violent  off-beat  strokes  of  timpani,  bass  drum 
and  cymbals  as  Otello  again  demands  to  be  left  alone. 

A  short  mysterious  pianississimo  figure  is  heard  repeatedly 
in  the  strings  at 


,  colored  by  sporadic  tones  from  the  solo 

oboe  and  solo  horn,  which  indicates  that  Otello  is  losing  control 
of  his  senses.  He  deliriously  raves. about  "il  fazzoletto"  and  falls 
to  the  ground  in  convulsions.  Woodwinds,  violins,  violas,  and 
cellos  play  a  series  of  diminuendo  e  morendo  chromatically- 
descending  triplets  which  portray  vividly  his  physical  and  mental 
collapse  (Example  56) . 

At  |tt|  ,  an  ominous  drone  is  played  by  the  cellos,  double 
basses,  bassoons,  and  trombones  as  Xago  states  that  his  poison 
is  working.  The  offstage  banda  and  chorus  are  again  heard 
punctuating  lago 1 s  proclamation  of  victory.  Sforzando  tremolando 
chords  played  by  the  strings  create,  an  underlying  evil  tension. 

Five  measures  before  j UU  ] ,  the  horns,  cornets,  trumpets,  and  full 



strings  play  the  repeating  staccato  triplet  fanfara  figure..  Iago 
mockingly  asks  "Chi  puo  vtetar  che  questa  fronte  prema  col  mio 
tallone?"  C'Who  could  prevent  this  forehead  being  crushed  under  my 
heel?")  in  a  taunting  descending  vocal  line  doubled  in  unison  by 
oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons,  violas,  and  cellos. 

The  offstage  chorus  is  heard  unaccompanied  four  measures 
after  OsD  singing  "Gloria  al  Leon  di  Venezia."  In  a  moment  of 
pure  dramatic  genius,  Iago  points  to  OtelloTs  motionless  body  and 
sarcastically  exclaims  "Ecco  il  Leone,"  his  vocal  cadence  colored 
by  a  unison  low— register  trill  played  by  the  clarinets,  bassoons, 
violas,  and  cellos.  With  a  final  exclamation  of  "Viva!  Viva! 

Viva  Otello!,"  there  is  one  last  burst  of  fanfare  triplets  played 
by  the  offstage  band a  and  the  cornets  and  trumpets  of  the  orchestra 
pit.  The  strings,  woodwinds,  horns,  trombones,  timpani,  bass  drum, 
and  cymbals  play  fortissimo  chords  on  the  first  and  third  beats  of 
each  measure.  Ten  measures  after  )jJU~|  ,  the  entire  orchestra  begins 
a  long  sequence  of  fortissimo  chords  which  brings  the  act  to  an 
intense  conclusion. 

Act  Four 

The  fourth  act  of  Otello  begins  with  a  brief  Andante  orchestral 
introduction  played  by  the  woodwinds  and  solo  horn,  creating  a  mood 
of  despair  and  impending  doom.  The  first  six  measures  of  this 
prelude  introduce  three  individual  instrumental  phrases  which  play 
a  major  part  in  the  dramatic  action  of  the  scene  that  follows^  ~  The 
first  of  these  phrases  is  a  melancholy  piano  e  dolce  theme  played 



by  the  solo  English,  born  which,  effectively  portrays  the  sorrow  of 
Desdemona/  In  the  fourth. measure  of  the  act  this  theme  is 
punctuated  hy  a  second  important  musical  motive — a  mournful  phrase 
consisting  of  three  repeated  eighth,  notes  and  then  an  eighth-note 
descent  to  two  tonic  C— sharps  for  three  low— register  flutes  in 
unison.  This  phrase  is  followed  six  measures  into  the  act  by 
three  half-note  hare  fifths  played  by  the  two  clarinets  which 
provide  a  haunting  "tolling”  foreboding  of  evil  and  death 
(Example  57) . 

The  flutes  and  clarinets  play  a  plaintive  piano  theme  three 
measures  before  |  B |  which  is  characterized  by  a  unison  rising 
eighth-note  arpeggio  followed  by  a  harmonized  scalar  descent. 

The  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses  enter  in  the  sixth 
measure  after  playing  a  descending  progression  of  pianississimo 

AgpJ  C?C- 

unison  half  notes  as  the  curtain  rises. 

In  the  brief  scene  that  follows  Desdemona  tells  Emilia  that 
Otello  has  bid  her  wait  for  him  in  the  bed-chamber.  She  asks  Emilia 
to  make  down  her  bed  and  to  lay  out  her  wedding  dress  as  the  three 
"death-knell"  open  fifth  clarinet  drones  comment  tragically  on  her 
predicament . 

Six  measures  after  El  the  solo  bassoon  and  solo  cello  play 
a  series  of  expressive  high  unison  F’s.  which  lead  to  a  pathetic 
"con  passione"  vocal  phrase  for  Desdemona.  Doubled  chordally  by 
flutes  and  supported  by  syncopated  violin  beats  and  a  high— register 
counter-melody  for  the  solo  bassoon  and  solo  cello,  this  phrase 




effectively  portrays,,d  emona  ’  s  suffering. 

At  [d}  ,  the  clarinet  drones  introduce  Desdemona ’ s  story  of 
her  mother’s  maid  Barbara  who  was  forsaken  by  her  lover.  Her 
rapid  recitative-like  monotone  is  supported  by  piano  sustained 
chords  played  by  the  full  strings.  The  feeling  of  sadness  and 
despair  is  heightened  as  the  English  horn  colors  the  phrase  playing 
fragments  of  its  melancholy  theme  in  the  fifth  and  sixth  measures 

before  HI- 

At  the  Andante  mosso  at  {IQ,  the  woodwinds  play  a  short 
"pastoral”  passage  which  serves  as  an  introduction  to  the  famous 
"Willow  Song"  (Example  58) .  The  piccolo  and  English  horn  play  a 
unison  sustained  F— sharp  (three  octaves  apart!)  and  Desdemona  begins 
the  piece,  the  opening  phrase  being  that  of  the  English  horn  theme 
of  the  prelude.  The  violins  and  violas  accompany  with  pianississimo 
sustained  chords,  while  the  English  horn  plays  a  related  counter¬ 
melody  which  presages  certain  figures  from  Desdemona Ts  vocal  line. 
Unaccompanied,  she  sings  "Salce"  three  times  in  falling  minor 
thirds  marked  "come  una  voce  lontana"  ("as  a  distant  voice") . 

The  F-sharp  piccolo  and  English  horn  drone  is  heard  again 
at  0  and  Desdemona’ s  phrase  is  repeated  with  new,' text  and  slight 
rhythmic  variations,  still  accompanied  by  sustained  violins  and 
violas  and  the  plaintive  English,  horn  line.. 

Six  measures  before  [HJ ,  Desdemona  again  sings  the  three 

unaccompanied  "Salce’ a" — the  first  marked  forte,  the  second  piano 
diminuendo,  and  the  third  one  pianississimo .  In  this  instance. 




the  vocal  phrase  is  followed  by  a  fourth  sounding  of  the  falling 
minor— third  motive  for  pianississimo  English  horn  "come  un ' eco . " 

The  first  verse  concludes  with  a  dolce  vocal  phrase  "Cantiamo’. 
Cantiamo!"  supported  by  pianissimo  sustained  chords  played  by  the 
woodwinds  and  strings. 

Tie  chamber— like  woodwind  introduction  returns  seven  measures 
before  as:  an  instrumental  interlude.  The  second  verse  begins 

with  the  same  vocal  theme,  but  now  accompanied  by  restless  rising 
sixteenth,  notes  played  by  the  second  violins  and  violas  in  thirds. 
The  piccolo  and  English  horn  sustain  their  three— octave  unison 
drone  for  six  measures  while  the  flutes  play  a  oscillating  trill 
figure.  Nine  measures  after  Desdemona  begins  the  second 

section  of  the  verse  on  the  words  "e  dalle  ciglia"  with  pianissimo 
flutes  and  clarinets  playing  an  agitated  pulsing  thirty— second -note 
figure  supported  by  fifths  played  by  the  bassoons.  The  oboes  and 
first  violins  color  the  texture  with  short  four— note  "espressivo" 
figures  and  the  English,  horn  sustains  a  low  C— sharp  pedal, 
reinforcing  the  desolate  atmosphere  of  the  piece  (Example  59) . 

The  verse  ends  with  the  "Salce’s"  refrain,  the  English  horn  echo, 
and  the  dolce  string—  and  wind-supported  "Cantiamo"  phrase.  The 
woodwind  interlude  is  played  once  more,  four  measures  before  [j~| . 

Desdemona  ?s  narratipn  be.conjes  more  impassioned  in  the  sixth, 
measure  after  |~J~] ,  and  the  orchestration  conveys  this  with. 
tremolando  violins,  and  violas,  playing  high-register  pianississimo 

chords,  the  piccolo  sustaining  a  trill  for  six  measures,  and 




restless  syncopated  chords  played  by  two  horns.  Desdemona’ s  "con 
espressione"  vocal  line,  is  doubled  by  the  oboes,  English  horn, 
and  clarinets  while  the  cellos  and  double  basses  fortissimo 
pizzicato  punctuate  the  second  beat  of  each  measure..  Eive  measures 
before  0,  the  woodwind  interlude  is  played  again,  followed  by  a 
passionate  four-measure  descending  vocal  phrase  for  Desdemona, 
"Povera  Rarbara,"  accompanied  homophonically  by  the  woodwinds, 
horns,  and  strings.  The  second  violins  are  left  alone  sustaining 
a  low  E  while  Desdemona,  in  a  pianississimo  monotone  par lante , 
states  ironically  that  her  "story"  is  at  an  end. 



,  the  solo  flute,  English  horn,  solo  bassoon,  violins, 

violas,  and  cellos  begin  a  "cupo"  alternation  of  tonic  and  sub¬ 
dominant  chords  in  F— sharp  minor  as  Desdemona  begins  the  final 
phrase  of  the  song.  Suddenly,  she  stops  in  mid— phrase  and  a  sub it o 
pianississimo  trill  played  by  the  first  violins  indicates  the 
presence  of  danger.  As  Desdemona  tells:  Emilia  that  she  hears 
something,  the  oboes  and  solo  clarinet  play  two  wailing  figures 
"come  un  lamento"  over  the  ominous  violin  trill  (Example  60) . 

The  flutes,  piccolo,  oboes,  clarinets,  bassoons,  and  full  strings 
play  a  rising  thirty— second-note  scale  flourish  followed  immediately 
by  a  fortissimo  agitated  trill  played  by  the  violins,  violas, 
cellos,  flutes.,  piccolo,  and  oboes.  Desdemona  asks  hysterically 
who  is;  knocking  at  the  door,  her  rapid  par  land  o  text  punctuated  by 
a  unison  diminuendo  descending  chromatic  scale  played  by  the  flutes 

and  first  violins.  Emilia  answers  that  it  is  the  wind  and  the 

dramatic  tension  relaxes.  The  orchestration  thins  to  a  sustained 
low-register  piano  trill  for  flutes  and  first  violins,  reducing 
further  to  a  single  sustained  pianississimo  D  for  flutes  two 

Her  mind  at  rest,  Desdemona  resumes  singing  the  last  phrase 
df  the  song,  the  "cupo"  chordal  alternation  accompanying  as  before 
at  0.  Nine  measures  after  0) ,  the  dolce  "Cantiamo"  phrase  is 
heard  for  the  third  time,  the  first  "Cantiamo"  now  supported  by 
the  woodwinds  and  one  solo  double  bass  alone,  the  second  by 
pianississimo  violins,  violas,  and  cellos.  Desdemona  sings  three 
final  unaccompanied  "Salce's"  in  falling  minor  thirds  and  then  the 
winds  play  an  elongated  rendition  of  the  woodwind  interlude  passage 
as  Desdemona  comforts  Emilia  in  recitative-like  vocal  phrases. 

The  solo  clarinet  plays  an  ominous  f orte— diminu endo  D  which  sounds 
as  if  it  may  be  another  melancholy  echo  of  the  "Salce"  motive  but 
does  not  resolve  to  the  minor  third  below  as  before.  Rather,  a 
series  of  somber  F-sharp  major  chords  is  played  by  the  flutes, 
English  horn,  clarinets,  bassoons,  and  full  strings  as  Desdemona 
bids  Emilia  "Bu'ona  notte."  '’Death-march'1  beats  of  the  bass  drum 
and  double  bass  pizzicati  punctuate  on  the  first  beat  of  each 
measure  (Example  61) . 

As  Emilia  turns  to  leave,  Desdemona  cries  "Ah l  Emilia, 

Emilia,  addio,"  with  an  impassioned  descending  vocal  line  doubled 
by  the  flutes,  oboes,  English  horn,  clarinets,  and  tremolando 

first  violins.  The  bassoons,  horns,  tremolando  second  violins, 


violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses  accompany  Desdemona  with 
sustained  chords  as  the  women  embrace  in.  despair  and  anguish. 

EmiliaTs.  exit  is  accompanied  by  a  long  mournful  sequence 
based  on  the  second  motive  from  the  prelude  to  this  act — the  three 
repeated  eighth  notes  followed  by  a  step-wise  minor  third  descent. 
The  motiye  is  played  by  the  flutes,  oboes,  and  clarinets  and 
accompanied  by  a  pianissimo  descending  quarter— note  chromatic  scale 
played  by  bassoons,  double  basses  and  tremolando  cellos.  Seven 
measures  before  the  motive  is  repeated  piu  piano  by  the  English 

horn  and  the  solo  horn,  again  supported  by  the  descending  chromatic 
scale . 

This  sorrowful  passage  leads  directly  to  the  Ad ag io  at 

where  a  rich,  almo st-celestial  muted  string  sonority  suddenly 

creates  an  atmosphere  of  hope  and  salvation.  The  violins,  violas, 


and  cellos  (all  con  sordine)  play  a  slow  piano  passage  that 
accompanies  Desdemona  Ts  sotto  voce  monotone  prayer  "Ave  Maria" 
(Example  62)  .  An  effective  shift  to  a  lyrical  style  occurs  at  ]~R)  , 
where  Desdemona  ?s  vocal  line  is  doubled  by  the  first  violins  and 
supported  in  turn  by  homophonic  and  polyphonic  textures  of  second 
violins,  violas,  and  cellos  (Example  63). 

,  the  opening  string  passage  of  the 

One  measure  before 

"Ave  Maria"  returns  as  Desdemona . resumes  her  monotone  chanting  in 
fragmentary  phrases.  Nine  measures  later,  the  first  yiolins  divisi 



muted  until 


point  j 

the  violins,  violas, 

and  cellos  remain 

atart  an  arpeggiated  ascent  to  a  sustained  A-flat  supported  by 

legato  part-writing  for  second  violins  and  violas.  The  cellos 

sustain  a  low  pedal  A— flat.  Desdemona  sings  the  dolcissimo  rising 

quarter— note  arpeggio  in  the  ninth  measure  after  [T  |,  sustaining 

an  A— flat  for  six  beats  and  then  returning  to  a  low  E— flat  for  a 

final  chanted  "Amen."  She  rises  slowly,  goes  to  her  bed  and  lies 

down  to  await  her  husband.  The  second  violins  and  violas  play  a 

pianissimo  mor endo  sequence  beneath  the  first  violin  sustained 


A— flat  ,  effectively  portraying  Desdemona 's  peace  of  mind  (Example 

64)  . 

At  ]~i7|  ,  there  begins  a  brilliantly  dramatic  passage  for  muted 

four— string  double  basses  which  accompanies  OtelloTs  entrance 


into  the  bed-chamber.  The  mysterious  legato  theme  begins  on  a 
pianissimo  low  E— natural  for  the  muted  double  basses  (the  lowest 
note  possible  on  a  normally-tuned  double  bass) ,  and  eventually  rises 
to  a  C— flat  two— and— one —ha If  octaves,  above  in  the  second  measure 
after  [ X j .  The  passage  demands  great  agility  and  accurate  inton¬ 
ation  and,  as  Hughes  points  out,  "played  by  anybody  but  really 

first-rate  bass  players  the  passage  can  be  a  miserable  experience 


for  performer  and  listener." 


Verdi  specified  "I  soli  contrabass!  a  4  corde"  to  differ¬ 
entiate  from  the  three— string  double  bass  which  was  more  common  in 
European  orchestras  at  the  time  but  incapable  of  the  flexibility  and 
range  required  for  this,  passage. 


This  passage  is  included  in  Diehard  Strauss’  edition  of 
Berlioz’s  treatise  on  orchestration  as  a  supreme  example  of  writing 
for  the  instrument.  See.  Hughes,  Famous  Verdi  Operas,  p.  471. 


lb id . ,  p .  472. 



The  theme  jus  interrupted  only  by  an  ominous  s jLxteenth— note 
staccato  figure  played  twice  by  the  violas  and  once  by  the  second 
violins  and  followed  each  time  by  a  pianississimo  stroke  of  the 
bass  drum  which  Boito  described  as  "a  shovelful  of  dirt  being 
dropped  into  a  grave"^  (Example  65)  . 

The  entire  sequence  lasts  for  twenty— five  measures  and  creates 
an  atmosphere  of  suspense  as  Otello  enters  the  room  through  a  secret 
door,  sets  his  seimitar  on  the  table,  and  extinguishes  the 
candles. ^  Five  measures  after  [xj ,  the  muted  double  basses  play 
an  agitated  descending  staccato  crescendo  phrase  followed  in  the 
next  measure  by  a  violent  rising  sixteenth— note  scale  and  two 
fortissimo  chords  for  orchestral  tutt i  as  Otello  advances  with 
"movimento  di  furore”  towards  the  bed.  He  stops  abruptly.  A 
foreboding  pedal  tone  is  played  by  the  bassoons  and  then  the  solo 
horn  plays  a  sorrowful  descending  minor-third  scale  figure  indi¬ 
cative  of  Otello ?s  despair.  Two  measures  before  El  ,  the  solo 
bassoon  plays  another  sustained  F  (an  octave  higher  this  time)  and 
pianissimo  flutes  play  the  mournful  descending  figure.  These  two 
brief  phrases  indicate  the  love  that  Otello  still  bears  for  his 
wife  and  which  stops  him,  momentarily,  from  wreaking  his  revenge. 


Quoted  in  Godefroy,  Studies,  Yol.  2,  p.  217. 


Yerdi:  meticulou sly  wrote  ip  specific  stage  directions  for 
this  section  in  order  to  attain  its  ultimate  dramatic  potential. 




At  0,  a  shimmer ing  p ian issi ssimo  tremolo  is  played  by  the 
violins  and  violas  while  an  eerie  theme  in  A  minor  (her ived  from 
the  first  three  measures  of  the  double  bass  solo  passage)  is 
played  by  the  solo  bassoon  and  English  horn  in  unison.  This 
poignant  melody  portrays  the  anguish  and  suffering  of  Otello  as  he 
contemplates  the  sleeping  Desdemona  (Example  66) .  Otello  thinks  of 
his  happy  past  with,  his  wife  and,  at  the  piu  animato  at  jjT],  there 
is  a  glorious  modulation  from  A  minor  to  A  major  as  the  "bacio" 
theme  from  the  first  act  love  duet  returns.  The  theme  is  scored 
much  as  before,  with  tr emolando  first  .violins,  oboe,  and  solo 
clarinet  playing  the  melody  and  flutes,  bassoons,  horns,  and 
tremolando  second  violins,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses  pro¬ 
viding  ethereal  chordal  support.  Otello  kisses  Desdemona  three 
times,  with  the  actual  placement  of  the  kisses  indicated  in  the 
score  with  written  half  notes  (Example  67) . 

With  the  third  kiss  Desdemona  awakes,  and  the  orchestral 
texture  thins  to  tremolando  strings,  bassoons,  and  horns..  As  she 
realizes  that  she  is  alone  with  Otello,  a  single,  chilling  pizzi¬ 
cato  chord  is  played  by  the  full  strings- 

,  the  violas  and  cellos  play  the  mysterious  staccato 



e  pianissimo  punctuating  motive  from  the  bass  introduction  to  the 
scene,  quoted  in  Example  65.  Xn  this,  instance,  however,  it  is  not 
followed  by  the  bass  drum1' stroke ,  but  rather  by  a  unison  C  in 
three  octaves  played  by  the  cornets,  trumpets,  and  trombones.  This 
motive  recurs  throughout  the  following  scene  in  which  Otello  accuses 
Desdemona  of  loving  Cassio.  As  the  dramatic  conflict  of  accusations 

'  • 


and  denials  becomes  more  frantic,  the  orchestration  likewise 
becomes  more  intense,  characterized  by  staccato  sixteenth— note 
movement,  heavily-accented  tutti  chords,  chromatic  tr emolando 
lines  for  strings,  and  a  general  increase  of  orchestral  forces  and 
dynamic  considerations. 

,  the  furious  texture  subsides  and  the 

Six  measures  after 


clarinets  and  strings  are  left  alone  playing  a  gloomy  pianississimo 
chord  as  Otello  tells  Desdemona  that  Cassio  is  "forever  silent." 
There  is  a  long  dramatic  pause  and  then  Desdemona  fearfully  asks 
"Morto?",  her  question  colored  by  a  sustained  low  E  played  by  the 
clarinet.  Otello  confirms  her  fear  by  coldly  repeating  the  word 
"Morto"  and  Desdemona  cries  out  that  she  has  been  betrayed, 
supported  by  a  fortissimo  chord  played  by  the  oboes,  clarinets, 
bassoons,  horns,  cellos,  double  basses,  and  tremolando  violins  and 
violas . 

The  agitated  tutti  orchestral  texture  resumes  as  Otello 
throws  Desdemona  on  the  bed  and  smothers  her.  Her  blood-curdling 
scream  is  reinforced  by  a  tremendous  tutta  forza  texture  of  eighth- 
note  triplets,  with  loud  on— beat  strokes  of  the  timpani,  bass  drum, 
and  cymbals,  and  agitated  tremolando  C's  in  octaves  for  double- 
stopped  cellos  (Example  68) . 

This  furious  outburst  is  followed  in  the  twelfth  measure 
after  Dil  by  a  syncopated  progression  of  fortissimo  quarter-note 
chords  which  subsides  to  three  "convulsing"  whole-note  chords 

played  by  the  horns,  cornets,  trumpets,  and  trombones,  depicting 




Otello's  cruel  "choking"  thrusts*.  Six  measures  before  \ FF \ ,  the 
orchestral  texture  diminuendo  sempre  piu  rests  on  a  pianississimo 
sustained  chord  played  by  the  strings  and  bassoons  as  Otello  utters 
the  words  "Calma  come  la  tomb.a." 

Emilia  enters  and  tells  Otello  that  Cassio  has  killed 
Roderigo.  Suddenly,  the  dying  Desdemona  is  heard  murmuring  in  a 
pianissimo  stentato  monotone  that  she  has  been  murdered  unjustly, 
her  words  accompanied  by  a  chordal  drone  played  by  the  violas, 
cellos  and  double  basses.  In  a  melancholy  falling  minor— third 

figure,  she  states  that  she  dies  innocent.  Ten  measures  after  FF 
a  series  of  pianiss imo  whole— note  chords  played  by  the  violins, 
violas,  cellos,  flutes,  solo  oboe,  and  first  bassoons  creates  a 
mournful  musical  background  as  Desdemona,  in  broken  descending 
phrases,  asks  Emilia  to  commend  her  to  Otello.  She  again  states 
that  she  is.  innocent,  her  last  word  "addio"  framed  by  two  pizzicato 
punctuations  played  by  the  violins,  violas,  and  double  basses. 

There  now  comes  a  passage  of  rapid  unaccompanied  recitative 
dialogue  in  which  Otello  admits  that  he  has  killed  his  wife  because 
she  was  unfaithful  to  him.  He  tells  Emilia  that  Iago  has  provided 
the  proof.  In  disbelief,  Emilia  runs  to  the  door  and  calls  for 
help.  As  she  screams,  that  Otello  has  killed  Desdemona,  the 
orchestra  reinforces  the  drama  with  three  measures  of  agitato 

syncopated  chords  played  by  the  second  violins,  violas,  oboes, 
clarinets,  and  horns  and  a  furious,  rising  sequence  of  descending 
sixteenth  notes  played  by  the  first  violins.  Nine  measures  before 




Jfflj  ,  a  fortissimo  sustained  chord  is.  played  by  three  flutes,  oboes, 
clarinets,  bassoons,  and  the  full  brass,  section,  and  the  strings 
play  two  measures  of  descending  sixteenth  notes  as  Cassio,  Iago, 
and  Lodoyico  rush,  into  the  room.  Their  cries  of  horror  are 
punctuated  by  mar cato  off-beat  chords  played  by  the  oboes.,  clarinets, 
bassoons,  horns,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses,  supported  by 
a  nervous  oscillating  figure  played  by  the  violins. 

Three  measures  before  j HH  j ,  the  first  violins  play  an  intense 
pianissimo  tremolo  as  Emilia  tells  Iago  to  refute  OtelloTs  state¬ 
ment.  Her  request  is  punctuated  by  four  fortissimo  chords  from 
the  entire  orchestra. 

Immediately,  a  repeated  figure  is  played  by  the  clarinets, 
colored  by  the  bassoon,  as  Emilia  asks  her  husband  if  he  thought 
bCsdemona  untrue.  A  sharp  pizzicato  stroke  played  by  the  full 
strings  and  a  single  beat  of  the  timpani  emphatically  mark  her 
question.  Unaccompanied,  Iago  admits  that  he  did,  and  Otello 
quickly  refers  to  the  incriminating  handkerchief  in  a  detached, 
descending  phrase  doubled  chordally  by  the  oboes  and  clarinets. 

The  cello  section,  solo  bassoon,  and  horns  play  a  constant  eighth- 
note  pulse  helping  to  create  an  atmosphere  of  explosive  intensity. 
Eleven  measures  after  [hh] ,  Emilia  says  that  she  will  reveal  all 
as  a  tension— filled  series  of  chromatically— rising  half -note 
tremolando  chords  is  played  by  the  full  strings.  Iago  tells  her 
to  be  silent.  Emilia  refuses,  a  rising  sixteenth— note  scale 
played  by  the  violins  and  flutes  and  supported  by  brass  chords 





portraying  her  determination.  She  tells  how  lago  forcibly  took 
the  handkerchief  from  her,  Cassio  states  that  he  found  the  hand¬ 
kerchief  in  his  quarters,  and  Montano  arrives  to  tell  that  the 
dying  Roderigo  has  confessed  all.  This  entire  section  of  revelation 
is  supported  by  a  descending  homophonic  passage  played  by  the  oboes, 
clarinets,  and  bassoons,  with,  each  statement  being  punctuated  by 
a  quick  thirty— second— note  scale  flourish  from  the  strings. 


\ Jjj ,  Otello  implores  lago  to  deny  these  charges  and  lago 
flees  from  the  room,  his  flight  depicted  by  a  rising  progression  of 
sixteenth  notes  played  by  the  flutes,  solo  oboe,  and  violins  while 
the  clarinets,  bassoons,  horns,  violas,  cellos,  and  double  basses 
play  a  descending  series  of  mar cato  eighth— note  chords.  Otello 
grabs  his  scimitar  six  measures,  before  and  desperately  demands 

"E  il  del  non  ha  piu  fulmini?"  ("And  has  heaven  no  more  thunder¬ 
bolts  for  me?") .  His  tormented  vocal  phrase  is  accompanied  by  a 
fortissimo  chord  played  by  tremolando  strings,  bassoons,  and  horns 
followed  by  a  violent  three— beat  chromatic  rush  of  staccato  six¬ 
teenth  notes  for  the  entire  orchestra.  Lodovico  orders  Otello  to 
surrender  his  sword  in  an  unaccompanied  command  followed  by  a 
fierce  tutti  chord.  Otello  angrily  asks  Lodovico  if  he  dare  disarm 
him,  a  tremendous  tutta  forza  orchestral  texture  depicting  his 
defiance.  Rive  measures  before  fSTj,  Otello  realizes  the  hopeless¬ 
ness  of  the  situation.  A  three-measure  descending  chromatic  scale 
played  by  the  violins  diminuendo  sempre  indicates  his  acceptance 

of  the  tragedy.  This  long  scale  subsides  into  a  morendo  sustained 




G  played  by  the  violins  in  octaves  two  measures  before  |  MM|  . 

At  |hm)  ,  the  entire  orchestra  plays  a  series  of  eleven 
whole— note  chords.  These  detached  "death— knell”  drones  accompany, 
as  Otello  solemnly  assures  all  that  no  one  need  fear  him  in  the 
monotone,  almost— religious  vocal  passage  "Niun  mi  tema"  (Example 
69)  . 

Following  a  passionate,  ironic  cry  of  "Oh!  Gloria"  supported 
by  majestic  full  chords  from  the  woodwinds  and  brass,  Otello 
bitterly  murmurs  the  phrase  "Otello  fu"  ("Otello  was") .  Four 
pianissimo  strokes  of  bass  drum  and  pizzicato  double  basses  comment 
dramatically  on  this  pathetic  acceptance  of  fate. 

Three  measures  before 


,  a  plaintive,  descending  melody 

is  played  by  the  solo  oboe  and  supported  by  pianississimo  chords 

played  by  clarinets  and  solo  horn.  Otello  gazes  at  Desdemona’s 

lifeless  body  and  begins  the  tragic  unaccompanied  vocal  phrase 

"E  tu . . . Come  sei  pallida!  e  stanca,  e  muta,  e  bella,"  described  by 

Toye  as  "the  most  beautiful,  the  most  moving  passage  of  the 

opera."  Piano  strings  color  the  cadence  on  the  final  word 
"bella"  and  then  continue  to  accompany  the  remainder  of  Otello' s 
mournful  soliloquy  with  a  chordal  texture.  Regular  "death-march" 
pianississimo  timpani  strokes  punctuate  beginning  in  the  eighth 

and  a  pianissimo  e  dolcissimo  figure  of  rising 

measure  after 


and  falling  staccato  triplets  creates  a  "celestial"  atmosphere  as 


Toye,  Verdi,  p.  252. 





Otello  refers  to  Desdemona  as  "in  cielo  assorta"  ("absorbed  into 
heaven")  .' 

Two  measures  before  j^ol ,  Otello  calls  out  to  Desdemona  and 

with  three  agonizing  sobs  reminds  himself  that  she  is  dead.  His 
desolation  and  despair  is  emphasized  by  the  complete  lack  of 
accompaniment . 

Five  closely-spaced  chord  clusters  played  by  the  trombones 

dramatically  indicate  the  presence 

of  death  as  Otello  exclaims  that  he  is  still  armed  (Example  70) . 

A  fortissimo  chordal  crash  for  orchestral  tuttl  is  played  as 
Otello  stabs  himself.  This  violent  outburst  is  followed  immediately 
by  a  diminuendo  chromatic  descent  of  quarter  notes  played  by  the 
woodwinds  and  t remolando  violins,  violas,  and  cellos  which  comes 
to  rest  on  a  pianississimo  t remolando  low-register  chord  for  strings 

From  this  "trembling"  orchestral  texture  comes  the  minor-mode 
theme  first  heard  as  Otello  stood  over  his  sleeping  wife  earlier 
in  the  scene.  Indicative  of  the  Moor's  anguish,  the  theme  is 
played  by  English  horn,  solo  clarinet,  and  bassoon  accompanied  by 
a  so st enuto  texture  of  t remolando  violins  and  violas.  Supported  by 
this  mournful  orchestration,  Otello  pathetically  recalls  that  he 
had  kissed  Desdemona  before  he  killed  her.  He  continues,  with  frag¬ 
mented  "gasps"  of  text  "Or  morendo . . .nell ? ombra  in  cui  mi  giacio..." 
("Now  dying... in  the  shadow  in  which  I  lie..,").  Suddenly  at  [qq ) , 

in  perhaps  the  most  moving  reminiscence  passage  in  all  of  opera,  the 


"bacio"  theme  emerges,  played  in  unison  by  the  solo  oboe,  clarinet, 
and  tremolando  first  violins  and  supported  by  sustained  chords  in 
the  flutes,  second  clarinet,  bassoons^  horns,  double  basses,  and 
tremolando  second  violins,  violas,  and  cellos.  Otello  interjects 
three  final  morendo  vocal  phrases — "un  bacio...un  bacio  ancora. . . 
ah,  un  altro  bacio." 

A  solemn  sequence  of  descending  whole— note  chords  is  played 
by  the  clarinets,  violins,  and  violas  over  a  sustained  minor  sixth 
played  by  double-stopped  cellos  and  bassoons  and  a  tremolando  E 
pedal  for  the  double  basses.  This  phrase  resolves  to  a  long  final 
E  major  chord  for  every  instrument  in  the  orchestra  as  Otello  dies 
and  the  curtain  slowly  falls  (Example  71). 


There  is  little  doubt  that  Otello  is  Verdi's  greatest 
masterpiece.  It  combines  the  melodic  individuality  that  had 
been  the  composer’s  trademark  since  the  outset  of  his  career 
with  an  advanced  orchestration  technique  that  had  developed 
gradually  with  each  opera. 

Verdi  is  considered  by  most  scholars  to  be  one  of  the 
greatest  composers  of  dramatic  music.  This  recognition  is  due 
largely  to  his  intuitive  ability  to  compose  music  that  effect¬ 
ively  conveyed  the  dramatic  events  and  moods  of  his  texts. 

His  unparalleled  gift  for  melodic-writing  and  his  natural 
affinity  for  the  theater  made  him  the  most  popular  operatic 
composer  of  his  day. 

In  the  works  from  Macbeth  on,,  there  is  a  clear  indication 
that  Verdi  was  taking  the  dramatic  ability  of  his  orchestra  more 
seriously.  He  had  discovered  that  particular  tonal  colors — 
either  of  individual  instruments  or  in  combinations — could  greatly 
strengthen  the  dramatic  potential  of  his  works.  Also,  the 
number  of  instruments  and  the  manner  in  which  they  were  deployed 
within  the  orchestral  texture  had  a  large  bearing  on  the  dramatic 
effect  that  was  achieved. 



Xn  spite  of  the  criticism  it  has  received  for  being 
"Wagnerian"  in  nature,  Otello  is  an  opera  in  the  established 
Italian  tradition.  It  is  a  work  in  which  the  voice  is  still 
supreme  and  which  contains  most  of  the  conventional  devices 
used  by  Rossini,  Bellini,  and  Donizetti — the  storm  scene, 
victory  chorus,  brindisi,  prayer  scene,  ensemble  finale,  and 
the  vengeance  duet.  In  Otello,  however,  these  conventions  emerg 
naturally  from  the  dramatic  development  of  the  opera. 

During  the  fifty— four  years  of  his  career,  Verdi  had 
gradually  developed  his  ability  to  utilize  the  orchestra  for 
dramatic  revelation.  Otello  represents  the  apex  of  that  develop 
ment.  The  use  of  the  orchestra  in  Otello  is  in  every  instance 
prompted  by  an  instinctive  knowledge  of  the  resulting  dramatic 
effect,  and  his  mastery  of  orchestral  technique  contributes 
largely  to  Otello  *  s  position  as  possibly  the  greatest  of  all 

Romantic  operas. 


Example  1 ,  p.  1. 

Allegro  agitato.  ^=76. 

■'"All  page  numbers  refer  to  Otello , 
(Milan:  Ricordi,  c!913) . 

full  orchestral  score 




Example  2,  p.  3. 










Example  3,  p.  7. 


Example  A,  p.  19. 


Org .  j—  - -  - \-  -  • 




Example  5 ,  p.  30. 



Example  6,  p .  56. 

Example  7 ,  p.  56. 











Example  9,  p.  74. 


Example  10,  p.  79. 


Example  11,  p.  88, 

Allegro  con  brio.  J  =  120 


Example  J.2 ,  p  .  94 

Example  13,  p.  137. 

Example  14 , 

Example  15 , 


p.  141. 

(Montano  e  accompa- 

(jago  esce)  gnato  nel  Castello) 

p.  143. 

Example  16,  p.  145. 

-men  -  -  -  ti! 


Example  17,  p.  147. 

D  . 



Example  18,  p.  151. 

Example  19,  p.  154. 


Example  20,  p.  158. 

Example  21 ,  p.  161. 


Example  22,  p.  162. 

Example  23,  p.  164 


Example  24,  p.  167. 


Example  25,  p.  176. 

Allegro  sostenuto.  J=96 

Example  26,  p.  177. 

f  aspmmente 


Example  27,  p.  186. 


Example  28,  p.  203. 

Example  29,  p.  207. 




Example  30,  p.  235. 

Example  31,  p.  255. 


Example  32,  p.  266. 


Meg-1  iovar- 


Example  33,  p.  272. 

Example  34,  p.  273. 


in  La. 



Example  35,  p.  283. 

Molto  sostenuto.  J  -.69 



Example  36,  p.  291. 

I.  Tempo. 


Example  37,  p.  297. 


Example  38,  p.  313. 

Allegro  agitato.  J  :  132 


Example  39,  p.  327. 

I  Andante  mosso.  J  =  72 


Example  40,  p.  334. 


Example  41 ,  p .  342. 

Example  42,  p.  346. 

Example  43.  p.  346. 


Example  44,  p.  368. 



Example  46,  p.  378. 


Example  47 ,  p.  402. 

Ja  -  g-o,  qua  -  li 

Example  48,  p.  407. 


Example  49,  p.  412. 

Example  50,  p.  414. 



Example  51,  p .  415. 


Example  52,  p .  416. 



Example  53,  p.  418. 

a  tempo 


Example  54 ,  p .  424. 


Example  55,  p.  442. 

a  2 


Example  56,  p.  458. 


Example  57,  p.  464. 

Example  58,  p.  470. 

Example  59,  p.  475. 



Example  60,  p.  482. 

come  un  lamento 


Example  61 ,  p.  486. 


Example  62,  p.  489. 


Example  63,  p.  490. 

a  tempo 

Example  64,  p.  492_. 


Example  65,  p.  493. 


Example  66,  p.  495. 



Example  67,  p.  495. 



Example  68, 

p.  508. 


Example  69,  p.  525. 


Poco  meno,ma  pochissimo. 


Example  70 , 

.  528. 


Example  71,  p.  530. 


Biographical  Studies 

Abbiati,  Franco.  Giuseppe  Verdi.  4  Vols.  Milano:  Ricordi,  1959. 

Baldini,  Gabrielle.  Abitare  la  battaglia:  La  storia  di  Giuseppe 
Verdi .  Milano:  Alda  Garzanti  Editore,  1970. 

Bonavia,  Ferruccio.  Verdi .  London:  D.  Dobson,  1947. 

Cesari,  Gaetano  and  Alessandro  Luzio,  ed .  I  Copialettere  di 
Giuseppe  Verdi.  Milano:  Stucchi  Ceretti  e  co. ,  1913. 

Crowest,  F.J.  Verdi:  Man  and  Musician.  New  York:  C.  Scribner’s 
Sons,  1897. 

Gatti,  Carlo.  Verdi:  The  Man  and  His  Music.  Translated  by 
Elisabeth  Abbott.  New  York:  G.P.  Putnam’s  Sons,  1955. 

Hume,  Paul.  Verdi:  The  Man  and  his  Music.  New  York:  Metropolitan 
Opera  Guild,  1977. 

Hussey,  Dynely.  Verdi .  3rd  ed.  London:  J.M.  Dent,  1973. 

Martin,  George.  Verdi:  His  Music,  Life,  and  Times.  New  York: 
Dodd,  Mead  and  Company,  1963. 

Mila,  Massimo.  Giuseppe  Verdi.  Bari:  Editori  Laterza,  1958. 

Monaldi,  Gino.  Verdi.  London:  D.  Dobson,  1947. 

Nardi,  P.  Vita  di  Arrigo  Boito.  Verona:  Hondadori,  1942. 

Osborne,  Charles,,  ed.  Letters  of  Giuseppe  Verdi.  New  York:  Holt 
Rinehart  and  Winston,  1972. 

Osborne,  Charles.  Verdi.  London:  MacMillan,  1978. 

Pougin,  Arthur.  Giuseppe  Verdi,  vita  anedotica  con  note  ed 
aggiunte  di  Folchetto.  Milano:  Ricordi,  1881. 

Sheean,  Vincent.  Orpheus  at  Eighty.  New  York:  Random  House,  1958. 

Toye,  Francis.  Giuseppe  Verdi:  His  Life  and  Works.  New  York: 

Alfred  A.  Knopf,  Inc.,  1931;  reprint  ed.  New  York:  Vintage 
Books,  1959. 



Walker,  Frank.  The  Man  Verdi.  London:  J.M.  Dent  and  Sons  Ltd., 

Weaver,  William,  ed .  Verdi:  A  Documentary  Study.  New  York: 

Thames  and  Hudson,  1977. 

Wechsberg,  Joseph.  Verdi.  New  York:  G.P.  Putnam’s  Sons,  1974. 

Werfel,  Franz  and  Paul  Stefan,  ed.  Verdi:  The  Man  in  his  Letters. 
Translated  by  Edward  Downes.  New  York:  L.R.  Fischer,  1942; 
reprint  ed.  New  York:  Vienna  House,  1973. 

Analytical  Studies  of  the  Operas 

Corte,  Andrea  della.  Le  Opere  di  Giuseppe  Verdi.  5  Vols.  Milano: 
Bottega  di  poesia,  1923-25. 

Godefroy,  Vincent.  The  Dramatic  Genius  of  Verdi,  Vol.  1.  London: 
Victor  Gollancz  Ltd.,  1975;  Vol.  2.  New  York:  St.  Martin’s 
Press,  1977. 

Hughes,  Spike.  Famous  Verdi  Operas.  New  York:  Chilton  Book 
Company,  1968. 

Osborne,  Charles.  The  Complete  Operas  of  Verdi:  A  Critical  Guide. 
London:  Victor  Gollancz  Ltd.,  1969;  reprint  ed.  London: 

Pan  Books,  1973. 

Pesci,  Ugo.  Verdi  e  I’Otello.  Milano,  1887 

Pinagli,  Palmiro.  Romanticismo  di  Verdi.  Firenze:  Vallecchi 
Editore,  1967. 

Rinald i ,  Mar io .  Verdi  critico:  i  suoi  guidizi,  la  sua  estetlca . 
Rome:  Ergo,  1951. 

Roncaglia,  Gino.  L’Otello  di  Giuseppe  Verdi.  Firenze:  Fussi,  1946 

Roosevelt,  Blanche.  Verdi:  Milan  and  "Othello”.  London:  Ward 
and  Downey,  1887. 

Travis,  Francis  Irving.  Verdi’s  Orchestration.  Zurich:  Juris, 

Williams,  Stephen.  Verdi’s  Last  Operas.  London:  Hinrichsen,  1950. 


Books  on  Orchestration  and  Instrumentation 

Berlioz,  Hector.  A  Treatise  upon  Modern  Instrumentation  and 
Orchestration.  Translated  by  Mary  C.  Clarke.  New  ed. 

London:  Novello  Ewerico,  1882. 

Carse,  Adam.  History  of  Orchestration.  London:  Kegan  Paul,  Trench 
Trubner  and  Co.,  Ltd.,  1925;  reprint  ed.  New  York:  Dover 
Publications,  1964. 

Forsyth,  Cecil.  Orchestration .  2nd  ed.  London:  MacMillan,  1935. 

Kennan,  Kent.  The  Technique  of  Orchestration.  2nd  ed .  Englewood 
Cliffs.,  New  Jersey,  1972. 

Marcuse,  Sibyl.  Musical  Instruments:  A  Comprehensive  Dictionary. 
New  York:  W.W.  Norton,  1975. 

Piston,  Walter.  Orchestration .  New  York:  W.W.  Norton  and  Company, 

Read,  Gardner.  Thesaurus  of  Orchestral  Devices.  London:  Pitman 

Rimsky-Korsakoff,  N.  Principles  of  Orchestration.  Translated  into 
English  by  Edward  Agate.  New  York:  E.-F.  Kalmus,  1933; 
reprint  ed.  New  York:  Dover  Publications,  1964. 

General  Books 

Blom ,  Eric,  ed .  Grove's  Dictionary  of  Music  and  Musicians.  5th  ed . 
New  York:  St.  Martin’s  Press,  1961. 

Dannreuther ,  Edward.  The  Romantic  Period,  The  Oxford  History  of 
Music,  Vol  6.  London:  Oxford  University  Press,  1905. 

Eaton,  Quaintance.  Opera  Production  I:  A  Handbook.  Minneapolis: 
University  of  Minnesota  Press,  1961;  reprint  ed.  New  York: 

Da  Capo  Press,  1974. 

_ •  Opera  Production  II:  A  Handbook.  Minneapolis:  University 

of  Minnesota  Press,  1974. 

Einstein,  Alfred.  Music  in  the  Romantic  Era.  New  York:  W.W.  Norton 

Grout,  Donald.  A  Short  History  of  Opera.  2nd  ed.  New  York:  W.W. 
Norton,  1965. 

Lang,  Paul.  Music  in  Western  Civilization.  New  York:  W.W.  Norton 

Rosenthal,  Harold  and  John  War rack.  Concise  Oxford  Dictionary  of 
Opera.  London:  Oxford  University  Press,  1964. 

Scholes,  Percy  A.  The  Oxford  Companion  to  Music.  10th  ed .  Edited 
by  John  Owen  Ward.  London:  Oxford  University  Press,  1970. 

Tovey,  Francis.  Essays  in  Musical  Analysis-  Vol  2.  London:  1935. 

Periodical  Articles 

Blyth,  A.  "Verdi ' s  Otello ."  Opera  (February,  1969). 

Coe,  D.  "The  Original  Production  Book  for  Otello . "  19th  Century 
Music ,  Vol.  2.  Berkeley:  University  of  California  Press, 

Daniels,  Robert.  "Portrait  of  a  Villain."  Opera  News  (February  9, 
1974) . 

Dean,  W.  "Verdi  and  Shakespeare."  Opera  (August,  1951). 

Downes,  Edward.  "Sign  of  the  Storm  in  Otello . "  Opera  News 
(March  11,  1967) . 

Downes,  Olin.  "Boito  and  Verdi."  New  York  Times  (August  30,  1953). 

Gray,  C.  "Verdi  and  Shakespeare."  Opera  (February,  1951). 

McElroy,  George.  "Music-drama  Ideals  of  Wagner  and  Verdi." 

Opera  News  (December  31,  1960). 

Mendelsohn,  G.  "Verdi  the  Man  and  Verdi  the  Dramatist."  19th 

Century  Music,  Vol.  2.  Berkeley:  University  of  California 
Press,  1979. 

Niecks,  Frederick.  "Verdi’s  Otello."  Monthly  Musical  Record 
Vol.  47  (1917). 

Porter,  Andrew.  Notes  accompanying  the  recording  I  Lombardi  alia 
Prima  Crociata.  Philips  6703—032. 

Sutton,  W.  "(Verdi)  Composition:  The  Last  Period."  Musical  Opinion 
(February,  1972) . 

Walker,  Frank.  "Verdi  and  Francesco  Florimo — Some  Unpublished 
Letters."  Music  and  Letters  (October,  1945). 

_ _ .  "Verdi’s  Ideas  on  the  Production  of  his  Shakespeare 

Operas."  Proc.  Royal  Mus.  Assc.,  Vol.  76. 






Amaya,  Joseph  Lewis-  Verdi 1  s,  Treatment  of  Shakespearian  Tragedy 
in  Macbeth  and  Otello.  Florida  State  University,  1972. 



Manuscript  Copies 

Verdi,  Giuseppe.  Ar oldo.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_  .  Attila .  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  La  Battaglia  di  Legnano.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  II  Corsaro.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Don  Carlo  (Five  Act  Version).  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  I  Due  Foscari .  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Ernani .  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Un  Giorno  di  Regno.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Giovanna  dTArco.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  II  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Luisa  Miller.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Macbeth  (1865  Version) .  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  I  Masnadierl.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Nabucco.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Oberto,  Conte  di  San  Bonifacio.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  Simon  Boccanegra  (1881  Version) .  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

_ .  I  Vespri  Siciliani.  Full  Orchestral  Score. 

Printed  Scores 

Verdi,  Giuseppe.  Aida.  Full  Orchestral  Score.  Milan:  Ricordi, 

_ .  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera.  Full  Orchestral  Score.  Milan: 

Ricordi,  cl897. 

_ .  Falstaf f .  Full  Orchestral  Score.  Milan:  Ricordi,  cl913. 



Verdi,  Giuseppe.  La  Forza  del  Deslino  (1869  Version).  Full 
Orchestral  Score.  New  York.:  Kroude  Brothers,  cl935. 

_ „  Otello .  Full  Orchestral  Score.  Milan:  Ricordi,  cl913. 

_ .  Otello  ('French.  Version)  .  Full  Orchestral  Score.  Milan: 

Ricordi,  cl894. 

_ .  Rigoletto.  Full  Orchestral  Score.  New  York:  Kalmus, 

n .  d . 

_ .  La  Traviata.  Full  Orchestral  Score.  New  York:  Kalmus, 

n  ,d . 

_ .  II  Trovatore.  Full  Orchestral  Score.  New  York: 

Kalmus,  n.d. 



Oberto,  Conte  di  San  Bonafacio  f 1 :  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  cl:  2 

bsn:  2,  hn :  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1, 
bass  drum,  triangle,  strings. 

Un  Giorno  di  Regno  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4, 
tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  bass  drum,  triangle, 
snare  drum,  continuo,  strings. 

Nabucco  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 
hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  2,  bass 
drum,  triangle,  snare  drum,  banda,  strings. 

I  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2,  cl:  2, 
bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  2, 
bass  drum,  snare  drum,  banda,  strings. 

Ernani  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bs  cl:  1, 

bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1, 

bass  drum,  banda,  strings,  6  trumpets  backstage. 

I  Due  Foscari  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2, 

bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1, 

bass  drum,  banda,  strings. 

Giovanna  d'Arco  f 1 :  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2, 

bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1, 

bass  drum,  snare  drum,  chimes,  banda,  strings,  harmonium, 
accordion,  and  triangle  backstage. 

Alzira  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 
hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass 
drum,  snare  drum,  cymbals,  triangle,  banda,  strings. 

Attila  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 
hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass 
drum,  snare  drum,  cymbals,  banda,  strings. 

I  Masnadieri  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4, 

tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass  drum, 
strings . 

II  Corsaro  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2, 

trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass  drum,  snare  drum, 
banda,  strings. 




La  Battaglia  di  Legnano  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 

hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  bass  drum,  cymbals 
banda,  strings. 

Luisa  Miller  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4, 
tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  bass  drum,  strings, 
organ,  chimes  backstage. 

Rigoletto  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 
hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  bass  drum, 
chime,  banda,  strings. 

II  Trovatore  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4, 
tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass  drum, 
triangle,  chime,  strings,  organ  backstage,  anvils  onstage. 

La  Traviata  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4, 
tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass  druim, 
triangle,  banda,  strings,  tambourines  onstage. 

I  Vespri  Siciliani  fl:  2  (2  piccolos),  ob:  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 
hn:  4,  cornet:  2,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  bass 
drum,  snare  drum,  chime,  castanettes,  strings. 

Aroldo  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 
hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  combasso:  1,  timp:  1,  bass  drum, 
snare  drum,  banda,  strings. 

Un  Ballo  in  Maschera  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2  (English  horn), 
cl:  2,  bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1, 
harp:  1,  bass  drum,  triangle,  cymbals,  chime,  banda,  strings. 

Macbeth  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob:  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2  (bs  cl), 
bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1, 
bass  drum,  chime,  banda,  strings,  2  oboes,  6  clarinets,  2 
bassoons,  contrabassoon  beneath  the  stage,  4  trumpets  backstage 

La  Forza  del  Destino  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  cl:  2,  bsn:  2, 

hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  2,  bass 

drum,  strings,  6  trumpets,  organ  backstage,  2  snare  drums 

Aida  fl:  3  (piccolo) ,  ob :  2,  English  horn:  1,  cl:  2,  bs  cl:  1, 
bsn:  2,  hn :  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,'  timp:  1,  harp:  2, 
bass  drum,  cymbals,  triangle,  gong,  banda,  strings,  6  Egyptian 
trumpets  onstage,  4  trumpets,  4  trombones,  bass  drum  beneath 
the  stage. 

Simon  Boccanegra  fl:  2  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  cl:  2  (bs  cl),  bsn:  2, 

hn:  4,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1,  bass 

drum,  banda,  strings,  2  offstage  snare  drums,  1  trumpet,  chimes 
backstage . 





Don  Carlo  fl:  3  (piccolo),  ob :  2  (English  horn),  cl:  2,  bsn:  4 
(contrabassoon) ,  hn:  4,  cornet:  2,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  ophicleide, 
timp:  1,  harp:  2,  bass  drum,  triangle,  cymbals,  chime,  banda, 
strings,  harmonium,  5  horns  backstage. 

Otello  fl:  3  (piccolo),  ob:  2,  English  horn:  1,  cl:  2,  bs  cl:  1, 
bsn:  4,  hn:  4,  cornet:  2,  tpt:  2,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1, 
harp:  2,  bass  drum:  2,  cymbals,  gong,  banda,  strings,  cornamusa 
mandolins,  guitars,  organ,  6  trumpets,  4  trombones  backstage. 

Falstaf f  fl:  3  (piccolo),  ob :  2,  English  horn:  1,  cl:  2,  bs  cl:  1 

bsn:  2,  hn:  4,  tpt:  3,  trb:  3,  cimbasso:  1,  timp:  1,  harp:  1, 
bass  drum,  triangle,  cymbals,  chime,  strings,  guitar,  natural 
horn  backstage. 



1813  —  was  born  in  the  village  of  Le  Roncole,  Italy,  near  Busseto 

in  the  district  of  Parma,  to  Carlo  and  Luigia  Verdi — 

October  10 . 

1820  —  began  musical  studies  under  Pietro  Baistrocchi ,  organist 

of  the  church  at  Le  Roncole. 

1823  — .  started  formal  education  at  the  in  Busseto — 


—  while  in  Busseto  was  taken  under  the  wing  of  Antonio 
Barezzi,  a  prosperous  merchant  and  founder  of  the  local 
Philharmonic  Society. 

1825  —  through  Barezzi’ s  influence,  began  studies  in  composition 

under  Ferdinando  Provesi,  director  of  the  Busseto  Municipal 
Music  School. 

18 29  —  became  Provesi’ s  assistant,  teaching  at  the  school, 

playing  the  organ,  copying  parts  for  the  Philharmonic, 
conducting  rehearsals,  and  appearing  as  pianist  in  concerts. 

1832  —  financially  supported  by  Barezzi,  applied  for  entrance  to 

the  Milan  Conservatory. 

—  application  was  denied  because  Verdi  was  over  the  normal 
age  of  admission. 

—  stayed  in  Milan  and  studied  counterpoint  and  composition 
privately  with  Vincenzo  Lavigna. 

1835  -  with  Provesi’ s  death,  Verdi  was.  named  municipal  maestro  di 

musica  of  Busseto  in  October. 

1836  -  married  Barezzi’ s  daughter,  Margherita,  in  Busseto  on 

May  4  . 

—  in  September,  completed  his  first  opera,  Rocester,  but  no 
production  was.  given. 

1837  -  on  March  26,  daughter,  Virginia,  was  born. 

—  completed  a  reworked  version  of  Rocester  titled  Oberto, 

Conte  di  Bonifacio. 

1838  -  son,  Romano  (Icilio) ,  was  born  at  Busseto  on  July  11. 

—  resigned  his,  post  as  maestro  di  musica  and  moved  to  Milan. 

—  on  August  12,  his  daughter  died  of  an  unknown  childhood 









-  s.on  died,  again  of  undetermined  causes,  on-  October  22. 

-  through,  the  encouragement  of  a  young  soprano,  Giuseppina 
Strepponi,  Oherto,  Conte  dL  Bonifacio  was  giv§n  its 
premiere  at  La  Scala,  Milan,  on  November  17  to  fair 
success . 

-  in  December,  the  director  of  La  Scala,  Bartalomeo  Merelli, 
contracted  Verdi,  to  compose  three  more  works  for  the 

184Q  —  Margherita  Verdi  died  on  June  18. 

-  Un  Giorno  di  Regno  premiered  at  La  Scala  on  September  5  to 
poor  reception. 

-  depressed,  Verdi  decided  to  retire  from  composition  and 
convinced  Merelli  to  release  him  from  his  contract. 

1841  -  in  -October,  Merelli  persuaded  Verdi  to  return  to  work. 

1842  -  Nabucco  was  presented  for  the  first  time,  at  La  Scala  on 

March  9  to  overwhelming  response. 

—  Verdi’s  reputation -spread  throughout  Europe. 

1843  —  I  Lombardi  alia  Prlma  Crociata,  Milan — February  11 . 

1844  —  Ernani,  Venice— March  9. 

-  I  Due  Foscari,  Rome — November  3. 

1845  -  Giovanna  d’Arco,  Milan — February  15. 

-  Alzira,  Naples — August  12. 

1846  -  Att ila,  Venice — March  17 . 

1847  -  first  performance  of  a  Verdi  opera  in  America  at  Palmo’s 

Opera  House,  New  York — I  Lombardi  alia  Prima  Crociata  on 
March  3. 

—  Macbeth,  Florence — March  14 . 

—  I  Masnadieri,  London — July  22. 

—  Jerusaldme,  a  French  reworking  of  Lombardi  for  the  Paris 
Opera — November  26. 

1848  -  Italian  uprising  against  the  Austrians  in  Milan. 

-  took  up  permanent  residence  in  Paris. 

—  II  Corsaro,  Lucca — February  12. 

1849  -  La  Battaglia  di  Legnano ,  Rome — January  27 . 

-  in  August,  Verdi  returned  to  take  up  residence  in  Busseto. 

-  Luisa  Miller,  Naples — December  8. 

1850  -  began  his  love  affair  with  soprano  Giuseppina  Strepponi, 

who  moved  in  with  him. 

—  Stiffelio,  Trieste — November  16. 






—  Rigoletto,  yenipe — March  11. 


-  purchased  estate  at  SantTAgata  and  moved  from  Busseto. 


—  11  Trovatore,  Rome— January^  19 . 

—  La  Traviata,  Venice — March  6. 

—  with  Strepponi,  took  up  temporary  residence  in  Paris  to 
work  on  a  commission. 


-  Les  Vepres  Sicili.ennes,  Paris — June  13. 


-  Simon  Boccanegra,  Venice — March  12. 

—  Aroldo,  a  reworking  of  Stiffelio,  Rimini — August  16. 


-  Un  Ballo  in  Maschera,  Rome — February  17. 


—  married  Giuseppina  Strepponi — August  29."^ 


-  Italian  Risorgimento — Austrians  were  driven  from  Italy. 

-  Verdi  became  Russeto’s  first  representative  in  the  United 
Italian  parliament. 


—  composed  patriotic  cantata  Inno  delle  nazioni  to  a  text  by 
Arrigo  Boito. 

—  La  Forza  del  Destino,  St.  Petersburg,  Russia — November  10. 


-  Macbeth,  revised  version  in  French,  Paris — April  21. 


-  Don  Carlo,  Paris — March  11. 


—  death  of  Rossini — November  13. 

—  Verdi  proposed  a  collaborative  Requiem  and  composed  a 

Libera  Me  as  his  contribution. 

—  the  project  is  aborted. 


—  La  Forza  del  Destino,  revised  version,  Milan — February  17. 


-  Aida,  Cairo — December  24. 


—  String  Quartet  in  E  minor  composed  in  March. 

—  Alessandro  Manzoni,  Italian  writer  and  patriot,  died  in 
Milan — May  22. 

Toye,  Walker,  Gatti.  and  others*  give  the  marriage  date  as 
April  29,  1859.  This  is  due  to  a  mistake  in  the  copy  of  the 
registry  at  Villanova  d'Arda  indicated  by  Verdi  in  a  letter  to 
Piroli  dated  April  17,  1869.  See  Cesari  and  Luzio,  I  Copialettere , 




—  Requiem  in  memory  of  Manzoni  in  which  Verdi  incorporated 
the  Libera  Me  from  the  proposed  Requiem  for  Rossini — 
first  performed  in  Milan  on  May  22, 

1880  -  Pater  Noster  and  Aye  Marla  for  the  Milan  Orchestral  Socie 

1881  -  Simon  Boccanegra,  revised  version,  Milan — March  24. 

1884  —  Don  Carlo,  shortened  and  revised  Italian  version,  Milan — 

January  10. 

1887  —  Otello ,  Milan — February  5. 

1889  —  Ave  Maria  (Quattro  Pezzi  Sacri) 

1893  —  Falstaf f ,  Milan — February  9. 

1897  -  Giuseppina  Verdi  died  at  Sant’Agata  on  November  14. 

1898  -  established  Casa  di  Riposo  di  Giuseppe  Verdi,  a  home  for 

aged  musicians  in  Milan. 

—  Stabat  Mater,  Te  Deum,  and  Laudi  alia  Vergine  Maria  of 
Quattro  Pezzi  Sacri. 

1901  -  suffered  stroke  while  visiting  in  Milan — January  21. 

—  died  six  days  later  at  his  residence  at  the  Albergo 
Milano — January  27  . 





As  a  tempest  rages  in  the  harbor  of  Cyprus,  citizens  await 
the  return  of  their  governor,  Otello,  a  Moorish  general  in  the 
Venetian  army.  When  his  ship  is  sighted,  the  Cypriots  call  on 
heaven  to  spare  it.  Safely  in  port,  Otello  stops  on  the  ramparts 
to  proclaim  victory  over  the  Turks  ("Esultatel ")  and  then  enters 
his  castle.  His  ensign,  Iago,  angered  because  a  rival,  Cassio, 
has  been  promoted  to  captain,  plots  his  own  advancement  by  fanning 
the  secret  desires  of  Roderigo  for  Otello' s  wife,  Desdemona. 
Meanwhile,  the  Cypriots  gather  around  a  bonfire.  Iago,  leading  a 
drinking  song  (Brindisi:  "Inaffia  l'ugola"),  forces  the  easily 
intoxicated  Cassio  to  drink  toasts  to  Otello  and  his  bride;  the 
ensign  next  provokes  Roderigo  to  duel  with  the  reeling  Cassio. 
Otello 's  predecessor,  Montano,  tries  to  intervene  but  is  wounded 
by  Cassio.  Suddenly  Otello,  awakened  by  the  brawl,  storms  out  to 
demand  an  explanation;  Iago  pretends  ignorance.  As  Desdemona  joins 
her  husband,  he  demotes  Cassio  and  instructs  Iago  to  restore  peace. 
Otello  and  Desdemona,  left  alone  in  the  moonlight,  tenderly  recall 
their  courtship  ("Gia  nella  notte  densa") ,  and  they  kiss. 


By  the  castle  garden,  Iago  advises  Cassio  to  seek  Desdemona' s 
aid  in  regaining  Otello 's  favor.  Cassio  goes  off,  leaving  Iago  to 






describe  his  yiew  of  hi.s  creator;  a  cruel  demon  who  giyes.  him  ideas 
for  his  eyil  machinations  ("’Credo"'}.  On -Otello' s  arrival,  the 
ensign  makes  innuendos  about  Desdemona’s  fidelity  as  they  spy  her 
in  the  garden  with  Emilia  (Iago 1 s  wife)  and  Cassio;  he  warns  the 
Moor  to  beware  of  jealousy.  Women,  children  and  sailors  bring 
flowers  to  Desdemona,  whose  beauty  softens  Otello ’s  suspicions. 
However,  when  she  approaches  him  about  Cassio’s  reinstatement  he 
grows  irritable.  Fearing  he  is  ill,  she  tries  to  soothe  his  brow 
with  a  handkerchief,  which  he  throws  to  the  ground.  Desdemona, 
confused,  pleads  her  devotion,  while  Iago  wrenches  the  handkerchief 
from  Emilia,  who  has  retrieved  it.  When  the  women  leave,  Otello 
accuses  his  ensign  of  destroying  his  peace  of  mind.  Iago  answers 
the  Moor  * s  demands  for  proof  by  pretending  he  has  heard  Cassio 
murmur  Desdemona1 s  name  in  his  sleep  ("Era  la  notte")  ;  even  worse, 
he  says  he  saw  in  Cassio’ s  hand  the  handkerchief  Otello  had  given 
her  when  he  first  courted  her.  Seconded  by  Iago,  Otello  vows 
vengeance  ("Si,  pel  ciel") . 


In  the  armory,  Iago  tells  Otello  that  more  proof  is  forth¬ 
coming  and  then  departs  as  Desdemona  greets  her  husband  ("Dio  ti 
giocondi") .  The  Moor  hints  at  his  suspicions,  but  she  fails  to 
understand;  when  he  demands  th.e  handkerchief  he  once  gave  her,  she 
again  pleads  for  Cassio,  driving  Otello  to  call  her  a  courtesan. 
Though  Desdemona,  in  tears,  swears  her  innocence,  the  Moor  sends 
her  away.  Spent  with,  rage,  he  muses  on  his  misery  ("bio  mi  potevi 

s.cagliar")  ,  then  hides  at  the  approach  of  Cassio  and  Iago.  The 
ensign,  flashing  the  handkerchief  he  stole,  manipulates  Cassio’s 
banter  about  his  mistress,  Bianca,  so  that  Otello  thinks  they  mean 
Desdemona.  Cassio  leaves  as  trumpets  announce  dignitaries  from 
Venice.  Otello  vows  to  kill  his  wife. 

In  the  great  hall  of  the  castle,  the  court  enters  to  welcome 
Lodovico,  the  ambassador,  who  presents  papers  recalling  Otello  to 
Venice  and  naming  Cassio  governor.  When  Cassio  steps  forward, 
Otello  loses  self-control  and,  cursing  Desdemona,  hurls  her  to  the 
floor.  She  begs  forgiveness  for  her  supposed  crime;  the  courtiers 
try  to  console  her,  but  Otello  orders  them  all  out.  As  the  Moor 
falls  unconscious  in  a  fit,  Iago  mockingly  salutes  the  "Lion  of 
Venice . " 


In  her  room,  as  Emilia  helps  prepare  her  for  bed,  Desdemona 
sings  a  song  about  a  maiden,  Barbara,  who  has  been  forsaken  by  her 
lover  (Willow  Song:  "Salce,  salce").  Startled  by  the  wind,  she 
bids  her  friend  good  night,  says  her  prayers  ("Ave  Maria")  and 
retires.  Otello  soon  steals  in  and  tenderly  kisses  her.  When 
she  awakens,  he  tells  her  to  prepare  for  death;  though  she  protests 
her  innocence,  he  smothers  her.  Suddenly  Emilia  knocks  with  news 
that  Cassio  has  slain  Roderigo.  Hearing  Desdemona 's  death  moan, 
she  cries  for  help,  bringing  Iago,  Lodovico  and  Cassio.  As  Emilia 
tells  of  Tago ’ s  treachery,  the  villain  rushes  out  of  the  room. 




Otello,  realising  he  has  been  duped  ("Niun  mi  tema"  )  ,  stabs 
himself  and  dies  upon  a  kiss.