The Messa da Requiem by Verdi is one of the greatest choral/orchestral works ever. It’s just amazing.
But for years I’ve wondered why the hell, if Verdi gave the opening section a tempo marking of Andante and a metronome marking of 80 to the quarter note, pretty much every conductor I’ve ever seen/heard do it takes it at a sort of Adagio/Largo with the quarter note at about 50 or slower.
I have even asked a few–the response is usually something unsatisfying like “Quarter note at 80 is just too fast.” I’m like, okay, if Verdi wrote it, and it’s Verdi’s damn piece, isn’t he the judge of that?
Turns out someone else has wondered the same thing. Ick Hyun Cho of the University of North Texas, in 2003 (about 6 years after it occurred to me that someone should maybe attack this topic but 8 years before I was in a position to do so myself), wrote a doctoral paper on this very thing.
I haven’t read the whole paper yet, but I’m going to. I’m just excited that someone else has decided to pay attention to this–and has found documentation and background and has explored what this really really significant change in mindset means to the piece as a whole. Taken at a less dirge-like tempo, suddenly the opening movements hang together as a single unit and make sense.
Seems obvious to me. Maybe it’s the whole “uh oh, it’s about death, therefore it must be slow and dirge-like” thing.
The first word, even–at 80, the word “Requiem” becomes this gentle sigh, and not a heavy-weighted Pronouncement Of Doom.
And Monday I get to see the facimile of the original manuscript in Verdi’s own hand.
God, I love being at a research university.