Late in life, Verdi gave an account of the episode to a biographer. What follows took place when he was twenty or twenty-one years old and studying under Vincenzo Lavigna in Milan.
About 1833 or 34 there existed in Milan a Philharmonic Society composed of very good musical elements. It was directed by a master called Masini who, while he did not shine, through his eminent musical knowledge at least had patience and tenacity; that is to say the necessary qualities requisite for the conductor of an amateur musical body. At that time they were organising at the Theatre Philodramatic a performance of Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, and my master Lavigna asked me for my own benefit if I would not like to go to the rehearsals. I need not say I accepted with pleasure. I went, but no one paid the slightest attention to the little youngster who seated himself modestly in an obscure corner. Three masters, Perelli, Bonoldi, and Almasio conducted these rehearsals, but one fine morning by a singular coincidence none of the three was present. The public was getting impatient when the leader Masini, not feeling himself capable to sit down to the piano and accompany the full score, turned towards me and begged me to be accompanist. He was so little confident in the ability of the young musician that he said to me, “It will be sufficient to accompany with the bass only.”
At that time I was fresh from my studies, and certainly I would not have felt very perturbed before any orchestral score living. I accepted Masini’s offer and sat down to the piano to commence the first measures. I well recall several ironical smiles on the faces of certain amateurs, for it seems that my juvenile physiognomy, my lank body, and my shabby dress were not of a nature to inspire great confidence. However that may be, we began the opening number. Little by little warming up to it and beginning to feel the excitement myself, I was not alone satisfied with accompanying the bass, but I commenced to direct the orchestra with my right hand at the same time playing the score with the left. When the rehearsal was finished from every side I received felicitations and compliments but particularly from the Conte Pompeo Belgiojoso and Conte Renato Borromeo. To close this incident, whether the three masters of whom I have already spoken were too occupied to continue the task of conducting for the Philharmonic Society or whether from other reasons I know not, but the Society finished by confiding the direction of the concert entirely to me. The public performance was such a success that we gave a second performance in the great room of the Casino dei Nobili in the presence of the Archduke and Archduchess Ranieri and the grand society then residing in Milan. The success was so great that the Viceroy himself expressed a wish to hear The Creation and a third concert took place in the palace again under my direction.
As for me, I hope to resume posting regularly soon: Over at my Callas blog, I wrote up what my holiday weekend looks like.
To everyone in the States, have a happy and relaxing holiday, and I’ll be back next week!