Despite being the most-performed operatic composer in the world, there’s a surprising lack of studies written on the style of Giuseppe Verdi’s works — a problem that Prof. Steven Huebner is addressing head-on. Recently, Huebner put out the first book in any language that offers an in-depth analysis of the composer’s musical style in the context of his 23 Italian operas, from Aida to Ernani. Les opéras de Verdi : Éléments d'un langage musico-dramatique was published this January by the Université de Montréal press.
Having presented a four-part talk on Verdi’s works at the University of Montreal in 2011, Huebner explained his inspiration to write a book on the subject in a recent email exchange. “I felt that there was a real need for a book that would explain the musicodramatic elements that inform Verdi’s operas. That is, I wanted people to understand the kinds of compositional choices that Verdi had before him. This starts from how librettos of the time were written and extends outward from there to the kinds of melodies he wrote and how he distributed them across the action. Performers have very little sense of how Verdi put his operas together, including not knowing the practices that govern Italian libretto poetry. I hope the book will also help sensitize artists to Verdi's craft.”
To approach a task as large as the analysis of two dozen operas, Huebner said that he looked at different elements of the works, including “how Italian libretto poetry is organized, the textures available to set text, how melodies are made and how the individual numbers are shaped.”
For the uninitiated, Huebner also offered up a good starting point to get familiar with Verdi’s works. “I would suggest they get a feel for the composer in the excellent short biography Verdi, by Julian Budden, for the Master Musicians series. The Verdi bibliography is immense so there are lots of good choices. There’s even a new one volume Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia where readers can look up various factoids of interest!”