Verdi Transcriptions (Finnissy)

Last updated

The 36 Verdi Transcriptions for piano by the British composer Michael Finnissy were composed between 1972 and 2005. They are based on the works of Giuseppe Verdi.

Michael Finnissy is an English composer and pianist.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.



The Transcriptions , in the words of the composer, "are ...not simply about Verdi. They form a critique of a musical culture which is over-saturated in its dissection, analysis, parody, and by self-dramatised intent." In four books of nine pieces each, they include in chronological sequence at least one transcription from each of Verdi's operas, together with one transcription drawn from his string quartet, and conclude with a transcription of the first section of his Requiem . [1]

In music, transcription can mean notating a piece or a sound which was previously unnotated, as, for example, an improvised jazz solo. When a musician is tasked with creating sheet music from a recording and they write down the notes that make up the piece in music notation, it is said that they created a musical transcription of that recording. Transcription may also mean rewriting a piece of music, either solo or ensemble, for another instrument or other instruments than which it was originally intended. The Beethoven Symphonies by Franz Liszt are a good example. Transcription in this sense is sometimes called arrangement, although strictly speaking transcriptions are faithful adaptations, whereas arrangements change significant aspects of the original piece.

String Quartet (Verdi) composition for string quartet

Giuseppe Verdi's String Quartet in E minor was written in the spring of 1873 during a production of Aida in Naples. It is the only surviving chamber music work in Verdi's catalogue.

Requiem (Verdi) musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass by Giuseppe Verdi

The Messa da Requiem is a musical setting of the Catholic funeral mass (Requiem) for four soloists, double choir and orchestra by Giuseppe Verdi. It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired. The first performance, at the San Marco church in Milan on 22 May 1874, marked the first anniversary of Manzoni's death. The work was at one time called the Manzoni Requiem. It is rarely performed in liturgy, but rather in concert form of around 85–90 minutes in length. Musicologist David Rosen calls it 'probably the most frequently performed major choral work composed since the compilation of Mozart's Requiem'.

In creating the Transcriptions Finnissy was influenced by the concepts of Ferruccio Busoni, who believed that musical notation "is itself the transcription of an abstract idea. The moment that the pen takes possession of it, the thought loses its original form". The implication is that all composition is a form of transcription, and in this light Finnissy's often very substantial diversions from the originals may be viewed as re-creations of the original 'abstract ideas' which prompted Verdi himself. [2] The influence of Busoni can be felt throughout the Transcriptions in the form of quotations from or allusions to Busoni's own compositions; the pianist Ian Pace considers the work to be a 'Homage to Busoni'. [3]

Ferruccio Busoni Italian composer, pianist, conductor, editor, writer, and piano teacher

Ferruccio Busoni was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor, editor, writer, and teacher. His international career and reputation led him to work closely with many of the leading musicians, artists and literary figures of his time, and he was a sought-after keyboard instructor and a teacher of composition.

Musical notation graphic writing of musical parameters

Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent aurally perceived music played with instruments or sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced symbols.

Ian Pace is a British pianist. Pace studied at Chetham's School of Music, The Queen's College, Oxford and the Juilliard School in New York. His main teacher was the Hungarian pianist György Sándor.

In an interview the composer has stated: "I was trying to work out how to write my own music with Verdi's material, not obviously quoting from it. Indeed the series of pieces start off being completely unlike Verdi and only (with number 36) sounding at all like the originals." [4] Concerning his transcription of the aria Me pellegrina ed orfano from La forza del destino (now no. XXVI of the complete sequence), he has written

Aria musical piece for a single voice as part of a larger work

In music, an aria is a self-contained piece for one voice, with or without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, normally part of a larger work.

<i>La forza del destino</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

La forza del destino is an Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave based on a Spanish drama, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino (1835), by Ángel de Saavedra, 3rd Duke of Rivas, with a scene adapted from Friedrich Schiller's Wallensteins Lager. It was first performed in the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre of Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 10 November 1862 O.S..

I... generally increas[ed] the harmonic ambiguity, eliding the original phrases, re-voicing Verdi's (orchestral) texture, creating a kind of production of the scene in my imagination... like a film in which the actor has been entirely subsumed into the soundtrack, and the visible transcended. [5]


The first two books of the Transcriptions were composed in the period 19721988 and revised in 1995. Originally Book 2 consisted of only six transcriptions; in this form the first two books were performed by Ian Pace at Conway Hall, London in 1996 and recorded by him, together with three additional fragments, in 2001. [6]

In the final (2005) version of the Transcriptions, each book is considered as an integral sequence of nine sections. Book I, which retains the same sequence as in the 1995 revision, covers Verdi's operas from Oberto (1839) to Attila, (1846). Book II, which is dedicated to Stephen Pruslin, begins with another Attila transcription and covers the operas to Rigoletto, (1851). The content differs from the 1995 version of Book II, with some of the earlier contents being removed to later books to match the temporal sequence of the operas, and new transcriptions composed to take their place. Book III, dedicated to Marilyn Nonken, ranges from a second Rigoletto transcription to Macbeth , (1865 version). Book IV, dedicated to Jonathan Powell, commences with a further Macbeth transcription and concludes with the Requiem aeternam section of the 1874 Requiem. This is the only transcription out of temporal sequence with that of the original works; it is preceded by transcriptions from Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). [7] Unlike the other Transcriptions the final one is " a relatively faithful setting...though never quite totally stable". [8]

<i>Oberto</i> (opera) opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio is an opera in two acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on an existing libretto by Antonio Piazza probably called Rocester.

<i>Attila</i> (opera) opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Attila is an opera in a prologue and three acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on the 1809 play Attila, König der Hunnen by Zacharias Werner. The opera received its first performance at La Fenice in Venice on 17 March 1846.

<i>Rigoletto</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Rigoletto is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi. The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s'amuse by Victor Hugo. Despite serious initial problems with the Austrian censors who had control over northern Italian theatres at the time, the opera had a triumphant premiere at La Fenice in Venice on 11 March 1851.


Critical response to the recording by Pace was generally positive. Michael Oliver, in International Record Review (April 2002), wrote that the composer matches "Verdian imagery with pianistic and fundamentally modern ones: a limpid glitter evokes the Venetian lagoon of I due Foscari but tempests follow, and lightning staccato clusters, and sepulchral rumblings like a Kraken stirring beneath the Adriatic. Grace notes in an aria from Giovanna d’Arco prompt poised and ornate lines of Finnissy’s own"; Oliver calls the Don Carlos transcription "both a highly original response to Verdi and a magnificently pianistic sound." Arnold Whitall, in The Gramophone (April 2002) was more cautious: "You could certainly argue that in its boldness, emotional intensity and love of display, Finnissy's music is truer to Verdi than any abject imitator of the Verdi style could ever be. On the other hand, pushing things to extremes was not the Verdian way either." BBC Music Magazine gave the recording a five-star rating. [9]

Related Research Articles

Francesco Maria Piave Italian librettist

Francesco Maria Piave was an Italian opera librettist who was born in Murano in the lagoon of Venice, during the brief Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.

<i>Macbeth</i> (opera) opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Macbeth is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name. Written for the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, it was Verdi's tenth opera and premiered on 14 March 1847. Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that Verdi adapted for the operatic stage. Almost twenty years later, Macbeth was revised and expanded in a French version and given in Paris on 19 April 1865.

Mikhail Svetlov (bass) American opera singer

Mikhail Anatolyevich Svetlov is a Russian bass known for the range and beauty of his voice as well as his acting ability. His voice described by the Washington Post as a "titanic, all-encompassing bass". He was nominated for a 2003 Grammy Award for a recording of Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat and is the first Russian bass ever to perform the title roles in Don Giovanni and The Flying Dutchman.

Ramón Vargas Mexican opera singer

Ramón Vargas is a Mexican operatic tenor. Since his debut in the early '90s, he has developed to become one of the most acclaimed tenors of the 21st century. Known for his most expressive and agile lyric tenor voice, he is especially successful in the bel canto repertoire.

Carlo Colombara Italian opera singer

Carlo Colombara is an Italian operatic bass. He has sung leading roles in many major opera houses including Teatro alla Scala ; the Vienna State Opera ; the Real Teatro di San Carlo ; the Arena di Verona ; the Royal Opera House, and The Metropolitan Opera.

Stefan Dimitrov (bass) Bulgarian singer

Stefan Dimitrov was a basso opera singer. Born in the Black Sea town of Burgas, Bulgaria, he was of Greek origin. He won four international singing competitions at the very beginning of his career: those in Toulouse, the "Erkel" in Budapest, the "s’Hertogenbosch" in the Netherlands, and the "Young Opera Singers" in Sofia. In 1965 Stefan Dimitrov met the piano accompanist and répétiteur, Malina Dimitrova, who graduated at this time and took her first steps in the opera accompanying field. They were later to be married. The couple had one son, Liuben, who graduated as solo pianist and later become part of the Genova & Dimitrov piano duo.

<i>After Aida</i> play written by Julian Mitchell

After Aida is a 1985 play-with-music by Julian Mitchell. It is about Giuseppe Verdi, and the pressure put upon him after his attempt to retire from composing. Continued insistent prodding from his friends eventually results in one of his greatest masterpieces, the opera Otello, which premiered in 1887.

Anthony Michaels-Moore British opera singer

Anthony Michaels-Moore is an English operatic baritone and the first British winner of the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition. Anthony has since performed in many of the world's major opera houses across Europe, the Americas, and Asia. He has distinguished himself as a specialist in Verdi and Puccini roles, most renowned for his portrayals of Falstaff, Nabucco, Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra, Iago in Otello, Germont in La traviata, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, and Scarpia in Tosca. In addition to the standard repertoire, he has sung and recorded the baritone roles of some of the less-known 19th Century Italian operas, as well as the popular English art song cycles by Stanford and Vaughan Williams.

Eduard Philip (Ed) Spanjaard is a Dutch conductor and pianist.

Željko Lučić is a Serbian operatic baritone who has had an active international career since 1993. He was a member of the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad from 1993–1998 and at the Frankfurt Opera from 1998-2008. He is particularly well known for his performances in the operas of Giuseppe Verdi; having portrayed a total of 23 leading roles from the great composer's works.

Saimir Pirgu Albanian opera tenor

Saimir Pirgu is an Albanian international opera singer (tenor). In 2014 he was awarded the Italian citizenship by the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano.

Carlo Grante is an Italian classical pianist. He graduated at the National Academy of St Cecilia in Rome with Sergio Perticaroli. Later he also studied with Ivan Davis, Rudolf Firkušný, and Aliza Kezeradze. He is known as a performer of mainstream classical composers such as Franz Liszt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Domenico Scarlatti, as well as highly demanding late romantic and 20th-century composers such as Leopold Godowsky, Ferruccio Busoni, George Flynn, Roman Vlad, Paolo Troncon, Michael Finnissy, Alistair Hinton and Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. His discography consists of more than 50 albums.

Ildar Abdrazakov Russian operatic bass

Ildar Amirovich Abdrazakov is a Russian bass opera singer.

Rafał Siwek

Rafał Siwek – Polish opera singer (bass)



  1. Finnissy (2016), p. (3).
  2. Pace (2001), p. 3.
  3. Pace (2001), p. 6.
  4. Jack Sheen, "Interview with Michael Finnissy", ddmmyy website, accessed 21 March 2016
  5. Finnissy (2002), pp. (3)(4).
  6. Pace (2001), pp. 89.
  7. Finnissy (2016), pp. (1)(3): Pace (2001), p. 9.
  8. Pace (2016), p. (10).
  9. Reviews cited on Ian Pace website, accessed 21 March 2016