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Giuseppe Verdi and the Naples Archives

Two letters by Giuseppe Verdi are preserved at the Historical Archive in Salita Pontenuovo [1] in early 1871 addressed to the Mayor of Naples, Paolo Emilio Imbriani, in which the famous composer declined the invitation extended to him by the city council to take up the post of director of the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory of Music, which had remained vacant following the death of Saverio Mercadante (17 December 1870), who had led the ancient music school for thirty years.

In the first epistle, sent on 20 January from Genoa, Verdi writes that ‘occupations’, ‘commitments’ and ‘interests of all sorts’ do not allow him to accept the albeit prestigious post of head of the glorious conservatory, as requested by the Neapolitan musicians, Education Minister Cesare Correnti and the Neapolitan city hall.

This is the full text:

Genoa, 20 January 1871

Dear Mr Mayor – Naples

I have the honour of replying to your most esteemed letter of the 9th of this month, in which you invited me, on behalf of the Municipality of Naples, to take over the direction of that Conservatory.

Despite all that is flattering in this invitation, I am unable to accept it.

So I was obliged to reply both to the Minister and to the Musicians of Naples. My occupations, commitments, interests of all kinds do not allow me to leave these places.

Please convey my sincerest thanks for the honourable offer to the Municipality that you represent, and believe that I am very sorry not to be able to comply with their wishes. – With the deepest respect I have the honour to say to myself

Of you, Mr Mayor, Dev.

Two weeks later, on 3 February to be precise, following further requests to accept the post in order to lift the Conservatoire out of its inexorable decline, the Maestro reiterated his refusal with this second letter addressed once again to the first Neapolitan citizen:

Genoa 3 February 1871

Dear Mr Mayor

I am proud and moved by so many certificates of esteem received by the City of Naples. But as dear and flattering as these certificates are to me, I would not have expected to see them repeated had I been able to accept the Direction of the Naples Conservatory. Maestro Serrao will be able to tell Your Excellency all the reasons that oblige me to decline the honour offered to me.

I cannot express to you enough how painful it is for me not to be able to accede to the wish expressed to me by everyone to come and stay in Naples. However, please believe in my sorrow and gratitude, and deign to be the interpreter of my feelings at the Municipal Representation.

With the deepest respect

I have the honour to tell myself

Your Excellency

Devoted Servant

G. Verdi

The composer was well aware that in order to redeem the fortunes of the ancient Neapolitan conservatory, it was necessary to radically reform its musical teaching, starting with the strict study of ancient compositions, both sacred and profane. Hence the famous exhortation addressed to the Conservatory librarian Francesco Florimo: ‘Return to the ancient, and it will be progress’.

Verdi for his numerous stays in the shadow of Vesuvius on the occasion of performances of his operas at the San Carlo Theatre (from theAlzira in 1845 until the triumphant performance of theAida in 1873) was well acquainted with the turbulent moods of the public, the critics and, in general, the Neapolitan musical milieu, which was not very favourable to innovations such as those introduced in his melodramas (modern arrangement of instruments in the orchestra, lowering of the diapason, care in the preparation of the choral masses and the mise en scène). The Maestro, therefore, preferred to keep his distance from the direction of San Pietro a Majella, although he declared himself honoured to see his name linked to that of the greats of the Neapolitan School of Music (Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Durante, Leonardo Leo). Lauro Rossi, former director of the Milan Conservatory, was then appointed to the post.

[1] Signature: ASMUN Section Municipality Second Series Miscellaneous Category No. 76: Musicians