Strange stories

Early years of a genius

(Published in GralsWelt 19/2001)

One of the most exciting events in history is the observation of how geniuses assert themselves even under unfavorable starting conditions and find their job, their calling. Often they get support from people who recognize the talent and help selflessly. There are many, not infrequently moving examples; here one as part of the series “Strange Stories.” A contribution that also pays tribute to a world-famous musical genius whose 100th anniversary of his death was recently commemorated. 

A child of poor people

The father of our genius was called Carlo Giuseppe. He lived with his wife Luigia Uttini in Le Roncole, a village near Busseto in the Duchy of Parma. They owned a small farm and ran a grocer and inn. It was war and life was difficult. Both parents were illiterate, and their gifted son's schooling was initially on a par with a rural dwarf school. His classes were hardly regular; interrupted again and again by the demands of daily life and the wishes of the church: Our hero had to accompany his father to Busseto to go shopping, help in the shop and with the gardening and serve as an altar boy. The boy's name was by the way Fortunio Giuseppe Francesco Verdiwas born on October 10, 1813 in Le Roncole, died on January 27, 1901 in Milan.

A genius finds sponsors

Some time before he was eight years old, possibly as a birthday or name day present, Giuseppe received a present that was unusual for his stand: a table spinet or a small harpsichord. It was a standing harpsichord, the strings of which were plucked by small leather buttons on the mechanism that was moved by keys.

At this age Mozart (1756-1791), who had more favorable star conditions, was already giving concerts and composing.

One wonders that such a gift was affordable for Carlo, the shopkeeper and farmer, even after the bad war years had passed and life was slowly improving. However, the spinet and the harpsichord were out of fashion by around 1820 and replaced by the piano, which can be played softly (piano) and loudly (forte); hence the name "Pianoforte". The discarded harpsichords were relatively cheap, and Carlo Verdi was able to acquire such a gift for his son, which was extraordinary for his circumstances; posterity owes it to him!

The instrument, however, was old and scratched, the pedals were missing, and the mechanics were defective. Then the next sponsor of the talented young Verdi appeared, a skilled craftsman who documented his work on a sticker that was found on the instrument years later, so that his name should not be missing in any Verdi biography:
“I, Stefano Cavaletti, renewed these hammers and covered them with leather. I mounted pedals and gave everything as a gift. I also repaired the hammers mentioned for free, because seeing the great skill that young Verdi shows in learning to play this instrument is the best reward for me. "

This little old harpsichord paved the way for young Giuseppe's genius; his talent was allowed to prove itself. Other sponsors recognized his talent and supported him.

But first he had to survive, because it wouldn't have been much, and he would not have been two years old.

The war reaches Le Roncole

When Giuseppe Verdi was born, the war between Austria and France was in full swing. Northern Italy was one of the battlefields in this bloody confrontation. In 1814 the French had to withdraw from the advancing Austrians and Russians. Russian troops pursued fleeing French soldiers through Verdi's birthplace, where Cossacks murdered and looted. In panic fear of the Cossacks, who had the reputation of being able to eat babies alive, Luigia Verdi, her one-year-old child pressed to her breast, climbed the tower of the church of Le Roncole and hid in the belfry. The greatest musician in Italy, one of the greatest composers in the world, may have escaped a premature, cruel end only through the desperate courage of his mother, and humanity would be poorer without the wild determination of this deeply terrified woman.

One can take this touching story for granted, because much later the seventy-year-old Verdi led a visitor from Germany through his (Verdi's) birthplace. Verdi pointed to the old church tower and said:
“Up there, with me in her arms, my mother sought protection from the Russians in 1814, whose looting terrified the inhabitants of Roncole for twenty-four hours. The whole time she hid up in the belfry, which was only accessible via a ladder, in terrible fear that I would betray our hiding place by crying. Fortunately, I slept almost continuously and laughed very satisfied when I woke up. " 

Eösze, Läszló: "If Verdi had kept a diary", self-published, 1990, ISBN 963 13 2995 X.
Martin, George: Verdi, His Music, Life and Times, Dood, Mead & Co., New York, 1983.
Osborne, Charles: "Verdi", Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1987.