Composers Datebook®

Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra"

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 12, 2023


The stage directions read: "The garden of the Grimaldi Palace outside Genoa. On the left side, the palace, directly in front, the sea. Dawn is breaking."

The evocative music is by the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, the prelude to his opera Simon Boccanegra, which premiered on today's date in 1857 in Venice.

Despite its shimmering prelude, Verdi's new opera was not well received. The critics felt it was one of those works which "does not make its effect immediately... It is written with the utmost exquisite craftsmanship but needs to be studied in all its details." Verdi, a practical man of the theater, knew what that sort of review really meant. He wrote: "I thought I'd done something passable, but it seems I was mistaken. The score is not possible as it stands. It is too sad, too depressing. I shall need to redo it to give it more contrast and variety, more life."

The revised version of Simon Boccanegra premiered 24 years later, in 1881, with additions and alterations to the story by Arrigo Boito, the brilliant librettist for Verdi's final operas, Otello and Falstaff.

Despite the revisions, Boccanegra remained one of the least popular of Verdi's works for many decades. In the 1930s, it was revised successfully at the Metropolitan Opera in New York with an all-star cast, and since then, audiences have had more opportunities to "study" Verdi's score sufficiently to appreciate its "exquisite craftsmanship, contrast, variety, and life."

Music Played in Today's Program

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) Simon Boccanegra La Scala Chorus and Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor. DG 449 752

On This Day


  • 1710 - British composer Thomas Arne, in London (Gregorian date: March 23);

  • 1837 - French composer and organist Alexandre (Felix) Guilmant, in Boulogne-sur-Mer;

  • 1921 - American composer Ralph Shapey, in Philadelphia;


  • 1628 - English composer John Bull, age c. 65 on March 12-13, 1628, in Antwerp;

  • 1832 - Danish composer of German birth Friedrich (Daniel Rudolf) Kuhlau, age 45, in Copenhagen;

  • 1937 - French composer and organist Charles Marie Widor, age 93, in Paris;

  • 1955 - American be-bop composer and jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, age 34, in New York City;


  • 1726 - Handel: opera "Scipione" in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: March 23);

  • 1857 - Verdi: opera "Simon Boccanegra" (1st version), in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice;

  • 1898 - Kalinnikov: Symphony No. 2, in Kiev (Julian date: Feb. 28);

  • 1934 - Hindemith: "Mathis der Maler" Symphony, by the Berlin Philharmonic, with Wilhelm Fürtwängler conducting;

  • 1943 - Copland: "Fanfare for the Common Man," by Cincinnati Symphony, Eugene Goosens conducting;

  • 1964 - Britten: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, in Moscow with the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by the composer, with Mstislav Rostropovich the soloist;

  • 1965 - Lutoslawski: String Quartet, in Stockholm (Sweden), by the LaSalle Quartet;

  • 1998 - Magnus Lindberg: "Fresco" for orchestra, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducting;


  • 1909 - American premiere of Bruckner: Symphony No. 8, by the Boston Symphony, Max Fiedler conducting (no relation to Arthur Fiedler!);

  • 1945 - The Vienna Opera House is damaged by Allied bombs; In the immediate post-war period, performances continued at the Theatre an der Wien and the Vienna Volksoper; The gala reopening of the rebuilt Vienna State Opera occurred on November 5, 1955, when Karl Böhm conducted a performance of Beethoven's "Fidelio."

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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