Composers Datebook®

Quintessential Verdi

Composers Datebook - Jan. 19, 2024


On today’s date in 1853, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore (or The Troubador) had its premiere performance at the Teatro Apollo in Rome.

It proved an immediate hit. True, some did complain at the time about its gloomy, complicated and downright confusing plot. But Verdi’s music setting had such great tunes and such energetic verve that Il Trovatore quickly became the most popular of all his operas in the 19th century.

Its tunes were soon heard emanating from street corner barrel-organs, and, as a true sign of popularity, there were even comic parodies of its melodramatic blood and thunder storyline.

Reviewing a New York production in 1862, American composer and music critic William Fry had these observations: “Il Trovatore has a wonderful plot, beyond human comprehension. ... As to the music, there are some charming, popular, ingenious, artistic, great points; then, there are some others egregiously vulgar and rowdy. The ‘Anvil Chorus,’ for example, is about equal to a scene of mending a sewer set to music.”

And as for parodies, in the 1935 film A Night at the Opera, Il Trovatore — and opera, in general — receives a devastating sendup at the hands of the Marx Brothers.

Music Played in Today's Program

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1902) [arr. Franz Liszt] Miserere, fr Il Trovatore; Daniel Barenboim, piano Erato 75457; and Anvil Chorus, fr Il Trovatore; Chicago Symphony and Chorus; Georg Solti, cond. London 466 075

On This Day


  • 1903 - German composer Boris Blacher, in Niu-chang, China;

  • 1936 - American composer Elliott Schwartz, in Brooklyn;


  • 1576 - German "mastersinger" Hans Sachs, age 81, in Nuremberg;


  • 1674 - Lully: opera "Alceste," in Paris at the Palais Royal Opéra;

  • 1735 - Handel: opera "Ariodante" (Julian date: Jan. 8);

  • 1787 - Mozart: Symphony No. 38 ("Prague"), conducted by the composer, in Prague;

  • 1853 - Verdi: opera, "Il trovatore," (The Troubador), in Rome the Teatro Apollo;

  • 1873 - Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1, in Paris;

  • 1884 - Massenet: opera, "Manon," at the Opéra-Comique, Paris;

  • 1895 - Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 3 (1st movement only), posthumously, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan.7);

  • 1898 - Glazunov: ballet "Raymonda," in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan. 7);

  • 1924 - Auric: ballet "Les Fâcheux," by the Diaghilev company in Monte Carlo;

  • 1948 - Douglas Moore: "Farm Journal" for chamber orchestra, in New York City;

  • 1953 - Bernstein: musical "Wonderful Town," as a trial run in New Haven at the Schubert Theater, choreographed by Donald Saddler, directed by George Abbott, conducted by Lehman Engel; The show opened in New York City at the Winter Garden on February 26, 1953;

  • 1961 - Bernstein: "Fanfare," at the Inaugural Gala for President John F. Kennedy, in Washington, D.C.;

  • 1969 - Ligeti: "Ten Pieces" for woodwind quintet, in Malmö, Sweden;

  • 1970 - Shulamit Ran: "O, the Chimneys," in New York City;

  • 1986 - Babbitt: Piano Concerto, in New York;

  • 1990 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Strathclyde Concerto" No. 3 for horn, trumpet and orchestra, at Glasgow's City Hall, by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer, with soloists Robert Cook and Peter Franks;

  • 1994 - John Adams: Violin Concerto, with Minnesota Orchestra, Edo de Waart conducting and Jorja Fleezanis the soloist;

  • 1996 - David Ward-Steinman: "Prisms and Reflections," for piano (and piano interior), by David Burge, at the Music Teachers National Association meeting in San Diego;


  • 1962 - White House dinner party in honor of Igor Stravinsky hosted by President and Mrs. Kennedy.

  • 1973 - Leonard Bernstein leads a performance of Haydn's "Mass in Time of War" at a "Concert for Peace" at Washington DC's National Cathedral, with members of National Symphony, in protest against President Nixon, on the eve of Nixon's second term in office; The concert was timed to coincide with Nixon's official inaugural concert, which concluded with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture";

  • 1977 - Leonard Bernstein conducts his song "Take Care of This House" at Inaugural Concert for President Jimmy Carter at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. with Frederica von Stade as vocal soloist with the National Symphony.

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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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