Tag Archive: Tom Stoppard

On the Music of Giuseppe Verdi

Originally published in The Yale Review, 2013

The English composer Thomas Adès, in his book Full of Noises, confesses – after incisive appraisals of composers ranging from Mahler to Janáček to Britten – that Verdi ‘‘is very difficult for me.’’ At first, he seems merely dismissive: he mentions Verdi while discussing composers whose music just doesn’t work 99 percent of the time. But the 1 percent of Verdi’s music that does work evidently bothers him:

“For some reason this music [in this case Simon Boccanegra] won’t lie down and die . . . it still somehow has a kind of wriggling existence. . . . Everything about it is wrong. It could hardly be worse. Yet it has this strangely powerful effect if it’s done well. . . . I look at it in fascination, and I think: why is it that, despite everything, [Verdi] can make a single moment that is so incredibly strong? Because those moments are stronger than they would be if someone had planned it properly. These things suddenly leap out, like a knife out of the canvas.”