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Length: c. 21 minutes

About this Piece

By the beginning of the 1870s, Giuseppe Verdi was at the height of his powers as an operatic composer and theatrical producer. Given his wealth and prestige, he was afforded the luxury of overseeing not only the premieres of new works, but subsequent productions as well. Aida premiered in Cairo in 1871, and during the next couple of years, Verdi accompanied the production to many of Italy’s most prestigious opera houses. In 1873, he was in Naples at the Teatro di San Carlo, where Aida was to be performed, featuring soprano Teresa Stolz, who had starred in all previous stagings. Stolz became ill during rehearsals, and the Neapolitan premiere had to be postponed for several days. Rather than return home, Verdi passed the time by writing his one and only string quartet and only important non-operatic work.  

It was premiered in Verdi’s hotel room on April 1, and although it was never intended for public performance, it was later published and represents the only string quartet by a major Italian composer from the 19th century. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Verdi was a skilled orchestrator, and the quartet reveals a complete mastery of the instrumental techniques established by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. 

The quartet is full of operatic drama and lyricism. It follows the traditional pattern of a sonata-form first movement and cantabile second movement, followed by a scherzo and rip-roaring finale. Verdi loved turning to old forms from time to time during his career and, as in the brilliant finale of Falstaff, the quartet concludes with a rollicking fugue. —Thomas Neenan