Born in the Duchy of Parma in Le Roncole, at that time under Napoleon's occupation, he moved to Busseto in 1824 where he started his musical studies with Ferdinando Provesi. Verdi is also known as "the swan from Busseto".
He composed an overture for Gioacchino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), then he moved to Milan, where he wasn't accepted at the conservatory, so he had private studies with Vincenzo Lavigna.
In 1838, the leading European musical editor Giovanni Ricordi bought his copyrights and this business would last for the rest of his life, passing through the generations of Ricordi's family, with Tito and Giulio Ricordi being considered as part of his family.
In 1842 his first real success was Nabucco, which followed two earlier operas, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (opened in Milan on November 17, 1839) and Un giorno di regno (the latter his only attempt at writing a comedy until Falstaff, at the end of his career) at La Scala theatre, with Giuseppina Strepponi, soprano, in the part of Abigaille. The singer became his mistress and, long after the death of his first wife, Verdi would marry her.
After the success of I lombardi alla prima crociatta (Milan, February 11, 1843), also increased by some aspects of the political situation (see below), Ernani scored a triumph in La Fenice theatre in Venice.
The following year, Giovanna d'Arco and La forza del destino would enforce his fame, but Verdi did not find the rendering of his scripts by La Scala theatre sufficient, so he asked Ricordi not to allow any more productions of his opera in Milan; Attila, Alzira and Macbeth were premiered in other Italian towns. I masnadieri was seen in London.
While Milan was lost and reconquered by the Austrians, Verdi wrote Il corsaro, La battaglia di Legnano, and Luisa Miller, and started a Manon Lescaut which he would never finish. After the polemics for his Stiffelio, in 1851 Rigoletto was a triumph in Venice, and in 1853 he had another great success with Il trovatore (in Rome) but a very sad fiasco for the first soirées of La traviata.
Other famous operas follow in this period: Les vÍpres siciliennes (I vespri siciliani) (Paris), Aroldo (a revision of Stiffelio), Simon Boccanegra (La Fenice), and Un ballo in maschera (which was censored). He then assisted at the birth of the Kingdom of Italy (he was also elected Deputy) and made minor revisions to previous works until 1866, when Don Carlos was first seen in Paris.
It was in 1872 that Aida was performed at La Scala with great success. It had been composed for the Egyptian Khedive, on the occasion of the inauguration of a new opera house in Cairo, and not for the opening of the Suez Canal as often mentioned.
Some troubles occurred in his relationship with the Ricordi editors, who were suspected of irregularities concerning huge amounts of money. However, a few years later it was Giulio Ricordi who proposed Otello, which had its premiere in 1887. Falstaff would follow after other revisions of older works.
Verdi's works happened to have some resonances with Italian nationalism (e.g. "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" in Nabucco, also known as Va' Pensiero (lyrics with translation here pensiero - MP3: ), which still in modern times has repeatedly been proposed as a possible Italian national anthem - obviously, there is no reference to racism). More curiously, someone discovered that his surname, Verdi, is the acronym of Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia (Victor Emmanuel King of Italy), when Milan (still under Austrian occupation) was beginning to consider supporting Victor Emmanuel's effort in Italian reunification, as it afterwards did. Clandestine partisans started therefore plotting to have this King of Sardinia conquer Milan and, due to severe Austrian censorship, this campaign was conventionally called "Viva VERDI" ("long live V.E.R.D.I."). The composer was aware of this use of his name and is supposed to have consented. Other references to political events have been seen in his I Lombardi.
He died of a stroke in 1901 in Milan after the completion of his "Casa di Riposo", a retirement villa for poor artists. His funeral was extremely well attended, and a quarter of a million mourners were present to show their respect to one of the most important figures in Italian music.
See also: Giuseppe Verdi Compositions