If you are even slightly interested in classical music you will have found it hard to avoid some of the major musical anniversaries happening this year. Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi both turn sweet-200, while Benjamin Britten clocks in at a mere 100, practically a toddler!

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Richard Wagner, 1882 (Wikimedia Commons)

Renoir painted this portrait of Wagner in 1882, the year before the composer died, having long been an admirer of his revolutionary operatic works. Whilst there will be no shortage of performances of his major Gesamtkunstwerk throughout the year, opportunities to hear his rather lovely early Symphony in C may be harder to come by. Written in 1832 when he was only 19 and clearly influenced by his two gods, Beethoven and Weber, it is generally dismissed by the cognoscenti as a mere curiosity, but I think it’s rather lovely and makes you wish he’d spent at least a bit more of his time on the symphonic repertoire.


Giovanni Boldini, Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, 1886 (Wikimedia Commons)


It is a remarkable coincidence that Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner lived almost exactly parallel lives, with parallel levels of success and fame in the world of opera. Upholding the great tradition of Italian opera, Verdi inherited the mantle from Gioachino Rossini and proceeded to transform that tradition into something at once familiar and yet thoroughly new. His early comic opera, Un Giono di Regno (King for a Day), was a total washout at its premiere in 1840, but I have always rather liked the overture, which rollicks along in the best Rossini-esque manner!


Britten by Yousuf Karsh, 1960 (Wikimedia Commons)


English composer Benjamin Britten was no slouch when it came to writing operas either, and he remains arguably one of the few “modern”composers to display a natural feeling and talent for the form. He did however work across a vast number of musical genres, and I have recently fallen head-over-heels in love with his violin and piano concertos, both of which have been somewhat eclipsed in the past by his major works but are now happily being rediscovered by a new generation of artists.

You can search our catalogue for more books and audio-visual material relating to all three birthday-boys, and don’t forget to check out the Naxos Video Library and Naxos Music Library as well; if you’re a registered Victorian user you can have hours of fun with these at home!


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