The need for a new edition of Verdi’s works is intimately tied to the history of earlier publications of the operas and other compositions. When Verdi completed the autograph orchestral manuscript of an opera, manuscript copies were made by the theater that commissioned the work or by his publisher (usually Casa Ricordi). These copies were used in performance, and most of the autograph scores became part of the Ricordi archives. Copies of the copies were made, and orchestral materials were extracted for performances. With the possible exception of his last operas, Otello and Falstaff, Verdi played no part whatever in preparing the printed scores: almost all printed editions of his works were prepared by Ricordi after Verdi’s death in 1901.
Predictably, these copying and printing practices have yielded vocal and orchestral parts that differ drastically from the autograph scores. Indeed, the problem of operas performed using unreliable parts and scores dates to Verdi’s own lifetime. After the premieres of Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata, for example, Verdi wrote to Ricordi on 24 October 1855: “I complain bitterly of the editions of my last operas, made with such little care, and filled with an infinite number of errors.”
Copyists and musicians who prepared these errant printed editions were not consciously falsifying Verdi’s text. They merely glossed over particularities of Verdi’s notation (e.g., the simultaneous use of different dynamic levels—“p” and “pp”, for instance) and altered details of his orchestration, which differed considerably from the style of Puccini, whose music dominated Italian opera when the printed editions of Verdi’s works were prepared. These editions, which in certain details drastically compromise the composer’s original text, are the scores that are used today, except where the critical edition has made reliable scores available.
The critical edition of the complete works of Verdi undertaken jointly by The University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi is finally correcting this situation.
The Works of Giuseppe Verdi is an edition of Verdi’s music both rigorously faithful to authentic sources and suitable for performance. The music is derived from a principal source, almost always the composer’s autograph manuscript. Additions to it from other sources in Verdi’s hand are placed in pointed brackets: < >. Other additions are differentiated typographically:
- In italics: dynamics (f, p, cresc., dim.); trills (tr); missing words or syllables in the vocal lines; tempo markings (Andante); the number of woodwind or brass instruments playing (Solo, I, a 2); metronome markings, etc.
- In broken lines: slurs or partial slurs; crescendo and diminuendo marks.
- In smaller symbols: pitches; staccato dots; accents; fermatas. (Symbols that replace other symbols, e.g., > for ^ or differing rhythmic values, are printed full size. The replaced symbol is given in a footnote.)
To optimize the scores and parts for performance, WGV modernizes the appearance of many textual elements, including the consisting placement of vocal lines in treble, tenorized treble, and bass clefs only, standardization and updating of Verdi’s abbreviations, and the adaptation of accidentals to modern practice.
A full description and explanation of these editorial practices is given in the critical commentary for each edition.
The University of Chicago Press initiated the idea of a critical edition of Verdi in the 1970s and discussed the possibility with Casa Ricordi, Verdi’s original publishers. The discussions led to the appointment of Philip Gossett as the coordinating editor, the establishment of an editorial board comprised of Verdi scholars, and the appointment of volume editors for the first works.
Publication of the WGV began with Rigoletto, edited by Martin Chusid and issued in 1983. Fourteen subsequent editions have been brought to print, including several of Verdi’s most famous works such as Nabucodonosor (1987) the Messa da Requiem (1990), Il trovatore (1993), La traviata (1997), and Macbeth (2006), interspersed with lesser-known works such as Ernani (1985), Luisa Miller (1991), Il corsaro (1998), I masnadieri (2000), the secular Hymns/Inni (2006), Giovanna d’Arco (2008), and the String Quartet in E Minor (2011). The latest volume to appear was I due Foscari (2017). Currently in preparation are Un giorno di regno (2018) and Le Trouvère (2020), as well as Un ballo in maschera, I lombardi alla prima crociata, and La forza del destino.