A Musical Paradise From Giuseppe Verdi to His Less Fortunate Colleagues
Towards the end of his life, Italian Opera’s best-known composer built a retirement home for musicians. He considered it his finest work.
In that same classical imagination which was later revived by the Renaissance, the goddess, Fortuna, played an important and ultimately decisive role in human life. The vagaries of luck, chance discoveries, or an unexpected change from a fortunate situation to another more adverse (if not exactly unfortunate): all of this was the work, according to the ancients, of the capricious moods of Fortuna. Dante said of her,
Your knowledge has not counterstand against her; She makes provision, judges, and pursues
Her governance, as theirs the other gods.
In times more inclined toward rational thought, the gods have been expelled from daily life. We still believe in luck, in such blows that may transform our life for good or for ill. But deep down we prefer to trust in our own efforts, our talents, and our work, such that a good part of what happens to us is presented to us as the result of our own actions or omissions.
But what happens when, despite effort or talent, Fortuna has not been conducive? What happens when we’ve lived some years of prosperity but, over time, we meet only grief and adversity?
Perhaps, in thinking on the rather fickle character of luck – rewarding one and punishing another, and not always justifiably – the famous Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, towards the end of his life, founded a retirement home for musicians who for whatever reason needed a quiet place to live and be cared for during old age.
The peculiar composition of residents made it a unique retreat. Music never ceased being heard, because in their leisure time someone was always rehearsing an operatic aria, someone else giving lessons on the piano or the violin, and some others wished simply to play a melody together. In every case, their interpretations made the place into an unexpected paradise of music.
“Among my works,” Verdi said, “the one I like best is the Home that I have had built in Milan for accommodating old singers not favored by fortune, or who, when they were young did not possess the virtue of saving. Poor and dear companions of my life!"
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