A 1901 Pamphlet on Verdi (Part 1)
This was a small pamphlet written by Elbert Hubbard in 1901 (from the series “Little journeys to the homes of great musicians”) on the life of the Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi. It begins with a fictionalized account of his childhood meeting with his early patron Signior Barezzi and his eldest daughter Margherita, with whom Verdi ended up falling in love.
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He sort of clung to the iron pickets, did the boy, and pressed his thin face through the fence, and listened. Some one was playing the piano in the big house, and the windows with their little diamond panes were flung open to catch the evening breeze.
He listened. His big grey eyes were open wide, the pupils dilated, — he was trying to see the music as well as hear it.
The boy’s hair matched the yellow of his face, being one shade lighter, sun-bleached from going hatless. His clothes were as yellow as the yellow of his face, and shaded off into the dust that strewed the street.
He was like a quail in a stubble field — you might have stepped over him and never seen him at all. He listened, Almost every evening someone played the piano in the big house. He had discovered the fact a week before.
And now when the dusk was gathering, he would watch his chance and slide away from the hut where his parents lived, and run fast up the hill, and along the shelving roadway to the tall iron fence that marked the residence of Signior Barezzi. He would creep along under the stone wall and crouching there, would wait and listen for the music. Several evenings he had come and waited, and waited, and waited, — and not a note or a voice did he hear.
Once it had rained, and he didn’t mind it much, for he expected every moment the music would strike up, you know, — and who cares for cold, or wet, or even hunger, if one can hear good music!
But Signior Barezzi’s coachman came along that night, keeping close to the fence under the trees to avoid the wet; and the coachman fell over the boy.
Now, when we fall over anything we always want to kick it, — no matter what it is, be it a cat, dog, stump, stick, stone, or human. The coachman being but clay (undissolved) turned and kicked the boy. Then he seized him by the collar, and accused him of being a thief.
The lad acknowledged the indictment, and stammeringly tried to explain that it was only music he was trying to steal ; and that it really made no difference because even if one did fill himself full of the music, there was just as much left for other people, since music was different from most things.
The thought was not very well expressed, although the idea was all right, but the coachman failed to grasp it. So he tingled the boy’s bare legs with the whip he carried, by way of answer, duly cautioning him never to let it occur again, and released the prisoner on parole.
But the boy forgot and came back the next night. He sat on the ground below the wall, intending to keep out of sight ; but when the music began he stood up, and now, with face pressed between the pickets, he listened.
The wind sighed softly through the orange trees; the air was heavy with the perfume of flowers ; the low of cattle came from across the valley, and on the evening breeze from an open casement rose the strong, vibrant yet tender strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The lad listened.
“Do you like music?” came a voice from behind.
The boy awoke with a start, and tried to butt his head through the pickets to escape in that direction. He thought it was the coachman. He turned and saw the kindly face of Signior Barezzi himself.
“Do I like music? Me! No, I mean yes, when it is like that!” he exclaimed, beginning his reply with a tremolo and finishing bravura.
“That is my daughter playing; come inside with me.”
The hand of the great man reached out, and the urchin clutched at it as if it were something he had been looking and longing for. They walked through the big gates where a stone lion kept guard on each side. The lions never moved. They walked up the steps and entering the pzirlor, saw a young woman seated at the piano.
“Grazia, dear, here is the little boy we saw the other day — you remember ? I thought I would bring him in.”
The young woman came forward and touched the lad on his tawny head with one of her beautiful hands — the beautiful hands that had just been playing the Sonata.
“That ‘s right, little boy, we have seen you outside there before, & if I had known you were there tonight, I would have gone out and brought you in ; but Papa has done the service for me. Now, you must sit down right over there where I can see you, and I will play for you. But won’t you tell us your name ?”
“Me?” replied the boy, “why, my name is Giuseppe Verdi— I am ten years old, going on ‘leven — you see I like your playing because I play myself, a little!”