The enormously melodious music, and the fact that the composer perfectly understood the demands of his singers, make Verdi’s operas highly popular and sought after. He chose such dramatic librettos, which reflected the zeitgest in the country, while he also admired heroes who “lead by the heart”. Requiem was written in memory of the poet and playwright, Alessandro Manzoni, whose work Verdi greatly admired. The funeral mass was played in the church of San Marco in Milan to mark the first anniversary of the poet’s death on 22nd May 1874. Verdi conducted and Tereza Stolz sang the soprano part. Other performances followed in Milan, Paris, London, and Vienna. In 1876 Requiem was also performed at The German Theatre in Prague.
The funeral mass is split up in the same way as a traditional ritual ceremony with the exception of placing the Requiem before the Kyrie, followed by the Dies irae, which paints an apocalyptic picture of doom. It is in this part of the work, where Verdi’s dramatic force is shown in its full glory: assailing, predatory music, allowing us to ingest the fumes and fire, catastrophe and fear, which at once also spells out a big warning for all evil-doers. Other parts (Sanctus and Libera me) however point to the composer's compositional mastery of fugue. The esprit of the choir excels at the end of Dies irae and in Lacrymosa, reminding us of what we know so well from Verdi's operas.