Verdi for Kids: His Life and Music

Verdi for Kids: His Life and Music
By Helen Bauer
Chicago Review Press; 102 pages
A review by R.C. Speck

Did you know that Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was a symbol of Italian nationalism during the mid-19th century? Did you know he constantly battled the censors because his operas were considered revolutionary? Did you also know that “Viva VERDI” was the rallying cry of Italian nationalists? VERDI is an Italian acronym meaning “Long live Vittorio Emanuele, king of Italy.” Whenever the authorities cracked down on nationalists, the nationalists could always claim that they were chanting in support of the composer, not the king. By the time of his death in 1901, Verdi was so popular in Italy that over 200,000 attended his funeral.

Perhaps you did know these things. But do you also knows the rules for the game of bocce? How about the recipe for homemade pasta? Or perhaps how to design a CD cover? Or maybe even instructions on how to make a carnival mask or a water purifier or a panpipe?

If you do, you have probably read Verdi for Kids, by Helen Bauer.

Published in 2013, the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth, Verdi for Kids is a perfect introduction to the life of Giuseppe Verdi for young readers. It is a straightforward and engaging account of the great man’s life and music. Bauer includes the tragedies Verdi experienced alongside his many triumphs. She covers closely his political troubles, his professional challenges, his interest in farming, and his ideas about music, as well as his overall passion for life. Interspersed amid the major biographical events, however, are nuggets of history, both musical and political, as well as some precious details surrounding Verdi’s life. My favorite is the note that a local harpsichord maker hid inside young Giuseppe’s spinet after he repaired it for free. In it he wrote that the boy’s talent and positive disposition were payment enough for his trouble.

And of course, there’s the music. Bauer does an excellent job of backlighting Verdi’s story with brief yet entertaining sidebars designed to pique a young one’s interest. What is a fugue? What is an oratorio? What is a cantata? What is counterpoint? How do you read music? How can you listen to music? What is an opera diva and how can you sing like one? These sidebars demonstrate just how wonderful and diverse the field of music truly is. Furthermore, they all have something to do with Giuseppe Verdi, thus elevating the importance of the great man.

In Verdi for Kids, young readers will have plenty to choose from when it comes to finding a starting point, not just for learning about Giuseppe Verdi, but for music as well.

This book review appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Quarter Notes, the member magazine of WCPE Radio, The Classical Station. To receive a subscription, become a member today!

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