A cursed libretto is not your typical campfire ghost story.Its not a joking anecdote to be easily dismissed either. Its one helluva an imp who has displayed wildly inconsistent behavior over the years. The specific association of music and madness seemed to begin in romantic literature, and it has had ramifications for theories of aesthetics, representation, and linguistics. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there existed an autobiographical impulse that influenced the direction of literary, philosophical, and psychological treatments of music and madness.
The subject’s loss of rational control during the experience of music and the rise of unexpected passions is a transcultural, transhistorical phenomenon whose origins are not easily determined. Even today, scientists remain intrigued by the intricacies of the apparent relationships between creativity and mental illness, yet it is in the romantic period, that the deepest and most prolonged reflection on the coupling of music and madness occurred; associating mental disturbance with sound, and a trend toward intermingling literary and clinical discourses, assisted in shaping the direction of in particular, the western European cultural and literary imagination. Music was presented sometimes as essentially beneficial and therapeutic in nature, but also as a detrimental and pathogenic force. Yet both of these standpoints pointed toward a recognition of the emotional force and influence of music that nurtured and stimulated an ongoing debate within music, literature, medicine, and philosophy.
That winter he was still in Milan, and in a cruel paradox he was working on his first comedy opera ” A Day’ s Reign” when his wife suddenly following the death of their small and only son who passed away before his first opera a year earlier. Verdi was staying in obscure lodgings staring at four walls. He thought his career was over and he didn’t care; a young musician broken by professional failure and personal tragedy.He was near suicide. One evening as snow was falling he was walking through the streets with his head down and literally ran into Merelli, the head of La Scala. Merelli , somewhat of a conniving schemer started spinning a yarn about a composer who had refused a libretto and wanted something else or else.Verdi kept asking to released from his contract, but Merelli managed to weasel Verdi into his office and took out the rejected manuscript and suggested Verdi take it along with him. In addition, he slipped a second one into his coat pocket.
Verdi trudged back home and flung the manuscript on the table; it bounced between the cutlery and glasses and tumbled onto the floor at an open page: ” Va, pensiero sull’ ali dorate” — “Go thought, on golden wings”. It is the first line of the chorus of exiled Jews in Nabucco. Though he made another effort to return the libretto, Verdi was hooked. Sixty years later, at Verdi’s funeral, the immense crowd spontaneously began to sing that chorus of exiled Jews; singing at the very end of his giant career, the lines that had brought him back to music.
“Hamilton argues that both music and madness marked out a conceptual border where language could not reach. Romantically, they were conceived as abstract spheres that challenged the norms of denotation and signification, defining the upper and lower limits of language. The rational working of language was thought to be a mechanism that distinguished mankind from beast. Hence, speechlessness became conceptualized as a symptom of imminent insanity and a signifier of a psychically disturbed state that threatened individual identity. Madness dissolved the boundaries between man and the savage, while music might override the division separating humanity from the divine.”
Nabucco was an overwhelming success, and Verdi’s career from that point went up and up, though not invariably so. But that to that second manuscript, the mysterious libretto that seems to have its origins shrouded in an impenetrable mist. The question always arises, and whether there was a missing sheet to the manuscript or whether Verdi hid it. The legend has it, that this libretto has been passed down through time to different musicians, who have used pieces of or been inspired by it; the problem is that every time it has changed ownership it has sold for less money than was paid for it. Curiously, its previous owners have had to rebuild their lives after their painful relationship with the manuscript.