This article explores Verdi's death as a ‘media event’, tracing the unfolding news from the earliest reports of his imminent demise up to the monumental commemorations held 30 days afterwards. Throughout this time, news media helped to define a period of so-called national mourning. Yet a broader range of media (including the telegraph, tram and railway) played an important role in demarcating the geopolitical scope of this collective grief. As a point of comparison, Verdi's death is considered in relation to the assassination of King Umberto I – a recent incident, of greater magnitude, which had provoked a spell of national mourning only months into the new century. Echoes of Umberto's assassination can be heard in responses to Verdi's death, linking both events to a common historical and political moment. This new context for understanding Verdi's final moments not only seeks to illuminate the manifold interactions between public and persona in Liberal Italy but also raises questions about the construction of auditory experiences in national mourning and the sensory dimension of the nation state's lugubrious politics.
Gavin Williams is writing a PhD, on sound media in Milan around the turn of the century, at Harvard, where he has also been a teaching fellow. His research interests include futurism, deaf studies and eighteenth-century music theory.
I would like to thank Flora Willson, Axel Körner, Alex Rehding, Francesca Vella, James Blasina and Madeleine Ridd for their guidance and encouragement during the writing of this article.