Verdi's Messa da Requiem began life in 1868 with just one movement. The 'Libera me' was written for a proposed Requiem - never completed - in memory of Rossini and to be written by several Italian composers. In 1873, the death of the great Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni in 1873 inspired Verdi to rework his 'Libera me', and expand on it to complete his own full-scale musical setting of the Requiem Mass, dedicated to Manzoni's memory. The Messa da Requiem had its premiere at the Church of San Marco in Milan in 1874, conducted by Verdi. Among the soloists were the soprano Teresa Stolz and the mezzo-soprano Maria Waldmann, who later became noted for their interpretations of the roles of Aida and Amneris (Aida). A second performance followed three days later at La Scala, Milan. The Messa da Requiem won immediate acclaim and is today one of the most frequently performed 19th-century choral works.
The music of the Messa da Requiem combines religious grandeur with operatic drama and passion, and contains equally exquisite writing for both chorus and soloists. It is notable for its emotional depth and variety shown, for example, in the terror of the 'Dies Irae', the dignity of the sorrowful 'Lacrimosa', the anxious pleading of the 'Libera me' and the spirited 'Sanctus'.