To tell the truth, the composer was discouraged by his want of success, and wholly broken down by his numerous trials. He now withdrew from all society, and, having hired a small room in an out-of-the-way part of Milan, passed most of his time in reading the worst books that could be found, rarely going out, unless occasionally in the evening, never giving his attention to study of any kind, and never touching the piano. Such was his life from October, 1840, to January, 1841. One evening, early in the new year, while out walking, he chanced to meet Merelli, who took him by the arm; and, as they sauntered toward the theatre, the impresario told him that he was in great trouble, Nicolai, who was to write an opera for him, having refused to accept a libretto entitled “Nabucco.”
To this Verdi replied:
“I am glad to be able to relieve you of your difficulty. Don’t you remember the libretto of ‘Il Proscritto,’ which you procured for me, and for which I have never composed the music? Give that to Nicolai in place of ‘Nabucco.’”
Merelli thanked him for his kind offer, and, as they reached the theatre, asked him to go in, that they might ascertain whether the manuscript of “Il Proscritto” was really there. It was at length found, and Verdi was on the point of leaving, when Merelli slipped into his pocket the book of “Nabucco,” asking him to look it over. For want of something to do, he took up the drama the next morning and read it through, realizing how truly grand it was in conception. But, as a lover forces himself to feign indifference to his coquettish innamorata, so he, disregarding his inclinations, returned the manuscript to Merelli that same day.
“Well?” said Merelli, inquiringly.
“Musicabilissimo!” he replied; “full of dramatic power and telling situations!”
“Take it home with you, then, and write the music for it.”
Verdi declared that he did not wish to compose, but the worthy impresario forced the manuscript on him, and persisted that he should undertake the work. The composer returned home with the libretto, but threw it on one side without looking at it, and for the next five months continued his reading of bad romances and yellow-covered novels.
The impulse of work soon came again, however. One beautiful June day the manuscript met his eye, while looking listlessly over some old papers. He read one scene and was struck by its beauty. The instinct of musical creation rushed over him with irresistible force; he seated himself at the piano, so long silent, and began composing the music. The ice was broken. Verdi soon entered into the spirit of the work, and in three months “Nabucco” was entirely completed. Merelli gladly accepted it, and it was performed at La Scala in the spring of 1842. As a result Verdi was besieged with petitions for new works from every impresario in Italy.