Première: Milan, Church of San Marco, May 22nd, 1874.
Although Verdi refused to compose circumstantial music during his long carrier, on two occasions he made exceptions to this rule, planning the composition of a mass to honour the passing of two great figures of the Italian cultural scene of the time: Alessandro Manzoni (died May 22nd, 1873) and Gioacchino Rossini (died in December, 1868). The death of Rossini happened in a particular moment, when it seemed that the long-standing supremacy of the operatic tradition was waning. The public's interest was more and more drawn to both symphonic and operatic music from foreign composers, and many felt that a new course had to be sought by first abandoning the old traditions. Verdi reacted to this tendency by proposing through his music to honour the composer considered the greatest Italian musician of the century. And thus, along with eleven other composers, he created the Requiem for Rossini.
The Maestro of Busseto was assigned the final piece in the mass, Libera me, Domine. But the Requiem was not performed on the date assigned, November 13th, 1869, and for two years discussion continued about how and when to perform it, but Verdi considered it a failed project, since the first anniversary of Rossini's death had passed by.
A few years later the death of another famous person caught Verdi's attention, that of Alessandro Manzoni, author of I promessi sposi. Verdi started composing the Requiem in 1873, the year in which he once more came into possession of the Libera me, Domine composed five years earlier for Rossini and never performed. Verdi proposed a Requiem for Manzoni to his publisher Ricordi, who in turn proposed it to the City of Milan, promising to have it performed for the first anniversary of the death of the great man of letters. The Mayor and Council accepted with enthusiasm and warmly thanked Verdi.
The Messa da requiem was in fact first performed in the San Marco Church on May 22nd, 1874, with soprano Teresa Stolz, mezzosoprano Maria Waldmann, tenor Giuseppe Coppini and bass Ormondo Maini directed by Verdi himself.