Bust of Verdi in Golden Gate Park, 1951 (source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection)
The Beethoven and Verdi statues were erected in Golden Gate Park in the years immediately preceding America's participation in the World War in Europe.
The Verdi statue had been planned ever since the composer's death on January 27, 1901. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle later that year tells of a concert by the Royal Italian Band to raise funds for the artwork ("Verdi Monument Concert," Nov. 9, 1901).
Ettore Patrizi, editor of L'Italia, San Francisco's Italian language newspaper of that time, was the prime force behind the subscription fund that eventually raised $15,000 to commission a statue. He commissioned the work through a contest at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Milano that chose a design by Orazio Grossoni from a field of five finalists. Grossoni (1867-1952) was a native of Milan who had won a Silver Medal at the Exposition Universelle de 1900 in Paris.
Sunset Magazine (November 1913) reported:
That the gift might be Italian in every detail it was made in Italy, from the decorative bronze parts to the stone base and pedestal which are of the celebrated red and black granite of Baveno on the Lago Maggiore. The monument is nearly 24 feet high and weighs 52 tons. It was supervised by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Milan.
”Erected by the Italian Colony Through the Initiative of the Daily L’Italia and Donated to the City of San Francisco March MDCDXIV”
The statue was supposed to be dedicated in 1913 to celebrate the centennial of Verdi's birth. San Francisco's representative in Congress, Julius Kahn, even interceded to allow the railroads to charge a lower rate to deliver the statue. Nevertheless, the San Francisco Parks Commission was reluctant to bring statues into the park noting the difficulty of deciding who to "favor" with such an honor.
According to A Survey of Art Work in the City and County of San Francisco the dedication date of this sculpture was March 23, 1914. The survey states that the sculpture was “a gift of the Italian colony, public subscription and by special performances of Verdi operas at the Tivoli.”
Most sources give a number of 20,000 for the dedication's audience size, although the San Francisco Examiner of March 23, 1914 gives a far larger number:
Fifty thousand persons wedged themselves into the sunken garden in front of the park bandstand, but barely half could get with range of the speakers' voices.Other than the Star Spangled Banner, the musicians presented an all-Verdi program. A choir of public school children, the United Choral Society of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Park Band participated in the festivities. Despite suffering from a cold, prima donna Luisa Tetrazzini was the featured performer. During her sojourn in San Francisco, she also participated in the ceremony setting the cornerstone for the following year Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Pacific Coast Musical Review (April 4, 1914)
Verdi and his operas were strongly associated Italian liberty and nationalism. The back of the base of the statue contains a quatrain written by the arch-nationalist poet Gabriele d'Annunzio:
Egli trasse i suoi cori
dall' imo corco dell' ansante folla
diede una voce alle speranze e ai lutti
pianse ed amo per tutti.
He drew his chorus
From the deepest vortex of striving masses
He voiced the hopes and sorrows of all humanity,
He wept and loved for all.
The La Principessa Errante 365 blog notes that the statue was restored in 2003. The bust of Verdi at the statue's top was regilded, bringing back its distinctive luster.
Related blog entries:
"Beethoven and Verdi in the Park" (May 14, 2012)
"The Beethoven Statue in Golden Gate Park" (May 17, 2012)
Ettore Patrizi, Ada Negri e la musica by Paola Maurizi (Morlacchi, 2007). [excerpts available online through Google books]
Grossoni, Orazio Costante (Orazio), in Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, vol. 63 (K.G. Saur, 2009), 213.
"Honors to Verdi in San Francisco," Sunset vol. 3, no. 5 (November 1913), p. 1004.
Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War by Leta E. Miller (University of California Press, 2012).
Pizzetti, Ildebrando, "Giuseppe Verdi: Man of the The Theatre," Verdi (Istituto di studi verdiani), vol. 1, no. 2 (August 1960), 1013-1038
A Survey of Art Work in the City and County of San Francisco prepared by Martin Snipper for the Art Commission, City and County of San Francisco (1953).
"Tetrazzini greeted by multitudes," Pacific Coast Musical Review (April 4, 1914), p. 6. [available at archive.org]
"Verdi gift unveiled amid burst of song," San Francisco Examiner (March 23, 1914), p. 3.
"Verdi Monument Concert: Royal Italian Band Will Play in Mechanics' Pavilion," San Francisco Chronicle (Nov 9, 1901), p. 7 [retrieved from the San Francisco Chronicle (1865-1922) database].
"Verdi Statue May Come at Reduced Freight Rates: Interstate Commerce Commission Allows Charges to Be Cut," San Francisco Chronicle (June 7, 1913), 42.
"Verdi statue unveiled in the Park today," San Francisco Examiner (March 22, 1914), 30.
"Would Bar Verdi From the Park: Commissioners Are Opposed to Placing of Statuary on Green Lawns," San Francisco Chronicle (August 15, 1913), 4.