Born into a humble village family, Giuseppe Verdi had his first music lessons from a local organist. His lessons were supported by local people, such as the tradesman Antonio Barezzi, who admired the young man's talent.
He was refused entrance into the Milan Conservatoire because he was too old, so he studied with a private teacher at Milan's La Scala opera house instead.
In the years 1838-40 Verdi suffered a devastating emotional loss of his son, daughter and wife all dying. He sank into a depression, but with the encouragement of his friends, he worked away at composing, and in 1839 he experienced his first big success with the production of his opera, Nabucco.
This was followed by the opera Ernani and then, finally, Verdi composed his first fully mature operas, Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (1853). He was now recognized as Italy's foremost opera composer.
Verdi was now relatively wealthy and bought his own estate near Busseto. He also began touring overseas -- Paris, then St. Petersburg (1861), and London (1862; 1875).
In 1874 he composed the spectacular opera, Aida, which was staged in a new opera in Cairo, Egypt -- in celebration of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1871.
He wrote a Requiem in 1874 to celebrate the life of the Italian poet and novelist, Alessandro Manzoni.
Then came a relatively quiet period in Verdi's creative life until he reached his old age and composed two more very important operas, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).
During his life Verdi was a fervent nationalist and Italian patriot. His operas became symbols of Italy's ongoing struggle for independence from Austria (the Risorgimento movement). For example, the opera Nabucco (1841), which featured an exiled people seeking freedom, was viewed by Italians as a symbol of their own fight for liberation.
He was elected as a Deputy to the first Italian parliament in 1861 but found the parliamentary duties not to his liking and resigned in 1865. However, from 1875 he took up duties as a Senator.