AS Level Music Set Works
by Giuseppe Verdi
Otello Act 4
Act 4 opens with a mournful Cor Anglais solo - which sets the mood for
the tragic end of the opera with little fragments of music.
• Desdemona begins by discussing with Emilia (Iago’s wife) the state of
Otello (recitativo) before singing one of the most famous arias from the
opera - the ‘Willow Song’ Piangea Cantando.
• The aria is about a young woman spurned by her lover, and parallels
exactly Desdemona’s plight.
Otello Act 4
The Willow Song is very simple - 3 verses and a refrain, perhaps
reflecting a resignation in Desdemona that her relationship with Othello
is doomed, exactly as the lover in the song she sings.
• After the song, Desdemona sings a very heartfelt farewell to Emilia.
• Following this, Emilia exits, and Desdemona kneels to say her prayers.
Notice this is sung sotto voce - as softly as possible.
Desdemona sleeps for the last
• The soft intonations of Ave Maria, all on a
repetitive Eb, are accompanied by very simple
and gentle strings, before the music blossoms at
the words “ Prega per chi adorando”.
• That is Desdemona’s final plea to God for assistance, before she returns
to intoning the Ave Maria, in fragments, on an Eb again.
The Final entrance of Othello
Incredibly delicate high string parts are heard
after Desdemona’s amen, and she sleeps for
the last time.
• This is immediately followed by Othello’s entrance, to a mysterious
double bass solo.
Three kisses seal her fate….
Othello lays down his sword, and extinguishes the lamp, before crossing to the
sleeping Desdemona and kissing her three times, to a repeat of the Bacio (kiss)
music from the end of Act 1.
• On the third kiss, Desdemona awakes, and so begins the final (and freest)
of the Desdemona-Othello duets.
The final duet…
• In this final duet, Verdi dispenses with the form and clear, sectional
structure of his earlier duets. Instead, motifs are repeated as the
confrontation is intensified, signifying a perpetual and inexorable drive
towards the impending death of Desdemona.
• Text such as “non e vero” (it’s not true) and “confessa” (confess!) are set
to dramatic tremolo strings, and surging crescendos.
The final duet…
• At the climax of the scene, ignoring Desdemona’s please of innocence,
Othello cries “E Tardi” (it’s too late) and suffocates her (la suffoca).
• The suffocation is accompanied by a huge orchestral surge, a heart
rending piece of Verdi at his best, building up in crescendo from the
moment that the murder begins.
The plot unravels…..
• Othello hears Emilia knocking at the door to the bedroom, and admits
her to the scene accompanied by weighty, thick orchestral chords as
Desdemona lays dying.
The plot unravels…..
• Emilia tells Othello that Cassio has killed Roderigo, and has survived
himself, and then discovers the dying Desdemona..
• Desdemona, with her last dying gasps, tries desperately to protect
Othello from blame (“muio innocente”).
• However, Emilia guesses what has happened and quickly raises the
alarm, prompting the entrance of Lodovico, Cassio and Iago.
The plot unravels…..
• The three men (very helpfully, as is often the case in opera!) appear with
some armed men, and as the following section is the unravelling of Iago’s
complex and dastardly ploy, Verdi writes in a free, arioso texture.
• First Emilia admits that Iago had obtained the handkerchief from her.
Emilia: “Tutto riveli” = all will be revealed.
Iago repeatedly sings to her “Taci!” = Shut up!
The plot unravels…..
• Montano enters with the armed men, and reveals that the dying Roderigo
admitted his part in Iago’s conspiracy, confirming that Iago was to blame
for everything.
• Othello realises in horror his mistake and that Desdemona was speaking
the truth as she protested her innocence. He grabs his sword, and
accompanied by slow and sorrowful chords, begins his final oration: “Niun mi
The end of Othello…..
• Othello, in Niun mi Tema, sings of
his past glories, and praises Desdemona
in an unaccompanied passage in which his
vocal line briefly blossoms into lyricism,
reflecting the beauty of whom he sings.
• Othello then, to the horror of everyone, takes his sword and stabs
himself. As he drags himself towards Desdemona’s body, his dying
utterance is a final repeat of the bacio music from Act 1. The opera ends.