|Quattro pezzi sacri|
|by Giuseppe Verdi|
|English||Four Sacred Pieces|
|Genre||Sacred vocal music|
|Performed||7 April 1898 Paris Opera (without Ave Maria) :|
The Quattro pezzi sacri (Italian pronunciation: ['kwattro 'p?ttsi 'sa:kri], Four Sacred Pieces) are choral works by Giuseppe Verdi. Written separately during the last decades of the composer's life and with different origins and purposes, they were nevertheless published together in 1898 by Casa Ricordi. They are often performed as a cycle, not in chronological sequence of their composition, but in the sequence used in the Ricordi publication:
They were first performed together (without the Ave Maria) in a concert by the Paris Opera on April 7, 1898.
After Verdi finished his opera Aida and in 1874 the Messa da Requiem, he retired from composing for years, writing only minor sacred compositions such as a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria in 1880. The earliest of the Quattro pezzi sacri in terms of its composition date is what came to be known as Laudi alla Vergine Maria (although Verdi himself did not give it that title). It was composed between 1886 and 1888, during which time he was also working on his penultimate opera, Otello, which premiered in 1887. The second of the Pezzi to be composed was the Ave Maria, whose setting is built on an enigmatic scale. He originally composed it in 1889 and revised it for publication in 1897. The Te Deum was begun in 1895 two years after the premiere of his last opera, Falstaff. It was finished in the summer of 1896. The Stabat Mater followed, and all four pieces were sent to Verdi's publisher, Casa Ricordi, in June 1897.
At the end of his life Verdi returned to his beginnings as a church musician. He studied Bach's Mass in B minor and compositions by Palestrina, whose influence is apparent in the Laudi alla Vergine Maria.
Verdi was inspired in 1889 to compose Ave Maria by the enigmatic scale C - D-flat - E - F-sharp - G-sharp - A-sharp - B - C which Adolfo Crescentini (1854-1921) had published in Ricordi's magazine Gazetta musicale di Milano, inviting composers to harmonise it. Verdi composed a setting for four unaccompanied voices, with the bass singing the scale first, followed by alto, tenor and soprano, whereas the three remaining voices supply harmonic texture. He commented: "An Ave Maria. It will be my fourth! Perhaps I shall be beatified by the Holy Father." Verdi revised the work in June 1897 for the publication. The music publisher Schott renders the subtitle as "Scala enigmatica armonizzata a 4 voci miste" (Enigmatic scale harmonised for four mixed voices). It takes about six minutes to perform.
While Ave Maria is set for soloists, Verdi scored the Stabat Mater for a four-part mixed chorus (SATB) and a large orchestra of three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets. four bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, four trombones, percussion (timpani and bass drum), harp and strings.
The work is through-composed, without repetition of text. It is full of chromaticism. Melodic parts, similar to arias, contrast with a cappella passages and dramatic outbursts. The music reaches a climax on the text "Paradisi gloria" (glory of paradise), then dies down in the lowest registers of the strings. A performance takes about 12 minutes.
Laudi alla Vergine Maria is another a cappella work, set for four solo female voices. It is based on a short prayer from in Canto XXXIII of Dantes's Paradiso, the third part of his Divina Commedia. Verdi alludes on the counterpoint of Renaissance music. Each stanza is introduced by a new motif. Biographer Budden describes the piece as "with the subtlest of harmonic and rhythmic inflexions, unashamedly modern in character". The audience requested a repetition when it was first performed. Publisher Schott renders the subtitle as "Tolte dall' ultimo canto del "Paradiso" di Dante per 4 voci feminili, sole" (Taken from the ultimate song of "Paradiso" by Dante for 4 female voices, solo). It takes about six minutes to perform.
The Ambrosian Hymn Te Deum is scored for two four-part choirs, a short soprano solo and large orchestra, adding cor anglais and bass clarinet to the orchestra of the Stabat Mater, but without harp. Verdi wrote to Giovanni Tebaldini, director of music in Padua: "It is usually sung during grand, solemn and noisy ceremonies for a victory or a coronation etc. ... Humanity believes in the Judex Venturus, invokes Him in the Salvum fac and ends with a prayer, 'Dignare Domine die isto', which is moving, melancholy and sad even to the point of terror." The music begins with the Gregorian chant Te deum laudamus, te Dominum confitemur, continued responsorially by the whole male choir in unison. The full choir and orchestra enter in partly dramatic scenes, reminiscent of the Messa da Requiem, interspersed by Gregorian chant. The final line in te speravi is first rendered by a single soprano voice from the choir, representing the "[voice of] mankind", as Verdi requested. The line is repeated by the choir, followed by a reticent postlude, similar to the conclusion of the Requiem. A performance takes about 15 minutes. Verdi himself suggested 12 minutes.
Verdi did not want the Ave Maria to be performed with the other pieces. According to his wish, three pieces were first performed on 7 and 8 April 1898 at the Paris Opera as part of a concert series of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, conducted by Paul Taffanel (1844-1908). Verdi was not present, because he had suffered a mild stroke, but sent Arrigo Boito with several requests, partly in writing, for performance details. The first performance in Italy, again without the Ave Maria, was conducted in Turin on 26 May 1898 by Arturo Toscanini who had talked to Verdi. The first performance in Austria on 13 November 1898 in Vienna was conducted by Richard von Perger and included the Ave Maria, but the two a cappella works were performed by the choir, not by solo voices as Verdi had intended.
Verdi liked the Te Deum best of the four works and reputedly wanted to be buried with the score.