Giuseppe Verdi

Sacred Pieces (4), for chorus & orchestra (Quattro pezzi sacri)

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    In the twilight of his life, Giuseppe Verdi published a heterogeneous collection of four pieces entitled the Quattro pezzi sacri. Composed over perhaps eight years prior to their publication, they reveal the eyes of Italy's most famous opera composer looking toward the afterlife through the sacred texts of the Catholic church. Much of the music is quite progressive: the style reflects the great tonal expansion of the latter nineteenth century, as well as his own advances in operatic composition. At the same time, the Quattro pezzi provide Verdi's retrospective view of some highlights of his pan-Italian cultural heritage, making references as far back in history as Dante and Palestrina.

    Two of the Quattro pezzi, in fact, borrow the traditional texture of stile antico church compositions, a cappella choral writing. In the Laudi alla Vergine Maria (composed around 1890), Verdi used only a quartet of solo women's voices to set his Italian text from the final Canto of Dante's Paradiso. He deliberately evoked the music of the Italian Renaissance in the thin vocal texture, with its clear cadences and imitative writing; the voice-leading, on the other hand, is often richly chromatic and wanders far from the home key. Verdi's Ave Maria similarly translates a severe, four-voiced unaccompanied choral texture into a thoroughly "modern" harmonic idiom. The piece took life as Verdi's response to an editorial challenge in a Milanese periodical (1888) for any composer to write music based upon a scala enigamtica. Verdi places this challenging scale in each voice in turn as an archaic cantus firmus. The other voices weave often extremely chromatic harmonies about it; almost every note of the 12-tone scale appears in the first four measures alone.

    The final two pieces deploy the full range of choral and orchestral forces. Stabat mater (1896-1897) sets the complete drama of the Passion as seen through Mary's eyes; it does so in a series of pointillistic images from the ancient Latin text. In preparation for the winter 1895 composition of the Te Deum, Verdi studied the music of both Victoria and Purcell, though he ultimately created something quite different. His intention was a musically adventuresome portrayal of his own emotional responses to the traditional text. The "immense father" is also the "king of glory" (seen in brass fanfares), born in human flesh of a Virgin, and will return as "Judge." Mankind trembles before this judge; Verdi asked to have this personally expressive score buried with him.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Ave Maria
    2. Stabat mater
    3. Laudi alla Vergine Maria
    4. Te Deum

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Urania WS 121284
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon B002346910
    2014 Tahra TAH 765
    2014 Sony Classical 88843014642
    2014 Gala GL 100820
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4791884
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Warner Classics 5099998452
    2012 Krescendo Records / Zebralution
    2011 Chandos CHAN10659
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099909802
    2011 Warner Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908521
    2010 Decca
    2010 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5675602
    2007 BBC Legends / BBC Music 42212
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2005 EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 47066
    2005 Archipel 0285
    2003 Archipel 45
    2002 Urania 204
    2002 Sony Music Distribution 89619
    2001 DG Deutsche Grammophon 469075
    2001 Capriccio Records 51021
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 67563
    2000 Decca 467119
    1998 Naxos 550944
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 556250-2
    1996 Capriccio Records 10646
    1995 London 444833
    1995 Philips 442142
    1993 DG Deutsche Grammophon 435884
    1991 Telarc Distribution 80254
    1991 Sony Classical Essential Classics 46491
    1987 EMI Music Distribution 47257
    London 421608
    Erato 88170
    EMI Music Distribution 47257
    Decca 000710602
    Suite Records 7001
    MMF 01