Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) composed four individual sacred works between 1886 and the year of his death, 1897, with no intention that they would be performed as a cycle It was his publisher Ricordi who gathered them together as Four sacred pieces. Rather than chronological order of composition, they are usually performed in the order listed by Ricordi:
- Ave Maria, ‘on an enigmatic scale’ is for four-part mixed chorus.
- Stabat Mater is for mixed chorus with orchestra.
- Laudi alla Vergine Maria is for unaccompanied four-part women’s chorus.
- Te Deum is for double mixed chorus and orchestra.
As a student Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) composed a self-contained Credo, and in 1880 incorporated it in the Messa a quattro voci (Mass for four voices) that he completed as a graduation exercise. The Mass is Puccini’s only music for the church. Even at this early stage, after attending a performance of Verdi’s Aida, his work shows signs of the opera bug that was to determine most of his compositional output. Already the question arises: is this is more of an operatic mass or a sacred opera?
The Mass is scored for orchestra, four-part choir with tenor and baritone soloists. A review of the first performance in 1880 described it as having ‘much melodic charm, grandeur of conception and structure’.
After that first performance the Mass was put aside, and it disappeared from view for more than 70 years. It re-emerged in the 1950s in two rival editions with a row over publication rights. The popular title of Messa di Gloria is something of a misnomer since the work is a full mass. It was given to the first publication in 1951, maybe to reflect the extended length of the Gloria in relation to the other sections of the mass.