Stabat Mater vs. Stabat Mater

Many of you would certainly be aware that our concert in July features two Stabat Maters – one of Verdi from his Quattro pezzi sacri, and one of Rossini. Here’s a sneak peek of how our two Italian opera masters accentuate the grief of Mother Mary in their respective settings of the Catholic hymn, on the first 1-2 pages of the vocal score:-

In Rossini’s setting, a dark mood is created by the orchestra’s plaintive opening, and the initial concealment of the tonic key is suggestive of a troubled heart. Thereafter, as the strings, chorus and vocal soloists take turns coming in, the “Stabat Mater” theme, a G-minor upward scale to its fifth, emerges as a graphical representation of the anguished Mother Mary weeping next to the cross on which her Son was crucified.

Verdi opens his Stabat Mater with ominous bare open fifths in bassoons, French horns and strings, which are interrupted by the choir singing a striking augmented fourth that is traditionally associated with human suffering; The descending, chromatic scale used in “Cujus animam gementem” is also thought to represent the agonizing cries of Mother Mary.

Come hear us perform Verdi’s Quattro pezzi sacri and Rossini’s Stabat Mater, in our upcoming concert. Tickets now available at urbtix outlets or online at

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The Infamous Scala Enigmatica

A scala cromatica (chromatic scale) can sometimes be a nightmare to practise – and we say so as singers ourselves – but wait till you meet the Scala Enigmatica!

The scala enigmatica, as its name already suggests, is an unusual musical scale featuring both major, minor and augmented seconds. Invented by Adolfo Crescentini, a professor of music at the Bologna Conservatory, this enigmatic scale was first published in Ricordi’s “Gazzetta musicale di Milano” in 1888 as a challenge for its readers to harmonize it. The exact number of submissions to the music journal remains a mystery, and this scale would probably have long been forgotten had Verdi not presented his solution to the musical puzzle in 1889.

The enigmatic scale – or, in Verdi’s own words, “that awkward scale” – was used as the cantus firmus of his Ave Maria, which subsequently became the first song of his Quattro pezzi sacri, notwithstanding the composer’s reluctance in allowing the piece to be published, by reason of it merely being a “game” and hence, “not true music” and should “never [see] the light of day”. But be that as it may, we should probably be thankful that the work had eventually been published, for the austere and bold harmonization for four-part a cappella chorus, as well as the ethereal effect it creates, serve not only as a glorification of Mother Mary, but also as evidence of Verdi’s splendid compositional artistry.

Come hear us perform Verdi’s Ave Maria – plus, of course, the other three pieces – from his Quattro pezzi sacri, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater, in our next concert. Tickets now available at urbtix outlets or online at

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Verdi and religion

Do you know that Verdi, as the man behind “Quattro pezzi sacri” (“Four Sacred Pieces”), was in fact not a religious believer himself? He was described by his wife to be “a jewel among honest men… but certainly very little of a believer… I exhaust myself in speaking to him about the marvels of the heavens, the earth, the sea, etc. It’s a waste of breath! He laughs in my face and freezes me in the midst of my oratorical periods and my divine enthusiasm by saying ‘you’re all crazy,’ and unfortunately he says it with good faith.”

Nonetheless, with its operatic features – aria-like themes, long pauses, sudden contrasts in texture and dynamics, to name a few – it is thought that this collection of sacred songs still serves as an inspiration of faith to the audience.

Come hear us perform Quattro pezzi sacri and Rossini’s Stabat Mater in our next concert. Tickets now available at urbtix outlets or online at

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