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Hyperion Records

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Calvary by Andrea Mantegna (c1431-1506)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Track(s) taken from CDA66294
Recording details: December 1987
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: September 1988
Total duration: 40 minutes 13 seconds

Stabat mater
composer
1736
author of text
Sequence for the Feast of Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Stabat mater, a setting of the sequence for the Feast of Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was written during Pergolesi’s last few months which he spent at the Franciscan monastery at the well-known spa of Pozzuoli. Pergolesi’s biographer, Villarosa, states that this was the composer’s last work and that it was written for the aristocracy at the church of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori in Naples as a replacement for Alessandro Scarlatti’s Stabat mater. However, Boyer, writing in his Notices sur la vie et les ouvrages de Pergolese of 1772, dates the Salve regina in C minor (which was also transposed for alto in F minor) as Pergolesi’s final composition. Whatever the exact dating, it seems clear that Pergolesi was not expecting to recover from his illness (probably tuberculosis), for he had given his possessions to his aunt. Other writers have drawn parallels from these sad circumstances with those of Mozart and his Requiem; certainly Pergolesi, like Mozart, was buried in the common pit.

Other pro-Italian French writers also helped to create the legend of the Stabat mater. Rousseau, writing in 1754, described the opening bars of the work to be ‘the most perfect and most touching to have come from the pen of any musician’, and De Brosses called it ‘the master work of Latin music’, remarking on its ‘profoundly learned harmony’. Indeed, Pergolesi’s extraordinary harmonic language does at times seem to be ahead of its age, with a remarkable grasp of chromaticism in one of the earliest applications to sacred music of the bitter-sweet tone of expressive sensibility. But the work also contains, despite its unrelentingly sombre text, some distinctly operatic music, such as the jaunty ‘Quae moerebat’ (with an off-beat string accompaniment straight from the orchestra pit), the bouncing syncopations of ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ and a strong fugal alla breve at the central ‘Fac, ut ardeat’. Word-painting abounds, with graphic use of chromaticism at moments such as ‘morientem desolatum’, and dramatic dissonance at ‘Fac, ut portem Christi mortem’. But for the most part Pergolesi maintains a mood of supplication, with melodies of great tenderness.

Just as Pergolesi’s life and music have been the subject of legend and wrong attribution, performances of the Stabat mater too have been subject to almost every type of performance, from lush romantic orchestrations to the erroneous suggestion that the work should be performed by a two-part choir. We do not know for certain for whom the work was intended, but research into the modest resources that would have been available for a performance (had it ever taken place during Pergolesi’s life) at the church of Santa Maria, together with the work’s feeling of restrained sacred opera, lends the piece perfectly to a similarly modest, but nonetheless still quietly operatic, style of performance.

from notes by Robert King © 1988

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