The Stabat Mater depicts Mary standing at the cross of Jesus, weeping at the sight of her son's crucifixion. The poem asks us to share in Mary's pain ('Fac, ut ardeat cor meum') and rejoice in Christ's sacrifice for mankind. The timeless bond between a mother and her son transcends the shifting world around us. Mary's anguish crosses all boundaries, speaking to anyone who has seen a loved one suffering, humanising Christ for experiencing mortal pain even while lauding him as the saviour. Not only is the theme heartfelt and tender, but the Latin text is rhythmic and lyrical, lending itself perfectly to music.
The existing versions represent a wonderful diversity of styles. In Palestrina's time, it was important that the music did not interfere with the clarity of the words. His Stabat Mater for eight voices, therefore, is simple, resonant, and wonderfully moving. Vivaldi, Caldara and both Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti were among the Baroque composers to try their hand next; Vivaldi only set the first ten stanzas, ending with the plea to experience Mary's suffering for ourselves. The music, melancholy and minor, contrasts with Caldara's setting, which includes two trombones.
Later composers include Luigi Boccherini, who wrote some florid lines for solo soprano, the only early setting to include a soloist. By the time Haydn came to write his own Stabat Mater in 1767 he would have been familiar with those of Pergolesi and Alessandro Scarlatti. It became Haydn's most performed work in his lifetime, notable for its swapping out of the oboes for two cors anglais in two of the movements, creating a graver and more melancholy sound.
Dvořák and Liszt both created highly personal settings of the poem: Liszt because of his
strong religious impulse – he wrote the Stabat Mater as part of his oratorio Christus while
living in the Vatican, having entered the lower orders – and Dvořák because of a string of personal tragedies. The Czech composer lost his eldest daughter Josefa in 1876, which prompted him to begin sketching the music, and he returned to the composition in 1877 after the deaths of his two surviving children in close succession.
A number of turn-of-the-century composers lent their romantic touch to the text. Verdi's version, scored for chorus and large orchestra, was written towards the end of his life, and is fully representative of his mature style. Stanford and Howells, both deeply embedded in the Anglican tradition, brought the Stabat Mater into the renaissance of British music. The Stabat Mater has lost none of its allure in more recent times: perhaps its enduring quality has become even more important since the momentous events of the 20th century. Poulenc composed his setting in 1950, stung by the recent death of his close friend Christian Bérard. Knut Nystedt, the Norwegian composer who died in 2014, composed his stripped down Stabat Mater in 1986, scored for choir and solo cello. Influenced by Gregorian chant and Palestrina, the composer brings us full circle to the earliest settings of this ageless poem.
Brilliant Classics has brought together a number of first-class performers for this set, including classic performances and new recordings. Harry Christophers conducts The Sixteen in their performance of Agostino Steffani's Stabat Mater dolorosa, featuring soloists Elin Manahan Thomas and Grace Davidson. Dvořák's Stabat Mater is stylishly performed by The Washington Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shafer, alongside Christine Brewer and John Aler, in a performance recorded at Washington D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center. Boccherini's Stabat Mater (released in July 2016 and praised by MusicWeb International as 'an engaging performance, high on polish and long on assurance') is performed by the young Ensemble Symposium, featuring Francesca Boncompagni.
The text of Stabat Mater Dolorosa, a hymn to the Virgin Mary, is attributed to Jacopo Todi (1230-1306). It is a lamentation upon the tragic fate of Mary, bewailing the suffering and death of her son Jesus Christ at the cross. This outpouring of grief and loss is of universal human appeal and has inspired many composers throughout history, writing music of the most heart wrenching beauty. This 14CD set is the most extensive collection of Stabat Maters ever collected, 23 in total. It includes the most famous Stabat Mater ever composed, that by Pergolesi, as well as by known and lesser composers from the Baroque well into the 20th century, closing with the moving Stabat Mater by Arvo Pärt.
Included are the original Stabat Mater text and liner notes written by Philip Borg-Wheeler specially for this. A worthy successor to the successful Brilliant Classics REQUIEM collection (BC95104).