Monday, March 16, 2009

Notes on Rossini's Stabat Mater

So, I have put up on the blog a list of the performances that are coming up in an effort to fulfill the first directive of the blog (i.e. keep people informed about the performing I am doing). This box will be updated when necessary/when I get more performance opportunities. I am also thinking that I would give a little background and personal observations about these pieces in this space. So without further ado. . .

The first entry is a concert of Rossini's Stabat Mater, which is a wonderful and surprising work. If you are going in looking for The Barber of Seville, you may be a bit disappointed. This is a solemn and reflective piece, much more like his opera serio masterpiece William Tell. This piece was written late in Rossini's life, after he had all but retired from composing. Rossini was requested by a Spanish clergyman to compose this piece in 1831, to which Rossini consented but under condition that the score should never leave the posession of the clergyman and that it never published. Unfortunately for Rossini, a few years after the piece was finished the clergyman died, and his heirs wished to sell the score. After a court battle, Rossini retained the rights to the score, however "the cat was out of the bag." Rossini was persuaded to have the score performed publicly in Paris in 1842, which was received with overwhelmingly enthusiasm.

The piece is based on a poem of unknown authorship, though it has been traditionally attributed to Jacopone di Todi (d. 1306), an Italian lawyer who, after his wife's death, became a lay member of the Franciscan order. Though we are unsure of the authorship, what is clear is the Franciscan emphasis on the understanding of the suffering and death of Jesus. The text begins with the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, watching her son die on the cross. It goes on to be a prayer to Mary asking that she may allow the petitioner to suffer along with her at the foot of the cross, that the petitioner might learn to love Jesus more fully. This text was adopted by the Catholic mass in the late 15th century, but was removed at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) because it's origins were not biblical. But it was reinstated by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727, and standardized in the late 19th century by the reforms associated with the Monks of Solemnes. Many settings of this text have been made by notable composers such as Pergolesi (1736), Hayden (1773), Verdi (1898), Szymanowski (1926), and Poulenc (1950). The conductor of the Sydney Symphony, Gianluigi Gelmetti, says of this piece: "The manner in which Rossini uses this splendid, vigorous and powerful text in such a 'human' fashion--in the strong and beautiful meaning of the expression--is something extrordinary. The Mother suffering at the foot of her Son's a universal expression of humanity--grief, affection, distress, hope--that today just as yesterday belongs to everyone."

The concert will be given by the Westminster Presbyterian Church Choir under the direction of Paul Fleckenstein, who will also be our orchestra at the keys and pedals of the organ. Diana Milburn (sop), Noel Archambeault (sop), and Neil Darling (ten) will be the soloists (along with yours truly). It should be a good time (er, a somber, reflective time anyway).

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