Skip to main content

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 - 1736)

Pergolesi

Stabat Mater
1. Chorus Grave
2. Aria (soprano) Andante amoroso
3. Chorus Larghetto
4. Aria (contralto) Allegro
5. Duet Largo - allegro
6. Aria (soprano) Tempo giusto
7. Aria (contralto) Andantino
8. Chorus Allegro
9. Duet Tempo giusto
10. Aria (contralto) Largo
11. Duet Allegro
12. Chorus Largo - presto

Death has cut short many composing careers, but to few has it come so cruelly soon as to Pergolesi. He was born and lived near Naples in Italy, in an age when Italy was a patchwork of small states. There was a thriving musical life in Naples at the time, and he entered the conservatory there in 1725. He worked for various patrons in the area, and spent the last two years of his life serving the Duke of Maddaloni. His productive career began at the age of twenty, and by twenty-six he was dead from tuberculosis.

Stabat Mater is a sequence of Latin verses composed by Jacobus de Benedictis in the 13th century, in commemoration of the sorrows of the Virgin Mary. There is a famous setting by Alessandro Scarlatti, another Neapolitan composer, written for womens' voices and strings in about 1700. It is believed that the Duke of Maddaloni commissioned Pergolesi's setting of the Stabat Mater, for the same forces, as a replacement for the Scarlatti work, which was becoming a little old fashioned for contemporary taste.

The work was a sensational success, as attested by the number of printed editions that appeared in rapid succession during the eighteenth century, and the number of manuscript copies still in existence in libraries around the world.

Pergolesi's Stabat Mater is innovative in the field of sacred music in the way it offers a very personal response to the religious experience. The setting is very beautiful, with much use of suspensions - blending one chord into another gradually, as opposed to clean harmony changes. This personal and emotional approach reached its climax in the great requiem of Giuseppi Verdi, 150 years later, and is quite alien to the austere North European approach of Buxtehude, Bach and others.

The words of the Stabat Mater are in two sections - the first part describes the anguish of Mary, standing at the foot of the cross on which her son was dying, while the latter part constitutes a prayer to the Virgin Mary. Pergolesi divides the work into twelve separate numbers.

  1. Stabat Mater dolorosa, juxta crucem lacrimosa, dum pendebat Filius.
    The sorrowing mother stands weeping, by the cross where her son hangs
  2. Cujus animam gementem, contristatam et dolentem, pertransivit gladius.
    A sword of shared sorrow and bitter anguish had pierced her heart
  3. O quam tristis et afflicata, fuit illa benedicata, Mater Unigeniti.
    O What sadness and affliction lay on the blessed Mother of the Lord
  4. Quae moerebat et dolebat, Pia Mater, dum videbat nati poenas inclyti.
    What grief and sorrow She suffered to see her glorious, dying son
  5. Quis est homo qui non fleret, Christi Matrem si videret, in tanto supplicio?
    Quis non posset contristari, Piam Matrem contemplari, dolentem cum Filio?
    Pro peccatis Suae gentis, vidit Jesum in tormentis, et flagellis subditum.
    Is there anyone who would not weep to see the Mother of Christ in such torment?
    Is there anyone who could not share her pain?

    She saw Jesus scourged and in torment for the sins of His people.
  6. Vidit suum dulcem natum, morientem desolatum, dum emisit spiritum.
    She saw her sweet son desolate and alone as his spirit passed away.
  7. Eja Mater, fons amoris, me sentire vim doloris, fac, ut tecum lugeam.
    O Mother, fount of love, touch my spirit with your feeling
  8. Fac ut ardeat cor meum, in amando Christum Deum, ut sibi complaceam.
    Make my heart glow with the love of Christ
  9. Sancta Mater, istud agas, crucifixi fige plagas, cordi meo valide.
    Tui Nati vulnerati, tam digati pro me patipoenas mecum divide.
    Fac me vere tecum flere, crucifixo condolere, donec ego vixero.
    Juxta crucem tecum stare, te libenter sociare, in plancu desidero.
    Virgo virginum praeclara, mihi jam non sis amara, fac me tecum plangere.
    Holy Mother, fix in my heart the wounds Christ suffered on the cross
    Let me share His pain with You, He who loved me so
    Let me share your tears, mourning Him who died for me
    By the cross with You to weep and pray is all I ask
    Greatest of all virgins, let me share your divine grief
  10. Fac ut portem Christi mortem, passionis fac consortem. et plagas recolere.
    Fac me plagis vulnerari, cruce hac inebriari, ob amorem Filii.
    Let me remember Christ's suffering and death on the cross
    And let my heart be warmed with the blood He shed for us
  11. Inflammatus et accensus, per te, Virgo, sim defensus, in die judicii.
    Fac me cruce custodiri, morte Christi premuniri, confoveri gratia.
    Defend me, O virgin, from the flames of the day of judgement
    When Christ calls me to Him, be my defence and guide
  12. Quando corpus morietur, fac ut animae donetur, paradisi gloria! Amen.
    While my body dies, may my soul be with you in paradise! Amen

[Most English translations of the Stabat Mater are very flowery and wordy. The version given here is neither ornate nor absolutely literal, but is intended to convey the general meaning of the original.]

Back to programme notes index