Saturday, 3 March 2018


“A human being is only breath and shadow.” - Sophocles 

For Music Saturday a wonderful piece, surely one of the masterworks of the repertoire of sacred music. It is Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater”.  Stabat Mater refers to a 13th-century Catholic hymn to Mary, variously attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi and to Innocent III. The title of the sorrowful hymn is an incipit of the first line, Stabat mater dolorosa (“The sorrowful mother stood”).

The Dolorosa hymn, one of the most powerful and immediate of extant medieval poems, meditates on the suffering of Mary, Jesus Christ’s mother, during his crucifixion. It is sung at the liturgy on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Dolorosa has been set to music by many composers, with the most famous settings being those by Palestrina, Pergolesi, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Haydn, Rossini and Dvořák.

The Dolorosa was well known by the end of the fourteenth century and Georgius Stella wrote of its use in 1388, while other historians note its use later in the same century. In Provence, about 1399, it was used during the nine days processions. As a liturgical sequence, the Dolorosa was suppressed, along with hundreds of other sequences, by the Council of Trent, but restored to the missal by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727 for the Feast of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (4 January 1710 – 16 March 1736) was an Italian composer, violinist and organist. In his short life he managed to write some amazing music and one wonders what further marvellous works his genius would have been capable of had he lived longer.

Above is the Pietà,  a painting by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden dating from about 1441 held in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

Stabat Mater (1736) for soprano, contralto, strings and basso continuo by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) Margaret Marshall (soprano) Lucia Valentini Terrani (contralto) Leslie Pearson (organ) London Symohony Orchestra Claudio Abbado (conductor) Recorded in 1985.

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