Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pergolesi and the Mother of Sorrows

The romantic imagination cannot help but ignite in contemplation of the life of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), the sickly son of a surveyor, with his deformed leg and constant tubercular illnesses, who changed the musical world and died unknown at the age of 26. He rose through standard musical training, paid through performances as a choirboy and later as a violinist, and become maestro di cappella to Prince Ferdinando Colonna Stigliano in Naples at age 21. It was there that he revitalized the art of comic opera with the infamous work "La serva padronna." By 1735, he was too sick to maintain his duties for the prince and left for a nearby monastery, where his famous Stabat Mater was written for 26 Neapolitan ducats, a sum which did not cover the costs of the his own burial two months later.

(Performance by Countertenor Andreas Scholl and Soprano Barbara Bonney)
The opening movement develops three settings of the first tercet of the traditional latin Stabat Mater text:

Stabat mater dolorosa (The mother of sorrows)
juxta Crucem lacrimosa, (stood in tears beside)
dum pendebat Filius. (her son's cross)

This is a setting of continual compressions:

After the introduction, the first setting [0:57] opens with lines that rise through suspensions in an unforgettable portrayal of suffering. The first line is set only once, but the second and third lines are each echoed. The second line of the tercet is sung first by the soprano [1:25] alone and then by the countertenor alone [1:35]. The third line in the tercet [1:44] is sung in harmony and echoed in harmony. In this echo the soprano begins in advance of the countertenor.

The second setting of the text [2:18] is compressed with each line articulated only once, and punctuated by vocal silence.

The final setting is compressed into a diamond. Over the deceptive cadence associated with the introduction [0:38-0:49], the last word of line one and the last word of line two are articulated [3:20]. The final line is set sotto voce with the countertenor entering in advance of the soprano.

This performance by Les Talens Lyriques conducted by Christophe Rousset is crisp, clean and haunted. It sings of sorrows and of disappearances.

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