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Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater
September 7, 2017
Pergolesi

Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) was just 26 years old when he died of tuberculosis in Naples. While he wrote operas, concertos, chamber music and numerous pieces of secular music, he is best known for his Stabat Mater, completed in 1736: the final composition of his very short life. According to the legend, Pergolesi composed the work on his deathbed, like a requiem written before its time had come, although the reality was probably a little less fanciful.

Capturing the sorrow and anguish of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion of her son, the medieval religious poem Stabat Mater, Latin for “the mother was standing,” was composed by Franciscan monk Jacopone da Todi. Put to music many times, it has become something of a genre unto itself, one where many composers have made their mark (including Scarlatti a few years earlier, at the start of the 18th century). Pergolesi’s version is considered to be one of the most poignant. It has enjoyed lasting success and become a fixture of Baroque music. Simply written for two voices, basso continuo and strings, Stabat Mater’s 12 movements alternate between solos and duos, each plumbing the depths of human passion. It is a tremendously expressive work that invites reflection and contemplation. It is also a metaphysical masterpiece that, for choreographer Edward Clug, is, first and foremost, a work of hope.

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