Feature: Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Stabat mater RV621 — Soloist: Francisco Javier Rodríguez Braojos, Escolanía del Escorial

Braojos_Stabat_small[4]Vivaldi’s setting of Stabat Mater for Alto and strings is one of his earliest religious works and may even be the earliest.It commissioned by Santa Maria della Pace in Brescia in 1711 for their patronal festival and received its first performance on March 18th 1712 during the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin. It’s somewhat unusual when compared to  the other great Stabat Mater’s of the time such as those by Pergolesi, the two Scarlattis, Stefani and D’Astorga in that Vivaldi’s setting was intended to be performed as a hymn during Vespers and not the Mass. We can tell this because he set only the first ten verses and not the entire poem. During Vivaldi’s time The Stabat mater was set for performance during two liturgical occasions. The first was for performance during the Mass in which case all twenty-three three line stanzas plus an Amen would be set. The second was for performance during Vespers in which case setting only the first ten stanzas was prescribed.

I have no idea (and nor does anyone else) as to why Vivaldi chose to write the abbreviated Vespers setting rather than the full setting for a Mass. It may be that that was what the client told him to do, or it may be that Vivaldi – who in 1711 was very new indeed to composing religious music, did not feel up to composing a setting for all twenty-three stanzas. I think that perhaps my second alternative is a bit more likely on stylistic grounds. This early on in his career Vivaldi’s technique for setting hymn texts was to repeat the same music during successive verses as for example his setting of Deus tuorum militum, RV612, but there’s a big difference between setting something like RV612 and setting one of the most famous and loved Marian poems a poem whose stature is equalled only by the Salve and Vivaldi would have been well aware of that fact. He may have felt that the strophic approach he adopted for the three verses of Deus tuorum militum simply wouldn’t work for all twenty-three stanza of the Stabat Mater In fact I would go further and say that he plainly felt the strophic approach wouldn’t work even for the ten stanza abbreviated version appropriate for Vespers. He does use strophic writing with the music for movements 1 to 3 being repeated for movements 4 to 6 but everything else is through-composed as though he were setting a psalm rather than the Stabat mater the resulting musical contrast is both fascinating and beautiful.

It’s a moving and very beautifully written setting that shows Vivaldi moving from having been a composer of instrumental music to a composer of accompanied religious music apart from the structural factors I described above we can hear this in how he developed each movement’s motifs entirely independently of the text in a manner more appropriate to a symphony than a hymn or antiphon. As well as this transitionality there’s some spectacular word-painting – for example in the seventh movement (Eia mater) whose jagged rhythms are something you’d expect to find in one of Bach’s passions rather than an Italian setting of a Marian hymn. Unlike Bach however Vivaldi restricted himself to two keys – F minor and C minor, and two tempi slow and extremely slow. The resulting musical atmosphere combines solemnity, devotion, and the tragic in a manner that prefigures Haydn’s Seven Last Words.

Finally a note about the performance. There are innumerable superb recordings available I’ve picked this performance by Francisco Javier Rodríguez Braojos, Escolanía del Escorial to illustrate this posting because it’s extremely beautiful but also because outside of the Iberian peninsula it’s almost unknown. Enjoy :-).


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Stabat mater RV621 – Francisco Javier Rodríguez Braojos, Escolanía del Escorial

[PLAYLIST not found]

Soloist: Francisco Javier Rodríguez Braojos (Alto)

Text & Translation: Stabat mater (Complete)

Stabat mater dolorosa
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius
A sorrowing mother stood
weeping beside the Cross
while her son hung there,
Cuius animam gementem,
Contristatam et dolentem,
Pertransivit gladius
her grieving heart,
so full of tears and anguish,
pierced as though with a sword.
O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater unigeniti.
Oh, how sad and unfortunate
was that blessed mother
of an only son.
Quae moerebat et dolebat,
Pia mater dum vivebat
Nati poenas incliti.
How the loving mother mourned
and grieved, watching the
suffering of her glorious son.
Quis est homo, qui non fleret,
Christi matrem si videret
In tanto supplicio?
Who is he that would not weep
seeing the mother of Christ
in such distress?
Quis non posset contristari,
Christi matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?
Who would not feel compassion
at the sight of Christ’s mother
grieving beside her son?
Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in tormentis
Et flagellis subditum.
She saw Jesus tormented
and subjected to scourging
for the sins of his people.
Vidit suum dulcem natum
Morientem desolatum,
Dum emisit spiritum.
She watched her dear son
dying forsaken
as he yielded up his spirit.
Eia mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac, ut tecum lugeam.
O mother, fount of love, share
the depth of my suffering with me,
so that I may mourn with thee.
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.
Kindle such love for Christ
my God within my heart
that I may he worthy of him.
Sancta mater, istud agas
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo valide,
Holy mother, grant this favour:
fix the wounds of the Crucified
deeply within my heart;
Tui nati vulnerari
Tam dignati pro me pati,
Poenas mecum divide,
Share with me the agony of
thy wounded Son who deigned
to suffer so much for me;
Fac me vere tecum flere,
Crucifixo condolere
Donec ego vixero.
Let me weep with thee, and share
the agony of the Crucifixion
as long as I live.
Iuxta crucem tecum stare,
Te libenter sociare,
In planctu desidero.
To stand with thee beside
the cross, and to join thee
in my weeping, that is my wish.
Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi iam non sis amara,
Fac me tecum plangere.
Virgin, foremost among virgins,
be not disdainful toward me;
let me weep with thee,
Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
Passionis fac consortem
Et plagas recolere.
Grant that I may bear Christ’s death;
let me share in his Passion,
remembering his suffering;
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
Cruce hac inebriari
Ob amorem Filii.
Let me be wounded by his
wounds, enraptured by his Cross
and the blood of the Son.
Inflammatus et accensus
Per te, Virgo, sim defensus,
In die iudicii.
Though I burn and am aflame,
may I be defended by thee, Virgin,
at the day of judgement;
Fac me cruce custodiri,
Morte Christi praemuniri
Confoveri gratia.
Let me be protected by the Cross,
strengthened by the death of Christ,
thankful in his love.
Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animae donetur
Paradisi Gloria.
When my body dies
let my soul be granted
the glory of Paradise.

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