Feature: Josquin Des Prez (±1450 – 1521): Stabat mater dolorosa

Josquin Signature 180x143 An unusually short piece today compared to what I normally post on a Sunday but the quality of Josquin’s five-part (SAATB) setting of the Stabat Mater is such that I don’t think you will feel stinted. It’s somewhat unusual in that it sets only the first and third sections of the text which suggests to me that it  was intended for private devotions. Josquin took as his cantus firmus for the piece the tenor part of a love song by Binchois Comme femme desconforte.  He weaves the other four voices around this cantus firmus sometimes in imitation but more often using  richer and more sonorous chordal writing. The way in which he uses the cantus firmus has a ‘stilling effect’ on the four voices and that not only regulates the music’s pace to one appropriate to the text but allows him to write in a way that is quite unique in its character and expressiveness. He never again wrote anything that sounds even remotely like it.

A note on the recording: This is a re-release of the recording made by Philippe Herreweghe conducting La Chapelle Royale in 1986 it’s one of many pioneering performances overseen by Herreweghe and I was delighted to find it on YouTube both because it compares very well with other performances and for historical interest. Enjoy :-).


Video Source: Josquin Desprez – Stabat Mater dolorosa – YouTube. Uploaded on Jan 5, 2011 by Erdbeerkaba.

Text & Translation: Stabat mater

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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