Friday Performance Pick – 119

Pergolesi, Stabat Mater

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

I’m posting this week’s Friday Performance Pick a day early. Our weekly digest goes out on Thursday and, since the selection this week relates directly to Good Friday, we decided to adjust the timing.

weydenMany composers have set the text of the 13th-century hymn Stabat mater. The setting by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) has a remarkable sequence of dissonances that captures Mary’s anguish. The two vocal lines rise together, each moving in turn one step higher than the other. The dissonance of the voices sounding notes just one step apart resolves briefly only to resume a step higher. It’s hard to imagine a more effective musical portrayal of the scene, all within the conventions of Baroque counterpoint.

Pergolesi, as his dates indicate, had a very short life, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 26. He had significant success as an opera composer, particularly in the new comic opera style of opera buffa. His Stabat mater is his best known sacred work and became the most frequently printed composition of the 18th century.

The entire work has twelve movements. The featured video contains only the first.

Painting: Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross (detail) (c. 1435)