Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater | A sublime piece of sacred chamber music
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, a romantic figure in music history
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi is in some ways a romantic figure in music history. Epitome of the romantic artist, he died only 26 years old probably from tuberculosis and achieved fame only after his death.
Pergolesi’s masterpiece, La Serva Padrona gained a recognition of its influence and historical importance only two decades after the composer’s death.
A composer ahead of his time
It might sound pretentious to suggest that Pergolesi’s works were not immediately recognized because they were “ahead of their time”. However this is partly true.
Pergolesi belonged to that generation of composers that wanted to move on from the late Baroque style. Instead of the complexities of contrappunto and the large grand structures of Opera Seria they wanted to compose simple melodies, made of short and expressive phrases and accompaned by a small orchestra.
Expressiveness and naturalness
Although Pergolesi is not a prominent place in Opera history, his music filled of the light and colors of Italy, has the unquestionable touch of genius.
The expressiveness and naturalness of Pergolesi’s composition and the pathos and wistfulness of his carachters is original and totally different from contemporaries such as Durante or Vinci.
The astonishing success of La Serva Padrona
La Serva Padrona created an astonishing growth of interest for Pergolesi’s music.
In a period when people cared only about new music, Pergolesi’s works came so much in demand that connoisseurs wrote Pergolesi’s name on anonymous manuscripts to increase their value and price on the market.The attribution of some works to Pergolesi is therefore still difficult.
Pergolesi’s opera omnia by Filippo Caffarelli
Part of the problem has been hindered rather than helped by one of Pergolesi’s most enthusiastic fan, the duke Filippo Caffarelli.
In 1942 Caffarelli published at his own expenses a Pergolesi Opera Omnia containing 148 compositions. Recent studies have proved that of those 148 works just 30 are definitely Pergolesi’s, while 69 are not; the rest are uncertain.
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater
The Stabat Mater is undoubtedly Pergolesi’s, as witnessed by the autograph manuscript at the Montecassino Abbey. The Stabat Mater is made of a series of Medieval Latin poem written for Good Friday. This work was commissioned by a group of Neapolitan nobles who apparently wanted to hear something more up-to-date then Alessandro Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater.
A sublime piece of sacred chamber music
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is in fact a sublime piece of sacred chamber music rather than a formal motet for liturgical use.
It’s a composition for two voices – originally castrati – strings and basso continuo. It’s not an overstatement to say that the Stabat Mater is one of the most important works in music history, which influence stretches to Mozart, Haydn and beyond.
A sublime summary of the religious and aesthetics of its time. It is also a simple man’s expression of religious sense, sublimated in a music of astonishing sweetness and touching naturalness.
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