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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSSINI: Stabat Mater
"The best part is Morandi's conducting, vivid and full of expressive warmth."
How best to remember one of the most influential artists of the early
nineteenth century? Fêted by writers like Stendhal, rival and ouster of even
Beethoven in some quarters, creator of the gourmet's Tournedos Rossini steak,
composer of the William Tell Overture and the comic opera The Barber
of Seville. It seems odd to reconcile the jokey, portly figure of the bon
viveur with a composer of religious music. Until the lights dim and the music
starts to play.
Rossini intentionally gave up composing operas after his epic five hour
long William Tell, written for all the pomp that Paris required and
setting the style for French Grand Opera for the rest of the nineteenth century
Exhausted, out of touch with what might follow, this Italian in Paris retired
on his laurels – or so the story goes. What followed were trifles, songs and
piano pieces and two religious settings – the Stabat Mater and the Petite
Rossini was born on 29th February 1792 in the unremarkable small port of
Pesaro on the Italian Adriatic coast, to barely literate but musical parents.
Those early years saw revolution and war in Europe and young Rossini was well
aware of the national sentiments that began to stir in Italy shortly afterwards
His rôle was not that of the great musical patriot: that was to be given to
Verdi, his junior of thirty years. But Rossini did grow from his humble
beginnings to become the opera composer of the day and toast of the times.
His career began in Venice at an early age but soon moved via Bologna
and Ferrara to that great operatic centre, Milan and particularly to La Scala,
Italy's foremost opera house. Success arrived with the première of La Pietra
del paragone which brought both fame and an exemption from military
service. By 1815, Rossini had moved to Naples, climax of the English Grand Tour
circuit and the best place for Italian comic opera or opera buffa.
Rome was next stop on his travels, to supervise revivals of previous
operas and the première of his latest work, The Barber of Seville, received
there with utter contempt in one of the greatest failures of all operatic first
nights. Despite this setback, Rossini was well on the road to becoming the
major opera composer of his day. He travelled the country throwing off scores
at breakneck speed. Some are now forgotten, many are remembered by their
overtures only and others have been revived for the memorable melodies that had
originally made them popular.
Although London beckoned and Rossini met the King at Brighton, no London
opera was ever to see the light of day. William Tell was set to be both
final triumph and the very reason for no more Rossini operas. Wagner and Verdi
were on the horizon and their influence would be too strong now. As an operatic
composer, Rossini had reached the point where he felt unable to continue and
equally unable to adapt to a new style. His health too, after many years
of dalliance, was in sad decline. Yet there was still enough life in the great
man to produce his choral religious masterpiece.
The Stabat Mater is to Rossini what the Requiem would be
to Verdi, a unique full-scale religious setting which still seems to have its
essence in the lyric theatre. For Rossini it was also a case of a
composer coming out of retirement to create one of his finest works and then
retreating back to compose little salon pieces to please his Parisian friends.
The poem describing Mary's grief at the foot of the cross is a medieval
text that has been set by many composers up to the present day. Rossini was
commissioned in 1831 by a Spanish Bishop, but ill health meant that of the
twelve sections originally envisaged, he completed only six, leaving the rest
of the composition to the Bolognese composer, Giovanni Tadolini. Officially,
Rossini was suffering from lumbago, although it is likely that his illness was
far more serious and in 1832 he took the cure at Aix-les-Bains for a disease
that by its recurrence seems most likely to have been venereal in origin.
In 1837, Rossini's Spanish Bishop died and when a publisher wrote to say
the score was to become available for publication, the composer had to admit
that it was not all his own work. Spurred on by the challenge, the score was
completed and first performed in Bologna in March 1842.
The Stabat Mater is written for full orchestra with four soloists
and chorus and divided into ten sections Operatic and highly melodic in style,
it ranges from an impressively grand opening through the popular tenor aria Cujus
animam to the two remarkable unaccompanied chorus passages that impressed
Wagner so much. The serious nature of the piece is confirmed by the use of a
big double fugue as conclusion. Certainly more looking forward to Verdi than
back to Bach, this is one of Rossini's finest and most attractive works. The
jokes of the Barber may not be there, nor the patriotic words of William Tell,
but the popular expression of Mediterranean belief in life and faith shows that
Rossini still was able, after his self-styled retirement, to create another new
The grieving Mother
weeping by the Cross
where hung her Son.
Cujus animam gementem
O quam tristis et
Quœ moerebat et
Et tremebat, cum
was pierced by a
O how sad and
was that blessed
Mother of the
The gentle Mother
mourned and grieved
as she beheld the
of her glorious Son.
Quis est homo
Quis est homo qui
Christi Matrem si
Quis non posset
Who is the man that
would not weep
if he saw the Mother
in such torment?
Who could fail to
for Christ's loving
grieving for her
Pro peccatis suœ
Vidit Jesum in
Vidit suum dulcem
For the sins of His
she saw Jesus in
and submitting to
She saw her sweet
dying and forlorn
as He yielded up His
Eja, Mater, fons amoris
Eja, Mater, fons
Me sentire vim
Foc ut tecum
Fac ut ardeat cor
Ah Mother, fount of
to feel the force of
grant me, that I may
weep with Thee.
Grant that my heart
with the love of
Christ, my God,
that I may please
Cordi meo valide,
Tam dignati pro
Fac me vere tecum
Mihi jam non sis
Fac me tecum
Holy Mother, grant
fix the wounds of
firmly on my heart.
Let me share the
of Thy wounded Son,
who so graciously
suffered for me.
Let me truly weep
to grieve with Thee
for the Crucified
as long as I live.
To stand with Thee
by the Cross,
and willingly to
join with Thee
in mourning Thy
Virgin supreme among
be not harsh now
make me to weep with
Fac nt portem
Fac ut portem
Fac me plagis
Ob amorem Filii.
Fac ut portem
Lert me bear
grant me a share in
and to revere His wounds.
Make me be riven
with His wounds,
drunk with the Cross
out of love for Thy
Per te, Virgo,
In die judicii
Fac me cruce
So fired and consumed with flames.
O Virgin, let me be defended by Thee,
in the day of judgement.
Let me be guarded by the cross,
strengthened by the death of Christ,
cherished by grace.
Fac ut animœ
When my body shall die,
grant that my spirit may be given
the glory of Paradise.
In sempiterna sœcula
In sempitema sæcula
To Him be glory ever more. Amen.
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ROSSINI: Stabat Mater