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8.550766 - PERGOLESI: Stabat Mater / Orfeo
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 - 1736)
Stabat Mater, C.xxvi, 1
Orfeo, cantata da camera, C.x.82
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, the family name by which he is generally known derived from his great-grandfather's place of origin, Pergola, was born at Iesi in 1710, the third child of a surveyor. Weak in health as a child, possibly with some deformity and a limp probably of tubercular origin, he seems to have had his first musical training in his native town. Aristocratic patronage enabled him to study in the early 1720s at the Conservatorio dei Poveri in Naples, where his composition teachers were Gaetano Greco, followed by Leonardo Vinci and Francesco Durante. At the conservatory he was a chorister and a violinist and apparently made his public début as a composer with a sacred drama, Li prodigi della divina grazia nella conversions di San Guglielmo Duca d'Aquitania, in 1731, performed at the monastery of S Agnello Maggiore. This marked the end of his period of study at the conservatory.
Pergolesi's first commissioned opera, Salustia, was staged without significant success at the S Bartolomeo Theatre in Naples in January 1732 and in the same year he became maestro di cappella to Prince Ferdinando Colonna Stigliano, an aide to the Viceroy of Naples. In September his comedy Lo frate 'nnamorato was successfully mounted at the Teatro dei Fiorentird, to be revived in following years. His greatest operatic success, however, came in 1733 with La serva padrona, an intermezzo for his opera seria Il prigonier superbo. La serva padrona was to enjoy enormous success, its second staging in Paris in 1752 being at the root of the Querelle des Bouffons, the contention that divided Parisian factions into partisans of the Italian or the French operatic school.
Meanwhile Pergolesi's position in the musical life of Naples seemed assured, with commissioned Mass and Vesper settings in honour of St Emedius, patron of the city and protector against earthquakes, and appointment, with right of succession, as deputy to the city maestro di cappella. Political disturbances, with the ousting of the Austrian viceroy and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Naples under King Carlos of Bourbon, took Pergolesi briefly to Rome, where, in 1734, a Mass setting commissioned by a Neapolitan nobleman, the Duke of Maddaloni, created a sensation. Pergolesi returned to Naples as maestro di cappella to the Duke, whose family was closely associated with the King. His first opera after his return, however, was badly received. Rome, on the other hand, provided a further opportunity with a commission for the opera L'Olimpiade, staged at the Teatro Tordinona but apparently unsuccessful, although it was soon mounted elsewhere and continued in international repertoire.
By 1735 Pergolesi's health had deteriorated very considerably and the following year he took up residence in the Franciscan monastery at Pozzuoli to prepare, it seems, for his death. It was here, in the last months of his life, that he wrote his Stabat mater, for the fraternity of the Church of S Maria dei Sette Dolori in Naples, a church that is the site of the Maddaloni family tomb. His cantata da camera Orfeo also dates from this final period of his life. He died on 16th March 1736.
Pergolesi's early death and the wide fame accorded him posthumously has led to very considerable confusion in matters of attribution, as others seized the opportunity of using his name, so that any modem listing of his works must include a large category of compositions that are either doubtful or clearly spurious, some of these misattributions finding their way into Stravinsky's Pulcinella. There is, of course, no doubt about the origin of either the Stabat mater or Orfeo. The first, indeed, had exceptionally wide circulation, with publication in London in 1749 and adaptation by Johann Sebastian Bach, and remains the most often heard of all Pergolesi's compositions.
Pergolesi's Stabat mater, for soprano and alto, with string orchestra and basso continuo, was intended to replace the setting by Alessandro Scarlatti for the same resources and fraternity. It opens with a setting of the first stanza for the two voices, which enter after a brief and moving instrumental introduction, music that Mozart might have had in mind as he wrote his own Requiem half a century later. The second stanza is a more animated soprano solo, the instrumental and subsequent vocal trills suggesting the piercing sword of the text. O quam tristis et afflicts brings the soprano and alto together in a more reflective mood, to be followed by the fourth stanza, allotted to the alto and Handelian in its operatic vigour. The soprano introduces the fifth stanza, the question proposed countered by the following interrogative stanza from the alto, before the two voices blend, at first in sad reflection and then in animated conclusion. Vidit suum dulcem Natum is set for soprano, with an affecting instrumental introduction and hesitant pointing of the words dum emisit spiritum. The alto invokes the Mother of Christ, fons amoris, with deepest feeling. The two join together again in a vigorous fugal Fac ut ardeat cor meum, to which the setting of the twelfth stanza, Sancta Mater, istud agas, and the following verses, for the two voices, offer a gentler contrast, the soprano answered by the alto before both join together in Fac me vere tecum flere. The following alto solo has a dramatic instrumental introduction, echoed in the vocal line. The soprano and alto join in a duet of greater cheer, continued more reflectively in the sanguine expectation of salvation expressed in the final stanza, capped by an energetic Amen.
The chamber cantata Orfeo, for soprano, strings and basso continuo, consists of two accompanied recitatives and two arias. In the first the soloist tells the story of the loss of Euridice and Orfeo's mourning of her death. His lament forms the substance of the following aria, Euridice, e dove sei?, in da capo form, with a contrasting minor middle section, after which the questions of the opening lines are repeated. The second recitative reflects on the sadness of Orfeo at his loss and suggests that he may turn the tide of Fate. The last aria, again in da capo form, finds Orfeo in the Underworld, resolved either to return with Euridice to the Upper World or to remain by her side. The words Non ha terrore per me la morte have a particular poignancy as the composer himself neared the end of his short life.
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