The sorrowful mother was standing. This is the rough translation of “Stabat Mater dolorosa,” the first line of a 13th-century Christian hymn to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The hymn portrays her suffering during Jesus’s crucifixion, and it is sung as the liturgy on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Many composers have set the hymn to music, including Antonio Vivaldi (1712), Joseph Haydn (1767), Antonin Dvorak (1876-77), Giuseppe Verdi (1896-97), and Arvo Part (1985). Seattle Baroque Orchestra and the dance company Whim W’him come together to bring Giovanni Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater to life on February 23 and 24. More information about the concerts can be found here.
Alex Weimann, Music Director of Seattle Baroque Orchestra, says “Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater has always been a challenging, disturbing piece for me. The noble sadness of the poetry is so powerful.” Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director of Whim W’him states, “I want to pay deep respect to the origins of the music and the story it is based on, but I also want to challenge it and find a way to bring its spirituality out without being literal. It is a fantastic and inspiring challenge.”
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) was an Italian composer, violinist, and organist. His most important works were the opera La serva padrona and the aforementioned Stabat Mater. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.
The hymn’s author may have been a Franciscan friar named Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306), but its origins are cloudy. The earliest notated copy belonged to the Dominican nuns of Bologna in the late 13th century. Well-known by the 14th century, it was used in Provence during the nine days’ processions.
The text, translated here by Edward Caswell, begins:
Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius.