Rossini composed most of his non-operatic works in the
of his life. The Stabat Mater is one of the very few
compositions produced during
the 20 or so years following his last opera (William
Tell) in 1829. It
was commissioned by the Bishop of Madrid whom Rossini met while
Spain; however, because of ill-health Rossini was only able to finish
half of the music and the rest was supplied by another composer. This version was given in
Madrid at Easter
1833, but not again. Eight
Rossini completed the work himself and the new version was first
considerable acclaim, in Paris in 1842.
Mater is a medieval Latin hymn: a meditation on the emotions of Mary,
mother of Jesus, as she contemplates his crucifixion.
It consists of twenty 3-line stanzas which
Rossini groups into nine sections, with an “Amen” forming a tenth. The music is full of
dramatic intensity, and
one can sense Rossini striving for a “new” serious voice; but some of
borders on the lighthearted and is not quite what one would expect for
It is in the movements for the soloists (2, 3, 4, 6 and 7) that Rossini particularly indulges his talent for sparkling melodies, bouncy rhythms and foot-tapping pit-orchestra accompaniments. Movement 5, for the chorus, is more contemplative; but in movement 8 it is Rossini’s turn to emulate Verdi at his most exciting: an extraordinary treatment for a medieval devotional text! It perhaps is in the dazzling fugue of the final movement that Rossini finds at last an authentic ecclesiastical voice – one which he later expressed so eloquently in the Petite Messe Solonelle.