Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868): 
Stabat Mater

Rossini composed most of his non-operatic works in the second half 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 travelling in Spain; however, because of ill-health Rossini was only able to finish about 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 years later Rossini completed the work himself and the new version was first performed, to considerable acclaim, in Paris in 1842.

The Stabat Mater is a medieval Latin hymn: a meditation on the emotions of Mary, the 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 the music borders on the lighthearted and is not quite what one would expect for the subject matter.

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.

Words (pdf)

 Peter Harbord,  North Yorkshire Chorus

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