ROSSINI: Stabat Mater

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Gioachino Rossini(1792-1868)

Stabat Mater

How best to remember one of the most influential artists of the earlynineteenth century? F?¬ted by writers like Stendhal, rival and ouster of evenBeethoven in some quarters, creator of the gourmet's Tournedos Rossini steak,composer of the William Tell Overture and the comic opera The Barberof Seville. It seems odd to reconcile the jokey, portly figure of the bonviveur with a composer of religious music. Until the lights dim and the musicstarts to play.

Rossini intentionally gave up composing operas after his epic five hourlong William Tell, written for all the pomp that Paris required andsetting the style for French Grand Opera for the rest of the nineteenth centuryExhausted, out of touch with what might follow, this Italian in Paris retiredon his laurels - or so the story goes. What followed were trifles, songs andpiano pieces and two religious settings - the Stabat Mater and the PetiteMesse Solennelle.

Rossini was born on 29th February 1792 in the unremarkable small port ofPesaro on the Italian Adriatic coast, to barely literate but musical parents.

Those early years saw revolution and war in Europe and young Rossini was wellaware of the national sentiments that began to stir in Italy shortly afterwardsHis r??le was not that of the great musical patriot: that was to be given toVerdi, his junior of thirty years. But Rossini did grow from his humblebeginnings 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 Bolognaand Ferrara to that great operatic centre, Milan and particularly to La Scala,Italy's foremost opera house. Success arrived with the premi?¿re of La Pietradel paragone which brought both fame and an exemption from militaryservice. By 1815, Rossini had moved to Naples, climax of the English Grand Tourcircuit and the best place for Italian comic opera or opera buffa.

Rome was next stop on his travels, to supervise revivals of previousoperas and the premi?¿re of his latest work, The Barber of Seville, receivedthere with utter contempt in one of the greatest failures of all operatic firstnights. Despite this setback, Rossini was well on the road to becoming themajor opera composer of his day. He travelled the country throwing off scoresat breakneck speed. Some are now forgotten, many are remembered by theirovertures only and others have been revived for the memorable melodies that hadoriginally made them popular.

Although London beckoned and Rossini met the King at Brighton, no Londonopera was ever to see the light of day. William Tell was set to be bothfinal triumph and the very reason for no more Rossini operas. Wagner and Verdiwere on the horizon and their influence would be too strong now. As an operaticcomposer, Rossini had reached the point where he felt unable to continue andequally unable to adapt to a new style. His health too, after many yearsof dalliance, was in sad decline. Yet there was still enough life in the greatman to produce his choral religious masterpiece.

The Stabat Mater is to Rossini what the Requiem would beto Verdi, a unique full-scale religious setting which still seems to have itsessence in the lyric theatre. For Rossini it was also a case of acomposer coming out of retirement to create one of his finest works and thenretreating 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 medievaltext that has been set by many composers up to the present day. Rossini wascommissioned in 1831 by a Spanish Bishop, but ill health meant that of thetwelve sections originally envisaged, he completed only six, leaving the restof the composition to the Bolognese composer, Giovanni Tadolini. Officially,Rossini was suffering from lumbago, although it is likely that his illness wasfar more serious and in 1832 he took the cure at Aix-les-Bains for a diseasethat 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 saythe score was to become available for publication, the composer had to admitthat it was not all his own work. Spurred on by the challenge, the score wascompleted and first performed in Bologna in March 1842.

The Stabat Mater is written for full orchestra with four soloistsand chorus and divided into ten sections Operatic and highly melodic in style,it ranges from an impressively grand opening through the popular tenor aria Cujusanimam to the two remarkable unaccompanied chorus passages that impressedWagner so much. The serious nature of the piece is confirmed by the use of abig double fugue as conclusion. Certainly more looking forward to Verdi thanback to Bach, this is one of Rossini's finest and most attractive works. Thejokes 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 thatRossini still was able, after his self-styled retirement, to create another newmasterpiece.

David Doughty


Disc: 1
Stabat Mater
1 Stabat Mater dolorosa
2 Cujus animam gementem
3 Quis est homo
4 Pro peccatis
5 Eja, Mater, fons amoris
6 Sancta Mater
7 Fac ut portem
8 Inflammatus et accensus
9 Quando corpus morietur
10 In sempiterna saecula
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