Gioacchino Rossini- Stabat Mater

The composer was born on February 29, 1792 in Pesaro and died on November 13, 1868 in Passy (a suburb of Paris). After writing his last opera, Guglielmo Tell, in 1829, Rossini decided, for reasons that are no that clear even today, to stop writing operas. After two decades in which he wrote scores of operas and enjoyed a huge success as one of the leading opera composers of his time, Rossini, decided to retire. At the age of 37 he decided to move to Paris from Italy and lead a much more idle life. The only major works he wrote during the remaining 39 years of his life were two choral pieces, the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe Solennelle. 
In 1831, when Rossini was on a visit to Madrid, his benefactor, the Parisian banker Alexandre Aguado, who was traveling with him to Spanish capital, introduced the composer to a Spanish priest and state counsellor, Fernandez Varela, who asked the Italian composer to write a Stabat Mater for him. Rossini's initial reaction to this request was a total refusal, arguing that as Pergolesi already composed a perfect Stabat Mater he had no wish to compete. But in order not to offend Aguado, Rossini consented to write the work on the clear condition that it will never be published. Upon returning to Paris Rossini started working on the newly commissioned opus and after finishing six movements (the first one and movements number 5-9) he was attacked by a severe case of, actual or according to some rumors a strategic, lumbago which prevented him to continue working on the Stabat Mater. Eventually Rossini asked his friend, the Bologna based composer Giovanni Tadolini to complete the missing movements and on March 26, 1832 Rossini sent the complete work to Varela without mentioning that he himself did not write the entire piece. Varela was enthusiastic and grateful and sent to Rossini a very expensive gift – a gold snuff box encrusted with eight large diamonds. This first version of the Rossini/Tadolini Stabat Mater received its premiere on Good Friday 1833 in Madrid. Whatever Rossini's original intentions about this Stabat Mater were, it is clear that he left Tadolini to compose the weakest parts of the text.
When Varela died in 1837 his heirs sold the Stabat Mater manuscript to a French music publisher, Antoine Aulagnier. When Rossini found that out he threatened to sue the heirs for breach of contract and immediately signed an agreement with another publisher for a revised and complete version of his own complete Stabat Mater (adding movements 2-4 and a concluding Amen). He worked on this new version during the summer and fall of 1841 keeping this work a total secret. The Rossini Stabat Mater in its complete version received its premiere on March 17, 1842 in Paris followed by a performance in Bologna conducted by Donizetti. The enthusiastic audience response to the premiere resulted in three movements being repeated during the performance and the happy impresario presented the work an unprecedented 14 more times during that same season. While Rossini was at times criticized that the music of the Stabat Mater is somewhat tuneful and lighthearted compared to the subject at hand, he explained that his approach to sacred music is that it should express the moral atmosphere of the text and not be bound to its literal meaning. Interestingly enough Rossini composed this opus shortly after the death of his own mother.
The text of the Stabat Mater depicts the sorrows of the mother seeing her son dead on the cross. The Stabat Mater is a text written about the year 1300 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows (September 15) and attributed to the Franciscan monk Jacopone da Todi. For centuries, painters, sculptors and musicians used this text as an inspiration for creating works of art depicting the sorrow of the mother observing her son on the cross. In the music world some of the famous treatments of the Stabat Mater, more than a hundred were listed between 1700 and 1883, are by Pergolesi and Rossini with Verdi writing a short Stabat Mater within his Four Sacred Pieces. Mozart's early setting of the text is lost and Haydn and Schubert's versions are less impressive. But overall the 19th century composers stayed away from this text. In more modern times some of the major settings of the Stabat Mater were by Szymanowski, Lennox Berkeley, Poulenc and Penderecki.
Rossini's Stabat Mater puts at the forefront the four soloists and its overall frame of mind is undoubtedly operatic. But even within the operatic framework, Rossini gives the chorus more than its due and it is indeed the chorus, with the soloist, which opens the work and concludes it in the two most substantial movements of this opus. The eight inner movements are divided between the soloists (three arias, one duet and one quartet) and movements featuring the chorus with one or more soloists (three movements in two of which the singings is a cappella when the orchestra remains silent) and the most famous number in this opus is the tenor aria (second movement). There is no doubt that with contrast to some of the more substantial choral pieces written in the 19th century in which there is one coherent vocal and textual structure, Rossini, putting to music the original text of the Stabat Mater in its entirety, does not create here a complete musical texture, but rather emphasizes each and every individual movement. And it is only the enveloping of the two outer movements that gives this opus its musical logic.
Michael Ajzenstadt
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