Stabat Mater - Gioacchino Rossini (1792 - 1868)


William Tell is generally regarded as being Rossiniís greatest opera. It was completed in 1829, making it his thirty-sixth opera in nineteen years. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he wrote no more stage works during the remaining forty years of his life, although it would not be true to say that he never produced anything operatic in style; the Stabat Mater is unashamedly theatrical.

The story behind the composition of the work is as involved as one of Rossiniís own libretti. In 1832 he was invited to compose a setting of the Stabat Mater by one, Don Francisco Fernandez Varela, Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Charles III, whom Rossini had met on a previous visit to Spain. After some initial reluctance, Rossini agreed, on the understanding that the work would be for private use only, and never published. He originally planned twelve movements, but having written Nos. 1 and 5 - 9, a severe attack of lumbago prevented him from continuing. An old friend and fellow-composer, Giovanni Tadolini, agreed to compose the remaining six movements. The collaboration was kept a closely-guarded secret, the work being passed off as entirely Rossiniís, and he was duly rewarded with a handsome present. Don Varela died in 1837, and immediately a Parisian music publisher successfully bid for the manuscript. Rossini was furious that the agreement had been broken, and no doubt fearful that his secret would be revealed, with dire consequences for his reputation. He successfully prevented the publication of the original version, and in 1841 removed Tadoliniís contributions and wrote four more sections of his own, bringing the total number of movements to ten. This final version was first heard in January 1842, and the work was an enormous success, with no less than twenty-nine performances in its first year.
The extreme solemnity of the thirteenth-century text, a devotional poem about the Virgin Maryís grief-stricken vigil at the foot of the Cross, could not be in greater contrast to the prevailing mood of much of the music, which at times seems completely incongruous.  Rossini brushed aside any such criticism, referring to himself as Ďa musical simpletoní, and casting doubt on musicís ability to communicate any specific emotion. Most important of all, he declared, was that the music should be of the finest quality. In that he must surely be judged successful, for the Stabat Mater is full of glorious music.


John Bawden


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