Stabat mater

Antonio Vivaldi

Stabat mater in F minor

RV621, R. 621

About this work

Antonio Vivaldi had no outlet for composing sacred vocal music at the Ospedale della Pieta, where such music was the responsibility of the choirmaster, until 1713 when the reigning choirmaster quit and was not replaced until 1719. A man of Vivaldi's faith, however, could be expected to seek out opportunities to write such music. He evidently found one in 1711 at the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin at the Chiesa della Pace in Brescia, where he and his father had been invited to play the violin. Following persuasions unknown, the church's music expenditures book details payment for a Stabat Mater composed by Vivaldi in 1712. The Chiesa della Pace rarely commissioned new music and the Stabat Mater was not even a standard text at the time (it was added to the Roman Missal and Breviary in 1727), but Vivaldi's skill as a composer evidently won the day, as one would expect when considering this masterpiece. Vivaldi set 10 of the 20 verses of the Stabat Mater, marking it as a hymn for Vespers, but while every other hymn Vivaldi composed used strict strophic form, here Vivaldi repeated the music from movements 1-3 in movements 4-6, and ended with three movements with new music. However, many of the movements contain thematic resemblances. All nine movements are also cast in F minor except the second and fifth, which are in C minor, and until the "Amen," the fastest tempo in the piece is an Andante. All of these techniques work to sustain an unrelievedly bleak atmosphere suitable to a depiction of Mary's anguish while watching Jesus suffer on the cross. Vivaldi brings out the dark coloring of the male alto voice with spare, sustained accompaniments, falling melodies, and in the C minor movements, extended, almost desperate closing melismas. "Eja Mater," the seventh movement, illustrates Mary's suffering with a whip-like string figure that sounds especially dramatic coming after the repeated music. The cumulative effect is shattering and the sorrowful atmosphere dominates right up to the final chords of the "Amen": a picardy third perhaps suggesting the light that followed the crucifixion. The light here, however, only makes the darkness that has come before seem all the more oppressive.