Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano


uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...



Miscellaneous Notes

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)  Stabat Mater, RV 621

The Stabat Mater, RV 621, is a rather early work, written on a commission from the Santa Maria della Pace in Brescia, to be performed during 1712′s Holy Week festivities. Vivaldi received the commission while in Brescia in 1711; he was there playing a violin gig during his enforced hiatus from the Pietà (he had been fired in 1709). The text, a 13th-century poem attributed to a plethora of authors, meditates on Mary’s suffering during her son’s crucifixion.

There is nothing of the fluffy Venetian character often associated with Vivaldi in the Stabat Mater. The mood is serene, static, the atmosphere gentle but almost claustrophobically introverted. The opening movement combines the text of the poem’s first two stanzas, and in so doing sets up a formal structure that neatly bypasses the usual problems of setting a strophic hymn like the Stabat Mater—that is, the dreary sameness that results as the stanzas go marching along, one after another, each with the same rhythm and rhyme scheme. Vivaldi’s structure is astounding in its simple inventiveness. He writes three movements worth of music, using them to set stanzas 1-4, only to repeat that music for stanzas 5-7, but now setting one stanza per movement instead of the opening movement with its two stanzas. Then for movements 8–10 he provides all new music. While the wholesale repetition of movements 1–3 is often criticized as evidence of haste, there is musical and textual justification.
Vivaldi limits his harmonic and tonal palette. The Stabat Mater is written in only two keys: F minor and C minor. Moments in major—even as subsidiary key centers within their respective overriding tonics—are few and far between. Only at the very end do we hear a short, welcome glow of F Major for the final "Amen." Otherwise, the work remains resolutely two-toned in its harmonic coloring, giving it a sense of restrained bleak beauty.

The Vivaldi Stabat Mater is bleak and stark, but within its stillness lies rapt concentration and a sustained mood of spiritual fervor. It has no truly fast movements to speak of, although O quam tristis (and its corresponding Pro peccatis) moves a bit faster than the rest. This is a Vivaldi of monochromatic, monotonal reserve, almost Stravinskian in his relentless economy of means, allowing neither a wasted note nor unnecessary gesture.  

~ Scott Foglesong, edited by Ryan Turner