Sakura Salon 4/13/14 – Paul Mealor’s Stabat Mater

 

Before we start tonight, I’d like to welcome you all to our Salon.

A few weeks ago, I went to see a concert by my alma mater’s Schola Cantorum, the choir made up of all sophomores, during their spring tour. Most of the concert was made up of contemporary choral works – which I am often not a huge fan of – but the centerpiece of their concert was the work that we will be listening to tonight. Unfortunately, my school has not yet recorded the work, but there is a fine recording that I found, which we will be listening to tonight.

 

Described by the New York Times as ‘one of the most important composers to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias, Paul Mealor’s music is said to have ‘serene beauty and architectural assuredness’. His motet Ubi caritas, written for the Royal Wedding of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, reached No.1 in the UK Classical Singles Chart and has already entered the standard repertoire of many choirs. He also composed the Military Wives’ number one Christmas single from 2011 ‘Wherever You Are’.

Tonight’s work is a setting of one of the great hymns of the church, the Stabat Mater. This 13-century hymn is attributed to Pope Innocent II and Jacopone da Todi is a powerful meditation upon the suffering of Mary during the Crucifixion.

While I have both the beautiful Latin and the English translation below, I don’t want to focus too strongly on those either; not literally. I want to concentrate on that last line in the previous paragraph – but even that, with the words ‘Mary’ and ‘Crucifixion; so familiar to us, we bypass what is happening.

This most human of religious hymns is a work about a mother watching her son slowly dying before her.   You know the story; as you listen to the music, remember who’s viewpoint this is.

 

Paul Mealor’s setting of the Stabat Mater is, to me, both human and spiritual. Note that I did not say religious – spiritual fits better. With small hints of both chant and Hollywood, and a nod to Carmina Burana, this is a strongly tonal piece that uses dissonances and repetition to create balance and tension; not as ends to themselves which seems to be the way many contemporary composers use them.

‘Mealor is one of the new generation of composers who have eschewed ugly, unresolved dissonance in favour of melody and listener-communication. The Stabat Mater is movingly serene and beautiful. His style shows a link with the past which is welcome, for Mealor undoubtedly has a voice of his own.Ivan March (Gramophone, January 2010)

‘Several things struck me the first time I heard Mealor’s Stabat Mater. There was the marvellously wide expanse of the harmonies built over deep bass notes and a brooding sense of darkness reflected in the pianissimo opening of the work. Later on there was the nod in the direction of Carl Orff and the sudden change from darkness to ecstatic light when the opening melody returns in the finale of the work…’  Alan Cooper (Reviewing the CD Launch of Stabat Mater)

Mealor originally wrote the work for choir and piano in 2009, and then reworked the accompaniment for orchestra and harp in 2011, which is what we will be listening to tonight.

Divided into four sections (that are to be performed attaca – withut a break), this setting of the hymn attempts to portray the journey from darkness, despair and suffering to light, rest and final, everlasting peace.

 

I. Stabat mater dolorosa (The mournful mother was standing)

The work is constructed in an arch-shaped design with material being mirrored, stratified and transposed through-out. The first section is an acappela prelude that is built upon a fragment of the plainsong, Ave maris stella. It seems to me that the key lyric of the first movement, that truly describe this prelude, are

Quis non posset contristari; Christi Matrem contemplari; dolentem cum Filio?

Can the human heart refrain; from partaking in her pain; in that Mother’s pain untold?

 

II. Eia mater, fons amoris (O thou mother, font of love)

The second movement starts with slow dissonances, (please note that after over six minutes of acappela prelude, the accompaniment now joins in – how scary is that for a choral conductor?) out of which grows a soft lyrical soprano solo – could this be Mary herself? Most of the movement is written for an unusual combination – Soprano solo with men’s choir, with the women’s voices only present in chords at the beginning and end of the movement. A very beautiful, lyrical movement, there is love, pain and sadness here.

III. Virgo virginum praeclara (Virgin of all virgins blest)

Here we hear echoes of Orff’s Carmina Burana in the male voices, while the female voices make judicious use of unresolved dissonances to show the anguish of a mother watching her son wounded, tortured and dying.   The key lyric, thrown out often by the choir, is

Fac me plagis vulnerari, fac me Cruce inebriari,et cruore Filii.

Wounded with His every wound, steep my soul till it hath swooned, in His very Blood away;

  

IV. Christe, cum sit hinc exire (Christ, when thou shalt call me hence)

A summing up, a distillation, of the three previous movements, music from each of them is brought back in differing guises. Most familiar will be the main theme from the first movement; familiar but then transformed into a hymn of peace by the orchestral accompaniment, until we finally end, softly but transformed by love, with Amen.

 

Full Lyrics

I. Stabat mater dolorosa (The mournful mother was standing)

Stabat mater dolorosa

juxta Crucem lacrimosa,

dum pendebat Filius.

 

Cuius animam gementem,

contristatam et dolentem

pertransivit gladius.

 

Quis non posset contristari

Christi Matrem contemplari

dolentem cum Filio?

 

Pro peccatis suæ gentis

vidit Iesum in tormentis,

et flagellis subditum.

 

Vidit suum dulcem Natum

moriendo desolatum,

dum emisit spiritum.

 

At the Cross her station keeping,

stood the mournful Mother weeping,

close to her Son to the last.

 

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,

all His bitter anguish bearing,

now at length the sword has passed.

 

Can the human heart refrain

from partaking in her pain,

in that Mother’s pain untold?

 

For the sins of His own nation,

She saw Jesus wracked with torment,

All with scourges rent:

 

She beheld her tender Child,

Saw Him hang in desolation,

Till His spirit forth He sent.

 

II. Eia mater, fons amoris (O thou mother, font of love)

Eia, Mater, fons amoris

me sentire vim doloris

fac, ut tecum lugeam.

 

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum

in amando Christum Deum

ut sibi complaceam.

 

Sancta Mater, istud agas,

crucifixi fige plagas

cordi meo valide.

 

Tui Nati vulnerati,

tam dignati pro me pati,

pœnas mecum divide.

 

O thou Mother! fount of love!

Touch my spirit from above,

make my heart with thine accord:

 

Make me feel as thou hast felt;

make my soul to glow and melt

with the love of Christ my Lord.

 

Holy Mother! pierce me through,

in my heart each wound renew

of my Savior crucified:

 

Let me share with thee His pain,

who for all my sins was slain,

who for me in torments died.

 

III. Virgo virginum praeclara (Virgin of all virgins blest)

Virgo virginum præclara,

mihi iam non sis amara,

fac me tecum plangere.

 

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,

passionis fac consortem,

et plagas recolere.

 

Fac me plagis vulnerari,

fac me Cruce inebriari,

et cruore Filii.

 

Flammis ne urar succensus,

per te, Virgo, sim defensus

in die iudicii.

 

Virgin of all virgins blest!,

Listen to my fond request:

let me share thy grief divine;

 

Let me, to my latest breath,

in my body bear the death

of that dying Son of thine.

 

Wounded with His every wound,

steep my soul till it hath swooned,

in His very Blood away;

 

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,

lest in flames I burn and die,

in His awful Judgment Day.

IV. Christe, cum sit hinc exire (Christ, when thou shalt call me hence)

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,

da per Matrem me venire

ad palmam victoriæ.

 

Quando corpus morietur,

fac, ut animæ donetur

paradisi gloria. Amen.

 

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,

be Thy Mother my defense,

be Thy Cross my victory;

 

While my body here decays,

may my soul Thy goodness praise,

Safe in Paradise with Thee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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