Re:Source- Dvořák’s Stabat Mater
Many believe that Dvořák’s immortal Stabat Mater oratorio was written in memory of his young children. But the Czech composer was a religious man in any case. Learn the story of this work, an Easter tradition for The Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK).
The Story Behind The Prague Symphony Orchestra’s
Easter Concert Tradition
This “Re:Source” article is sponsored as a service to our readers by The Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK)
Antonín Dvořák’s (1841-1904) oratorio Stabat Mater sets to music the text of a 13th century Latin sequence, attributed variously to one of the Franciscan friars – Jacopone da Todi or St. Bonaventura. The verses, composed of twenty stanzas, describe the Biblical event of Christ’s crucifixion, unusually from the point of view of the mother whose son is dying on the cross.
The sequence was excluded from the official liturgy at the Council of Trent, and was not readmitted until 1727.
The idea of setting Stabat Mater – the expression of ultimate loss and sorrow – has attracted many composers since the Renaissance era: Palestrina, Josquin, Pergolesi, Haydn, Rossini, Verdi, and Penderecki among them.
Composers of Czech descent that have composed to the Stabat Mater text include: Jan Zach, František Ignác Tůma, František Xaver Brixi, Jan Křtitel Vaňhal, Jakub Jan Ryba, and in the 19th century, Josef Bohuslav Foerster.
Dvořák completed this grandiose composition in 1877, following the tragic death of his three children, in quick succession, between the years 1875 and 1877.
Although today scholars doubt a direct link between the origin of Stabat Mater and the family events, it’s known that after the death of his children the composer added three parts (today Nos. 5–7) to the early version of seven, bringing the final format of the work to ten parts.
Spiritual Music as a Legacy
Dvořák was undoubtedly a pious man and remained so throughout his entire life; it therefore does not come as a surprise that spiritual music is an important part of his musical legacy.
One of his early compositions, written when he was still a student at the Prague School for Organists, is the missing Mass in B Flat Major. Apart from Stabat Mater,Dvořák also composed other sacred works: the oratorio Saint Ludmila, Mass in D Major, Requiem, and Te Deum.
Stabat Mater was premiered three years after its completion, in Prague, on 23 December 1880 at a concert of the Association of Musical Artists – to which the work is dedicated.
Surprisingly, the following performance in Brno in 1882 was conducted by Leoš Janáček.
Overwhelming Response in London
However, it was above all the premiere of this work in London in 1883 which meant a great deal for the composer’s international reputation, astounding both the public and critics.
Consequently, Dvořák was invited the following year to the Royal Albert Hall, London, where he conducted Stabat Mater on 13 March 1884:
‘The first rehearsal was on Monday, with the choir, at the Albert Hall – an enormous building, which can easily take up to 12,000 people. As I appeared on the rostrum, I was greeted by thunderous, long-lasting applause, a lot of time elapsed before quiet resumed. I was deeply moved by such a warm ovation, I could barely say a word…’
wrote Dvořák from London to his friend Urbánek.
In the next two years, the composition reached several European cities, as well as New York and Pittsburgh.
Dvořák’s Stabat Mater is one of the most frequently performed of his works and is probably also the most celebrated setting of this medieval sequence.
For the Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK), Dvořák’s Stabat Mater is a traditional Easter programme, this year performed on March 23, 2016 at the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, an ideal venue for grand oratoria with a large orchestra and a mixed chorus.
Antonín Dvořák,Stabat Mater, Opus 58
Kateřina Kalvachová / soprano
Jana Sýkorová / alto
Aleš Voráček / tenor
Zdeněk Plech / bass
Kűhn Mixed Choir
Marek Vorlíček / choir master
Petr Vronský / Conductor
Photo Credits: Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK)