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Marek Štryncl, Musica Florea, Collegium Floreum


F10270   [8595017427022]   released 11/2021     

supported by Ministry of Culture Czech Republic

Stabat Mater 72:46
Stabat Mater dolorosa 14:58
Quis est homo 8:43
Eia Mater 6:24
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum 7:27
Tui nati vulnerati 5:36
Fac me vere tecum flere 6:21
Virgo virginum praeclara 6:01
Fac, ut portem Christi mortem 5:07
Inflammatus et accensus 5:22
Quando corpus morietur 6:41

MUSICA FLOREA, COLLEGIUM FLOREUM, MAREK ŠTRYNCL, conductor        www.musicaflorea.cz 

Depicting the Virgin Mary anguished beneath the cross where her Son breathed his last, the medieval Latin poem Stabat mater dolorosa... (The mother stood grieving...) has been sung as an unaccompanied plainchant in Roman Catholic worship services since the fifteenth century, but has also been given polyphonic settings, often lengthy and very elaborate, by innumerable composers over the course of the centuries. According to many connoisseurs the greatest of all those polyphonic settings is that by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904).
     Composed in 1876-77 when Dvořák was only beginning to make a name for himself (his music not yet performed outside the Czech lands), his Stabat Mater is the earliest of his seven preserved works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, and the only one written not on commission but purely at his own instigation. Reportedly he told a friend: ‘I heard the Requiem by Verdi and the German Requiem by Brahms, and so I thought to myself I’d write something similar.’ (Later he would compose his own Requiem—perhaps he considered a setting of the Stabat Mater to be a sort of preparation.) Beyond this we can only speculate about his motivation. As a deeply religious Catholic he was probably attracted by a text from the liturgy of his church whose meaning he felt (justifiably) he could express with conviction. More particularly, many have interpreted his Stabat Mater—depicting grief over the death of one’s offspring—as his personal response to the deaths of his own first three children shortly before and during the time of its composition. Actually he wrote seven of its ten movements—Nos. 1-4 and 8-10, including all the most potent expressions of grief—in a version with piano accompaniment when only one of those children had died, his daughter Josefa. She had lived for only two days, and in an era when infant deaths were a common occurrence one would not expect Dvořák to have experienced her death as a crushing tragedy. But we know he was an extraordinarily sensitive person, and his wife even more so. Just at the time of Josefa’s death Dvořák was working on his opera Vanda, and at the end of the first act in its autograph score he noted: ‘finished on the day of the death of our beloved daughter’. Immediately he began Act II, whose culminating scene he built on a striking melodic and harmonic motive capturing a mood of agony. Here the opera’s hero—beloved of the title character, the queen—is engaged in a fight to the death. Several months later the composer may have remembered this music from the time of his bereavement over his daughter when he used the same motive in the first passage for a solo woman’s voice in his Stabat Mater (middle of the first movement) on the words ‘O quam tristis et afflicta fuit illa benedicta Mater’—‘Oh, how sad and dejected was the blessed mother’. 
     Before Dvořák the best-known polyphonic setting of the Stabat Mater was that by Gioachino Rossini, whose example the Czech composer followed as concerns outward features: a work for chorus and orchestra plus prominent parts for solo soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, with music totally independent of the original plainchant melodies, and the poem’s twenty stanzas of text distributed (albeit in a different way) among ten musical movements. In terms of length, Dvořák went a step beyond the hour-long work of Rossini, stretching out his musical treatment over a musical canvas lasting in most performances about eighty minutes. Reviews of the setting by Dvořák from the 1880s and 1890s in England, where he conducted the work on three different occasions, often compared it to that of Rossini—almost always in Dvořák’s favour. Thus for example: When [Dvořák’s] Stabat Mater was produced there were few critics who did not recognise the exceeding originality and beauty of the work, with its wonderful alternations of the deepest passion and the most child-like simplicity, and its interpretative genius, which, to Englishmen accustomed to Rossini’s operatic trivialities, made the words sound like a new revelation. 
     Nevertheless in many quarters Dvořák’s Stabat Mater has had to fight something of an uphill battle for acceptance into performing repertoire, because of its failure to conform to three aspects of his standard image as a composer: 1) as one most at home in instrumental music, 2) as one whose chief significance lay in manifestations of Czech or more broadly Slavic traits (which few have endeavoured to find in the Stabat Mater), and 3) as one who excelled mainly in expressing positive emotions, not tragedy. Without going into reasons for the origin of such notions, let us only say that all of them are highly misleading at best, as demonstrated by numerous of Dvořák’s works but perhaps most clearly by the Stabat Mater. Again we may refer to the English, who in Dvořák’s time were somewhat isolated from these preconceptions and thus heard his music with a more open mind. Thus in 1894 the renowned musicologist William Henry Hadow expressed an opinion shared by many of his British colleagues when he called Dvořák’s Stabat Mater ‘a masterpiece, which, had he written nothing else, would suffice to rank him among the greatest composers of our time.’ Meanwhile Dvořák’s Czech compatriots, who gave birth to some of the misconceptions about his fundamental inclinations and significance, have shown a remarkable propensity for ignoring their own ‘rules’. To be sure, it took them more than three years to perform the work in its premiere, in 1880 in Prague following its completion in 1877, then another year and a half to offer a reprise, given by Dvořák’s friend Leoš Janáček in Brno in 1882. But following the work’s enthusiastic reception in London in 1883 they embraced it with enthusiasm that has never waned, and in Czechia today it is probably the most frequently performed of all large works for soloists, chorus, and orchestra by any composer.
     In the past few decades, as the world at large has come to appreciate more fully Dvořák’s achievements in all genres of music and the power of his message to all humanity, his Stabat Mater has been accepted universally as one of the great works in the choral repertoire. 

David R. Beveridge

Thanks to period accounts, we know that as a performer Antonín Dvořák was a great advocate of the flexible tempo approach, which could be summed up for the early Romantics as “metronome markings apply only to the first few bars”. But even that was not always the case, because a composition’s basic tempo might only begin after an “introduction” is heard, which could differ in character and therefore in tempo as well. When Dvořák conducted his Stabat Mater on his first visit to England, period critics reported that he changed tempos in places not notated in the score. Already from the end of the 18th century we have large numbers of reports about the “circumstances” under which one might or should slow down or speed up, when the musical flow should nearly come to a stop, or when the musical ensemble should be loosely arrythmical. Together with the expressive resources typical of Romanticism (portamento, ornamental glissandos and vibrato, heterogeneous intonation), in the course of the 20th century such tempo modifications came to be seen as “mistakes” that needed to be suppressed or even eliminated. The interpretation of music of the 19th century necessarily lost its “Romantic musicianship”, where varying emotions and passion were the rule; this approach was later supplanted by mere “pretentiousness” or utopian precision of rhythm and tempo. This recording returns something essential to Romantic composers—Romantic interpretation.

Marek Štryncl

Further recordings by Marek Štryncl and Musica Florea orchestra:


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