Stabat Mater: Rossini's sacred masterpiece
Performed for the first time in Paris at the Théâtre-Italien's Salle Ventadour on 7 January 1842, the Stabat Mater is one of Rossini's most beloved works, considered by many to be his authentic masterpiece. Poised between sacred music and opera, the composition recalls the more mature Rossini's operatic style in vocal writing and highly refined orchestration, without departing from the Italian polyphonic tradition.
The Stabat Mater was composed late in Rossini’s career after retiring from the composition of opera. He began the work in 1831 but did not complete it until 1841. It is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass), mixed chorus, and an orchestra of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings.
The cast of the Parisian premiere included Giulia Grisi (soprano), Emma Albertazzi (mezzo- soprano), Mario (tenor), and Antonio Tamburini (baritone) as the soloists. The newspaper Escudiers reported that: “Rossini's name was shouted out amid the applause. The entire work transported the audience; the triumph was complete. Three numbers had to be repeated...and the audience left the theater moved and seized by an admiration that quickly won all Paris.”
In March Gaetano Donizetti led the Italian premiere in Bologna with great success. The soloists included Clara Novello (soprano) and Nicola Ivanoff (tenor). Here are the words used by Donizetti to describe the public's reaction: “The enthusiasm is impossible to describe. Even at the final rehearsal, which Rossini attended, in the middle of the day, he was accompanied to his home to the shouting of more than 500 persons. The same thing the first night, under his window, since he did not appear in the hall.”
Written in 1841 for tenor solo, the andantino maestoso section "Cujus animam", with its rollicking and memorable tune, was also quoted note-for-note in the 1941 Woody Herman jazz number, "Blues on Parade" and is often performed apart from the work's other movements as a demonstration of the skillful technique of the singer.