18 November 2013

Francis Poulenc - Stabat Mater

Even though my favourite choral works tend to be requiems, the many Stabat Maters in the history of classical music make for quite an impressive list. Palestrina, Pergolesi, Rossini, Pärt, Dvorak, Verdi, Szymanowski and many others composed a version of this hymn. But it is Francis Poulenc's Stabat Mater that I've been listening to endlessly for the past few days, it is an astonishing piece of music. 

Francis Poulenc - Stabat Mater (playlist of the complete piece)
Performed by Orchestre de la Cité, Choeur Régional Vittoria d'Ile-de-France, soprano Danielle Borst, cond. Michel Piquemal

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was a French composer. He was a member of the famous Les Six, a group of 6 composers working in Paris (other members were Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Louis Dury and Germaine Tailleferre) and composed many works, including four ballets, three operas (incl the AMAZING Dialogues des Carmélites), five concertos and a whole lots of chamber and piano music. One of the most interesting things about his musical output is that a lot of his pieces are humorous and energetic, he also wrote a lot of moving liturgical (choral) music. This Stabat Mater is one of them, others are the Litanies à la Vièrge Noire, the Gloria and Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise and the Mass.

Poulenc composed the Stabat Mater in 1950, after the death of his good friend Christian Bérard. He briefly considered writing a requiem, but after a visit to Rocamadour, he considered the setting of the Stabat Mater more appropriate. The text of the Stabat Mater is a medieval hymn, and tells of the suffering of Mary as she sees Jesus dying on the cross. Poulenc's piece is divided into 12 different sections, each of them noticeably different in tempo, rhythm and orchestration. The solo soprano only appears in three of the movements, 'Vidit suum', 'Fac ut portem' and 'Quando corpus', the rest of the movements are performed by the chorus and orchestra. As usual, my favourite movements are some of the louder ones, in particular movement 5 'Quis est homo' and 11 'Inflammatus et accensus' but you should really listen to the whole piece (it's only about 30 mins long).

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