Stabat Mater - Dvorak
Winter 2001 Concert Notes
Tina Johns Heidrich, Conductor
Joe Jacovino, Accompanist
Connecticut Master Chorale Orchestra
Sunday March 11, 2001 - 3:00pm
St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Newtown, Connecticut
Antonin Dvorak’s beautiful and powerfully dramatic Stabat Mater was inspired by centuries of art and sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross, keeping vigil and grieving for her crucified son Jesus.
Dvorak’s first important sacred work was created in the shadow of death; during the period in which he composed the Stabat Mater (sketched early in 1876, completed in the late autumn of 1877). Dvorak lost his first three children through illness or accidents in a span of two years. He channeled his grief into music, creating this passionate work that expresses anguish and suffering, but leads ultimately to bliss at the joyful hope of salvation in paradise.
Despite the recurring family tragedies that led to this work, the bright side of Dvorak’s personality also shines through. Each of the ten movements contains, in differing degrees, contrasting moods, keys and tempos - typical of Dvorak’s Symphonies and even more characteristic of the Slavonic Dances.
The work had its premiere in 1880 at the Czech Provisional Theater. Dvorak’s career had by then undergone considerable change. Having been an obscure, impoverished church organist and music teacher in 1875, he was now an internationally famous composer. Following its Prague premiere, the Stabat Mater was performed in Brno, Budapest and London. These in turn led to performances in Germany, Austria and the United States, giving Dvorak almost immediate worldwide fame.
It was the first London performance in 1883 that had the greatest impact on Dvorak’s fortunes. There, the Stabat Mater was so tumultuously popular that he was invited back several times to conduct the work himself. In 1884, he conducted the Stabat Mater in the Royal Albert Hall, with a seating capacity of over 12,000. The chorus consisted of 250 sopranos, 160 altos, 180 tenors and 250 basses and Dvorak was completely overwhelmed by the response from the performers and the public. The success of the London performance led to a number of English performances and commissions, and publishers began vying for manuscripts. Dvorak’s fame and financial stability were secured for the rest of his life.
Critics have rated the Stabat Mater a musical gem possessed by melodic beauty, sincere expressiveness and real craftsmanship. Affecting in its sincerity, heartfelt compassion and powerful drama, the Stabat Mater is one of Dvorak’s most deeply moving and monumental creations. It is considered a masterpiece!