for solo cello, soprano, alto, tenor and bass soli, SSAATTBB

A reworking and extension of the Stabat mater of 2004. Commissioned by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunkchor and first performed by them at the Peterskirche, Leipzig on 3rd November 2011 under their Director Howard Arman, Anna Carewe (solo cello), Marina Scharnberg (soprano), Manja Eckhardt (alto), Nico Eckhardt (tenor)and Gung-Wook Lee (bass)

Programme notes

Dolorosa was completed in December 2010, and first performed in the Peterskirche, Leipzig on November 3rd 2011 by the Mitteldeutschrundfunk Choir under their conductor Howard Arman. It is a reworking (and extension) of my Stabat Mater of 2004, and is scored for solo cello, four solo voices (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) and mixed choir.


The Latin poem Stabat mater dolorosa, which comes from thirteenth century Italy, is a meditation upon the death of Christ and the grief of his mother, and has been in liturgical use since medieval times. According to Christian belief, Jesus’ mother lost her son to a violent death suffered for his religious convictions. Re-reading the poem with a view to making a new setting, I was struck by the fact that this is still happening, a mere stone’s throw from the place where Jesus is said to have been crucified. Men, women and children are still dying violent deaths in Palestine and Israel (and in many other places in the world), and their mothers still mourn and bury them. It is almost always the women who are left behind (though gender equality has now been extended to suicide bombers).


My Stabat mater incorporated into the Latin poem the Aramaic & Hebrew text of Kaddìsh and the Talmud Babli, and the Arabic of the Salàat al-Jinàaza (Muslim burial service), inserting them between the stanzas of the Latin poem to create a shared ritual of grief, and to illustrate the folly of religious intolerance.


I had originally intended to include a solo cello in the Stabat mater, but for various reasons this was not practical; so I have had six years to ponder on the role of the cello, which represents a victim of any religious or political intolerance. Our species, despite its evolutionary success, has spectacularly failed to improve its behaviour towards its fellow creatures or to evolve beyond the narrow conventions of religion, which themselves perpetuate division and hatred, and are more relevant to the ancient societies which produced them than they are to our own time. Two thousand years after the death of Jesus, we are facing many terrible crises which we ourselves have caused. This is the ultimate test of our species, and one which we shall not survive unless we put aside superstition and bigotry, and act on the basis of understanding and tolerance.


Giles Swayne, January 2011


Verstörend schön

Zusammenstellen und zerlegen, atmen, schreien, schweigen, qualgeboren schön ist deises Werk. Gebrochen schön, peinigend leise leidet das Cello, als souffliere es einem Abwesenden die entgültige Verlässenheit. Und wie die Stimmen der Mütter immer wieder aus der Fassung fallen, verletzt unendlich. Und der Chor, diese Vielzahl, dieser Farb- und Formensinn, mitleidend und entfesselt. Schalom, Salaam, und Dona nobis pacem: Das eine Friedensgebet der drei Religionen bleibt zum Finale klagend, fragend, verstörend, wie unerlöst. Alle Hoffnung bleibt vage und der Mensch zurückgeworfen auf sich selbst.