Stabat mater

for for SATB solo & SATB choir
34 mins.

Commissioned by Gerry Mattock and Beryl Calver-Jones, and first performed at the 2004 Bath Festival by Bath Camerata, conducted by Nigel Perrin. Subsequently performed world-wide by various choirs, including the BBC Singers under John Poole, Dmitri Ensemble under Graham Ross (who recorded it for Naxos), and Mitteldeutschrundfunkchor (Leipzig) under Howard Arman.

Programme notes

My Stabat Mater was composed in early 2004 and is scored for a cappella voices – soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists with mixed choir, mostly in four parts and occasionally divided into eight. It lasts about 37 minutes. It was commissioned for the 2004 Bath Festival by Gerry Mattock and Beryl Calver-Jones, and was first performed in Prior Park Chapel, Bath on 3rd June 2004 by Bath Camerata under Nigel Perrin. It has since been performed many times worldwide: in London in October 2004 by the BBC Singers under John Poole; at Indiana University in 2005 by the Pro Arte Singers under John Poole; at the Spitalfields Festival, London in March 2006 by the Joyful Company of Singers under Peter Broadbent; in Dessau, Leipzig and Dresden in March & April 2007 by the Mitteldeutschrundfunk Choir under Howard Arman; and in March 2008 in Cambridge, Norwich and London by the Dmitri Ensemble under Graham Ross (who recorded it for Naxos in 2010, on their CD of my choral music.

The Latin poem Stabat mater dolorosa, which comes from thirteenth century Italy, is a powerful 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 which he suffered willingly for his convictions. The poem was well-known to me as a boy; rereading it in 2003 with a view to making a setting, I was struck by the fact that the events it relates are repeated today all too often, a mere stone’s throw from the place where Jesus is said to have been crucified. Men, women and children still die violent deaths in Palestine and Israel, and their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters still mourn and bury them – it is always the women who are left behind. That is the burden of this piece. It is not sacred music: it celebrates our common humanity. My setting incorporates into the Latin poem the Aramaic & Hebrew text of Kaddish and the blessing Barukh uvarukh from the Talmud Babli, and the Arabic of the Salaat al-Jinaaza – the Muslim burial service – inserting these between the stanzas of the Latin poem to create a shared ritual of grief.

It seemed right to me that a piece about such crucial human issues should use a simple musical language. The poem is cast in eight-syllable lines, and I have used a series of eight-note modes derived from permutations of four notes selected from each hexachord. So each eight-syllable line of the Latin poem has its own eight-note mode; this creates an audibly defined melodic and harmonic field, and a sense of harmonic change as the music moves from one mode to another.

Of the ten six-line verses of the original poem, I set eight and a half: six as fully choral settings, and the remainder as unison chants, which recall the plainsong associations of the poem and provide variety of texture. The final motet, which incorporates words from the Agnus Dei of the Mass, unites all three religious cultures in a prayer for peace in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic – the last of which was the language spoken by Jesus.

Giles Swayne, February 2008


Stanza I

Stabat mater dolorosa
iuxta crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat filius;

Chant I

Sancta mater, illud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Muslim praise of God

Alàahu àkbar.
arrakhmàani arrakhìim,
al-handu lillàahi
ràbbi’ al-alamìin,
arrakhmàani’ arrakhìim,
Màaliki yòama’ addìin.
Iyyàaka nàabudu, wa iyyàaka nastaìin.
ikhdìina assiràata al-mustagìim,
siràata allazhìina anàmta alaayhìim.

Stanza II

Cuius animam gementem
contristantem et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

Chant II

Fac me vere tecum flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Jewish praise of God

Yitgaddàl veyitkaddàsh shemèi rabbà,
Be almà di verà khirutèi!
Veyamlìkh malkhutèi,
Veyatsmàkh purkanèi,
Vikarèv meshikhèi.
Bekhayyekhòn uvyommekhòn
Uvekhayyèi dekhòl bet Yisrael,
ba agalà uvizmàn karìv.
Ve imrù Amèin –

Stanzas III & IV

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta
mater unigeniti.

Quae mærebat et dolebat,
et tremebat, cum videbat
nati poenas incliti.

Chant III
Iuxta crucem tecum stare,
te libenter sociare
in planctu desidero.

Muslim blessing of the dead

inkàana mukhfinèn,
fazìid fi ikhsànihi ;
wa inkàana musìiam,
fatajàwaz an sayiiàtihi,
wad khìl hu fi zùmrati
as-shuhadà-i wa assalihìin
Alàahu àkbar.

Stanzas V to VIII

Quis est homo qui non fleret
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio ?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Iesum vidit in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Quis non posset contristari,
piam matrem contemplari
dolentem cum filio?

Motet I

Vidit suum dulcem natum
morientem, desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Chant IV

Virgo virginum præclara,
mihi iam non sis amara;
fac me tecum plangere.

Jewish blessing of the dead
Barùkh atà adonày elohènu,
Mèlekh ha olàm,
ashèr yatsàr etkhèm badìn,
vezàn etkhèm badìn,
vehemìt etkhèm badìn,
veyodè’a mispàr kulkhèm badìn.
Vehù ‘atìd le hahayòtkhem
ulekhayèm badìn.
Barùkh atà, adonày,
mehayè metìm.
Barùkh uvarùkh shemò.

Motet II

Eia, mater, fons amoris,
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam;

Fac ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum,
ut sibi complaceam.

Chant V
Fac ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis eius sortem
et plagas recolere.

Prayer for Reconciliation
Muslim :
Allàahumma ! (refrain)
Sàlli ala Mohàmmet,
wa àla àali Mohàmmet,
kàma sallàita àla Ibrahìim,
wa àla àali Ibrahìim.
Wa bàarik àla Mohàmmet
wa àla àali Mohàmmet,
kàma baràkta àla Ibrahìim,
wa àla àali Ibrahìim.
Jewish :
Yehè shelamà rabbà min shemayyà.
Khayìim ! (refrain)
Khayìim, vesavà, vishuà,
venekhamà, veshezavà, urfuà,
ugeullà, uslikhà, vekhaparà,
verèvakh, vehatsalà lànu,
ulekhòl ‘amm&o

Motet III
Fac me cruce custodiri,
morte Christi præmuniri,
confoveri gratia;

Quando corpus morietur,
fac ut animæ donetur
Paradisi gloria.

Motet IV
Dona nobis pacem…

Wa salàmu alèikum

Ve shalom alèinu…

Yehè shelamà…