Pergolesi was born in Jesi, a town in the Italian region of Marche on 14 January 1710. His great-grandfather was Francesco, a maestro from Pergola. He was the first child born to his parents to survive infancy, albeit with a deformed leg from which he suffered greatly throughout his life. He has served in the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples as a choir boy and a violinist.
Vilarossa, one of Pergolesi’s earliest biographers, records that Pergolesi’s last work before his death at the age of twenty-six in 1736 is the Stabat Mater, written for the noble fraternity, the Cavalieri della Vergine de Dolori in the church of Maria dei Sette Dolori, as a replacement for Alessandro Scarlatti’s earlier rendering of the Catholic sequence. It was first published in London in 1749 and became Pergolesi’s swan song just as the Requiem became Mozart’s after his death.
The Stabat Mater Dolorosa hymn, one of the most powerful and immediate of extant medieval poems, meditates on the suffering of Mary, Jesus Christ's mother, during his crucifixion.
Pergolesi’s setting of the work is divided into twelve movements, each named after the incipit of the text.The choice of instrumentation assigned by Pergolesi is vionlino I, violino II, viola, violincello and strings and contrabasso organ which play the same lines as violincello in addition to the soprano and alto voices. Pergolesi organized the sequence of the work into 10 identical pairs of the structure Abb ccb. The distinctive style in which he employed that is reflective of the 18th century and Neapolitan. A phrase structure method utilized by Pergolesi a three-fold combination of opening units from one to four measures in length. Such phrase structures are also present in his sinfonias.
A distinctive style of texture employed by Pergolesi is the Corellian trio sonata, where two imitative voices are written over a walking bass, as seen in the first movement, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa”. In the second movement, the soprano aria, “cujus animam gementem” contains the Iambic rhythm in the violins contradicted by the trochaic rhythm in the viola and contrabasso organ, causing a moderate liveliness.
Pergolesi displays his expertise in the dramatic effects from Opera in the last movement “Quando corpus morietur” by using chromatic descent of a fourth in the bass at ‘morientem’ . Here, the voice utters one syllable at a time, painting the agony of watching a slow and painful death.
La serva padrona (The Maid as Mistress), an Italian comic opera which is essentially an intermezzo written for his own Operia seria Il prigionier superbo is an ealier work composed in 1733. The aria son imbrogliato is sung by Uberto, the male singing role in Las serva.
Although the Stabat Mater is a mournful death hymn, the fourth movement is light, and completely set in major key. This alto aria "Quae moerebat et dolebat" has an Allegro tempo.
The similarities between the two arias are the quick, tempo, major key setting, and lightness of mood. Son imbrogliato is in da capo aria form whereas Quae moerebat is through-composed. The mood changes in Son imbrogliato are highlighted by the rapid patter style (m.12-14) contrasted with the lyrical lines (mm.15-25). A short ritornello in F minor (m.30 onwards) also marks the somber effect. The orchestra in the intermezzo is a small four-part string with continuo, smaller than the Stabat Mater. Another observable characteristic in Son imbrogliato is the exaggerated character personalisation of Uberto where approximated pitches and other departure from the written music is practiced. This is the distinguishing the buffo (comic) element from the beautiful vocal tone emphasized in Quae moerebat.
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater portrays his sensitive Neapolitan galant style. This work has been criticised as too light because of his operatic style and being too comically influenced to adequately deliver the pathos of the text in movements such as the fourth. I find the work as a whole an effective composition, containing some of the most intimate and moving arias of the era.
Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. Eighth Edition. (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, New York). 2010.
Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" and the Politics of Feminine Virtue Richard WillThe Musical Quarterly , Vol. 87, No. 3 (Autumn, 2004) , pp. 570-614Published by: Oxford University PressArticle Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3600937