D. Scarlatti: Stabat Mater
Parry: Songs of Farewell , conducted by Assistant Musical Director Francesca Massey.
(My soul, there is a country; I know my soul hath power; Never weather-beaten sail; There is an old belief; At the round earth’s imagined corners; Lord, let me know mine end)
In our Passiontide programme, composers from two very different worlds use the power of music to help us contemplate the end of life and whatever may lie beyond.
From the Italian baroque, we sing deeply expressive settings by Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Lotti of Latin texts. The Stabat Mater is a medieval poem about Jesus's mother as she stands at the foot of the cross watching her son die, probably intended for use in private prayer and devotion. Other famous Italian settings by Vivaldi, Pergolesi, and Domenico's father Alessandro use female solo voices to express the unimaginable grief of the mother who must watch her son die in agony; in contrast, Domenico uses a ten-part choir, but he keeps the female voices to the forefront with four soprano parts.
Antonio Lotti's eight-part setting of the Crucifixus is probably the composer's best-known work. Taken from a full mass setting, this exquisite 8-part gem is full of anguished harmonies depicting Christ's crucifixion.
In contrast to the lavish Italian outpourings of grief, Parry's six Songs of Farewell, written in the last few years of his life, allow us to reflect quietly on our own mortality, and these deeply personal and introspective part songs are very different to the ceremonial music that we often associate with him. In them, Parry contemplates how his own life is drawing to an end, but the music is also coloured by the tragedies of the First World War – Parry was deeply affected not just by the loss of so many young lives, but also by the cultural break with Germany, and the influence of composers such as Brahms is ever-present in Parry's melodies and in his carefully crafted counterpoint. The first five 'Songs' use texts by English poets, including Henry Vaughan, Thomas Campion and John Donne and the set ends with Psalm 39, Lord, Let me know mine end written just before Parry's death in October 1918.
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