Sheet music

Pergolesi/BSG: Stabat Mater Dolorosa (voices and strings, not quartet)

6 parts4 pages04:463 years ago2,775 views
Violin(2), Viola, Voice(2), Cello
My new (May 2015) rewrite of the iconic first movement of G.B. da Pergolesi's renowned Stabat Mater (1736), as Bach rewrote some of its other movements, with an active, contrapuntal motivic viola and fortified contrapuntal energy.

This offering grew out of my attempt to enhance Mike Magatagan's setting of this movement as a string quartet (the former:, but the present opus has restored Pergolesi's scoring, retaining none of Mike's adaptations to string quartet disposition.

J. S. Bach rewrote/adapted Pergolesi's work (obviously some time between 1736 and 1750) for Lutheran use, replacing its Marian text with a(n uneven) German paraphrase of the Miserere (Psalm LI), sacrificing Pergolesi's (uneven) word and mood painting. The result, "Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden" (BWV 1083), is artistically a bit of a curio, but offers great insight into Bach's techniques in converting an established, already-beloved masterpiece of the Italian Baroque into (something like) "Bach".

In several movements, notably (and puzzlingly) not this first, the Thomaskantor either discarded the extant viola part, or added one where there was none. Pergolesi's viola parts (in this work) are profoundly boring, and do not justify having a violist at all; more often than not, they simply double the bass at the octave or unison, only occasionally holding independent parts in long-notes that seem like continuo, then ducking back into bass-doubling at inopportune times. This is probably not because Pergolesi lacked skill, but because of the self-sufficiency of trio textures such as this first movement as they stand; a fourth part really has nothing to add, and finds lack of unused contrapuntal space. Perhaps the violist had the baroque equivalent of a union card, and had to play. In attempting to adapt the movement to a string quartet texture, Mike ran into the exact same issue.

Bach's approach in these movements was to create a bold viola part that really had something different and special to say, hewing out its own space, a new actor on the stage with its own material, arguably corrupting Pergolesi's authorship, intent, and integrity, but satisfying Bach's own requirements for musical interest. Not an adaptation for different forces or circumstances, but a thorough recomposition.

I have attempted to do the same here, adding a viola part built of "sospiri", sighing figures, and poignant leaps, suspensions and chromaticisms as are expectable in supplementary viola parts, articulating its own material and motifs, a third party to the canon of the treble duo and its suspensions ("dum pendebat Filius"?) and the constant-walking continuo. The viola demands attention, which is good and bad. I have also added appoggiature to all upper parts, even the vocal parts, reinforcing the canon, providing linking motivery for the viola to imitate, and adding spicy Bachian dissonance.

I occasionally juggled voicings of chords to advance better viola riffs; I kept Mike's quarter-note notation for the long-appoggiatura endings because appoggiature are a big problem in MuseScore, whose mandarins believe that the appropriate cut-in to a dotted quarter is a quarter, not an eighth. I retained Pergolesi's viola part on occasion (e.g., mm 29-31, 33-36) when I really had nothing better to say. I have supplied dynamics from the Alfred Einstein (Eulenberg) edition. I don't think they're Pergolesi's (although terraced dynamic markings are not uncommon for the era, even in Bach).

I really love the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, and you should, too, but this work is offered to the honor of J.S. Bach.

And now, a humorous anecdote about this most dolorous piece:

I first learned about this work when I heard a TV program of "sad music" in the days following the assassination of Robert Kennedy (1968). It was performed with two choral sections, of boys, if I recall. I was swept away by its beauty. I did not know what it was, and wrote the network, asking for the name and the composer.

Weeks later, I received a postcard: "Dear Mr. G: The name of the piece you heard is the 'Pergolese Stabat Mater.' Unfortunately, we were unable to determine the composer."

[5/14/15 - added viola trill m. 11]

Pergolesi/Magatagan/BSG: Stabat Mater Dolorosa quartet

4 parts3 pages04:463 years ago2,308 views
Violin(2), Viola, Cello
Perhaps this is supremely arrogant. Starting from Mike Magatagan's beautiful string quartet arrangement (, I crafted my own, which does not really pretend to be a "correction" of Mike's work, but of Pergolesi's. Going through Mike's arrangement, I found that the majority of details I found I could not abide were not Mike's, but Pergolesi's, in particular, vast passages of no-thought viola "writing" simply doubling the bass, which happens throughout the Stabat Mater ("col basso" often appears in a 1749 score on IMSLP), and occasionally the viola just flops submissively into the bass.

This betrays more than the usual quantum of arrogance, for not only am I "improving" one of the best-loved movements of the Baroque, then and now (Jean-Jacques Rousseau called it "the most perfect and touching duet by any composer" [Wikipedia]), but I am also dealing with a previous attempt to do so by a certain Herr Bach, the cantor of St. Thomas' in Leipzig, who rewrote this masterpiece on the basis of similar objections.

Oddly, this Herr Bach did very, very little to the first movement (BWV 1083), and left it pretty much as Pergolesi had it; in other movements, he slashed away and added all kinds of interest. But not in the iconic first movement. So I have taken the arrogant liberty of "finishing" his work by the wholesale rewrite of the viola part with new thematic and harmonic material.

It is humbling to think that even the greatest Baroque composers other than Bach were all rough approximations to Bach (even if they didn't know it).

In the work as I have left it today (7 May 2015), I have essentially added a third actor to the given screenplay, to the canonic duo of suspension ("dum pendebat"?) chains (first stated in the upper parts in mm. 1-5), and the walking bass, adding a viola dolorosa lamenting in poignant "sighing" figures (sospiri), adding suspended sevenths and fourths and appoggiature to complement Pergolesi's sparse rhythm and harmony. I have exploited (and added) figures in the upper parts, importing them into the viola at other times and intervals, all the tighter to bind the whole.

See what you think.

"Tech notes"

Pergolesi’s original calls for two vocal parts (performances differ on whether they be soli or chori) in addition to the strings; his two violins double the vocal parts when the latter sing; the texture is basically a trio, and the viola is like a third wheel, which he occasionally commits to doubling the bass for measures at a stretch, and other times commits to half-note riffs strewn with questionable doublings and barely hidden fifths (the latter I have left alone). In Mike’s quartet texture, the viola is more exposed and cannot duck responsibility as in Pergolesi’s, and to this end I have written the present active part. Students of canon will realize that the famous chain of 3-2 suspensions and jumps of upward fourths which opens the movement is actually a canon at the second (cf., the “Recordare” from Mozart’s “Requiem”). I have generally left the two violins/soli alone, but for correcting some bad doubling in m. 21, reorganizing 31 and 42 for a better viola part (and eliminating spurious doublings), and, notably, supplying mm. 14-15 with an anticipation and “explaining” appoggiature to remedy what I considered an unacceptable tritone (Bb->E upward) in Pergolesi’s score, meanwhile promoting the canon with parallel dissonance resolutions for a very Bachian effect. I rewrote the double-counterpoint in 19-21 to be correct, restoring Pergolesi's theme and countermelody and adding some gratuitous rhythmic interest.

[5/5/2015 - I restored Pergolesi's bass rhythms, inserted strategic eighth-rests in the viola part to complement the former, borrowed Mike's superlative Bb-Ab trill for m.17, all'8va, and added a bit more. I added complexity to P's half-note viola riffs to mitigate the hidden fifths, and add more opportunities for motivic imitation).