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Pietà (detail), William-Adophe Bouguereau, 1876

The Stabat Mater is a hymn expressing the sorrow of Mary as her son, Jesus of Nazareth, is being crucified and then taken down from the Crucifix, the descent.

According to Wikipedia, the Stabat Mater usually refers to a 13th-century Catholic hymn to Mary, the first Stabat Mater, variously attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi and to Innocent III.

The Stabat Mater is associated with the Magnificat, one of several canticles sung at Vespers.  We are therefore moving from antiphons (antiennes) to canticles (cantiques).  Moreover, with the Magnificat, we are travelling back to the earliest days of Marian hymnology.  The Magnificat is an ancient canticle.

From Antiphons to Canticles

Canticles are hymns sung during the Canonical Hours.  Seven find their origin in the Old Testament and are sung at Lauds. Three, however are contained in the Gospel according to Luke.  I will list the three borrowing from Wikipedia.  We have

Virgin with Child, Claude-Louis Vassé (1722) © NDP
Claude-Louis Vassé (Paris: 1717 – 1772)

At Notre-Dame de Paris the Magnificat is sung every day before the four Marian antiphons and after the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) and the Angelus.

The Magnificat is Mary’s song of praise upon learning that her cousin Elizabeth, Zachary’s wife, is with child.  She will be the mother of St John the Baptist.  This event is recorded as The Visitation.  As for Mary, she has been visited by the archangel Gabriel and knows she is bearing the Saviour: The Annunciation.

In fact, all three New Testament canticles tell the story of the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus.  Zachary is the father of John the Baptist and at the moment of the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple, Simeon recognizes the Saviour in the baby Jesus.  But, combined with the Stabat Mater, the Canticles also tell a story of death and rebirth.  The two are juxtaposed as they express the perpetual cycle of birth and death, a cycle akin to that of the Four Seasons, spring eternal, celebrated by composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741).

Handel’s Messiah: the Cycle

Also expressing the link between the Nativity, starting with the Annunciation, and Easter is Handel‘s Messiah, an oratorio.  It is performed at Christmas and at Easter, the latter feast being, to my knowledge the more important of the two.  I will not discuss the Messiah in this post.  Basically, we are dealing with songs, albeit liturgical songs, the exception being JS Bach’s Magnificat, a substantial work.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (4 January 1710 – 16 March 1736).  Pergolesi composed a beautiful Magnificat and a masterful Stabat Mater, as well as other liturgical pieces. Although he died at the age of 26, he had already written several masterpieces. The above link, his name, takes the reader to my post, but for information on the composer, organist and violinist, I would suggest you click on Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (Wikipedia). It is not insignicant that among his compositions, there should be both a Magnificat, a canticle, and the Stabat Mater.

With respect to the Marian hymns, to view the complete list, antiphons, canticles and other hymns, please click on Hymns to Mary.  The words Marian hymnology constitute an ‘umbrella’ term encompassing all the music dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

For the text of the Stabat Mater, Latin and English, click on Stabat Mater. To read the English text of the Magnificat, click on Magnificat.

You will find below several pieces of Marian sacred music.  There is little for me to add, the language of tones being more expressive than national languages.  So I will leave you to listen and perhaps to marvel at the place given Mary in the arts and in music.  You will hear canticles, psalms, parts of the Mass, etc.  Moreover, I have listed, at the bottom of the page, all my posts on the subject of Marian hymnology in sacred music.


Pietà,by Michelangelo(1498–1499)

  • © Micheline Walker
  • April 6th, 2012
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