Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Baroque Composers III - Pergolesi

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36) was an organist like my first two surveyed composers but also a celebrated violinist. Also unlike those two he didn’t work as an organist but mostly at the behest of aristocratic patrons. More tragically, he didn’t live very long, his ill-health led to an early death at only 26.

Despite that, Pergolesi is considered by some to be the ‘father of comic opera’, which may be a stretch but he was very successful with them and brought them further into the public domain to contend with opera seria. But his most famous work is his setting of the Stabat Mater, which is one of the best known, loved and influential versions of the work.

Listening to it is a special experience and if you haven't you should set some time aside to really let it carry you away. This performance by the Ricercar Consort is just under 40 minutes. From the opening chords it sets a not quite melancholic tone which transported me to a quiet river where willows weep. When the voices start I was catapulted into the exquisite sorrow of Mary. It really is a powerful work and it isn't all slow and melancholic, which only deepens the effect. Check the lyrics, this is a depressing hymn and Pergolesi captures the mood without throwing us down the well with it.

Of course he wrote much more than that. Being a violinist himself it's little wonder he wrote a fine violin concerto but perhaps a little surprising he wrote this lilting flute concerto which reminds me somewhat of Mozart's.

I'll finish this brief survey with a live performance of his Salve Regina by Accademia degli Astrusi with contralto Sara Mingardo. It's another powerful and moving piece, so give yourself a quarter of an hour to really enjoy it.

For someone who died so young, Pergolesi gave us some rich musical works, let's embrace them so his legacy continues to live centuries after him.

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