Stabat Mater

Join Westminster Cathedral Choir on Wednesday 20 March for 'Stabat Mater', an evening of reflective music focussing on the Crucifixion, seen through the eyes of Our Lady.

Readings will intersperse the polyphony and chant sung by the Choir, which will include works by Victoria, Lotti, Bruckner and Tallis, culminating in Palestrina's majestic 8-part setting of the Stabat Mater.

Tickets £30, £20 and £15 available now at Ticketmaster.

Stabat Mater – A Musical Meditation
Peter Stevens

'...and a sword shall pierce your own soul, too...' This prophecy of Simeon, addressed to Our Lady at Christ's Presentation in the Temple, forms the basis of Westminster Cathedral Choir's Lenten concert this year. The musical journey takes us from the feast of the Presentation through to Good Friday, drawing parallels between the two feasts. As Pope Benedict points out in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, all worship in the Old Covenant was directed towards the Temple; the New Temple of Christ's Body, raised up in three days, is the object of all worship in the New Covenant. At the Presentation, therefore, the New Temple was brought into the Old Temple, before the veil which would be torn in two at the Crucifixion. And at both moments, Our Lady stood by, 'treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart'.

The concert falls into three parts, interspersed with readings from the saints. We begin in the light of Candlemas with the chant Lumen ad revelationem gentium, introducing Christ as the Light of the World. Tallis's great setting of Videte miraculum, a responsory reflecting on Our Lady's joy in Her motherhood, introduces a theme developed in Victoria's Alma redemptoris mater – Mary is not only Christ's mother, but ours, too.

Next, our thoughts turn to the Passion. Handl's Adoramus te, a text familiar from the Stations of the Cross, sets the scene; in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, She brought the tender infant into the Temple... And now she shows herself as He toils along the Sacred Way with His cross on His shoulders. Palestrina's setting of Dominus Iesus in qua nocte speaks of the Institution of the Eucharist, before Byrd's poignant setting of Ne irascaris, Domine reflects on the desolation of Jerusalem.

The mood darkens further as we consider the Crucifixion. The austere chant Tenebræ factæ sunt completes our journey from the opening Lumen. Victoria's setting of the Good Friday Reproaches adds a liturgical dimension, while Bruckner's symphonic setting of Christus factus est forms a dramatic conclusion to the narrative. The whole concert culminates in Palestrina's monumental setting of the Stabat Mater: we contemplate Mary standing by the Cross, and ask to share in the Passion ourselves, comforting the Sorrowful Mother in her grief, spending eternity in her presence.

To give Newman the last word: Oh, what a meeting of Son and Mother! Yet there was a mutual comfort, for there was a mutual sympathy. Jesus and Mary—do they forget that Passion-tide through all eternity?

(This article appears in the February 2019 edition of Oremus)

 


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