Wednesday August 5, 2015 | 7:30pm

Pascale Beaudin, soprano; Danielle Reutter-Harrah, mezzo-soprano; Marc Destrubé, violin; Tekla Cunningham, violin; Paul Luchkow, viola; Beiliang Zhu, cello; Natalie Mackie, violone; Michael Jarvis, organ; Stephen Stubbs, lute

Pre-concert chat at 6:45 PM with Marc Destrubé, Danielle Reuter-Harrah, and Matthew White

Perhaps the most celebrated queen in Western music history, the Virgin Mary, has inspired countless sacred musical tributes. This programme includes three superb examples, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater for soprano and alto soloists, his Salve Regina in C Minor and Handel’s exquisite Ah! che troppo ineguali.

Early Music Vancouver thanks Natalie Mackie for lending her cello.

This event is generously sponsored by KNOX & CO.

A collaboration with the Whidbey Island Music Festival


Ah! che troppo ineguali HWV 230 -  G.F Handel (1685-1759)

Trio Sonata Op. 4, No. 10  A. Corelli (1653-1713)

Salve Regina in C Minor -  G.B. Pergolesi (1710-1736)


Stabat Mater – G. B. Pergolesi (1710-1736)


Venerated as Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Mercy, and Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary is perhaps the most celebrated queen in Western history, and the inspiration for innumerable musical tributes.  Tonight’s programme presents three poignant examples of Marian music from eighteenth century Italy.  During this time, a general change in the intellectual climate also impacted the religion, triggering a shift from the pomp and ceremony of Baroque Catholicism to a more intimate, subjective sense of piety.  Sacred music no longer functioned as opulent accessory to worship, but aimed to move the listeners and solicit their compassion.  Marian worship focused on her roles as mother and as intercessor for the downcast.

Georg Frideric Handel’s recitative and aria “Ah che troppo ineguali… O del ciel Maria Regina” is a prayer to the Queen of Heaven for peace in time of war.  The aria is mainly stately and serene, but occasionally punctuated by sharp dissonances that reflect the conflict described in the text.  Handel wrote this music in Rome as Europe was embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession.  The exact circumstances of its commission are unknown, but it may have been performed at one of the Wednesday evening concerts hosted by music-loving Cardinal Ottoboni.  In his diary, the Prince Anton of Ulrich of Saxe-Meiningen recorded the following colourful account of the concert held on 17 August 1708 in celebration of the Assumption of Mary.

From there [I] drove to the music at Cardinal Ottoboni’s, where [I] talked to him and also to Monsignor Bianchini, who arranged to show me the Pope’s library the next day.  It was an extravagant affair, for the music was composed by nine masters. Each had written an aria.  The first half [of the concert] was sung, and then some young Abbé gave a sermon in Italian concerning the Assumption of [the Blessed Virgin] Mary.  After that the second half was sung by the same voices as before, namely Pascolino and Pauluggi; after that some Abbé recited Latin verses on the subject, which were imitated in Italian verse by four other priests … after that, Handel’s aria was sung solo by Pascalino.  Chairs had been set out for the most important people in the audience, and my neighbor on the left was the Marchese Ruspoli’s eldest brother … Refreshments were provided.

Ottoboni’s concerts mingled sacred devotion with entertainment and socializing.  The weekly festivities were led from the violin by Rome’s most famous instrumentalist, Arcangelo Corelli, nicknamed “the melodious bow”.  He dedicated his Trio Sonatas, Op. 4 (1694) to the Cardinal in thanks for years of generous protection and patronage.  Trio sonatas are often divided into two categories: sonatas da camera (chamber sonatas) comprised of dances, and sonatas da chiesa (church sonatas) comprised of four movements ordered according to tempo: slow-fast-slow-fast.  Like Cardinal Ottoboni’s concerts, however, Corelli’s Trio Sonatas, Op. 4 mix elements of church and chamber.  The Sonata in G Major, Op. 4, No 10 that you will hear this evening begins with a short Preludio followed by a playful Allegro in which the two violins toss short motives back and forth, a plaintive Grave full of dissonant suspensions, and an elegant closing Gavotte.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Salve Regina in C minor sets one of the four large-scale Marian antiphons, the most important texts used for the veneration of the Virgin.  The Salve Regina lent its name to a particular devotional service.  Salve services were particularly lavish events funded by lay confraternities or trade guilds, who usually made generous provision for music.  Pergolesi, however, chose comparatively modest forces, a solo soprano accompanied by a small string ensemble and organ, setting the text with an exquisitely bittersweet tone.  This work dates from the last months of his very short life.  He died at the age of only 26 at a Franciscan monastery near Naples, where he had sought the monks’ care for his severe tuberculosis.

Though during his life Pergolesi enjoyed only moderate success, after his death he attained star status.  His music was praised for its freshness and melodic grace.  The Spanish music theorist Esteban Arteaga described Pergolesi’s compositional style as “simplicity coupled with nobility of style, truth of sentiment, naturalness and force of expression, purity and unity of design,” and French writer Charles de Brosses called Pergolesi’s Stabat Materthe greatest setting of a sacred Latin text.  Even Johann Sebastian Bach acknowledged the power of that work, adapting the music for his cantata Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden.  Pergolesi achieved this “natural” or “galant” style by simplifying the counterpoint characteristic of sacred music.  He focused musical interest in the vocal melodies, and diligently reflected the metrical stress and expressive sensibility of the text in the music, thereby ensuring clarity of comprehension.  The instruments play an accompanimental role, often doubling the voice parts and only occasionally providing contrapuntal interest.

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is one of the most famous compositions ever written in praise of Mary.  In the late nineteenth century, it even became associated with a story that the Virgin herself had dictated the music to the composer as he lay on his deathbed.  The text dates from the medieval era, and describes Mary, the sorrowful mother, witnessing the suffering of her Son from the base of the cross.  Commissioned by the Most Noble Order of the Knights of Our Lady of Sorrows in Naples for performance during devotional services on each Friday of Lent, Pergolesi’s setting replaced a Stabat Mater by Alessandro Scarlatti that had been performed in Naples for twenty years, and had become outdated.  The significance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, however, extends far beyond the ecclesiastical tradition for which it was originally intended.  Here is a moving, profoundly human picture of a grieving mother.

Christina Hutten

July 2015