Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Cathedral Opens Lent Music Series With ‘Stabat Mater’

Published April 26, 2004

Throughout the ages the Fridays of Lent have been a special time of fasting and reflection. Musicians have also created some of the most extraordinary music ever written for the various celebrations of Lent.

This year, on the five Fridays of Lent, the Cathedral of Christ the King will present a series of Lenten Musical Meditations designed to deepen and enhance the impact and devotions of this season.

The first will be a moving presentation of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater,” on Friday, March 5, at 8 p.m. Cathedral soloists Rebecca Shipley and Susan Crawford will be accompanied by a string orchestra and by Cathedral organist Dr. Timothy Wissler.

The “Stabat Mater” is a strongly emotional retelling of the Passion from the viewpoint of the Virgin Mary, and has been set to music by dozens of composers from the 13th century up to today. Pergolesi’s setting is arguably the most famous, noted for its powerful emotional expression through the simplest of means.

Shipley, a singer at Christ the King for 12 years, states that “the opening number has been called the most perfect and touching duet to come from the pen of any composer, and the entire piece was admired and adapted by no less a figure than J.S. Bach.”

It was always popular in the composer’s native Naples where it was regularly performed during Lent, but it soon became the most frequently published work of the 18th century.

Written, or at least completed, in the Franciscan monastery in Pozzuoli, where Pergolesi spent the final two months of his life, the “Stabat Mater,” like Mozart’s Requiem, has always attracted attention as an intensely personal religious work from a young composer near death. Born in 1710 Pergolesi died at just 26 years of age.

The text is one of five great sequences of the church (the others being Dies Irae, Lauda Sion, Veni Sancte Spiritus and Victimae Pachali) which were poetic in nature and provided an extended reflection on a feast or season. It is thought that the poem was written by Pope Innocent III with later alterations made by Jacopone.

“The ‘Stabat Mater’ was popularized by the 14th century when pilgrims used to sing it on their travels from town to town, but it was not until the 18th century that the text found its way into the Roman liturgy,” Wissler said.

This combination of imposing text with masterful music was the primary reason the Cathedral music staff decided to start these Lenten Musical Meditations.

“The season of Lent, as reflected in the procession of readings and liturgies from Sunday to Sunday and week to week, has such a dramatic movement and pace,” said Kevin Culver, choirmaster. “We wanted to capture some of this movement through emotional and liturgical time with these special Friday evening presentations. Each evening has a moving blend of word and sound, and each evening discovers a different focus and flavor to this reflective season.”

The other presentations of the series will also feature musical responses to the texts and meaning of the season. On March 12 the Cathedral’s Contemporary Ensemble will present a Procession of Lenten Readings and Carols; on March 19 the Atlanta Singers will present a program of Bach Motets and other anthems; on March 26 Ken and Elyn Macek will travel the Stations of the Cross; and on April 2 the Cathedral Choir will celebrate a simple but eloquent end to the Friday series with Compline (Night Prayer).

“All of this music was created to serve a dramatic function within a liturgical framework and belongs in a holy space. We hope this series can bring this music, that is at the heart of the Lenten season, to the hearts of all those who come into contact with it,” Culver said.

The series is open to the public and ample parking is available. A donation will be accepted at the door and the Cathedral is located at 2699 Peachtree Road, NE. For information call (404) 233-2145, ext. 428.