A Lazy Easter Sunday special from Mahlerman…
If a belief in Christianity produces good results – if it produces great art and music, if it makes people kinder, more compassionate, more concerned about the poor – does it matter if it is true or not?
Giovanni Pergolesi was born near Ancona in 1710 and his reputation, resting upon a slender talent, may have been enhanced by the accident of his early quietus 26 years later. The Stabat Mater Dolorosa describes the mother at the foot of the cross, and the sequence of the Roman Catholic liturgy is usually appointed for the Friday of Passion Week. Here, the first of the twelve movements, sung by the counter-tenor Andreas Scholl and soprano Barbara Bonney.
JS Bach was born before Pergolesi and died after the Italian, in 1750. Today his reputation as perhaps the towering figure in musical composition is rarely challenged, but it was not always so. As recently as fifty years ago he was admired for monumentally earnest works of deep spirituality which were usually performed by vast forces, more often than not in churches. Welding a prodigious application for work, with a seemingly limitless intellect, he somehow found time to produce 20 children from two wives and knock out, in the St Matthew Passion, one of the cornerstones of western culture. He composed five settings of the Passion story, the other extant being the more savage St John Passion, here coupled with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ which, considering Mad Mel’s antics recently, looks quite constrained.
When the great gospel singer Marion Williams died in 1994 she was not quite the household name she should have been. Brought up in near-poverty in Florida, she sang in the streets for coins before somebody spotted her talent, eventually finding fame with The Ward Singers and later still as a soloist. Here, she gives an incendiary Lenten message with the West African spiritual ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?’.
It doesn’t help if Adolf gives you the nod, but our distaste for the kind of German nationalism associated with the name of Richard Wagner has been fed by two wars of appalling horror, and the revelation that the monster was a sort of tutelary deity of the Nazis. But, speaking personally, all of that (and more) is quickly forgotten when I hear the opening of Tristan, or sink into the humanity of Mastersingers. Many believe his greatest ‘music drama’ is the sacred Parsifal, almost his last composition, and here we have the hushed beauty of the third act Good Friday Music, with the perfectly named Siegfried Jerusalem as Parsifal, and Kurt Moll and Waltraud Meier as Gurnemanz and Kundry.