Haydn's Stabat Mater, Lament, and Brahms' Requiem with Joseph Flummerfelt by Emerson Eads

Excerpt of the finale from Haydn's Stabat Mater, from my graduate recital in September:

The text from my lecture:




Haydn’s Stabat Mater was introduced to me by Professor Pierpaolo Polzonetti. Upon first listening and score reading, in Professor Polzonetti’s class, I wept. Haydn’s musical language seemed more direct and dramatic in the Stabat Mater than all the masses and oratorios combined. My colleague, Elliott Smith, told me later that I had to conduct it. So, I had to study it, and discover why it made me want to weep, and why the music clung to me long afterward.

In my studies here, my professor, Carmen Tellez, has always challenged me to discover the question that composers pose, or the problems they solve when they write a work, in order to better understand the work from within. I will show that the question that Haydn addresses, is actually imbedded in the text of the poem itself; it is indeed a question of empathy.


History of Planctus:


Lament is an integral part of human existence and has played an important role both in secular histories and within the history of the Catholic Church. It is the history of lament that is worth delving into in order to more fully experience Haydn’s Stabat Mater.

With every celebration of the Mass there is included a remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ, and constant reminders through oral dissemination and through visual art, of his suffering. This suffering is also well documented by the eye-witness accounts in the New Testament by the gospels. In order to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament Jesus endured suffering and death by crucifixion. This seeming calamity that Jesus, an innocent victim, endured, is central for the concept of redemption.

What is missing from the Biblical accounts of the Passion of Christ, is an account of the suffering of Jesus’ mother. In fact, it is only the Gospel of John that tells of Mary near the cross at all.[1] It is this conspicuous lack of description from the eye-witness accounts of the suffering of the Virgin that no doubt created a fertile bed for different genres of lament to spring. Theologians, dramatists, poets and musicians began to fill in with description, text, drama and song in order to supply an important exegesis on what the Virgin experienced watching her innocent son die by crucifixion. Theology expanded, as did this important genre of Planctus Mariae.

There are believed to be two traditions that meld into the Planctus Mariae of the Medieval period. One group believed the lack of description of her sufferings meant that she bore the pain with “mute stoicism”,[2]  the salvific effect of the suffering outweighing, numbing even, the intensity of the pain and grief. This was to be the perspective of the Western church for many centuries. The other Eastern tradition, which grew steadily from the 4th century, greatly influenced from the Greek apocryphal gospel Acta Pilati B, [3] found the absence of written testimony to be an invitation to illuminate and understand just what suffering may have been endured by the Holy Mother.

This parallelism between Christ’s passion and the suffering of his mother was first drawn by Origin (185-254) in the third century. He equates the prophecy of Simeon to Mary: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce…” [4] with the pain of Christ. This essentially opened the door to a rich flowering of Planctus Mariae, which would continue to proliferate until the 14th century.

Sandro Sticca, in his The Planctus Mariae in the dramatic tradition of the Middle Ages, states: The method of lyrical representation in the Planctus Mariae rests upon the Virgin’s direct communication of her inner tribulation… By breaching the figurative barrier of the lyrical composition, the Virgin expresses in her own voice the immediacy of her agony, so that from an artistic representation we reach an instantaneous perception of her lament.[5]

By the 11th century meditations on the suffering of the Virgin Mary began to proliferate reaching their zenith during the 12th century. It is out of this fertile proliferation of Planctus Mariae, that the Stabat Mater was written. The Fransiscan friar, Jacopone da Todi, is credited as its author sometime between 1303-1306. While there is some doubt as to his authorship it is almost assuredly of Franciscan origin.

What is seminal in these Planctus is the concept of empathy: the pain and suffering of Jesus being felt viscerally and psychologically by his mother, and the desire for the poet and supplicant to feel that same pain. Why empathize, you might ask? Psychology Today answers such a question this way:


“Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.”[6]


At the heart of the Stabat Mater is the desire to have fellowship with the sufferings of the mother, so that the protest of the innocent will continue to resonate. It is reasonable to think that a culture that attempts to delve more fully into empathizing with innocent victims will endeavor not to repeat the victimization of the innocent.


History of the Stabat Mater:


The Stabat Mater was one of five sequences to be spared from the purge of sequences by Pope Pius. Today it is still a significant part of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. While it is not believed to have been written as a sequence for the Mass, it does utilize the sequence’s metrical layout of pairs of versicles in trochaic meter. As such it was later used in the 15th century with the new Mass of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its practical use has continued, officially, since 1727 when Pope Benedict XIII officially sanctioned it for use in the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary which occurs on the Friday just after Passion Sunday, and on the third Sunday of September. The Sistine Chapel uses this hymn as an offertory on Maundy Thursday.

The text of the Stabat Mater is remarkable in many ways, one of which is the internal rhyme. While there have been many attempts to translate the Latin text, the ten double stanzas of six lines with an internal rhyme scheme of aab ccb for each stanza make English translations seem forced and a poor reflection of the original Latin.

The poet fervently seeks to have kinship with the sufferings of the Virgin mother. This desire to immerse oneself in the sufferings of the savior, was a deeply Franciscan ideology as seen from their creed taken from the writings of St. Paul: “Far be it from me to glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The poem can be seen to have three distinct sections. The first section is comprised of the first four stanzas where the scene is depicted and the characters are introduced. It is in this first section that the suffering of the Virgin is linked with the Prophecy of Simeon “a sword shall pass through thine own soul…”[7]

In the second section the narration ceases. Instead the poet indicts humanity with two rhetorical questions: “Who is the person who would not weep seeing the Mother of Christ in such agony? and “Who would not be able to feel compassion on beholding Christ’s Mother suffering with her Son?” These stanzas are pivotal as they address the problem of apathy.

There is a small recapitulation of the opening narrative stanzas, and then the third section begins in the tenth stanza, where the prayer pivots to first-person. The indicting questions which revealed the problem of apathy, are answered by these following stanzas pointing to the antidote which is empathy. The poet directs his words directly to the Holy Mother begging to experience her pain and suffering. This is the largest section of the poem, with stanza after stanza seeking to empathize with the sufferings of the Virgin, not just in a cognitive or reflective manner, but in a physical way: Fac me plagis vulneratis… (Let me be wounded), continuing until the end of the poem. This desire to physically experience the sufferings is indicative of the Franciscan philosophy which references the wonder of stigmata which was experienced by St. Francis.[8]

The dissemination of this most popular of sequences, second only to the Dies Irae, is due in large part to the flagellants- a group that infiltrated Europe from Italy in 1260 reaching the peak of their popularity nearly a century later at the height of the Black Death. The message inherent in the Stabat Mater, that sharing in the suffering with the Virgin, in and of itself, is what affords one to the glory of paradise, would have appealed greatly to these flagellants.


Great processions, amounting to sometimes 10,000 souls, passed through the cities, beating themselves and calling the faithful to repentance… they marched slowly through the towns, stripped to the waist and with covered faces, they scourged themselves with leathern thongs till the blood ran, chanting hymns and canticles of the Passion of Christ, entering the churches and prostrating themselves before the altars.[9]


Eventually becoming too uncontainable and uncontrollable the Flagellants were declared heretical, but not before the hymn of the Stabat Mater became ubiquitous throughout Europe by their dissemination. The next century would prove to be rich in Marian influenced art, music and poetry.


Fifteenth-century Christians spent so much time and effort praising the Virgin largely because they expected to spend a very long time in Purgatory after they died, and they wanted her help in reducing that time… an unwritten rule was that the greater the amount of Marian devotion, and the more splendid that devotion, the more likely she was to grant her favor. [10]


This dissemination of the poem and hymn, largely attributed to the Flagellants, caught the attention of 15th century composers. It is no wonder that within this rich flowering of Marian devotion, that composers would have been drawn to the beauty of the text of the Stabat Mater. The compositional processes that composers used to set this beautiful poem, can be seen in a different light when looked at from the perspective of the poet and the composer. Their dual purpose is to bring performer and listener to empathize. This will be pursued further on in this lecture, when instances of musical gesture and compositional technique are given perspective through this history of lament.


History of Stabat Mater Settings:


The earliest setting that is known is the setting believed to be by John Browne from the mid-fifteenth century which appears in the Eton Choir Book. But by far the most enduring is Josquin’s setting from the late fifteenth century which represents the pinnacle of the Marian devotion of this time. Josquin uses techniques that he inherited such as its cantus firmus setting to the tenor of the chanson Comme femme desconfortée which is set twice- supplying the cantus firmus for both sections. The way that Josquin set the text was forward-looking, however. The textual clarity and the emotionality with which he set the text, can only be a natural response to this poem’s colorful text history and flourishing artistic underpinning. Text like “Fac me tecum plangere” (“let me weep with you”) is made to stand out so starkly and so mournfully. Furthermore, the word “Plangere” is so clearly set, brought out from the rest of the fabric by modal change, that David Rothenberg aptly said: At moments like this, those singing or hearing Josquin’s motet are invited not just to contemplate Mary’s sorrow but to feel it, and through it to experience the redemptive power of the Crucifixion.[11]

The decision to use the popular chanson Comme femme desconfortée, was perhaps even a further way Josquin makes the sadness and suffering of the Virgin become almost palpable to the listener or singer of his day, who would have doubtlessly known this popular song. Even more incredible is the constant imitation throughout. The imitation usually happens in pairs of upper and lower voices in and around the cantus firmus, as if the use of imitation of one pair of voices actually is embodying the intent of the text: to experience the sufferings of the Virgin, and by acting in canon with another voice, Josquin depicts empathy as a musical exegesis on the text.

The very popular 1736 setting by Pergolesi of the Stabat Mater, predates Haydn’s by 30 years. He is said to have written it when he went to Pozzuoli for health reasons, and later died that same year of tuberculosis. It was commissioned by the same confraternity that commissioned Alessandro Scarlatti a decade earlier.

As Scarlatti had done, Pergolesi set the poem for two voices, strings and basso continuo, with the musical forms dictated by the text. Also like Scarlatti he made his Stabat Mater a multi-movement work. However, where Scarlatti divided the 10 six-line stanzas into 18 movements, Pergolesi delineated 13 movements. Sometimes only setting the three-line strophes, and at other times combining them into multi-strophe collections like he did in the 9th movement which combines 5 strophes. Both Pergolesi and Scarlatti set the Amen essentially as its own movement, attacca from the final strophe. Imitation abounds between the voices. And the vocal parts are always haloed by strings either at the unison or octave.

Haydn, in the tradition of both Alessandro Scarlatti and Pergolesi began his setting of the Stabat Mater as a multi-movement work. First performed in 1767, it was undoubtedly written as contribution to the Grabmusik tradition at Esterházy palace in Eisenstadt.[12] Both Pergolesi’s and Scarlatti’s settings were used by Haydn’s predecessor on Good Friday at these Grabmusik events. It is also quite conceivable that these settings along with the earlier ones by Josquin and Palestrina were well-known to Haydn, having grown up as a chorister in Vienna in 1740 just over a decade since Pope Benedict XIII had officially sanctioned the use of the Stabat Mater in the liturgy.



Inhabiting the dramatic and emotional space of the poet, is imperative for a composer if the setting is to impact performer and audience alike. Perhaps there is no better corollary which so depicts empathy, than a composer setting text to music. And this is obvious when studying the care with which Haydn set this text.

Haydn organized the twenty strophes of the Stabat Mater in to 13 separate movements, divided into four discernable “scenes” or sections. They are delineated by his use of the chorus. And whereas a chorus might close a scene in opera, he has the chorus signal the beginning of an important textual change.

The text of the Stabat Mater is replete with descriptive words like dolorosa (grieving), lacrimosa (weeping), pendebat (hanging), tremebat (trembling), moridendo (dying), desolatum (forsaken), just to name a few. Haydn not only sets these words with attention to the proper affect, he text-paints in such a way, that these words become nearly viscerally felt by performer and listener alike. Some motifs are even used almost like a leitmotif, representing the drama that is taking place before the eyes of the Virgin Mother.

It is clear through historical record that Haydn took great pains with this work, especially the text setting, and took great pride in it as evidenced in his letter to Prince Nicolaus, by way of Chief Bookkeeper of the Esterházy, Anton Scheffstoss:


You will recall that last year I set to music with all my power the highly esteemed hymn, called Stabat Mater, and that I sent it to the great and world-celebrated Hasse with no other intention than that in case, here and there, I had not expressed adequately words of such great importance, this lack could be rectified by a master so successful in all forms of music. But contrary to my merits, this unique artist honoured the work by inexpressible praise, and wished nothing more than to hear it performed with the good players it requires.[13]


And later in a letter to a Ms Leonore, Haydn lists his compositions of most praise which doesn’t list any symphonies or quartets, but instead includes three operas, the oratorio Il Ritorno di Tobia, and the Stabat Mater to which he adds:

The Stabat Mater (1767), about which I received (through a good friend) a testimonial of our great composer Hasse, containing quite undeserved eulogiums. I shall treasure this testimonial all my life, as if it were gold; not for its contents, but for the sake of so admirable a man.[14]


Landon himself states: Haydn took immense pains with his setting of the beautiful words…There are moments when we feel that the composer has completely penetrated the sense of the text.[15]

The Stabat Mater became Haydn’s most frequently performed, and most widely disseminated work during his lifetime.[16] An English writer wrote of Haydn’s compositional prowess in the Stabat Mater this way:

(Haydn) is like a heaven-born genius soaring to the highest elevation of his art, by adding his lays to those of poetry, and giving double force to language by the energy of his music. And here we behold him, not in a servile manner trying his genious on trifling airs, but imposing on himself a task worthy of his great mind. The subject he made choice of was the Stabat mater, in which his talents found ample scope for that dignity and sublimity so essentially necessary in sacred music.[17]


Haydn’s Stabat Mater:


Where Pergolesi chose to start in F minor and conclude in F minor, Haydn chose the “darkness to light” modal progression of G minor to G major. Each movement is tonally closed, the key of most every consecutive movement falling by third until the final movement which rises a fifth. This falling third key scheme also further develops the weeping and sighing gestures which permeate the fabric of the entire work.

Choosing emotional expressivity over orchestral force, Haydn chose to exclude brass and percussion, adding two oboes with the interchangeable sound of the doleful English Horn in the two movements in E-flat. His chosen orchestral palette is the perfect vehicle to express both the pain of the mother, and the desire of the supplicant to share in her sufferings.

Just as Josquin, Scarlatti and Pergolesi had done before him, Haydn used imitation and affective word painting to set this empathetic text. While fugue, canon, and musical gestures such as hammer blows and sighing, might be seen as tricks of the trade for any composer of his era, the history of this particular text, and its essence: for the poet to feel the pain of the Virgin and her son; seen through this lens, the choice to use these gestures is an actual attempt to do just what the text is asking to do: to make the listener and performer alike “feel” the pain suffered by the Virgin and her son. So it was with great interest that I sought out sections utilizing imitation.

The first instance of fugue is in the third movement in Haydn’s layout. As I began initial score study, this was the movement that arrested me: “Quis est homo qui non fleret matrem Christi videret in tanto supplicio?” (What man would not weep seeing the mother of Christ in such torture?) This question struck me as the essence of the prayer. It even informed my decision to use Germanic Latin, for the consonant emphasis of “kvis” rather than “kwis”, which sounded even more emphatic, demanding the listener, or supplicant to confront the question head-on.



But this is only the introduction to the fugue. Haydn sets the text: in tanto supplicio (in such torture) as the subject for his fugue in the noble key of E-flat major. [18] This seeming semantic chasm between the suffering expressed in the text, and the noble heroism of the tonality can be understood through the text of the Stabat Mater: the glory of paradise is only achieved by becoming one with sufferings of the Virgin and her son.

In this third movement, the chorus is introduced in a different role. Instead of just reaffirming the tenor, the chorus takes on the role of the onlookers at the cross. And then Haydn builds a fugato on in such torment.

At the risk of sound pedantic, the very definition of a fugue is that a first voice states the subject with a following voice imitating either in a tonal or real answer the notes of the subject in the dominant, with each successive entry of the subject doing similarly. With regard to the text, which begs to feel the very same pain and suffering of the Virgin, fugue can be seen as a depiction of empathy in musical notation. Each successive voice effectively walks in the same shoes of the voice before it. The basses introduce the subject, as Haydn was prone to do (even throughout his piece), accompanied by a countersubject in the strings which carries the subject aloft on a myriad of tearful arabesques, with a staccato bass line, which remind the performer and listener alike, that feeling the piercing pain of the mother is a necessary element for admittance to a world of no more pain and suffering. What could be considered a simple fugue in any other composition becomes a visual and aural reminder that the poet is begging to experience the pain of the mother. The passing of this subject around the choir, becomes a musical depiction of empathy with each member of the musical community sharing in the sorrow by passing the musical subject around to one another.



While imitative counterpoint is one way of depicting musical empathy, Haydn also uses an array of musical gestures to further underline the drama of the story, not just for dramatic effect, but to make the listener feel and experience this torturous spectacle. The first movement features an aria for tenor, with the choir entering halfway through reaffirming the tenor’s narrative. The tenor begins on a tenuous and uncomfortably high messa di voce vocally depicting the mother’s son hanging in ambiguity of hopeless suffering, and full of the dueling promise of prophetic fulfillment. The tenor begins the motif which runs through the entire work- the falling thirds of grief on the text lacrimosa. Most notable is the dum pendebat Filius, where Haydn breaks up the melisma in such painful syncopation depicting the sobs of the grieving mother. When the choir takes up the recapitulation, the sighing is passed around the choir, with the sopranos hanging steadily to a pedal, as if to signify that the suffering of the son is being experienced by the mother in full.

Most notable, to me is on the final line, pertransivit gladius (her grieving heart...pierced through by a sword) Haydn uses the choir to aurally depict the penetrating of the sword by placing a fermata on the choir and not on the orchestra on a first inversion seventh chord, making the pain of that piercing sword almost too much to bear. This first movement can be seen as representative of the entire work: from death to life by the cross depicted tonally by way of G minor to G major.




The second movement is for mezzo-soprano, and the modality has fallen from G to E-flat, beginning the harmonic descent by thirds which brings together both the harmonic structural layout of the Stabat Mater and the motivic unifying devices that make up its individual movements. Again, the long held opening notes of the soloist in the second movement continue to reinforce the image of a suspended body above the onlookers. But now the pain of the hanging son is now being voiced by the mezzo-soprano which gives the mother a voice. Not only is just the mother’s voice heard grieving and sighing, Haydn uses a musical expression in his ritornello which represents her trembling at the foot of the cross with semi-quavers in the bass.

The fourth movement flows directly from the third, setting up the soprano to begin her aria without the customary ritornello laying the motivic groundwork for the piece. Instead, the ritornello builds from her words, and begins only after the key change to the dominant. At the cadenza before the final ritornello, she improvises over the text grieving for her son. This catapults torrents of descending tearful sextuplets for the final ritornello.

Haydn’s setting of the role of the bass soloist and bass section in general, in this Stabat Mater, is notable in a number of ways. Firstly, in every fugal section, the basses and bass soloists are the first to introduce the subject. In the first chorus, the bass section is first to enter affirming the tenor soloist. The fifth movement and eleventh movement both show off orchestral and vocal bravura and are given to the bass soloist. In this first aria, the bass sings for the sins of his people, the mother watched him in torment. This allows Haydn’s second operatic moment following the crowd scene in movement three. One would have expected D minor for this “rage aria” but B-flat major is the key for this savage march, complete with whipping gestures produced by triple stops in the strings while the bass sings et flagelis subditum.

Haydn’s choice to give these very operatic influenced arias to the bass, has some possible theological implications along with formal considerations. As the bass, or traditional vox Christi, the bass has an almost sanctifying effect on these styles. Pergolesi ran into trouble with some in his audiences for having too much operatic influence within the context of sacred music. Haydn was aware of these considerations, and uses the bass to great effect, to both represent the voice of Christ, perhaps even cinematically as the voice of Christ in his mother’s head.

Holding the attention of his audience, was no doubt a consideration for Haydn in composing a piece with a preponderance of slow meditative movements. In some ways Haydn’s effect is greatly enhanced by these dramatic interpolations, which make the pain and suffering palpable, and bring the listener closer to truly empathizing with the mother.

In the next movement Vidit suum dulcem natum, the tenor describes how the mother watched her son dying, and forsaken. On both these words, Haydn uses a sighing gesture in the strings, and pulls the orchestration and dynamic level back so far as to leave the tenor almost “twisting in the wind” alone, in a harmonically insecure landscape.

Eja Mater, fons amoris is a minuet in a key moment in the Stabat Mater. It is the central movement where the text turns from describing the suffering on Calvary to the hope that was offered to mankind as a result, and Haydn uses this movement to showcase the choir underlining ubiquitous hope at the end of suffering. Set in D minor, the rising opening unison line seems to fight the tragic nature of the key’s affect. But the sopranos lead the chorus in this request: Make me feel the power of sorrow, with doleful descending melismas on “feel” and “sorrow”, followed by an imitative section begun by the basses which begins a circle of fifths progression, setting the choir down on the key words of the prayer: Fac (make or cause). Haydn underlines these words of the Stabat Mater in every movement where they appear, even adding extra repetitions of the word, which continues to underline the importance of the need to feel the same pain as the Virgin.

The duet for tenor and soprano, Sancta Mater, istud agas, unfolds in a ritornello-sonata hybrid with a written out repeat of the exposition, allowing the soprano to first state the opening themes, and then a return to tonic for the tenor to again repeat the exposition exactly. Again, in what might normally be an example of a simple repeat of the exposition which is somewhat typical of sonata form in this era, this repeat has greater significance when the tenor repeats exactly the text: Holy Mother grant this: that the wounds of Christ drive deep into my heart. Similarly to the echoes of imitative counterpoint, the repetition of the same melodic material in a different voice draws attention to the desire for the poet to inhabit the same painful and sorrowful world as those involved in the crucifixion drama. In the development, imitation continues to abound between the voices.

Recapitulating the harmonic falling by thirds, the next movement for mezzo-soprano is full of musical gestures which recall the opening movement. A long held opening note with a falling tearful moto perpetuo, begins in the strings, and then repeated by oboes. If the oboe’s crescendo to a forte rather than playing a subito forte as is written, the wrenching hanging note becomes all the more sorrowful and painful, as if the pain is increasing as the note continues to hold. When the mezzo-soprano begins on the word Fac, the line imitates the opening head motif from the strings and winds- the pain and loneliness of suffering on the cross continues, but the singer begs to weep with the mother, until death finally ends the empathetic catharsis. There has been no more raw and honest plea to suffer with the mother. Saving this request for the mezzo, makes this movement so much more wrenching. In the final line of text she begs to stand by the cross, and weep: in planctu desidero (this is what I desire).

Virgo virginum praeclara, stands as a brilliant example of Haydn’s stylistic bridging of the Baroque and Gallant styles. A fugue-sonata hybrid, this movement opens with a ritornello where nearly all the thematic motifs are presented, and consistent with Haydn’s penchant for beginning fugue expositions from lowest voice to highest, the fugue subject is first presented by the bass soloist. The full choir acts as a cori spezzati, joining the soloists at both important textual and formal moments. The choir routinely underscores the Stabat Mater’s requests Fac me, (make me, let me, or grant me) repeating and repeating this phrase, making the pleading not merely poignant, but difficult to ignore. In the final moments of the development, Haydn sets Let me be wounded with his wounds, inebriated by the cross for the love of the son, leading to an all-consuming tutti climax which leads to the recapitulation by the mezzo-soprano, and coda by the full complement of voices.

The twelfth movement begins without orchestral ritornello with the tenor intimately clinging again to one pitch, pleading to be guarded by the cross and cherished by grace. A noteworthy moment, of which there are many, is the seemingly endless 30-note melisma on the word “grace.” This melisma is full of the weeping, falling thirds, rocketing up to a high B, at the furthest reach of a tenor’s range. But this high note is perhaps meant less as a high-note tenor moment, and more as an expressive feature to depict a more theological point- that the grace of God is limitless. Haydn brings back the agonizingly long held notes which hang aloft harmonic suspensions. Haydn reminds us that the body of Mary’s son continues to hang over the gathered throng, tenuously only because resurrection is not yet a foregone conclusion.

The penultimate movement, leads directly into the fugal tour de force that is the final movement. This prelude to the fugue is in G minor, the harmony that began the opening movement of the Stabat Mater. Haydn sets the text When my body dies, let my soul be granted the glory of paradise. The first phrase When my body dies, is a canon at the fifth between mezzo-soprano, and soprano, utilizing as its subject, a descending chromatic tetrachord typical of a baroque lament. The soloists lament the death of the body. If the conductor has the courage to keep the tempo as slow as possible, death itself can be felt.

In  canon, like a fugue, voices imitate each other. The musical terms, however, make it even more difficult to ignore the empathetic allusion. The first voice is called the leader, the voices that reiterate the melody are fittingly called followers. This gives the text When my body dies a sense of cyclic inevitability.

Then the choir, begins in hushed sotto voce cries: let my soul be granted the glory of paradise in painfully diminished seventh chords recalling the Qui tollis peccata mundi from Vivaldi’s Gloria, both with its slow and dissonant harmonic unspinning, and the inevitable and longing ostinato in the strings.

Haydn, the master of surprise, resets this request for paradise adding it to the previously unset Amen, fusing these movements together. While this Stile antico fugal ending of a sacred piece was a well-established tradition, the fusion with sonata delights and surprises. From the moment we hear the secondary theme presented by the soprano soloist in the dominant, the listener is aware that this is no simple closer. One can’t help but feel that happiness in this life, and its fulfilment in the next, are not mutually exclusive in Haydn’s Enlightenment-influenced mind.

The ebullience of the soprano solo recapitulates the essence of the melisma from the eighth movement duet, where Haydn set “cordi meo valide” (the wounds of Christ drive deep into my heart) and transforms them into the very thing which frees the soul. Episodic material returns in the development section with a return of the secondary theme into heavenly G major. Paradise is assured both here on earth, and in the next life, but it is assured because of the willingness of the supplicants to become part of the innocent’s sufferings. Empathy draws us closer to a paradise where the suffering of the innocent is not in vain, and not overlooked, but felt deeply, and identified with. And we the listeners and performers are changed, because, one can’t remain unmoved while singing, or hearing, the song of the oppressed.

Considering the history of Planctus Mariae from which this poem sprung, and the traditions which underpin the singing of the Stabat Mater chant from the Flagellants to the settings by Josquin through Haydn, it is possible to see the compositional tools and processes that were ubiquitous during this age, take on a different and more meaningful representation. Fugue and canon become metaphors for voices following in each other’s footsteps, the very essence of empathy. Orchestral motifs that depict the actions of whipping, trembling, or hanging become ways for listener and performer to become unified in feeling the pain of the innocent.  Text-setting that would be considered simple madrigalisms or simple text-painting are transformed into opportunities for conductor, soloists, choir, orchestra and audience to share in the sufferings of an innocent victim.

The close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Heschel, when asked about why we pray to God, if God is not going to intervene said this:

The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose of prayer is to praise, to sing, to chant, because the essence of prayer is a song, and men cannot live without a song. Prayer may not save us, but prayer may make us worthy of being saved.


Social change does not come about without a song and perhaps there has never been a time where this song of empathy for the innocent victim has been more timely. It is in times like these, when choral conductors and composers, can add their voices more meaningfully to the social dialogue by addressing the question of apathy asked by the poet: Who would not weep seeing the mother in such torment? By being aware of this tradition of lament, choral conductors can imbue their interpretations to more effectively allow listener and performer to empathize, and thereby bring both the greatly needed comfort, and the desired societal change that can only come from the desire to feel the pain of those underrepresented and underprivileged.



[1] (John 19:25) “Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister Mary Clopas, and Mary Magdalen.”

[2] La Salle, Donald G. Liturgical and Popular Lament: A Study of the Role of Lament in Liturgical and Popular Religious Practices of Good Friday in Northern Italy from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Centuries. 1997. (Pp 244)


[3] Sticca, S. (1988). The Planctus Mariae in the dramatic tradition of the Middle Ages. Athens, [Ga.]: The University of Georgia Press. (pp 33)


[4] (Luke 2:34-5)

[5] Sticca, S. (1988). The Planctus Mariae in the dramatic tradition of the Middle Ages. Athens, [Ga.]: The University of Georgia Press. (pp 85)

[6] https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/empathy

[7] Luke 2:35

[8] Crighton, Arthur Bligh. 1964. "Stabat Mater: The Medieval Poem and Analyses of Selected Musical Settings from Renaissance and Baroque." Order No. EP62110, University of Southern California. http://proxy.library.nd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.library.nd.edu/docview/1644544946?accountid=12874. (pp17)


[9] The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Gilmary Society, 1940), VI, 90.

[10] Busse Berger, Anna Maria, and Jesse Rodin, eds. The Cambridge History of Fifteenth-Century Music. The Cambridge History of Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. doi:10.1017/CHO9781139057813. (pp531)


[11] Ibid. pp. 542

[12] Stapert, Calvin. Playing Before The Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn. 2014. (Pp74)


[13] Landon, Howard Chandler Robbins. Haydn: Chronicle and Works. Vol. 2.[London]: Thames & Hudson, 1994. (Pp.144)


[14] Ibid. (pp 398-399)

[15] Ibid. (pp235)

[16] Stapert, Calvin. Playing Before The Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn. 2014.

(pp. 74)

[17] Landon, Howard Chandler Robbins. Haydn: Chronicle and Works. Vol. 2.[London]: Thames & Hudson, 1994. (Pp. 497)

[18] Deborah Burton and Gregory W. Harwood. The Theoretical-Practical Elements of Music, Parts III and IV.Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2012. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 20, 2017). (Pp363)




My Brahms score with anecdotal quotations from the great choral maestro, Joseph Flummerfelt:


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Herbert Howells by Emerson Eads

Looking back over my first semester here at Notre Dame, I have to say the musical highlight for me was singing for my colleague, J J Wright's concert of Herbert Howells' music. I felt like I had just emerged from under a rock, never having been exposed to this master. I was absolutely amazed at the power of the music. It has the grandeur and British pomp that one expects from Parry or Stanford, but with the prickly harmonies of Britten. 

The piece that really stayed in my body, and continues to go through my head is the Requiem. There's a sincerity and childlike quality to the challenging music that made me well up with tears frequently during the concert. 

I'm so grateful for J J picking this challenging repertoire. As always, there's so much to learn, and never enough time to embrace it all!


Bulgarian Genius: Pancho Vladigerov & other musings by Emerson Eads



My introduction to the Bulgarian master, Pancho Vladigerov was unforgettable. I was 22 years old and in Varna, Bulgaria conducting Verdi's Requiem with the Varna City Orchestra. The orchestra was made up of professors from the university and their respective students who, with their passion and talent, made the experience one I shall never forget. After epic four-hour rehearsals everyone would be sweaty and tired, but instead of the immediate diaspora upon the minute of rehearsal ending, which I'm used to seeing here in the states,  one of the younger players started playing a folk-tune. Before long the whole string section was ablaze with improvising. I asked Krasi, a friend and cellist in the orchestra, what this was all about. She told me it was a famous Bulgarian folk tune, Dilmano, Dilbero. The fire of improvisation had soon spread to the brass and woodwinds, and before long the timpanist and bass drummer, tired from Verdi's Dies Irae, found renewed energy and begin interjecting at propitious moments. 

I stood transfixed, listening to the jagged melody. Uninhibited by meter it whirled around my ears and eventually found its way into my bloodstream. After the orchestra had tired of the improvisational orchestrating of their beloved Dilmano, Dilbero , the kids packed up their instruments and descended upon the local pubs. I hung out with Krasi, and the timpanist and composer, who, during our rehearsals, "devoured" the full score of the Verdi when he wasn't busy playing. 

When I told my new Bulgarian friends of my new fascination and foot-stomping, sweaty-love for their folk tunes, Krasi compiled a cd for me of Pancho Vladigerov who I had never heard of until then. She told me that he represented the zenith of Bulgarian musical tradition. So I listened. As I do with most things that I like I overindulged. From that point on, I became fascinated by this Bulgarian genius. 

Pancho Vladigerov was born in 1889 in Switzerland, and later went to school in Germany, eventually graduating with many honors including twice winning the Mendelssohn Prize from what is now the Berlin University of the Arts. Upon graduating he worked with Max Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. His decision to leave Berlin in 1932, with so many accolades and personal triumphs, couldn't have been an easy choice, but  being Jewish, it was no doubt key to he and his music's survival. He was a Bulgarian nationalist composer and taught composition and piano. His student, Alexis Weissenberg, famed pianist praised by Szell and hailed by Karajan as "one of the best pianists of our time."   Not only was he a fabulous composer and pedagogue, he also 

On my cd was Vladigerov's Piano Concerto No. 3. Full of fireworks and big orchestral gestures in the first and third movements, the second movement is what became my "comfort food" long after I had returned to Alaska. It begins with an introduction by solo cello, and then the piano enters, and on a few playfully sprinkled A♭'s in the right hand, the orchestra enters. After another cello solo, the piano is given a chorale in 5/4 which sings simply and profoundly. After several bars the strings undergird the piano and it climaxes eventually with brass and percussion joining the passionate throng.  

Also on the cd was his son Alexander's Dilmano, Dilbero  Variations Op. 3. My pianist friend, Jamila aptly described this piece as Ginastera meets Rachmaninov. Jagged rhythms, catchy tunes, foot-stomping, unrefined passionate keyboard storms erupt in this wonderful piece. Listening brings me back to the cafe's, the sweaty rehearsals, the hugs and kisses, but more than anything else, the passion that I witnessed and felt while in Varna, Bulgaria.