Last night I took Simon and Micah to listen to a concert in the Basilica San Pietro in Perugia. It was part of the 68th edition of the Sagra Musicale Umbra, held in cities throughout the region. The building is outside the city walls to the east and its origins go back to the seventh c. AD, so the plan of the church is based on the basilica: wide central nave and two flanking aisles. It is richly decorated throughout with carved and painted wood, frescoes, and large canvas panel paintings below the clerestory.
But it was relatively dark so we could not see the art all that well, and in any case, we were there to listen to music. The program featured Franz Joseph Haydn: his Libera me, Domine, following on to Stabat Mater. The musicians were orchestral (the Accademia Hermans) and choral (Coro Canticum Novum di Solomeo), and if you continue reading, you can hear the ninth movement of their performance of Stabat Mater.
The setting, in the Basilica San Pietro:
This portion of the performance (I chose to just film the ceiling, so one could concentrate on the sounds, not the sights…) is movement nine (though it was listed as movement ten on the program) of Stabat Mater, with a quartet of bass, tenor, alto, and soprano, plus the choir. The scene for the whole piece has Mary at the base of the cross while her son dies painfully. The piece sympathizes with her, honors her, exhorts others to note her example and the sacrifice both she and her son are making, and asks to share in their pain. It is a piece that commonly would be performed on Good Friday. The text for movement nine is:
Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi jam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.
Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem
et plagas recolere.
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
cruce hac inebriari
ob amorem Filii.
translated, that would be:
Oh Virgin, splendid among virgins,
do not now be harsh with me,
make me wail with you.
Make it that I bear the death of Christ,
make it that I share in his suffering
and reflect upon the blows (he endured).
Make it that I am wounded by those wounds,
that I am made drunk by this cross
because of the love of the Son.
There’s a heavy use of the word fac, an imperative that means: “make…” or “do…” and words that evoke injuries of the lash, the spear, the cross, and the very act of deep grief (plangere, which I translate as “wail,” but it literally means “beating the breast,” i.e., acts of self-harm in the throes of lamentation). The speaker wants to share these afflictions; in fact, they want to become inebriated with that pain. It’s pretty grim.
That such words are applied to gloriously beautiful music is a jarring juxtaposition. I suppose we often hum or sing songs with hard lyrics without thinking about what they actually say. Maybe they speak to different parts of our brain. Well, you’ve waited long enough.
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