Stabat Mater

SATB (divisi) a cappella

Recording credit: Premiere performance by Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Loren Pontén  (Recording is of the 2003 version, which may differ somewhat from the 2014 revised score below.)

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1. Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius.

2. Cuius animam gementem,
Contristatam et dolentem,
Pertransivit gladius.

3. O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater unigeniti!

Quae maerebat et dolebat,
Pia Mater, dum videbat
Nati poenas inclyti.

4. Quis est homo qui non fleret,
Matrem Christi si videret
In tanto supplicio?
Quis non posset contristari,
Christi matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?

5. Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.

6. Vidit suum dulcem natum
Moriendo desolatum,
Dum emisit spiritum.

7. Eia, Mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.

8. Sancta Mater, istud agas,
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
Tam dignati pro me pati,
Poenas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
Crucifixo condolere,
Donec ego vixero.

9. Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare
In planctu desidero.

10. [Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare
In planctu desidero.]

Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi jam non sis amara:
Fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
Passionis fac consortem,
Et plagas recolere.

11. Fac me plagis vulnerari,
Fac me cruce inebriari,
Et cruore Filii.

12. Flammis ne urar succensus,
Per te, Virgo, sim defensus
In die judicii.

13. [Vocalise]

14. [Fac me cruce custodiri
Morte Christi praemuniri
Confoveri gratia.]

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
Da per matrem me venire
Ad palmam victoriae.

15. Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animæ donetur
Paradisi gloria. Amen.


1. The sorrowful mother was standing
beside the cross weeping,
while upon it hung her Son.

2. Whose lamenting soul,
Saddened and suffering,
was pierced by a sword.*
* a reference to the prophecy of Simeon, who on receiving the infant Jesus in the Temple prophesied to Mary that in the future Jesus’ actions would cause “a sword to pierce your soul as well,” the latter being in part a reference to the piercing of Jesus’ side with a spear while He was hanging on the cross.

3. O how sad and afflicted
was that blessed
Mother of the Only-Begotten!

Who was grieving and suffering,
(the Devoted Mother) while she beheld
her Son’s glorious torments.

4. Who is the person who would not weep
seeing the Mother of Christ
in such great anguish?

Who would not be saddened
to behold Christ’s Mother
suffering with her Son?

5. For the sins of His people
she sees Jesus in torment
and subjected to the lash.

6. She sees her sweet child
dying, abandoned,
as He released His spirit.

7. Oh Mother, wellspring of love,
Make me feel the power of grief
that I may mourn with you.

Grant that my heart may burn
in loving Christ my God,
so that I may be acceptable to Him.

8. Holy Mother, I implore you:
establish the wounds of the Crucified One
firmly in my heart.

Your wounded child,
who deigned to suffer for me,
share with me [the burden of] HIs punishment.

Make me weep devoutly with you,
to suffer with the Crucified One
as long as I live.

9. I yearn to stand with you beside the cross
and to join with you
in lamentation.

10. [Oh sorrowful mother,
to stand by the cross with you,
to be freely joined with you
in lamentation, I desire…]

Most excellent Virgin of virgins,
do not be harsh with me:
grant that I may lament with you.

Grant that I may bear Christ’s death;
make me a partaker of His passion
and ever mindful of his wounds.

11. Let me be wounded by His stripes,
make me drunk with the cross
and with the blood of your Son.

12. Lest I be burned by the flames [of Hell],
Through thee, Virgin, may I be defended
on the judgment day.

13. [Vocalise]

14. [Keep me guarded by the cross,
strengthened by Christ’s death,
cared for by grace.]

Christ, when I have passed from this place,
grant me through your Mother to attain
the palm of victory.

15. When my body dies,
grant that my soul be given
the glory of paradise.
English translation by John Muehleisen


Muehleisen attributes the inspiration for his own Stabat Mater to the less extroverted setting by Antonio Caldara, borrowing the riveting opening phrase from that work as one of the main musical themes and unifying features in his own setting. This is a tightly organized work, with thematic and ostinato repetitions that unify the various sections. The poetry encourages episodic construction, but by dealing with six-line units and careful variation of his choral “orchestration,” the work achieves an arch-like flow, with a hymn-like setting at the apex. This is music that benefits from a careful following of the text, because the composer has looked deeply into the poetry, creating an impassioned musical rhetoric.

Composers have loved the Stabat Mater text because the fervent diction provides so many possibilities for contrast. For example, out of the chant-like quietness of the opening pages, the solo soprano interjects the primary Caldara motive on the text “lacrimosa” (“weeping”), which is elaborated over an insistent ostinato by the male chorus in the next episode. In the following section, the “lacrimosa” theme is varied again, and treated in imitation. Typical of the highly integrated thematic texture is the opening of “Quis est homo” (“Who would not weep?”), where the initial phrase sung by the women becomes an urgent rhythmic ostinato in the men’s voices.

The section that centers on the word “flagellis” (referring to the 39 lashes given to Jesus by Pilate’s order) is a brilliant choral toccata, with fragmented exclamations and exploding pyramids of sound culminating in a terrifyingly dissonant climax. At a central point, the hymn-like setting of “Sancta Mater” provides a sense of resolution. The following sections reprise the opening sections melodically, giving a sense of da capo balance to the larger picture. A wordless lament, which further develops the “lacrimosa” theme, prepares the development of the final pages, which focus on the promise of Paradise.

One unique aspect of Muehleisen’s Stabat Mater is the number of verses he set. The standard number of verses in the Stabat Mater text is 20; however, Muehleisen set 21. In examining various settings of the Stabat Mater, the composer noticed that verse 19 is set as one of the two following texts, but rarely both:

Fac me cruce custodiri
Morte Christi praemuniri
confoveri gratia.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae.

Finding both texts of merit, Muehleisen decided to set both, despite the fact that using both interrupts the structure and rhyme scheme of the stanzas by repeating the AAB scheme of the first verse of the 10th and final stanza, to which both verses belong. Historically, Palestrina, Boccherini, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Haydn, Rossini, Dvorak, Rheinberger, the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford, and Arvo Pärt used the “Fac me cruce custodiri” verse; composers such as Caldara, Charpentier, Poulenc, Szymanowski, Penderecki, and American composer Frank Ferko used the “Christe, cum sit hinc exire” verse. Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Schubert (D175), and Kodaly left out both verses altogether. The liturgical version used in the present Roman Rite has as the penultimate verse: “Fac me cruce custordiri,” while the penultimate verse in Tartini’s setting is “Christe, cum sit hinc exire.” While not done with any regularity, there is precedence for including multiple versions of variable verses. For example, the 20th-century British composer Herbert Howells uses not only both versions of verse 19 in his Stabat Mater, but also an alternate version of verse 18 (“Inflammatus et accensus” instead of “Flammis ne urar succensus”), and adds an alternate version of verse 17 as well between verse 19 and 20.
— Notes by Robert Scandrett & John Muehleisen