The Stabat Mater Dolorosa is a sequence, not a chant, and no unified melody was established for it until the mid-nineteenth century; it was even banned for a time by the Council of Trent, but restored to liturgical use in the late 1720s by Pope Benedict XIII. Much as Prohibition did not stem the tide of alcohol use, the Council of Trent's ban on the text did not diminish the popularity of the Stabat Mater. It was during the official, 160-year-long period where the Stabat Mater was not heard in churches that Giovanni Felice Sances composed the title work on this Mirare CD Stabat Mater, featuring Carlos Mena, Philippe Pierlot, and the Ricercar Consort. This was given, not in a cathedral, but for performance in the Viennese Court, or, even more likely, in Emperor Leopold I's private chapel. On this disc, the Ricercar Consort programmed examples of at least three generations of seventeenth century Baroque musicians who worked at the Hofkapelle in Vienna, beginning with that represented by Sances and Antonio Bertali, imported Italians residing there in the early part of Leopold's reign. German Johann Heinrich Schmelzer briefly held the post in 1679-1680, but perished from the plague, so another Italian, Marc Andrea Ziani, followed him. Johann Joseph Fux, who succeeded Ziani, would not assume the post of hofkapellemeister until 1715; by that time both Leopold I and his successor Joseph I were already dead and Charles IV was Holy Roman Emperor -- Fux had been his music teacher when he was a boy.
It is extremely useful to have the music of the seventeenth century House of Hapsburg set out in a program like this -- while many of these works, or ones like them, have been recorded, it is usually out of context, or within the context of individual composers. Not that such context is easily established; very little of this music was published, and nearly all of the Austrian manuscript music of the seventeenth century comes from a single source: the great, disordered heaps of manuscript held at Castle Kromeríz in the Czech Republic. Much of the music here was taken from published editions, particularly Schmelzer's, and he is heavily represented considering his time as hofkapellemeister was limited to only about six months. But the Ricercar Consort's playing of his music is very enjoyable; it is fleet, nicely blended, and colorful owing to the choice of viols, the studied ensemble sound, and the employment of a harp in the continuo. Sances' setting of the Stabat Mater is one of the most moving and beautiful in the repertoire, although it is not conceived on the grand scale of Pergolesi's later and considerably more famous pre-classical setting. The singing by Carlos Mena is a delight, and there is a setting of the Regina Coeli by Leopold I himself that demonstrates a high level of musical sophistication for a Royal. For fanciers of middle Baroque music, Mirare's Stabat Mater is well worth your time.