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Dvorak, Stabat Mater: Program notes

On Sunday, April 16, 2000, at 7:00 PM, The Choristers of Upper Dublin, a
70 voice choir in the Northwestern suburbs of the Philadelphia, PA area will
present Antonín Dvorák's "Stabat Mater". The choir, directed by David
Spitko, will be joined by four professional soloists and a 32 piece
professional orchestra. The concert will be held at Upper Dublin Lutheran
Church, Susquehanna Rd. and Butler Pk., in Ambler, Pa. Tickets are $12 each.
Nursery is provided. For further information, please feel free to call the
church at 215-646-7999, e-mail me directly (DSpitko(a) or contact the
choir at ChorOfUD(a) Below is some additional information about the
work and the choir. Thank you.

David M. Spitko, Director
The Choristers of Upper Dublin


The text of the Stabat Mater is a thousand year-old poem comprised of
prayers to the Virgin Mary as she stands at the foot of the cross watching
the crucifixion of Jesus. This is why the choir is performing this work on
"Passion Sunday" which is the Sunday immediately before Good Friday. The
choir begins with profound expressions of sorrow for Mary, anguish for the
dying Jesus and pleading to be included with Mary in her grieving. However,
as we travel through the movements, with subtlety, the text turns from
desolate mourning to hopeful expressions of faith; of a desire to carry
Christ's sacrifice into our everyday lives. The choir asks Mary to, "Fix the
stripes of the Crucified one in my heart securely..." and "Make me the
guardian of the cross, protector of the death of Christ, cherisher of grace".
Finally, in radiant triumph and with confident affirmation, the choir
gloriously petitions, "When my body shall die, grant that my soul be given
the glory of Paradise. Amen." This final movement to the work has been
favorably compared to the final movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony #2:
"Resurrection Symphony". This masterpiece is an emotional journey beginning
with the grief of death but culminating with a magnificent affirmation of the
"Paradise" received when we leave this existence.

That Dvorák chose to compose a work with this solemn text is
understandable given the situation in his family life at that time. In 1875,
Dvorák and his wife lost their infant daughter Josefa, only two days old.
Dvorák channeled his grief into music by beginning a large-scale setting of
the Stabat Mater. After sketching out the basic themes and structure of the
work, he set it aside to fulfill commitments for other compositions.
Unfortunately, further tragedy brought him back to it in 1877, when, within a
month, the Dvorák's baby daughter Ruženka died of accidental poisoning and
their three-year-old son Otakar succumbed to smallpox. In his grief, Dvorák
took up work on his sketches and completed the Stabat Mater in about two
months. Affecting in its simplicity, sincerity, and heartfelt compassion, it
is one of his most beautiful creations. Despite the recurring family
tragedies that led to the work, the sunny side of Dvorák's personality could
not help but shine through. Several movements are in a major key, the
centrally positioned choral movement practically dances, and the final
movement is simply breathtaking in its glory and promise of that Paradise.

The work had its premiere in 1880 in Prague but it was an 1883
performance in London that helped to solidify Dvorák's international
reputation. The London premiere was so tumultuously popular that Dvorák was
invited to come and conduct the work himself, leading to the first of nine
visits to Britain and numerous commissions. Inexplicably, while this piece
is in the standard choral repertoire in Europe, it is only rarely performed
in the United States. Here is a wonderful opportunity to experience this


Antonín Dvorák's Stabat Mater was world-famous choral conductor Robert
Shaw's final recording project. In November of 1998, Shaw recorded the work
with his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In an interview just after
the recording sessions, Shaw describing the work as one of "extraordinary
vitality and almost mystical communication" which has been "unjustly
neglected in the United States". Shaw further commented, "I cannot remember
in my last ten, twenty, thirty years a piece which so completely stunned
people and took them by surprise -- in the orchestra, chorus and audience --
and communicated on a level for which words are simply not sufficient.
People are deeply, deeply moved by it and without expecting it or even
knowing exactly why." Pressed to provide an explanation, Shaw offered this
insight, "It just happens. Sometimes music expresses the inexpressible ...
maybe it is because of Dvorák's love of folk music. The work, with its
exquisite but simple harmonic complexity, is obviously rooted in folk music
-- and folk music has its roots in basic human emotions."

When asked to describe the demands of the work on the choir, he said,
"The work requires an extraordinary emotional commitment and calls for a
rather certain special expertise -- difficult in terms of enunciative clarity
and also quick changes of drama in both color and dynamics.


The Choristers of Upper Dublin, based at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in
Ambler, PA, is an ecumenical choir formed in 1978 by several alumna of
Ursinus College who missed the fellowship they had enjoyed in the choral
program at the college. Since that time the choir has expanded to include
singers from throughout the tri-state area, all of who share a desire to
perform high quality choral music while having fun.

The choir has performed over 150 concerts in a geographical area from
Lockport, NY to Stone Harbor, NJ. Major works the choir has performed
include Frostiana by Thompson, Coronation Anthems #1 & 4 and Messiah by
Handel, Rachmaninov's Night Vespers, Gloria by Bach, Vivaldi & Rutter,
Requiem by Brahms, Fauré, Mozart, Rutter & Verdi, Bach's Passion According To
Saint Matthew & Passion According To Saint John, Magnificat & Te Deum by
Haydn and Rutter, and Masses by Palestrina, Vaughan Williams, Mozart and
Haydn. In addition, the choir has sung concerts dedicated to the American
spiritual and the wealth of repertoire for the Christmas season.