Two new editions of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's best-known sacred composition, his Stabat mater for soprano, alto and strings, appeared in print in 2012. The scope and contents of the two are quite different: Malcolm Bruno and Caroline Ritchie's edition in the Bärenreiter urtext series is intended for performance use, while Claudio Toscani's hard-bound volume for Ricordi is the first title issued in the new edition of Pergolesi's complete works (Edizione nazionale delle opere di Giovanni Battista Pergolesi). It is precisely these differences which invite the joint discussion of the two editions here, both of which admirably fulfil their respective aims. To publish such a masterpiece yet again means, above all, to add to a list of successive editions that has been growing for almost three centuries. As one of the most celebrated works of sacred music of all time, the Stabat mater has accordingly been transmitted in almost innumerable manuscript and printed sources. It was first issued in print by John Walsh in London in 1749 (RISM A/I, P 1348; PP 1348) and has since been reprinted all over the world. The oldest Italian edition (RISM A/I, P 1360) bears no date and no publisher's mark on its title page; printed on Roman paper, it was perhaps privately sponsored by some aristocrat. Manuscript copies circulated widely, while the autograph score was apparently jealously guarded by Pergolesi's colleague in the Neapolitan royal chapel, Giuseppe De Majo, from the composer's death in 1736 until his own in 1771. In 1838 it was bequeathed by the Marquis Domenico Corigliano di Rignano to the abbey of Montecassino, where it is presently located. Public interest in the autograph swelled at the beginning of the twentieth century; for example, in 1900 the Italian government, during a nationwide campaign of preservation, photographed the precious manuscript and distributed reproductions. Using these photographs, Gustav Schreck revised Hans Michel Schletterer's 1878 edition for Breitkopf & Härtel in 1909. Then in 1927 Alfred Einstein published the Stabat mater with scholarly accuracy for Eulenburg; Jürgen Neubacher's new Eulenburg urtext score (1992) was apparently the first to compare the autograph with a selection of six eighteenth-century manuscript copies.
Although since 1909 the Stabat mater has virtually always been published and performed in versions deriving from the autograph, superseding the text transmitted by the older printed tradition, Toscani's inaugural volume for the new Gesamtausgabe is nevertheless the first modern critical edition of the work (only four volumes ever appeared of an earlier Complete Works edition, edited by Barry S. Brook, Francesco Degrada, Helmut Hucke and Marvin E. Paymer (New York: Pendragon, 1986–1994)). The Introduction, in Italian and English, elegantly summarizes the many issues, some of them still unresolved, that surround Pergolesi's music. There are four hypotheses as to the Stabat mater's original destination. All refer to the marking of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which fell twice-yearly in September and March. Some further detail is necessary here, and we will return later to the question of the work's first performance. According to a tradition begun in the 1820s with the manuscript account of the Neapolitan librarian and collector Giuseppe Sigismondo, Pergolesi's work is supposed to have been commissioned by the Arciconfraternita di Nostra Signora dei Sette Dolori for a performance in the church of San Luigi di Palazzo in Naples during Passiontide 1736. A commission might also have come from Pergolesi's patrons, the Carafa Maddaloni family, who sponsored the music for the September celebration in the church of Santa Maria d’Ognibene. Francesco Degrada, meanwhile, has suggested a commission for the September feast day by another confraternity, the Congregazione de’ Musici sotto il titolo di Maria Addolorata, based in the church of San Nicolò alla Carità, to which Pergolesi himself was affiliated (Degrada, ‘Nuove acquisizioni pergolesiane’, Studi pergolesiani / Pergolesi Studies 4 (2000), 210–215). Finally, Ausilia Magaudda and Danilo Costantini pointed out more recently that the confraternity of San Carlo detto Carminiello also promoted the performance of Stabat mater compositions during Passiontide (Magaudda and Costantini, ‘Vita musicale nel Regno di Napoli al tempo di Pergolesi: la questione dello Stabat mater’, Studi pergolesiani / Pergolesi Studies 5 (2006), 93). In any case, Pergolesi's setting was already famous throughout Europe very soon after its composition. Its expressive modern style was frowned upon by such conservative critics as Giovanni Battista Martini (in his Esemplare, o sia, Saggio fondamentale pratico di contrappunto sopra il canto fermo, volume 1 (Bologna: Lelio della Volpe, 1774), viii), but its success was nevertheless overwhelming. Written testimonies abound, from Charles de Brosses's in one of his letters from Italy (1739, published in 1798) to Charles Burney's in his General History of Music (Charles de Brosses, Lettres familières sur l’Italie, ed. Yvonne Bézard, volume 2 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1931), 366; Charles Burney, A General History of Music, volume 4 (London: author, 1789), 554). Just as numerous are its parodies and reworkings, from Walsh's adaptation to the text of Alexander Pope's ode ‘The dying Christian to his soul’ (1761; RISM A/I, P 1376) to Giovanni Paisiello's addition of tenor, bass and wind instruments (1810).
In editing the music Toscani relies primarily on close examination of the autograph, which is accurately described. As secondary sources, he selects for comparison seven early Italian manuscript copies, most of them from the 1730s. A version of the literary text of the sequence and brief remarks on selected issues of performing practice complete the Introduction. Seven black-and-white plates provide some sample pages of the autograph (a complete facsimile was recently edited by Tineke Steenbrink: Magdeburg: Walhall, 2013) and of one of the secondary sources (the manuscript Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, Mus. 3005-D-1b). The editor's fluent style of writing is much to his credit in the source descriptions and critical notes, making for very enjoyable reading even in the more technical passages. Indeed, Toscani not only provides the rationale for the choices made while preparing his authoritative edition, as might be expected, but he also gives fascinating insights into the compositional process. In fact the autograph score, which is carefully prepared and laid out, shows various traces of revision; interestingly, some of the secondary sources he examines transmit readings that were later superseded by corrections in Pergolesi's autograph. In passing, then, he definitively proves wrong the romantic myth of the Stabat mater's hasty composition on the composer's death-bed.
Following the urtext tradition, Bruno and Ritchie's edition is based directly upon a selection of historical sources, though it has no pretensions towards the philological reconstruction of a distinct version of the work at any precise moment in its long history. The English and German Introduction extensively describes the editorial choices. The editors used the autograph and an early copy (Naples, Biblioteca del Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella, Cantate 381) which clearly writes out in full some details of articulation, continuo realization and even musical text itself that are just implied in the autograph score. For example, the viola part in bars 58–61 of the alto aria ‘Quae moerebat, et dolebat’ is left blank in the autograph, indicating that it should double the continuo line. But these three bars in fact state a shortened ritornello to this simple two-part church aria, and the copy therefore takes the characteristic offbeat rhythm from the opening ritornello and applies it in this later instance. Other differences are actual variants in the text. In the last movement, the alto in bar 24 and the soprano in bar 26 (on the word ‘paradisi’) sing a B♮ instead of the B♭ found in the autograph; the resulting chord is an expressive augmented sixth. In fact this manuscript from the 1730s is also one of the seven secondary sources selected by Toscani. While Toscani obviously gives precedence to the autograph, Bruno and Ritchie choose to adopt some of the readings of the Naples source, which originated at a very early stage of the work's reception. It may derive ultimately (though perhaps not directly) from a set of performing parts that was possibly prepared even during Pergolesi's lifetime. It is a logical, as well as stimulating, choice to use an early ‘practical’ score to prepare an edition for present-day performers.
Both editions, then, are exemplary of their different kinds, for all that their editors adopt different approaches to the sources in accordance with their intended readership. The resulting differences in the musical text of the two nevertheless raise some important questions concerning the Stabat mater’s dissemination and performance history. The autograph score shows two layers of corrections. Most of them were certainly made by Pergolesi himself: for example, a variant in the viola part (in bars 5–7 of the opening movement). By contrast, a very prominent correction – the doubling of the note values in the closing cadence of the final ‘Amen’ – was made with a markedly different ink, and it is impossible to determine whether it is in Pergolesi's handwriting or not. As Claudio Toscani notes, very few of the known copies follow Pergolesi's corrections: he mentions one manuscript in Naples (Biblioteca del Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella, 21–4–13, formerly Mus. Rel. 1551) and the aforementioned Neapolitan source kept in Dresden. These sources, however, do not contain the ‘Amen’ variant. No copies at all are known of the autograph's original state, before any correction. Most of the other manuscript copies and all early editions actually present the earlier readings of the autograph together with a different set of variants, including the augmented ‘Amen’. The Neapolitan copy used by Bruno and Ritchie is an early source for this line of tradition, on which virtually all performances were based until the early twentieth century.
The situation may be hypothetically explained as follows. The Stabat mater was copied from the autograph in a primitive state, possibly in view of a forthcoming performance. Some changes were made directly onto the performing material (for example, the augmented sixth on ‘paradisi’). Independently from these changes, Pergolesi revised the music on the autograph, correcting other passages (for example, the viola part of the opening movement). In this second state, the score had only a restricted circulation. At a later stage, the augmentation of the ‘Amen’ – the most conspicuous variant of the performing tradition – was added into the autograph. As it is not possible to ascertain whether the correction to the ‘Amen’ in the Montecassino score is in Pergolesi's hand or not, there can be no certainty that the readings of the performing tradition originated with the composer: were these added during a first performance under his supervision, or only after his death?
Another question arises concerning the work's early performances. Whatever the actual origin of the variant readings from the performing tradition, the sources clearly indicate that Pergolesi allowed the Stabat mater to be copied during his lifetime, and corrected it at a later stage. This may suggest that Pergolesi had more than one occasion for his work to be performed. Could it be, then, that more than one of the hypotheses concerning its early performance circumstances might turn out to be correct – in other words, that the Stabat mater was performed both in September 1735 and in March 1736?
While these questions, unfortunately, still remain unanswered, Toscani's description of the variants in the autograph score renders possible one positive observation. Johann Sebastian Bach's parody of the Neapolitan masterpiece, Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (bwv1083), written around 1746–1747, follows the readings of Pergolesi's autograph corrections (for example, he adopts the viola variant in bars 5–7 of the opening movement), not the variants of the performing tradition (for example, he retains the shorter values of the ‘Amen’ cadence; incidentally, he also changes this movement completely by repeating the whole fugue in the major mode). As seen above, the same readings are also found in the Dresden copy of the Stabat mater, which originated in Naples and was presumably acquired for the Saxon court around 1738–1740. These readings are extremely rare: Toscani mentions only one other source besides the Dresden manuscript, while Neubacher noticed them also in a German manuscript from the mid-eighteenth century in the Peters collection in Leipzig (Leipziger Stadtbibliothek–Musikbibliothek, PM 4130). The Leipzig manuscript was formerly owned by Johann Friedrich Grönland (see the description in RISM A/II), an early nineteenth-century composer from Altona near Hamburg; its present-day location thus carries no implication that it is likely to have been Bach's source. In all likelihood, then, Bach knew Pergolesi's work directly from the Dresden score. This is a further confirmation of Bach's long-standing connections with the musical activities of the Catholic church at the Saxon court.