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Dvorak, Stabat Mater: Why is is rarely performed?

Below please find a compilation of the responses to questions I had regarding
Dvorak's Stabat Mater. My thanks to all who responded. I have begun the
initial phases of trying to join forces with another choir(s) in the area to
have 80 to 100 voices. To answer one concern stated below, I will not
perform the work with reduced orchestra. Either I find the voices and money
- or I'll program something else. Again, THANKS!!

David M. Spitko, Director
The Choristers of Upper Dublin
Ambler, PA

I am considering Dvorak's "Stabat Mater" for my concert choir's Spring 2000
concert. I have never had the pleasure of performing the work, but after
study I am finding it to be wonderful. This "Stabat Mater" is not performed
that often. Experience has taught me that, at least some of the time, there
are reasons why a particular work is not performed often when it appears to
be this worthy of performance. Yes, occasionally there are diamonds out
there that just are not being performed - but I want to make sure. My
question to those of you who have performed/directed the work - what was your
experience? Is there something hidden in terms of extreme difficulty that I
am missing? Is there a reason this work is not performed more often? My
choir is 40 to 45 voices. I suspect I will need to involve another many voices do you feel the work needs if I can afford full
orchestration? Please e-mail replies to me directly at DSpitko(a)
Thank you.

Dear Mr. Spitko--Next May I will be conducting my second performance of the
Stabat Mater with the New York Choral Society. We first presented it about
five years ago and, like you, we all wondered why this marvelous work is not
part of the mainstream; I have no answer to that question. The piece
presents no unusual difficulties to a chorus that is accustomed to big,
romantic choral/ orchestral works. I do think that 40-45 singers is too few
for an orchestrally accompanied performance. Good luck with your plans.

JD Goodwin
David, I consider this work to among the best! Do not fear the numbers. Forty
voices will work well. It does need great solo voices!!!!! I think I was at
my best for the rehearsals of this choral piece. The weeks never went by fast
enough so we could rehearse again. The chorus loved it. The music made me
better and better as a conductor. I think this work portrays the best of
color and drama. Is there anything more moving than the Quando Corpus? My
best wishes,

Charles Matz
Dear David, I just very successfully performed the Stabat Mater with orch. I
came to truly know this piece a few years ago at the Oregon Bach Festival
with Helmut Riling. They performed and recorded it at that time, and it is a
beautiful recording. I completely fell in love with it and decided to
perform it. It is a gem. I don't think in thirty years of conducting that I
felt so moved and the performers and audience felt so moved by a work. I
received many comments like "I was moved to tears, I couldn't sing some
sections". Professional orchestra members not known for their emotion sought
me out after the second performance to thank me. I had the good fortune of
being able to hire a violinist who was in the states from England-member of
the London Sym. who said he had never played this work and what a gem it is.
It takes a good group of soloists and I had a super quartet that was
outstanding. I will be happy to give you their names if you like. You
should have a chorus of about 80 to 100 to adequately balance the orchestra
unless they are really fine singers of 60. If you want any more
information, I would be glad to share it. As you can see I am completely
blown away by this not often performed gem.(Although in the New England this
year I know of at these 3 other performances.)

Carroll Lehman
Conductor/Music Director of the Monadnock Chorus
Peterborough, NH
Professor of Voice
Keene State College
I (along with ~230 others) performed it last year at the Berkshire Choral
Festival in Sheffield MA with Robert Page conducting. The piece is
beautiful, moving and not difficult. It is VERY romantic. You will need a
chorus who can get their faces out of the music and on you to execute the
tempo and dynamics changes. You don't need a large choir, but you do need a
lush sound. Berkshire Choral Festival has rehearsal tapes available if you
are interested. Have fun,

Kate Leff
Hello, I picked up your message from Eugene, Oregon where I am singing in a
performance of the Dvorak Stabat Mater tomorrow. I have found it to be a
rewarding work- we are a choir of 54 professional singers, I think at least
80 students are needed to pull it off. You will need an excellent solo
quartet- especially a tenor who is comfortable floating high notes. Best of

Joshua Habermann
San Francisco State University Music Dpt.
Hello David, I, too am interested in reaction to your question about the
Dvorak Stabat Mater. Could you please share the responses with me? I have
had a few requests for rehearsal tapes for Stabat Mater, but not enough to
justify the time and effort in sequencing the work, as yet. I will sequencing
the Dvorak Requiem in the next couple of weeks, interestingly enough, for a
client who ordered the 50 minimum tape order required for me to sequence a
new work. It will be the first major work of Dvorak that I have in my catalog
of 146 classical major works. If I decide to sequence the Dvorak Stabat
Mater later, can you recommend a particular CD of the work that you think is
an authoritative performance? Thank you for your help. Best from,

Gary Hammond, Owner, Hammond Music Service - Song-Learning Tapes™ for choirs.
A retired choir director (32 years) who is enjoying serving his art in a new
way grhammond(a) or songtape(a) Toll-free: 800.628.0855 FAX:
Dear David: We performed the "Stabat Mater" three years ago and I found
asking some of the same questions you have posed in your message. Truth be
known, it is still one of my choruses favorite pieces! I believe it is every
bit as beautiful as it appears. My only suggestion is that you attempt to
double your forces. The orchestration is very full at times and, of course
VERY IMPORTANT to the overall communication of the piece. Good luck and let
me know how it goes. . . . .

Frank C. Jacobs, Artistic Director
Summit Choral Society -
We did it last year with community orchestra and chorus. No problems, and a
very attractive piece of music. The chorus must balance the orchestra, as on
any combined piece. I hope you don't have to use a cut-down orchestra. My
guess is that it may not be done as much as some other works because it is
not long enough to be an entire program. We did a second chorus work on that
program, although I can't remember what it was. And the orchestra played the
balance of the concert without the chorus. (Or were there just the two
choral works????? I'll try to find a copy of the program.)

John Howell
David: I have not performed this work, and often considered doing it. Why I
haven't, I'm not sure. I would be most interested in the responses you get
regarding your questions. Thank you.

Charles E. Ruzicka, D.M.A.
Professor of Music
Director of Choral Music
Moorhead State University
I'm speaking as an audience member - and rehearser (for one rehearsal as a
sub) - having just heard it in May. The Kansas City Youth Symphony Chorus
and Orchestra sang the work under Prof. Simon Carrington. These are all
14-20 year old singers and players. They did hire pro soloists. The piece
IS very beautiful and moving - especially when one knows the circumstances
surrounding it in Dvorak's life at that time. It's rather involved, as are
many of the 19th c. major works. It was good to have 100 singers up there to
almost balance the romantic size orchestra called-for. All in all, it has
some stellar moments, and many very memorable and moving melodies.

Gary A. Weidenaar
Doctoral TA in Choral Music & Music Technology
University of Kansas
Conductor - University Singers
Conductor - Kaw Valley Community Chorus
David, I finally performed this piece last summer at the Berkshire Choral
Festival, after having heard it about 10 years before, and wanting to sing it
for that long. It is a beautiful piece. Why is it not performed more? It
does require a full sized orchestra and 4 good soloists, and it lasts over an
hour. It is not as well known as Brahms Requiem and that lot. And I don't
know that Stabat Maters in general are performed as often as other forms of
the mass - I have no answer really. We had 200 choristers, but I think you
can do it with much less if they know what they are doing. You really might
want to consider adding another chorus though. I don't think 45 singers is
enough. Hope you do it, and have a great time. It is a marvelous piece.

Kathy Boyce
I performed the Dvorak "Stabat Mater" several years ago with a chorus of
about 80 and a full orchestra with a smallish string section (maybe
6/6/4/4/2) and we all enjoyed it immensely. I was skeptical about a piece
with so much slow music, but it is a gorgeous piece and has the intensity to
hold an audience. The tenor solo/men's chorus movement is a bit foursquare
and stodgy, but we had a wonderful tenor who brought it off very well. I
consider Dvorak to be an underrated composer--his music is colorful and a
pleasure to perform, and even if he uses a lot of sequences and repetition,
there is a freshness and a sincerity about his music that usually makes it
quite effective.

John Jost
Director of Choral Activities
Bradley University
Hello, I performed the piece many years ago in high school. All the soloists
were chosen from the concert choir. Because I sang tenor in the choir (we had
no good tenors) I did both the tenor and the alto solos in concert. I have a
recording which is quite a nice little performance by a high school choir
(early 1960s'). We had a music teacher who was a fine pianist and he played
piano instead of using an orchestra. Doing works like this certainly enhanced
my background and love of classical choral music. He also routinely took us
all to the opera. We hated singing and rehearsing it most of the year
because it was so "hard". However, at the end of the year, when we could
choose what to work sing each period, to a person, we wanted to sing
something from the Stabat Mater. You are correct, it is a little gem and is
not performed very often. I think because of the difficulties of the solos.
Our high school had exceptional young singers and so we did it. If you could
get an orchestra I would think you would need 80 to 100 singers minimum or
make arrangements to mike the voices. I doubt that young voices can sing over
an orchestra without a lot of experience. One fun note: When it came time to
record it, my teacher got a tenor from San Diego State University to sing the
tenor solos. When we went to record he could not sing the solos worth a darn.
I was really hurt and angry, especially since he could not sing them well.
My teacher apparently realized what a mistake he had made and a few days
later, took me and the quartet members back to the recording studio. We
recorded all the tenor solo/quartet parts again and that is what went on the
recording. I certainly felt vindicated. I learned then never to depend on
some other hot shot voice to come in at the last minute to do a solo. I also
learned what it felt like to be asked to do something and then have that task
taken away to be replaced by someone who could not do it as well.
Good luck with your performance.

Sharyn Baker
Instructor/Computer-Based-Training Design
Department of Facilities Operations
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Dear David Spitko, I sang Dvorak's Stabat Mater during the year I spent with
Helmuth Rilling and his Gaechinger Kantorei -- we toured Israel and sang the
Dvorak with the Israel Philharmonic. A fine piece, with no hidden
difficulties that I recall (from nearly 20 years ago), but I do remember that
it is all fairly slow: ten (nine?) slow movements in a row. Best wishes,

Nina Gilbert
Music Department, University of California-Irvine
David, I think this is the piece Robert Shaw performed and recorded not long
before he died; he'd never performed it before. Why? I think his answer (in
a radio interview) was something like "I'd simply never bothered to really
look at it before." Even the "greats" miss out on "great music" just by
overlooking it. I could check the accuracy of this story further, but if
that's a satisfactory answer for you... Also I can check on the Shaw
recording itself.

--Mark Gresham
Mr. Spitko, I've admired this work for sometime, and would like to do it
"someday". I hope you will post the responses that you receive.

Mark Kloepper
Seattle Peace Chorus
I agree, the Dvorak is one of those gems that is inexplicably not done often.
The large chorus, and maybe the large men's chorus, might be the reasons. I
think it's wonderful writing and far better than some pieces that one hears.
I think you'd need 100 singers minimum with a full orchestra. I'd probably
want more. I did it once at church with strings, brass and organ and only 30
singers, but I wouldn't do that in public!

David Griggs-Janower
Albany Pro Musicas

on May 21, 2007 10:00pm
Hi.this message send from Japan.Im glad to find this site.
because I will perform this at 24/6/2007 in tokyo.
but Im not choir.Im blong to an orchestra and I work as a leader of cello.
Because I love this music, I study in various ways.
but I can not understand about choir.
I want to know what is important, to be careful choir from a orchestra.
Which number is difficult for choir and i want to know that reason.

Im worry about my English skill. I hope to understand my massage.
Thank you.

on June 19, 2008 10:00pm
I was in a performance of this in April 2008, with John Sutton conducting the Angeles Chorale, and the Azusa Pacific University Oratorio Choir and orchestra. John did a lot of research on it (I believe it may be the subject of his dissertation). From what he said, it is still performed in Europe with some frequency -- in Prague, you will find it performed at Easter like Messiah is performed here at Christmas. It was performed a lot here in the US until about 50 years ago. It's beautiful yet very sad -- we recommend it highly.