Scarlatti and the Question of Faith

To believe or not to believe... © Charles Thibo
To believe or not to believe… © Charles Thibo

Today, the center stage will be taken not by a composer, but by a singer. Cecilia Bartoli, a fantastic Italian mezzo-soprano opera singer and recitalist. Born in Rome in 1966, she has been first taught by her parents and later studied at the Santa Cecilia Conservatorium, the very same that Ottorino Respighi directed for a short time at the beginning of the 20th century. She has recorded many discs as you can see on her website, but today I would like to focus on her recording of the “Salve Regina in F Minor”, composed by the Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) and the “Stabat Mater” written by Giovanni Batista Pergolesi (1710-1736). The two pieces had and still have a profound effect on my. Since being a student I am struggling with my faith and at some point I decided to turn my back to the Catholic Church.

Listening to Scarlatti’s “Salve Regina” performed by Cecilia Bartoli however made me discover other sacred music, especially Baroque composers like Monteverdi, Bach, Allegri and Buxtehude. The fact that such beautiful music was written to glorify God, made religion again attractive to me. The final word hasn’t been written on that subject yet, but I realize that this music puts my mind easily at rest when it needs rest, it gives consolation when I need it and at the same time it opens my mind to question my actions, my way of life, the way I interact with others, my contribution to make this world a better place. Quite an experience.

Scarlatti composed the “Salve Regina” in 1708 for the court of the Medici family, while Pergolesi wrote the “Stabat Mater” in 1735 upon a commission by the Brotherhood of San Luigi di Palazzo to replace a work by Scarlatti deemed old-fashioned. O tempora, o mores… Scarlatti by the way is an interesting man to whom we certainly will come back. “He wrote over 600 operas and still had the time to raise his son and train him to become a distinguished cembalist”, the French composer Claude Debussy once said. “By God, what talent he must have had!”

Eternal Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli captures me because of the warmth of her voice; at the same time I am fascinated by some of her projects. She resuscitated works that have long been forgotten, like the “Opera Proibita ” – operas disguised as oratoriums and composed at a time when the Catholic Church had forbidden all operas – or “Sacrificium”, arias written for Italian castrati, popular especially in Naples since the 16th century. I hope you can enjoy this sacred music as much as I do. And again, it doesn’t matter if you are a religious person or not. It’s just beautiful music.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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