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Composer brings beauty to a poem of anguish

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    Organist Hanneke van Proosdij, vocalist Jennifer Lane and lutenist David Tayler rehearse at Mystical Rose Oratory, the chapel at Chaminade University, for performances tomorrow and Monday.

Composers have a spotty record when it comes to their final compositions. Mozart’s "Requiem" and Beethoven’s string quartets rank among their finest works, while Chopin’s last mazurkas are considered substandard.

In this respect, the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi belongs on the same pedestal as Mozart and Beethoven, not only for the quality of his last work, "Stabat mater," but for the tragic circumstances of his life.

"He had a very short life, born in 1710 and dying in 1736," said Tim Carney, professor of music at Chaminade University, which is hosting the concert at Lutheran Church of Honolulu tomorrow. "I think he had tuberculosis, consumption they called it. He was kind of sickly his whole life."

"Stabat mater" is a 13th-century poem describing the anguish of the Virgin Mary watching the crucifixion of Jesus. Many composers have set music to it, but Pergolesi’s, written for two voices and small ensemble, is the best known; it’s been recorded often.


Featured artist Jennifer Lane performs Pergolesi

Where: Lutheran Church of Honolulu, 1730 Punahou St.

When: Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $20-$25



Featuring Jennifer Lane, David Tayler, Hanneke van Proosdij and Early Music workshop participants

Where: Mystical Rose Oratory, Chaminade University

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Cost: Free.

Contact: Tim Carney,


"It’s an incredibly expressive piece," Carney said. "There are some extremely expressive adagios and then some rather lively pieces. He was able to create a piece with a lot of variety and beauty within it … This was the summing up of his life. I think he knew (his life) wasn’t going to last very long."

Mezzo soprano Jennifer Lane, a leading performer in the art of baroque singing, will sing one of the solo parts, with various singers performing the other. She will be joined by David Tayler on lute, Hanneke van Proosdij on organ and harpsichord, and a small string ensemble.

Lane said this instrumentation should be quite enticing to the audience. "It’s a very intimate, very delicate sound, having the pluck of the lute, having that timbre."

Tayler said the work "sounds almost like it was written 20 years later. It’s very forward-looking, harmonically. He uses a lot of sort of jazzy chords that are more common in the period right after Bach (who died in 1750.) He was ahead of his time."

Lane, Tayler and van Proosdij are visiting from California this week for a series of concerts and a workshop on baroque vocal style. Baroque singing uses little or no vibrato, but makes up for it with heavy use of ornamentation, which the singer improvises.

Tayler’s lute-playing will also provide some exotic sounds. He is bringing two lutes: An archlute, which has an extended neck and a bigger range than a standard lute; and a colascione, a large lute that he said "is about as loud as a lute can get."

The trio will also perform with workshop participants Monday evening at Chaminade University. They are especially excited about this performance because they expect Doug Hall, a local psychologist, to sing with them. Hall is a descendant of John Dowland, an English composer during the Elizabethan era known for his melancholy songs and beautiful lute pieces. Some of his works were featured on a recent recording by the pop musician Sting.

Hall, a psychology professor at Hawaii Pacific University, said his family didn’t know of the connection until he was in college — as a music major.

"My professors made a big fuss about it," said Hall, who sings with a few local groups. "I’m very much looking forward to learning more about his music."


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