Keep calm and play
The song “At The Cross, Her Vigil Keeping”(13th century) was the inspired work of the Italian Franciscan Jacopone da Todi who wrote many laudi (which was the popular poetry of Umbria) or praise songs for God. He was a pioneer in Italian theater since he was one of the first who dramatized Gospel themes. Born into nobility, ex-lawyer da Todi withdrew himself from the world and lived a secular life when his wife died of a violent nature. He decided to enter the Order of St. Francis of Assissi and served as a Franciscan friar till the end of his life, living in poverty and penitence. The Franciscan was keen on dissenting against church corruption and earned prison time as a result. He wrote poetry in Italian and Latin, most of it was comedic. But it seems he freely used folly as a foil to impart deep wisdom in his writings. With his songs “Cur Mundus Militat Sub Vana Gloria” and “At The Cross, Her Vigil Keeping” (“Stabat Mater”), it is evident that he is a devoted Christian. His order considers him a saint, though his clash with Pope Boniface VIII deters his becoming one. Dante praised da Todi in his “Paradiso”.
The composer Maintzisch Gesangbuch composed the “Stabat Mater” tune (13th century), making it as ancient as the text. The tune is in Metre 18.104.22.168.8.7. making it a perfect match for the devotional nature of the text. Mary, Christ’s mother was the calm and gentle beacon for the apostles during Christ’s passion and death at the cross. The musical articulation is Dolce, meaning played gently, in the style of French church music. The melody is a suitable setting for a capella voices as well, with a soul-lifting vocal interpretation resulting from the use of chromaticism and dynamics.