Friday, March 16, 2007

The Seven Last Words of Christ

Palm Sunday, 1 April, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe
2215 Ross Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201, Tel. 214-871-1362

Franz Joseph Haydn - The Seven Last Words of Christ, Op. 51 (Hob. III:50-56)
(North American premiere of the new version for string quintet)

The musicians: Gyros String Quartet * with bassist Chris Pike


  1. Introduzione - Mp3
    (recorded at the first rehearsal)
  2. Sonata No. 1 - Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt - Mp3
    (recorded at the second rehearsal)
  3. Sonata No. 2 - Hodie mecum eris in paradiso - Mp3
    (recorded at the first rehearsal, mistakes and all)
  4. Sonata No. 3 - Mulier, ecce filius tuus - Mp3
    (this and the following were recorded at the concert at Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe, Palm Sunday, 1 April, 2007)
  5. Sonata No. 4 - Deus meus, Deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me? - Mp3
  6. Sonata No. 5 - Sitio - Mp3
  7. Sonata No. 6 - Consumatum est - Mp3
  8. Sonata No. 7 - In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum - Mp3
  9. Il Terremoto - Mp3 (The Earthquake)

You can also see video clips from the performance (Sonata No. 2, 3, 7 and Il terremoto) here.

Admission is free * Vesselin Demirev, Kurt Sprenger, violins, Norbert Gerl, viola, Mitch Maxwell, violoncello

Program Notes:

Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross

In 1785 or '86 Haydn, a devout Catholic, received a commission from the cathedral in Cádiz. He was asked to provide descriptive orchestral interludes between the spoken parts of the service in the great Spanish Baroque church during Holy Week, presumably on Good Friday. In 1787, the year in which it was first performed, he transcribed the work for string quartet to give it wider currency, and eventually, in 1795-96, he made a choral version which was published in 1801. In the preface to that score, Haydn wrote:

“Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the seven last words of Our Savior on the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners.”

This masterpiece was conceived in a spirit of profound religious conviction. Despite its length and emotional urgency, it is a model of simplicity and sophistication. Above all, Haydn wanted it to be accessible to everybody, regardless of one’s musical or religious background. He wrote: “Each sonata, or movement, is expressed by purely instrumental music in such a way that even the most uninitiated listener will be moved to the very depths of his soul.”

In the hands of a mere four string players, this music cannot achieve the volume and tonal diversity of a symphony orchestra or choir. Nevertheless in the four-voice setting, with only one instrument on a part, it is imbued with a heightened intimacy which larger ensembles cannot possibly match. This music’s emotional and psychological impact is best conveyed through the most subtle variations of timbre, voicing, rhythm, and tempo – techniques ideally suited to a string quartet. Therefore this simplest of all versions may indeed be the most affecting. No less compelling than its more grandiose cousins, it is inherently more personal.

Haydn considered this to be one of his greatest works. But to hear the music by itself, however powerfully it stands alone, is to experience it in only part of its glory. Reunited with the words that served as its inspiration, it takes on a spiritual dimension rarely found in even the most profound compositions. Though its message is decidedly Christian, it transcends the focus of any particular faith. This is music which cuts across religious and social lines and speaks sincerely, eloquently, and passionately to everyone, via the common denominator that exists in the soul of all humanity.The diverse versions of "The Seven Words" have each had their lobby amongst Haydn scholars who have long-debated the merits of the original orchestral score versus the vocal arrangement, the string quartet and the piano arrangement. Today the string quartet - first performed in Vienna on St Cecilia's Day 1787 - is the version heard most often. It is also interesting to notice that the work was already being performed in America in 1793.

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