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From the Fall 2013 Program

posted Nov 16, 2013, 4:21 AM by Bob Rudi   [ updated Nov 16, 2013, 4:21 AM ]

As a conductor, one of my real pleasures is discovering “new” music – new to me, that is. This is the case with Haydn’s Seven Last Words. Most of us will associate that title with a work by Theodore Dubois, which has been a staple of the oratorio literature for years. Haydn’s work, approximately a century earlier, began its life as an orchestral suite. A Spanish cardinal commissioned Haydn to compose a series of orchestral “meditations” to be used during services in Holy Week. Sometime later, Haydn produced a string quartet version that remains popular to this day. Later yet, Haydn encountered a performance in which a local musician had added vocal parts to his series of orchestral meditations. Haydn really liked the idea and hired a librettist with whom to collaborate on his own “oratorio” or “cantata” version, scored for orchestra, vocal soloists and chorus. The result was hailed by critics as one of Haydn’s best works, and Haydn himself agreed with this assessment. This was the last work Haydn conducted before his death in 1809.

I have chosen, in part, to present this work in translation from the original German because it lends a certain immediacy and power to the text and music, which is based on Jesus’ utterings from the cross, as related by the New Testament gospel writers. In addition to some moments of real drama (including a closing earthquake!), there is also much music that is disarmingly cheerful here – very much in the vein of his popular Creation oratorio. No doubt we have not only the 18th-century freedom from the weight of “original sin” expressed here, but also the freedom from sin and death that the Christ event represents for the Christian believer.

This oratorio version includes two purely instrumental movements, and each of seven choral movements are preceded by an unaccompanied choral presentation of the “word” on which the subsequent movement is based. The result of all of the above is a fresh and dramatic interpretation on the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We all have been moved by our study and work on this great oratorio – we wish the same for you, our loyal audience.

Eric R. Riley

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