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Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ

posted Oct 7, 2013, 9:46 AM by admin user   [ updated Oct 7, 2013, 9:51 AM by Bob Rudi ]
The music of Haydn is simply wonderful! There is a certain joy and gracefulness about it, no matter the subject matter. He considered his Seven Last Words of Christ to be among his best works, and the critics of his time agreed. 

This is an unusual work, in that it started life as an orchestral suite. A Spanish cardinal commissioned Haydn to produce a series of orchestral “meditations” on the so-called “seven last words” from the various Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. These were to be used in Holy Week services, alternating with the utterance and sermonizing upon these seven statements of Jesus on the cross. The piece became rather popular and, at the suggestion of his publisher, Haydn produced a string quartet version that still gets performed and recorded with some frequency in our time.

Some years later, Haydn encountered a performance of this work where the local musician had added a choral component. Haydn liked the idea, and hired a librettist to provide a text which he used to compose the choral and vocal solo portions of the “oratorio” version. Each of the seven “words” in the oratorio version is “spoken” by the unaccompanied chorus before the orchestra begins the formal movement.

Performances of the oratorio version are rather rare, so what a pleasure to present some of master Haydn’s best music in a way that is little heard in our time! Though rarely heard, there is also some familiarity here, as all the well-known and well-loved elements of his symphonies, string quartets, and the popular CREATION are here, along with surprising a capella singing and great drama.

The oratorio ends with an earthquake, so you don’t want to miss this!

Eric R. Riley