“The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross”, opus 51 – Joseph Haydn

by richibi

crucified-christ-1780.jpg!Large.jpg

                  “Crucified Christ (1780) 

                          Francisco Goya

                                 _______

Haydn’s Opus 51 was commissioned 
for the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, the 
Holy Cave Oratoryin Cádiz, Spain,
church, as the name suggests, built 
partially underground, it would be
performed, the Opus 51, for the Good 
Friday service of 1787, Haydn therefore 
put his Opus 50 on hold, six string 
quartets, to finish this ecclesiastical 
work on time

what had been required was a work for 
small orchestra to inform the Seven 
Last Words of our Saviour on the 
Cross, it would therefore have at least
segments, movements, and would be 
divided by the elaboration of the 
bishop upon the significance of these 
individual “Words”, or, in fact,
statements, see this example 

Haydn added an introduction, and a 
finale in the form of an earthquake,
quite, I think, wittily and ever so 
appropriately

nearly simultaneously, Haydn 
composed the orchestral 
arrangement for string quartet, and 
later for orchestra and voice, for, in
other words, an oratorio

to my mind “The Seven Last Words 
of Our Saviour on the Cross” is 
Haydn’s crowning achievement, in 
all of its iterations

you’ll note that there is even first of 
all a title, and the title asks for 
something quite specific, indeed 
words, which the composer would
have to render musically, somehow, 
he’d need drama, something of a 
musical narrative, no minuets

all of the movements, apart from 
the end ones, are variations on 
slow – adagio, lento, largo, even 
grave – and how do you keep an 
audience, or in this case a 
congregation, happy, or even 
interested, with seven potentially 
lugubrious adagios in a row, all 
profoundly melancholy

only Shostakovich has managed 
to do that since, which I’ll talk 
about at some point later

Haydn also undoubtedly inspired 
Beethoven here with the 
consequences of so many 
movements, the possibility of 
extending a musical intention
into something resembling,
indeed, a book, a story, the 
introduction of narrative, 
essentially, into our musical 
history, which is to say, music
as literature 

the orchestral version of “The 
Seven Last Words” is performed 
here at the very Oratorio de la
Santa Cueva, the string quartet
version, played not only better 
than I’ve ever heard it played
before, but better even than any 
other quartet I’ve ever heard, 
period, includes the commentaries 
in German by an attendant prelate,
as intended in the original 
composition 

the movements’ “Seven Words” are 
indicated in Latin, not, incidentally, 
the  language of “Our Saviour”, and 
move from “Lord, why have you 
forsaken me” to “If it is Your will, 
then let it be done”

the last version presented here is 
the oratorio, for orchestra and
voice  

all of them, utterly inspiring

listen


R ! chard 

        (to be, incontrovertibly, continued,
         this piece is too loaded with 
         substance, it is transformational)

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