Friday, March 25, 2005

Maundy Thursday (cont.)

In the preface to the 1801 orchestral score of his "Seven Last Words Of Christ On The Cross", 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."

He succeeded masterfully. Originally written as a string quartet, he later fleshed out an orchestral score, then, about a decade after the composition, he added a text setting. We performed two of the choral settings last night, and will do two more tonight, for the Good Friday service.

He didn't just, as some have done, set the seven words to music. He wrote meditations on the words, expanding, questioning, confessing, praising. The end result is that we are praying...

Chorus 1 - Father forgive them

Father in heaven! Oh see us kneeling.
Look down from your throne.
Father, fogive us!
Thy Son entreats Thee, Oh, hear Him pleading and interceding,
That mercy be shown.
Ah, we are grievous sinners, and great is our guilt.
Forgiveness and grace to win us, our Saviour's sacred blood was spilled.
Our Saviour's blood asks no revenge, it flows to cleanse us.
Father eternal! Let Thy grace attend us and mercy be shown.
O remember not the sins and offenses of my youth;
But according to Thy mercy think Thou on me, O Lord,
For Thy goodness.

Chorus 4 - Eli, Eli

Why, O Father, did you forsake me?
Where is now the hand of God?
Who can fathon this great mystery,
O God of power and might, O God of power all-seeing!
Thou has called us into being
And by Thy love, O Lord, we have been saved.
O Lord, we worship Thee, we adore Thee truly.
For our sake you suffered cruelty, mockery, loneliness and pain.
Where's the man who would desert Thee,
And by his sins would want to hurt Thee?
Thou art gracious though we grieve Thee!
No we shall never leave Thee, in life and all eternity.

The CD that I've got is the Nikolaus Harnoncourt version and it's excellent. It's also in German, which I don't speak, so I need the English translation to meditate on, but it's a wonderful work, and I'm glad to have been introduced to it.



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