News & Events
Mar 14, 2017
Haydn's 'Seven Last Words of Christ'—St. Andrew's Cathedral Anniversary Concert Series
The Seven Last Words of Christ (Die sieben letzten Worte) by Franz Joseph Haydn was a work commissioned by the Catholic Cathedral in Cadiz for Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, in 1785. It was composed originally for string orchestra, and made up of seven sonatas plus an introduction. The seven movements were meant to express and comment on the seven last statements of Christ as he was dying on the cross, as recorded in Scripture. Immediately after it was first performed on that Good Friday more than two centuries ago, the work was widely praised for its great intensity and reverence.
“Each Sonata, or each text, is expressed solely through the instrumental music in such a manner that it automatically makes the most profound impression on the least informed listener,” wrote the composer in a letter dated April 8, 1787, to his publisher in London. Haydn made the initial melody of each movement a setting of the Latin form of each one of the ‘words’, not meant to be sung or heard by the audience directly, but to be felt by the performers (who see the text written in their parts) and conveyed through expressive playing to the listener.
The Seven Last ‘Words’ of Jesus Christ from the Cross are actually seven short phrases that Jesus uttered on Calvary that serve as an excellent Holy Week meditation. We reproduce them here in Latin as well as English, since the Latin version of the Seven Last Words of Christ has been used so extensively in sacred music, notably by composers such as Franz Josef Haydn.
- pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt: Father forgive them, they know not what they do. Luke 23:34
- hodie mecum eris in paradiso: This day thou shalt be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43
- mulier ecce filius tuus: Woman, behold your Son. John 14:26–27
- deus meus, deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me? My god, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Mark 15:34
- sitio: I Thirst. John 19:30
- consummatum est: It is finished. John 19:30
- in manus tuas domine, commendo spiritum meum: Into thine hands O Lord I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46
Haydn reworked his first orchestral version in the form of a string quartet (1796) and later as an oratorio with lyrics. It is the 1796 version that we will hear performed in St. Andrew’s Cathedral by the local ensemble the Emily Carr String Quartet (http://emilycarrstringquartet.com)
Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 students, and children under age 12 are free when accompanied by a ticket holder. Tickets are available at St. Andrew’s Cathedral (parish office), Ivy’s books, Munro’s Books, Long & McQuade music store, or at the door.