Intermezzo at 1:00pm This Week: 5 different settings of the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross

Sunday, March 24 to Saturday, March 30 is Holy Week. As we prepare for Easter and the Resurrection, Tune in all this week at 1:00pm to hear different musical settings of The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.

The Seven Last Words of Christ on The Cross that are gathered from the four canonical gospels have been the inspiration for many composers throughout the ages.  From the 14th century composer John Browne to 20th century composer James MacMillan, the sayings have been musically interpreted in several, diverse ways.   

The Seven Last Words consist of:


The Settings you will hear this week are:

Monday, March 24:  Heinrich Schütz: Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz, SWV 478 (1645), German cantata 

Written in 1645 and revised in 1657 in Wiessenfels, Saxony Anhalt, Schutz’s Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz was probably written for the Protestant liturgy for the court of the Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. The work is musically reminiscent of the North German style of composition.

On the title page of the work Schutz provided a poem that was meant to illustrate the significance of the text:

Lovest thou the World,

then art thou dead,

and the Lord must bear the Hurt

But dost thou die red in his Wounds,

Then he liveth in thy Heart.

The work is in three sections that consist of

1. Introitus—First Stanza of the Lutheran Hymn "Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund” by Johann Borscenstein

2. Seven Last Words—text compiled from the four gospels of the Lutheran Bible

3. Conclusion – Final Stanza of the Lutheran Hymn "Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund” by Johann Borscenstein

Tuesday, March 25: Charles Gounod Les Sept Paroles de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ sur la croix (1855), choral work

Gounod wrote may religious works for choirs; sixteen masses, four Requiems, and hundreds of Hymns in Latin, French and English. Perhaps one of the major reasons for this immense output of sacred music was Gounod’s occasional thoughts of taking to the cloth.

In 1839 he lived at the Villa Medici in Rome after winning the Prix de Rome from the Paris Conservatory. It was during this period that he visited the Sistine Chapel and saw the splendor of the building and heard the majesty of it's choirs. This experience would have a profound effect on him.  (The music of Palestrina that he heard at the Sistine Chapel would be an inspiration to Gounod all his life.)

The Les Sept Paroles de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ sur la Croix was written in 1855. The circumstances surrounding the setting are not clear. However, it is obvious that Gounod composed the music for a first rate choir (Perhaps the choir at the Notre Dame Cathedral.)

The textures and sonorities he creates with the division of voices are magnificent, and the treatment of the text from the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are presented with great drama and beauty.

Wednesday, March 26: Cesar Franck Les Sept Paroles du Christ sur la Croix   (1859), choral work

Written four years after Gounod’s Setting, Franck’s Les Sept Paroles du Christ sur la Croix runs the gamut of textures and sonorities. From the austere, Palestrina influenced setting of the first word O vos omnes, to the passionate Verdi influenced 5th word “I Thirst,” Franck’s setting is a musical product of the time and place he was living in and the vast musical stimuli he had around him.

Thursday, March 27: Theodore Dubois Les sept paroles du Christ (1867), choral work

Written for Good Friday 1867 at Sainte-Clothilde Church in Paris, Dubois’ Les sept paroles du Christ proved to be a great success.

“the day of the execution arrived, everything went as expected. I was told from everywhere that the impression had been very great. The press was generally benevolent and my name began to emerge a little from obscurity.”

Scored for a small ensemble consisting of string quintet, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, three trombones, timpani, and harp and organ, Dubois’ orchestration reflects the solemnness and beauty of the text. The use of three trombones in particular, add to the darkness and seriousness of the subject matter.

The work has been in the liturgical heritage of Quebec for years. It was brought to Canada by French Missionaries and has been performed in Quebec ever since.

Friday, March 28:  Joseph Haydn: Dir sieben letzen Worte unseres Erlosers am Kreuzen(The Seven Last Words of our Redeemer on the Cross, 1787)

Quite possibly the most well-known setting of the Seven Last Words, Haydn’s setting was commissioned for Good Friday for the Oratorio de la Santa Gueva in Cadiz, Spain. The work was subsequently performed in Rome, Berlin, and Vienna, Haydn later adapted the work for string quartet and there is also a version for solo piano.

The Seven Last Words are set to music in seven sections. Each of the sections Haydn titled Sonatas. The seven sonatas are framed by an Introduction section and a final Earthquake section. It is the final section that Haydn has the orchestra play fortississimo. (fff)  It is the only time he asks for this marking in the piece. The majority of the work has a consolatory quality to it.

Tune in at 1:00pm this week to hear these five amazing setting of the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross