'Chorus and orchestra under Christoph Spering respond splendidly,
as do the soloists, to all Haydn's demands.'
'Seven Last Words' -
with ROBERT ANDERSON
Haydn's future acquaintance, Horatio Nelson, bombarded Cadiz in
1800; but 15 years earlier its prosperity rivalled London's, and Haydn
was commissioned to write for the Cathedral instrumental meditations on
the Seven Last Words of Christ on the cross. The seven 'sonatas'
were to be for full orchestra, with an Introduction and concluding 'earthquake'.
Haydn gave a graphic account of the original settings: 'The walls,
windows and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one
large lamp hanging from the centre of the roof broke the solemn obscurity.
At midday the doors were closed and the ceremony began'. There was
a short service; then '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 prostrated himself before the altar.
The pause was filled by music'. It was the same procedure for the rest
of the 'words'. Haydn enlarged on the problem of composing seven
slow movements (indeed eight with the Introduction) that should both illustrate
the 'words' and yet have sufficient variety. His success was never
in doubt. It may be that he also hinted at the number of each 'word'
by emphasis on the equivalent interval. Certainly Sonata 1 starts with a
repeated B flat (unison), and Sonata 7 is the only one to stress 7ths.
Copyright © 18 November 2000
Robert Anderson, London, UK
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