Music and Vision homepage 'Elgar and Chivalry' by Robert Anderson - available now from Elgar.org

 

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'Chorus and orchestra under Christoph Spering respond splendidly,
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'Seven Last Words' -
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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.

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Copyright © 18 November 2000 Robert Anderson, London, UK

 

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