Commissioned in 1785 by the bishop of Cadiz, Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross, scored for large orchestra, was presented for the first time in that city's cathedral. Consisting of seven movements framed by a solemn introduction and a thunderous finale depicting the earthquake that followed Jesus's death, this near masterpiece, which used instrumental music in the nascent sonata form as a means of religious expression, was rather novel for its time. Later Haydn fashioned an alternate version for string quartet, which, like the best of his chamber music, has a simple sophistication that conveys emotional urgency. (A recent recording by the Vermeer Quartet provides an excellent demonstration.) Some years later the work had a third incarnation--an oratorio on which Haydn worked closely with librettist Gottfried van Swieten, fine-tuning the music to fit snugly around the words. Pivotal in Haydn's development as a choral composer, the oratorio paved the way for the great achievements to come--from the Nelson Mass to The Seasons. Though it's seldom revived these days, the venerable choir of Rockefeller Chapel has chosen The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross as the centerpiece of its Easter program. The orchestra is the youthful, energetic Symphony of the Shores, and the quartet of vocalists consists of experienced oratorio singers Amy Cochrane, Emily Lodine, Calland Metts, and Jeffrey Horvath. Bruce Tammen conducts. Friday, 8 PM, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago, 5850 S. Woodlawn; 753-1191.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Dry.