Music and words for Lent

The Arianna String Quartet and the spoken word will combine in a performance of Haydn's "The Last Seven Words of Christ" for two performances during Lent. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, March 17 and 18, at Trinity Episcopal, 44 North Second St., Ashland.

The performance by the Arianna String Quartet will be interspersed with original and published meditations spoken by eight clergy members representing various faiths.

Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Christ" was commissioned in 1786 for the Good Friday service at the Grotto Santa Cueva in Southern Spain. The works' seven main sections, each based upon one of Christ's final phrases, were prefaced by brief, spoken homilies by the Bishop of Cádiz.

The seven sonatas preceded by an instrumental introduction and followed by a finale depicting the earthquake that the Gospels describe as marking the death of Jesus were first performed on Good Friday, 1787.

Haydn described this work and the circumstances under which it was written with the following words:

"The walls, windows and columns of the cathedral were covered in black cloth, a large solitary lamp hung in the centre lightening the religious darkness. At noon the cathedral doors were closed and the music began. The Bishop ascended the pulpit, spoke one of the seven phrases (the work is incorrectly translated from the German and means 'phrases' as opposed to 'words') followed it with a commentary, descended from the pulpit and fell on his knees before the altar. At this moment the orchestra played. The Bishop ascended and descended seven times and each time the orchestra played after his discourse.

"My composition must be judged in this light. The task to produce seven adagios, each of which should last 10 minutes, without tiring the listener, was no mean one; and I soon found that I could not keep to this duration."

The seven phrases are: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"; "Surely, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise"; "Woman, behold your son! Behold your mother!"; "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"; "I thirst"; "It is finished!"; and "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

In the 19th century, the Good Friday three hours of devotion gained favor in Protestant churches, and Haydn's "Last Words" entered into the concert repertory.

In 1994, the Vermeer String Quartet recorded the Haydn work with an introduction read by Jason Robards and meditations delivered by noted scholars and pastors, including excerpts from previously taped sermons by the Rev. Billy Graham and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The recording was nominated for a Grammy.

Haydn wrote four versions of "The Seven Last Words of Christ." It started out in 1786 as a purely orchestral piece. This version became popular and to capitalize on that Haydn then rescored the work and published it for string quartet so it could be more widely played (and sold). He also made a keyboard arrangement of the work.

Then, in 1795, in Passau, Haydn heard a cantata arrangement by Joseph Friebert, a provincial Kapellmeister who had set the biblical words for chorus accompanied by the orchestral music. Haydn made his own arrangement for voices and orchestra. That is the version performed on the Vermeer String Quartet CD.

By far the most commonly performed version of "The Seven Last Words" is the one written for string quartet.

The Arianna String Quartet was founded in 1992. The group gained national attention by winning the Grand Prize in the 1994 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, and First Prize in both the Coleman and Carmel Chamber Music competitions. Grou p members also were Laureates in the 1999 Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition.

In 2000, the members of the Arianna String Quartet were appointed to the faculty at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, as artist teachers and quartet-in-residence, and were recently named associate professors of music. Serving as faculty for the Britt Festivals' String Quartet Academy brings them to the West Coast several times a year, providing them the opportunity to present this concert.

A pre-performance discussion with members of the Arianna String Quartet and Trinity rector, Rev. Anne Bartlett, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the social hall.

Admission is $20 and tickets are available at the door or in advance at Paddington Station in Ashland. All proceeds will benefit the music and outreach programs at Trinity Church.

Call 482-2656.

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