The Seven Last Words of Christ, Op. 51, Hob. III:50-56 was commissioned and composed as an orchestral piece in 1787 for a Good Friday service for the cathedral in Cádiz, Spain. This particular cathedral had a well-known penchant for the dramatic: Haydn was to write thematically-appropriate music for the interludes following the priest's reading of the traditional last words of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion, taken from the four Gospels in the New Testament. Haydn ended up with a slow introduction, seven "sonatas" on the text (all slow movements), and, as the final movement, an unexpected Presto meant to evoke the earthquake described in Matthew's gospel, directly following Jesus' last breath.
It is a difficult, taxing piece of music, both to play and to listen to, but has long been a favorite among Haydn's works, especially in its iteration for string quartet (transcribed, supposedly, by Haydn himself). As programmatic music, it is most obviously appropriate for use in church services during Lent and Holy Week, but can certainly be adapted to the concert hall very easily, and to great effect. Some groups performing the work have substituted for the traditional readings poems on the crucifixion of Christ; others have commissioned artists to paint or sculpt pieces on the themes, which are then displayed during the performance of the music.
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This edition contains parts for two violins, viola, and cello, and is edited by Maxim Jacobsen. Published by Edition Peters.
The Seven Last Words of Christ, Op. 51, Hob. III:50-56
1. Introduction in d minor - Maestoso ed Adagio
2. Sonata I in B-flat Major - Largo "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." 3. Sonata II in c minor - Grave e cantabile "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
4. Sonata III in E Major - Grave "Woman, behold your son: behold your mother."
5. Sonata IV in f minor - Largo "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
6. Sonata V in A Major - Adagio "I thirst."
7. Sonata VI in g minor - Lento "It is finished."
8. Sonata VII in E-flat Major - Largo "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
9. Il terremoto ("The Earthquake") in c minor - Presto e con tutta la forza
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