Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), the Austrian
composer, opened the era of Viennese classicism. Haydn established a genre
of classical symphony, which became a pattern, or at least a start-point for
composers working in this genre during the next two centuries.
Though his musical career became a huge success in Europe,
his childhood was not promising. Joseph's farther was a poor wheelwright.
The young composer sung for ten years in a boy-choir before his voice changed
and he was dismissed.
In 1759 Haydn got his first appointment as a Kapellmeister at
Count Morzin's Palace, where the seventeen-year-old composer wrote and performed
his first symphony. Soon Count Morzin became bankrupt and Haydn again was
on his own.
Eventually, in 1761, he was fortunate enough to meet Prince
Esterhazy, who invited him as a Vice-Kapellmeister at Esterhazy's Palace.
Haydn worked there for almost all the rest of his life, gradually becoming
Kapellmeister and what was much more important - one of the greatest composers
of his time.
The Seven Last Words of Christ
1. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they
do." Luke 23:34
When the crucifixion procession reached Golgotha, Jesus was
crucified along with two criminals. The Roman soldiers divided up his
clothing by casting lots. "He saved others; let him save himself if
he is the Son of God, the Chosen One".
2. "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in
Paradise." Luke 23:43
One of the criminals who was crucified with Jesus said:
"Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Another
rebuked the first one: "Don't you fear God since you are under the same
sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds
deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you
come into your Kingdom."
3. "Woman, behold, your son!"."Behold, your
Mother!" John 19:26-27
When Jesus saw his Mother and one of his disciples
standing near, he said to his Mother: "Woman, behold, your son!".
Then he said to the disciple: "Behold, your Mother!" And from that
hour the disciple took her to his own home.
4. "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Mark
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi,
Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast Thou
forsaken me?" When some of the people standing around the cross heard
this they said: "He's calling Elijah." Some believe that at that
moment Jesus took on himself the sins of the world and was for the first time
truly separated from the Father.
5. After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said
to fulfill the scripture, "I thirst." John 19:28
The verse says, that he said "that the scripture might be
fulfilled." In verse 15 we read: "My strength is dried up like a
potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws."
6. "It is finished." John 19:30
The prophecies had been fulfilled. Everything was in
order. The plan was complete.
7. "Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said:
"Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he
breathed his last. Luke 23:46
He had now done all, that He came to do, and there was only one
who could do the rest - the Father.
In the introduction to the first edition of the oratorio
"The Seven Last Words of Christ" published in 1801, Haydn
confessed, that it took approximately fifteen years for him to complete the
composition after the cathedral at Cadiz commissioned him.
Eventually, the orchestral version was finished in 1786 and
premiered the next year on Good Friday. The ceremony began with the bishop
reciting the first word. A short sermon interpreted a message from Our
Lord. After that the first movement of Haydn's composition was played.
The remainder of "The Seven Last Words of Christ" followed the same
Haydn wrote seven slow movements and called them
"sonatas". After that the introduction and epilogue symbolizing
an earthquake after Jesus' death, were added. The orchestral version was
so popular that Haydn arranged "The Seven Last Words of Christ" for
string quartet, as well as for piano. Joseph Friebert, a composer from Passau,
wrote the text on Haydn's orchestral piece and turned it into an oratorio.
Haydn did not like Friebert's version and composed his own
oratorio based on his orchestral original. Nowadays "The Seven Last
Words of Christ" for string quartet is the most popular. Maybe,
because the four-voice setting for strings is perfect to express the dramatic
moment of crucifixion and bring an intimacy which lets every listener perceive
the last minutes of Our Savior's earthly life not as a social event but
Though Mendelssohn considered the music of "The Seven
Last Words of Christ" "scandalously gay", Haydn valued it as one
of his greatest works.
The Borodin String Quartet was formed in 1945, in Moscow, and
named for a pioneer composer of Russian instrumental chamber music, Alexander
Of their recent tour in Spain: "The Borodin Quartet is
another world. Few ensembles today offer this level of quality and
cohesion, which combines technical ability with expression so marvelously
balanced". Gramophone wrote: "Few quartets have learned to look
so far away from themselves and so deep into the very centre of the music".
The Borodin String Quartet is undoubtedly one of the major quartets of today.
©2003 Evgeni Kostitsyn
The Seven Last Words
Seven Sonatas with Introduction and Conclusion for Two Violins, Viola, and Cello
Hob. XX 1B (III Nos. 50-56)
Introduction. Maestoso ed Adagio 5:30
2. Sonata I.
3. Sonata II. Grave and
4. Sonata III.
5. Sonata IV.
6. Sonata V.
7. Sonata VI.
8. Sonata VII.
9. Conclusion. Presto con tutta la forza 1:47
The Borodin String Quartet
Andrei Abramenkov, violin
Dmitri Shebalin, viola
Valentin Berlinsky, cello
cover painting "Golgotha"
by Edvard Munch
Recorded at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in December, 1984
Recording engineer, Shakhnazaryan
Design by Evgeni Kostitsyn