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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlosers am Kreuze, H.XX: 2
(The Seven Last Words of the Saviour on the Cross) originally composed for orchestra in 1786, version for keyboard from 1787
Introduction I - Maestoso e Adagio
No. 1 – Largo (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do)
No. 2 – Grave e Cantabile (Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise)
No. 3 – Grave (Woman, behold thy son, behold thy mother!)
No. 4 – Largo (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?)
No. 5 – Adagio (I thirst!)
No. 6 – Lento (It is finished!)
No. 7 – Largo (Into my hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!)
Il Terremoto (The earthquake) Presto
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Recorded at the Lanna Church, Sweden, August 2002. DDD
BIS-CD-1325 [66:22]

 

This recording of The Seven Last Words of the Saviour on the Cross is contained on the eleventh and final volume from BIS and Brautigam in their survey of the complete solo keyboard works of Haydn.

Haydn was commissioned by the Canon of Cadiz Cathedral in Spain to compose instrumental music on The Seven Last Words of the Saviour on the Cross. It was intended for the work to be performed during Lent as an aid to meditation during Holy Week. The seven slow movements (Adagios) are sometimes referred to as ‘sonatas’ or ‘meditations’ and are intended to reflect the final utterances of Jesus on Mount Calvary.

The first meditation commences with the words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do", with the final section ending with the words, "Into my hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!" The complete work is framed by a solemn introduction and concludes with a fast movement describing an earthquake. Haydn found composing the seven Adagios no easy task and stated: "The task of writing seven Adagios, one after the other, each lasting about ten minutes, without wearying the listeners, was by no means easy and I soon found that I could not restrict myself to the required timing."

Haydn originally composed The Seven Last Words for full orchestra in 1786. A year later he scored an alternative version the for string quartet, which is said to be the most popular adaptation and around the same time a piano reduction of the work came into existence. In 1795 as Haydn was travelling through Passau on the Austro-German border he heard a performance of an arrangement of the work made by a choirmaster Joseph Freiberth. He had added choral parts to Haydn’s original orchestral score. In response Haydn set about composing his own choral version using a text by Baron Gottfried van Sweden. Haydn set the words for four soloists and chorus, adapting the original orchestral score and adding parts for the clarinet, contrabassoon and trombones. He also inserted a solemn Introduction for wind between the fourth and fifth movements.

The keyboard version, played on this release, was not made by Haydn but by an unknown arranger thought to be a music publisher, in 1787. Haydn had an involvement: he edited the proofs which he praised as being, "very good and made with remarkable diligence".

Dutch-born soloist Ronald Brautigam has been enhancing his reputation as one of the world’s leading exponents of the fortepiano. Brautigam’s chosen instrument is a modern copy made by Paul McNulty in Amsterdam in 1992 after Anton Gabriel Walter, circa 1795. I would never describe the McNulty fortepiano as being a particularly colourful instrument however the sound is warm and strong yet without the fuller sonority of a concert grand piano.

Brautigam, a period instrument specialist, clearly has a real affinity for these Haydn keyboard works and delivers a direct and appealing interpretation. He undoubtedly gives a sensitively expressed account of these contemplative and reverent sacred works. With clean articulation and a fine characterisation his performance is certainly a fine one without ever quite being distinguished. The recorded sound is vivid and extremely lifelike.

Michael Cookson



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