Seven Last Words of Our Saviour from the Cross

(Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze, 1787)
   Composition for symphony orchestra by Franz Joseph Haydn commissioned by the Bishop of Cadiz for an extraordinary Lenten liturgy invented a century earlier by a Jesuit priest, Alonso Messia Bedoya of Peru, in response to disastrous earthquakes of 1687. Haydn wrote an introduction, then seven more slow movements designed to allow reflection upon the pronouncement of one of the "words," utterances of Christ from the cross recorded in the gospels, and a sermon thereon delivered by the bishop. The work concludes with a fast movement representing the earthquake that occurred after Christ’s death. The nine movements require from 45–80 minutes, depending on how many repeats are observed.
   The work was so popular that Haydn arranged it for string quartet, probably the version most commonly heard today, and also authorized a piano version, both in 1787, the year of its first performance. In 1795–1796, Haydn collaborated with librettist Baron Gottfried van Swieten and transformed it into an oratorio for four soloists and four-voiced choir with expanded orchestration.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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