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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/19068

Title: The Seven Last Words from the Cross
Authors: Olson, Tawnie
Advisor: Chan, Ka Nin
Department: Music
Keywords: sacred music
choral music
Issue Date: 19-Feb-2010
Abstract: The Seven Last Words from the Cross is structured as a kind of loose double theme and variations. Movements II, IV, VI, VIII, IX, XI and XII present Jesus’ words as recorded in the four Gospels, and the remaining movements (which set related biblical and non-biblical texts) treat related themes and serve as choral and orchestral responses to Jesus’ words. The Gospel movements use a gradually expanding collection of pitches that frame a central pitch. This pitch (with a few deliberate exceptions) is generally reserved for Jesus’ actual utterances, which are sung by the four vocal soloists together, and which mostly use contrasting pitch material: a quasi-diatonic collection presented as pairs of intervals that move in contrary motion around the central pitch. The movements that respond to the Gospel texts take these interval pairs as their primary musical material, adapting them in symbolically and musically significant ways. The unison that is used to set Christ’s words fractures into a minor second when sung by the chorus, and his minor seventh expands to the more dissonant major seventh. The major third and perfect fifth, however, are common to both versions of the primary intervallic material, and both are used in shaping the large-scale form of these movements. Symmetry, both of pitch and rhythm, is also important to these movements’ structures. The opening and closing movements frame the main body of the work and are deliberately linked in their texts and musical material. The text of the first movement deals with the problem of corporate and individual human sin, of God’s wrath at humankind’s misdeeds and our own frustration and grief at our inability to consistently do what is right. The answer to this problem of sin, Christians believe, is the cross, and so in the last movement God’s anger, which was “poured out like fire” in the first movement, is quenched in a fountain of mercy. God’s rejection of sinning humanity and our rejection of God are ended. The Lord hears his people and answers them, and they in turn call out to him, acknowledging him as their God. In the seventh movement, a setting of a portion of the Stabat mater, the verse “Tui Nati vulnerati/ tam dignati pro me pati/ poenas mecum divide” (in part, “Let me share the pains of your wounded Son”) is given particular emphasis. The reason for this emphasis is explained in the eighth movement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in which the piece’s previously established pattern breaks down. The words of Jesus are sung by the full chorus with the soloists, instead of by the soloists alone, and use the more dissonant version of the paired intervals, which was previously reserved for the response movements. The setting of the Gospel text and its response (excerpts from Psalm 22) are also combined into one movement for the first and only time in the piece. The purpose of these alterations was to draw a connection between Jesus’ sense of abandonment by God, the psalmist he was quoting, and the universal experience of human suffering.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/19068
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Faculty of Music - Doctoral theses

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