It is finished. This is the last of the 7 movements. In this solo movement, I recapitulate many of the themes that have appeared in previous movements, hopefully in a way that is suggestive of what’s gone on before rather than an overbearing repetition.
Once again, the Finale playback leaves much to be desired, so feel free to fire up your musical imagination and read it directly from the score: PDF. I’m sure I’ll post a recording of the service itself. We had our first rehearsal today, and even though there were lots of rough spots, it had the seeds of something really wonderful.
The Shadow of the Tomb: Matthew 27:57-60 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.
Unfortunately, Finale playback conveys nothing of the portamento, so it just sounds like a string of notes. Sigh… If you want to read along, imagining the whole movement unfolding like a musical sigh, here’s the score: PDF.
The Shadow of Death: Matthew 27:45-54 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
At first glance, this 5th movement of my Tenebrae cello composition may seem mismatched with its scripture. Why such beautiful, lilting music for story of the crucifixion?
A few reasons.
First, you can only dramatize a story so far with music. The whole narrative of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion is gut wrenching. If each movement tries to push the drama further, it can quickly become cartoonish. Instead, I chose to focus on the crown of thorns and the phrase, “Hail, King of the Jews.” In both cases, what was meant as an insult, was in fact the truth. Jesus is the King of all creation, even when crowned with thorns. Like the last verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” I want to give beauty and dignity to the crown of thorns, weaving musical themes together like the strands of the crown.
If you want to verify my counterpoint, take a look at the score: PDF
The Shadow of Crucifixion: Matthew 27:27-37 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
I think I’m over the hump with this movement. It’s the 4th out of 7 movements, and it’s the fastest, most complex movement of them all. (Fast music means more notes in less time, which makes it more time consuming to compose.) This movement follows the scripture reading in which Jesus stands before Pilate and the chief priests without defending himself. In the end, Pilate makes a politically savvy exchange of Barabbas for Jesus. The music reflects the agitation of the crowd, the silence of Jesus, and the mob shouts of “Crucify him!”
Want to hear it in your head? Here’s the score: PDF.
The Shadow of Accusation: Matthew 27:11-14; 20-29
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”[a] All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood;[b] see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
One of the nice things about getting a choral piece published is that the publisher often makes high quality recordings of the pieces for promotional purposes. Here’s a new recording of “Kwake Yesu/Here on Jesus Christ I Will Stand” by GIA:
What’s that? It’s so lovely you want to purchase 40 copies for you choir? Well, head on over to the GIA website and they’ll be glad to help you out!
In this third movement, we’re down to five cellos out of the original seven. Because the scripture reading that accompanies this movement tells of Jesus leaving the others three times to pray, I gave a solo cello three “recitatives.” I’m not usually big on word painting in music, but it seemed a good way to reflect the drama of the story.
The Shadow of an Unshared Vigil: Matthew 26:36-46
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[a] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
My son, Theo, creates some pretty spectacular animations. He’ll disappear for a few hours and then come back with a stop motion mash up of drawings, cut paper, cellophane, and moving objects. “Flight” follows the adventures of a paper airplane. I finally got a chance this weekend to import the pictures into iMovie and put a soundtrack to it. Enjoy!
The 2nd movement of my Maundy Thursday piece for cellos. Since the text begins with “when they had sung the hymn,” I decided to give this movement a hymn-like structure–very simple rhythms with a singable melody. Of course, the harmonies are more biting than the average hymn. Take a look: PDF.
The Shadow of Desertion: Matthew 26:30-35 30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
One of the most powerful services of the church year is the Tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. It is a sequence of solemn readings from the last scenes of Jesus’ life as he descends toward the cross. One of the things that gives the service such impact is that after each reading, one of seven candles is extinguished until the sanctuary is left in total darkness.
I’ve always wanted to compose a piece for seven musicians to accompany this service, with a movement of music to follow each scripture reading. After each reading, one musician at a time will turn off his/her light and leave the stage. By the 7th reading, only one musician will remain. This year, due to an abundance of cellos at the church, I finally have my chance to implement this decade long idea and am writing a piece for cello septet.
Here is a rough draft of movement #1, based on Matthew 26:20-25: When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”