HAYDN Seven Last Words Emerson String


Die sieben letzten Worte
The Seven Last Words
Les Sept Dernières Paroles op. 51
(Fassung für Streichquartett
Version for string quartet
Version pour quatuor à cordes)
Emerson String Quartet
Int. Release 01 Mar. 2004
1 CD / Download
0289 474 8362 5
CD DDD 0289 474 8362 5 GH

Track List

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross, Op. 51, Hob. III: 50-56

Including Intermezzo

Emerson String Quartet

Total Playing Time 1:09:03

Haydn "The Seven last Words": The Emersons play it with the tenderness and lyricism that their audiences have come to expect.

On their new Deutsche Grammophon recording . . . these American players offer an intelligent reading. They manage to merge both the music's solemnity and its dramatic impact . . . "The Seven Last Words" is a remarkable work of musical invention and religious devotion: with this recording the Emersons do Haydn and Easter proud.

. . . their compassionate, vividly coloured performance leaves you in no doubt that this unique masterpiece is the most fervent and mystical music that Haydn ever wrote.

A wonderful recording of Haydn's most intense and dramatic work, with the added bonus of a new movement. I love this music, and it's evident from listening that the Emersons do too. Tragedy and passion are laid bare without the overplayed sentimentality of other recordings.

The seriousness of purpose evident in most of the Emerson String Quartet's work and their fine technique . . . are characteristics which are well suited to the seven great slow movements . . . Of the modern-instrument recordings, this new account by the Emersons is perhaps the most polished of all, but as well as being technically very fine, it is also a most thoughtful reading.

This astonishing work gets a performance of sublime concentration and religious intensity from the outstanding American ensemble. They rivet the attention with the rapt beauty of their playing.

The Emerson performs these sublime meditations with evident love and dedication . . . the Emerson's thoughtful, superbly (and beautifully recorded) performance deserves to be heard, not least for its enrichment of the familiar quartet text.

The Emerson Quartet might be said to bring the best of both worlds, combining the Classical purity of the Mosaiques with the Lindsay's Romantic warmth. Technically speaking theses players are very much in a class of their own and DG's recording (detailed, yet gently cushioned) is also in the luxury class.

The Emerson's phrasing is conscious of the music's symphonic and oratorio connections . . . a breathtakingly beautiful performance.

. . . this is more than op. 51, but it is arguably a real improvement on it. The performance, too, is elegant.

Sustaining interest through eight slow movements is not easy, but the Emerson succeeds brilliantly; indeed, the quartet includes a ninth movement.

. . . the seven adagios, each setting an exclamation of the dying Christ, are arguably at their most intense performed by a string quartet. Essential recording: Emerson String Quartet

Das Emerson String Quartet bestätigte seinen fabelhaften Ruf: Mit rhetorischer Dringlichkeit, sensiblem Zusammenspiel und flüssigem Tempi vermieden die vier Amerikaner alles meditativ Einlullende und Nivellierende, sondern blieben stets der Dramatik hinter der Verinnerlichung auf der Spur.

Die Emersons tragen diese "Sieben letzten Worte" subtil, spannend und frei von Manierismen vor. Es scheint, als würden vier Seelen gemeinsam atmen . . . Die feinen dynamischen Abstufungen folgen stets den inneren Gesetzen der Musik und treffen den Kern einer Botschaft . . .

Haydns "Sieben Worte" sind schon für sich allein eine Sternstunde des Quartettrepertoires und eine übermusikalische Übung meditativer Versenkung. In der Interpretation durch das Emerson String Quartet werden sie zum Ereignis und nachhaltigen Erlebnis: Die Loslösung von den Instrumenten, reiner Klang, reine Musik, die Transzendierung des Quartettspiels.

El Cuarto Emerson, sin duda uno de los mejores de la actualidad, ha puesto manos a la obra para dar vida a la versión para cuerda, toda una rareza dentro del repertoire, que se nos presenta aquí, como expresión de dolor y piedad, sin caer jamás en el tedio que Haydn quiso evitar a toda costa. Si bien la obra original no era exactamente un oratorio, ni tampoco esto es del todo un cuarteto, el resultado final es espléndido.

. . . el prestigioso Ernerson String Quartet continúa haciendo honor a su enorme fama de perfección, altura interpretativa, sonido, empastamiento global y fidelidad al texto, cualidad notable si se tiene en cuenta la diversidad de autores que la han abordado con gran acierto y meticulosidad.

Estos músicos son muy buenos, como ya sabíamos, y además actúan magníficamente coordinados, con un equilibrio prácticamente perfecto; y conceden a la interpretación unidad y, esto es lo difícil, la necesaria variedad en el acento, en el fraseo, en la exposición general . . . La delicadeza y el refinamiento de la ejecución quedan plasmados, por ejemplo, en los sutiles pizzicati de la Sonata V, Adagio, Sitio.

Met deze gevoelig gespeelde emotionele muziek voegen ze ongetwijfeld een hooggewaardeerde cd toe aan hun discografie.

De scherpe strijkersklanken van het Emerson Kwartet hebben hier een ongekende intensiteit die door merg en been gaat.
    Joseph Haydn: “The Seven Last Words"

by Eugene Drucker

In 1785 or '86 Haydn, a devout Catholic, received a commission from the cathedral in Cádiz. He was asked to provide descriptive orchestral interludes between the spoken parts of the service in the great Spanish Baroque church during Holy Week, presumably on Good Friday. In 1787, the year in which it was first performed, he transcribed the work for string quartet to give it wider currency, and eventually, in 1795-96, he made a choral version which was published in 1801. In the preface to that score, Haydn wrote:

Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the seven last words of Our Savior on the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners.

The work that Haydn produced under these unusual conditions is startlingly original and one of his most important instrumental compositions. Through tone-painting, surprising juxtapositions of material and an extremely varied harmonic palette, it succeeds in expressing the duality of Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man, and in evoking the struggle of his final hours. As Haydn wrote to his London publisher: “Each text is expressed by purely instrumental music in such a fashion that it produces the deepest impression in the soul of even the most uninstructed listener."

1. The Introduction in D minor sets the tone of passionate intensity and urgency for the entire work through dramatic silences, sharp dynamic contrasts and the prevalence of dotted and double-dotted rhythms. Together with the epilogue, which depicts an earthquake, it forms a narrative frame for the utterances of Christ.

2. Sonata I: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Here we first hear the subjective voice of Jesus. As in the following slow movements, the primary musical motive sets the words of the Latin biblical text, and the rest of each piece flows from that vocal impulse. The emphasis here is on sweetness and lyricism, but there are moments when the two-note, descending “Father" (Lat.: Pater) motive - a sharply accented, double-dotted rhythm - is intoned with anguish and perhaps even a touch of anger, rather than the serenity that prevails for most of the movement.

3. Sonata II: “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." In this movement, which begins in C minor, the mood is one of resignation. But after a fermata, the music modulates to the relative major (E flat), and the opening melodic material is used to express a radiant vision of Paradise. The development section passes through the dark keys of F minor and G minor before settling into the contemplative repose of C major.
4. Sonata III: “Woman, behold thy son." The descending two-note sighing motive here is a setting of “Woman" (Lat.: Mulier). It is significant that Christ, already serenely detached from an earthly mother-son relationship, uses the word “mother" only in entrusting Mary to his disciple John (Ecce mater tua), offering her through him as mother to all true believers.

5. Sonata IV: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" At his most vulnerable moment, Jesus quotes here from Psalm 22, seeking support from Scripture, knowing that his fate has been pre-ordained and prophesied. His conflict is expressed by Haydn through ascending sequences of sforzandos in competitive canonic dialogues between the violins, and most remarkably in a highly chromatic and disjunct cadenza for the first violin. For a few measures the music seems to have lost its way, conveying a sense of abandonment, of disorientation during this ordeal, almost as if Christ were questioning his faith and groping for an answer.

6. For the choral version, which Haydn adapted nearly a decade after composing the Seven Last Words, he added a movement for wind ensemble preceding the Fifth Sonata, a second Introduction whose gravity befits its interpolation in the work. We have transcribed this elegiac music, which seems to look ahead to the nostalgic sensibility of Schubert, for string quartet. In triple meter, it has frequent accents on the third beat, with one or more voices tied from the upbeat into the downbeat of the next bar, creating an unsettled feeling that is heightened by the poignant harmonies.

One might argue that this new movement interrupts the narrative flow of the Passion story, for here Haydn is no longer trying to evoke the subjective voice of the Savior. He is recording his own subjective reaction to the tragic events of the story. But that grief-stricken response is what every believer is meant to experience when listening to a setting of the Passion, which concerns not only Jesus' death but also the faithful who are redeemed by his sacrifice.

7. Sonata V: “I thirst." The dry sound of a pizzicato accompaniment sets the background. Christ's voice (in a long, sighing two-note figure reminiscent of the “Woman" motive) is weak by now, and at first we might think that he is resigned to his fate. But after a peaceful cadence, pounding repeated notes, heavy sforzandos in the violins and an emphatic bass line accompany the wrenching reiterations of the thirst motive. We are reminded once again of Christ the man.

8. Sonata VI: “It is finished." The struggle is nearly over. After the sombre opening phrases in G minor, the main motive becomes the bass line for a sublime melody in B flat major. But in the course of this movement, there are sudden shifts to the minor mode, and heavily emphasized unison reiterations of the triad on which the main theme is based.

9. Sonata VII: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." In this movement, the principal motive is strong and noble, striving upward. It seems doubtful that Haydn wanted the violins to be muted merely in order to achieve a contrast of sonic texture; the mutes must also represent the weakened voice of the Savior at the end of his ordeal. The separation of the human and divine has come at a tremendous cost, which we are made to feel throughout the entire work.

10. The sense of upheaval is given its most palpable expression in the final movement, depicting the Earthquake that followed the death of Jesus. Jagged unisons, cross-rhythms and obsessively repeated motivic material create the impression that the natural world is reeling, pulling apart under the weight of humanity's sin and loss.


It is not certain that the quartet version of the orchestral original was entirely Haydn's work. There are passages in Sonatas III, V and VI in the quartet transcription that has been handed down to us where motivic material in the woodwinds has simply been left out. In Sonatas III and V, that results in entire phrases consisting of accompanimental material only, drawn from the original orchestral string parts. Accordingly we have chosen to make certain adjustments to the transcription. Wherever possible we have reinstated original material, adding double-stops here and there in order to leave one of our instruments free to play the melody. The most significant changes occur in Sonata III: bars 21-27 and 70-73, Sonata V: bars 38-43, 76- 78 and 96-106, and Sonata VI: bars 57-63 (in which we have restored material that seems to anticipate the main motive of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony). We have also rescored parts of the “Earthquake" movement (bars 10- 26, 33-35) to include some of the high writing originally conceived for woodwinds. And in parts of every movement, the cello plays down an octave, since the cello and bass parts are usually given on the same line in the orchestral score, with the double bass playing an octave lower than written. This gives greater amplitude to the quartet sound, a resonance that we feel is appropriate to the weight and impact of the music.