Haydn already had a wealth of sacred works under his belt when, in 1785, aged 53 and at the height of his fame, he received a detailed commission for the cathedral of Cadiz in Spain, asking him to write ceremonial music for Good Friday. His challenge was to create an engaging and individual work out of the curious musical form prescribed by the ritual, and the resulting instrumental composition was a triumph.
Its history, however, was far from complete; several years later while in Passau, Haydn stumbled upon a vocal arrangement of the work, set to excerpts of Ramler’s poem Der Tod Jesu, which he took upon himself to revise. The ensuing oratorio, to which a woodwind intermezzo was also added, was published in 1801 and exceeded all popularity of the previous version to become one of the composer’s most performed works.
In recent times Haydn’s “Seven Last Words” have enjoyed increasing levels of fame and popularity. These intimate seven adagios show a contemplative, deeply introspective side of Haydn which many were not familiar with. Of the several versions of the work (solo keyboard, string quartet, string orchestra) this version for soloists, choir and orchestra became the most popular.
That it was, according to Haydn, one of his greatest achievements can be heard in this superb account given by the talented Chamber Choir of Europe, which has already produced many distinguished recordings for Brilliant Classics. Beautifully sensitive singing enhances the individual character accorded to each of the seven Adagio movements by the composer, making this performance an invaluable addition to Haydn’s discography of sacred works.