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Haydn's Quartet: Seven Last Words of Our Saviour On the Cross


Free entry, retiring collection

Hampden Quartet: Alexandra Reid, Charlotte Reid (violins) Helen Sanders Hewett (viola) Elisheba Stevens (cello) play Joseph Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour On the Cross.

1. Introduction: Maestoso ed Adagio
2. Largo: Father, forgive them
3. Grave e cantabile: Today you will be with me in paradise
4. Grave: Woman, behold thy son
5. Largo: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
6. Adagio: Alas, I thirst
7. Lento: It is finished
8. Largo: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit
9. Il terremoto: The earth shook and the rocks split

In 1785, the cathedral in Cádiz, Spain, commissioned Franz Josef Haydn to write a set of seven orchestral sonatas for use in their Good Friday services. The seven sonatas were to conform to the "Seven Last Words," as they are called, meaning the seven statements attributed in the Gospels to Jesus while on the cross. One sonata would be played after the reading (and a short meditation-homily by the bishop) of each "Word." Haydn himself recalled the circumstances: ‘Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon 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 centre 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; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits.’ The piece proved so immediately popular that it was soon to be heard throughout Europe; and Haydn was asked by his publishers to make an arrangement for string quartet (which is most heard today) and another for piano. The Seven Last Words is one of Haydn's most powerful compositions, admired and appreciated for centuries for its poignant depiction of the text, its creative ways of creating variety in eight essentially similarly-themed movements, and its lovely, lyrical melodies. The seven meditations on the Last Words are excerpted from all four gospels. The "Earthquake" movement derives from Matthew 27:51ff. The first violin part includes the Latin text directly under the notes, which "speak" the words musically. Much of the work is consolatory, but the "Earthquake" brings a contrasting element of supernatural intervention.


Formed at the Royal Academy of Music in 2006, the Hampden String Quartet takes its name from the village of Great Hampden in Buckinghamshire where they gave their first concert.  Since then they have given a wide range of recitals, including at the Amersham Festival in Buckinghamshire, the Dean and Chadlington Festival in Oxfordshire, and Proms at St. Jude’s in Hampstead, as well as a series of performances for Coutts Bank and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.  All four members of the Quartet have won chamber music prizes at the Royal Academy of Music, including the Sir John Barbirolli Prize and the Max Pirani Award.  They have also received quartet tuition from eminent musicians such as Hartmut Rohde, Thomas Brandis, Aleksander Pavlovic, Marianne Thorsen and Martin Outram. The Quartet regularly gives private recitals. In 2009 they performed at St James’s Palace for an evening celebrating the sixtieth Anniversary of NATO, and in 2012 they were delighted to play at the Tower of London for a reception marking the arrival of the Olympic Torch in London. Following a concert in March 2009, an article in the Financial Times stated:  “I don’t think anyone was unmoved by the ardour and commitment with which this group delivered the soul-harrowing slow movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet and the exuberant finale of Beethoven’s opus 130″. In addition to exploring the wealth of String Quartet repertoire, the group also enjoys playing larger chamber music works.  In recent years this has included performances of Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major and Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor. In 2015 the Hampden Quartet will continue to give frequent recitals at Great Hampden Church. They will also give a series of performances in London and further afield.

Earlier Event: April 1
Morning Prayer
Later Event: April 1
Evening Prayer