home > list of works > chamber & ensembles > four instruments > Las siete últimas palabras de Jesucristo en la cruz / The seven last words of Jesus Christ on the cross

Upper chapel and crypt of the Oratory of The Holy Cave in Cádiz

Las siete últimas palabras de Jesucristo en la Cruz / The seven last words of Jesus Christ on the cross

For String Quartet

reviews and news in the press
Download score


Given the proposal of the Caja Madrid Foundation to compose a string quartet with the obligatory title The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross to be premiered in the Church of The Holy Cave in Cádiz, the best thing was, in my opinion, never lose sight of the reference to Haydn's work that gave rise to this curiously posed commission.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1806)
Portrait painted by Thomas Hardy in 1792

Of course, the reference is indirect -not the smallest quote, not even the slightest stylistic wink to the original quartet will be found in my quartet- but that does not mean that Haydn's work ceases to be present, although from a more conceptual point of view, as a pretext if you will, tan formal or constructive. In this way, the link which I was interested in working with was not in the themes, nor in the harmonies, nor in the character of the different pieces by Haydn that make up the work, but rather in their tonal succession, which for the better understanding of this new quartet will be good to recall here.

Haydn: fragment of the draft of The Seven
Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross

Haydn's quartet consists, as will be recalled, of a succession of seven movements -one per word- preceded by an Introduzione and finished off by an Earthquake. Excluding these, the words follow one another in the traditional order, according to the following tonal plan:

I. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (B♭ major)
II. Truly I tell you: Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise (C minor)
III. Woman, behold, thy son! Son, behold, thy mother! (E major)
IV. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (F minor)
V. I thirst (A major)
VI. It is finished (G minor)
VII. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (E♭ major)

Making an abstraction of the modal aspects, the seven tonalities can be placed on the scale line from any of their notes, since they are all different and therefore allow a succession of seven correlative degrees. I was particularly interested in starting from the note Mi, which results in the following scale: E-F-G-A-B♭-C-D#(=E♭). In this way, a succession very similar to the old locrian mode or B mode (B-C-D-E-F-G-A) is obtained, with the variant that the seventh degree of the scale would be raised here. On the other hand, and unlike the rest, the locrian mode soon fell into disuse due to the absence of a 5th degree located at a distance of a perfect 5th from the tonic -which is fundamental in the evolution of the modality and the later tonality-. In the case of the locrian, the diminished 5th between the two degrees gives this mode its ultra-dark character, very apt in this case for the mood of a music that tries to evoke the agony and death of Jesus.
Transposed that scale to the note C (which was advised for reasons of convenience of writing for the string quartet), the result is: C-D♭-E♭-F-G♭-A♭-B. From this scale my quartet is governed melodically and harmonically, whose structure follows two other fundamental steps from here:

1) First, the rearrangement of the seven words, seeking a gradation from the darkest to the brightest, assuming what it may have of subjective. In this way, the succession of the seven movements -one per word- fits to the following order in my quartet -specifying in each case the note that, as in Haydn's quartet, serves as the tonal center, transported in turn to the degree corresponding of the new scale of C-:

I. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (B)
II. It is finished (E♭)
III. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (D♭)
IV. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (G♭)
V. I thirst (F)
VI. Woman, behold, thy son! Son, behold, thy mother! (D)
VII. Truly I tell you: Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise (A♭)

The tonalities ordered in this way result in the following sequence: B-E♭-D♭-G♭-F-C-A♭, which, due to its later treatment, constitutes a true series, without involving any twelve-tone treatment.

2. The establishment for each word of two planes of realization, one that we could call main, which in the first word is made up of a single note (Si), in the second by two (E♭-D♭), in the third by three (D♭-Sol-Fa), and so on, always following a correlative order and beginning with the tonal center that corresponds in each case. The second, secondary if you will, but far from constituting a mere "accompaniment", is made up in each case of the remaining sounds that are not part of the main plane (eleven in the first word; ten in the second; nine in the third, etc.).
The character of the different movements arranged in this way tries to provide contrast and variety to the whole work, whose third movement ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") is a more or less rigorous reworking of the material from my first string quartet, that with the equivalent title Lama sabacthani?) was composed in Rome in 1980, at the request of Radio Nacional de España for its then traditional Holy Week commissions.

Program of the premiere of The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross (October 30, 2004)

Composed in the winter of 2004 between Madrid, León, Mollina (Málaga) and La Coruña, the string quartet The Last Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross is dedicated to Antonio Moral, being premiered by the Brodsky Quartet at the Oratory of The Holy Cave in Cádiz on October 30, 2004, within the "Haydn in Cádiz" Festival.

Greeting the Brodsky Quartet after the premiere (Cádiz, October 30, 2004)


Recording: Brodsky Quartet
I. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit

First page of the first movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

II. It is finished

First page of the second movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

III. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

First page of the third movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

IV. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do

First page of the fourth movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

V. I thirst

First page of the fifth movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

VI. Woman, behold, thy son! Son, behold, thy mother!

First page of the sixth movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

VII. Truly I tell you: Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise

First page of the seventh movement of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross

Reviews and news in press

Turina premieres in Cádiz his &Last seven words"
By M. Muñoz Fossati
(Article published on the premiere of The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the cross, in the Diario de Cádiz. Cádiz, October 30, 2004)

José Luis Turina premieres today at The Holy Cave of Cádiz his vision for string quartet of The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which will be performed by the Brodsky Quartet, two hundred years after the homonymous work by Franz Joseph Haydn composed at the express request of the Cathedral of Cádiz. "I am delighted with the idea," the composer told this newspaper. "It is very charming that 200 years after Haydn was commissioned, a work is commissioned for the same church and with the same musical pretext. It is a very nice idea."
As a sign of the times, the patron is no longer the powerful Church of that time, but a financial institution, the Caja Madrid Foundation: "Times have changed a lot, it's obvious, but when it comes to doing a work it doesn't matter who does the order," he says.
Turina does not know the scene of its premiere, The Holy Cave, only from photos. "But they have told me about the very special atmosphere it has and the equally particular sound, in a kind of crypt, with a rather gloomy character, but that I hope will turn out well for the work".
The musician acknowledges that it is not usual to compose sacred music today: "But it cannot be said that religious music is not made today. Of course it is not like in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, but there are festivals like the one in Cuenca , which is already 40 years old, devoted solely to this genre, and every year contemporary works are programmed in it. Composers like Messiaen or Penderecki, who have influenced me so much, practically only have religious music".
Regarding today's premiere, Turina acknowledges that Haydn's work has "inevitably" influenced her. "But mine is a totally abstract work, without clear religious references. I think that what there is rather is a religious suggestion. That the title or the recitation of the 'words' with their biblical content before each part of the work can influence the mood of the listener.
Doesn't the work have that transcendental sense of the great religious compositions of all time? "Yes, yes, music always has that transcendental meaning. But the case of music is the opposite of painting. In it, the viewer first observes the painting and then approaches to see the label where the name of the author appears and the title. But the music listener reads the program first, 10 or 15 minutes before he knows all the information, so when he listens to the work he already has those conditions: the previous comment conditions and predisposes to listen to the music in one way or another, which in this case would be a religious feeling".
José Luis Turina, director of the National Youth Orchestra of Spain, does not live by composing. "Today the composer who lives from his works is very rare. We are all moonlighting, payroll workers. But on the other hand that is good, since it allows you to compose what you want, without depending on having to live from it ".

A work without direct quotes or references to Haydn's

"I have not followed the conventional order of Haydn's score, but I have put it according to my needs", Turina clarified yesterday. His Seven Words make "no direct reference or quote to their predecessor. While Haydn follows an increasingly dramatic order, beginning with 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do' and ending with the death of Christ, 'Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands', I have put the latter in first place, and I go from the most dramatic to the most luminous: I end with the piece 'Truly I tell you, tonight you will be with me in Paradise'. I go from the darkest to the most hopeful: the death of Jesus Christ brings the redemption of the human being".

A premiere at the height of the sacred stage
By Fátima Vila
(Article published in the newspaper La Voz de Cádiz. Cádiz, October 31, 2004)

The Holy Cave hosted last night the II Cycle of Music and Heritage with Haydn and Turina as protagonists

One of the temples that holds the greatest treasures, visible and intangible, in Cádiz was the scene, last night, of a premiere at the height of the history that its walls accumulate.
The Holy Cave hosted, from eight at night and for almost two hours, the II Cycle of Music and Heritage supported by Caja Madrid.
The call had as its center of attention the world premiere of the work by José Luis Turina on the theme The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross, an adaptation of the work of the immortal Austrian genius Joseph Haydn, who passed through the small and extremely rich temple at Rosario street, like other creators of the stature of Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.
The expectation created was also up to the mark. Despite the small capacity of the sacred enclosure, which is barely capable of holding 200 spectators, the crowd was absolute. It gave the feeling that there was more public than was possible.
The heads of the Catholic Church in Cádiz and the delegates of the sponsor, Caja Madrid, acted as hosts for the hundred of music lovers from Cádiz who were fortunate enough to be able to access the interior of The Holy Cave.
The setting that one day inspired the Austrian composer recovered last night the best of its musical tradition thanks to the magic of the Brodsky Quartet, commissioned to interpret the adaptation of Turina with the prestige of its string virtuosos.
Andrew Haveron (first violin), Ian Belkton (second violin), Paul Cassidy (viola) and Jacqueline Thomas (cello) made up the group that presented one of the most respected ensembles in the world in its specialty.
The fact that it has the 1998 Royal Philharmonic Society Award on his curriculum speaks for itself the capacuty of a group that was able to arouse the interest of fans, together with the world premiere of the work.
The repertoire of the Brodsky Quartet also included the pieces Quartet in F major op. 77 No. 1 and Quartet in G major op. 77 no. 2 by Haydn.

Featured composer
The review of the score premiered last night has been carried out by the grandson of the Sevillian composer Joaquín Turina, José Luis, who received this commission in recognition of his brilliant artistic career.
José Luis Turina has been director of the National Youth Orchestra of Spain since 2001 and National Music Award in 1996.
The communion between the Sevillian author, author of the premiered work, and Haydn is absolute: "He is one of my revered musicians. I consider him the most important classical figure. He consecrated the sonata form, invented the modern symphony... There are many elements that Western musical culture owes directly to him," Turina said last Thursday.
Yesterday, their paths crossed in one of the best possible places for music: The Holy Cave of Cádiz.

Maestro words
By Luis Suñén
(Review published in the newspaper El País. Madrid, Npvember 1, 2004)

There are places that go perfectly with certain types of music and one in Cádiz, until recently very secret, which has to do with Haydn's. It is about The Holy Cave, a foundation from the end of the 18th century for disciplining gentlemen that treasures three Goya paintings like three suns and that was kind enough to commission The Seven Words from the Austro-Hungarian musician. Things of that liberal, classic and romantic, religious and enlightened Cádiz in the case of these gentlemen, so theirs and so open, capable of enclosing these surprises in its beauty.
Within its Music and Heritage cycle, the Caja Madrid Foundation has had the good idea of remembering the event with another commission, a little over two centuries later, to be premiered in the same place and with the same Haydian title, how complete it is: The seven last words of Jesus Christ on the cross. The choice of an author like José Luis Turina (1952) made one think of the success of the enterprise, but the results have surpassed any optimistic omen, and rightly so. What the Madrid musician does is, from the outset, excite with a writing that is born of intelligence, mastery and that admirable faculty that he possesses for what we call communication.

Amazing beauty
The order of the seven words does not coincide with the evangelical account nor, therefore, with that of the Haydian model -which is not such-, and Turina follows more of a narrative, let's say, psychic, she devotes herself to the succession of each episode beginning with the end -death- to reach the promise of paradise to the good thief -hope. There is like a well-conscious tonal game that works as an ordered succession of frames that adjust the light, that shade the colors.
And the result is surprisingly, hauntingly beautiful, captivating the listener from the first bar and reminding the elegant and serene desolation of Britten's Quartet No. 3. What Turina apparently recounts is, in reality, a reflection whose character of pure music saves it forever, as it happens in all great religious music, and this is from start to finish.
The good luck of Spanish music in its latest quartet premieres continued with Turina. If Rueda was premiered by Arditti and Sotelo by Artemis, his new work has been put on the stands by Brodsky, a quartet that is still very wise -Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas are like family to any fan- and who enjoy now of a first violin -Ian Belton- with which to calmly cross any stormy sea. And as a complement, two absolutely prodigious quartets by Mr. Haydn: those of Op. 77. Those of Brodsky did them so well that, in the end, after two death tips, they were applauded for tangos, which in Cádiz has already fabric.

New seven words
By Ricardo Olivera Avezuela
(Review published in the newspaper La Voz de Cádiz. Cádiz, November 1, 2004)

The strings of the Brodsky quartet and the premiere of Turina mark an unforgettable evening for Cádiz music lovers.

For many reasons, the concert that was held at The Holy Cave on Saturday will probably go down in history: local history, at least, which is no small thing in the case of Cádiz. Before I go any further, allow me to express my passionate declaration of my love for the string quartet. For many years, one has been very fond of music in general, one loves it and tries to understand it as intimately as possible, but it happens that the string quartet overwhelms him, moves him and produces a torrent of emotions and feelings that go much further than that.
First of all, the presence and music of the Brodsky Quartet, one of the most important groups on the current scene and since its formation more than thirty years ago. Ian Belton and Andrew Haveron (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola) and Jacqueline Thomas (cello) make up a group with all the characteristics and virtues that a quartet should have: very solvent instrumentalists, with defined individual personalities, capable of interpreting compositions in which each of the instruments is treated with dignity and comparable possibilities, but also capable of making a single and indivisible whole with those apparently scattered wickers. Brodsky has all of this, in its most outstanding categories.
Secondly, the two quartets from Op. 77 by Haydn, a composer almost as native of Cádiz as Falla. The latest works of this format produced by the composer are, without a doubt, the pinnacle of his quartet compositions, which is almost equivalent to saying the absolute pinnacle of the genre. Revolutionary, contemporary works, but much more advanced than Beethoven's first ones (Op. 18), were interpreted with a freshness full of sonorous and expressive adequacy, balance between the parts, full of nuances and details, with, in short, a sound of beautiful blend.
I leave for third place the most important event of the evening: the world premiere of The Last Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross, a work composed by José Luis Turina commissioned by the Caja de Madrid Foundation. Interesting approach: a commissioned work that, in some way, is closely related to another commissioned work two hundred years older.
But that's all the coincidence, there is practically no other. Haydn's play underscored a sermon and was to contribute to its severe staging. That of Turina, the real and historical event of the last moments of the life of Christ; there, and in the more than two hundred years that have elapsed, lie their differences.
The composition that concerns us -which adopts an unconventional order of the seven sentences- is rabidly contemporary while remaining deeply tonal and, if I may, quartet-like. Making use of all the sound resources the instruments can have, it seems to me that we witness resignation, desolation, rebellion, misunderstanding, the serene surrender at the end, the merciful gaze charged with love.
A prodigy of work with extraordinarily exciting moments. Burdened with technical difficulties and individual and group demands, the Brodsky made it a veritable creation made especially exciting by the austere beauty of the frame. One cannot help but think of this music as a musical score for a film in the vein of Pasolini.
The devoted, fervent and emotional audience applauded wildly, the artists corresponding with their own, respectful and very appropriate versions of the time, of two of the Seven Popular Spanish Songs of our Falla that were received with the same anointing, with the same emotion as all the works that were interpreted.

A luxury program in The Holy Cave
By Juan A. Castañeda
(Review published in Diario de Cádiz. Cádiz, November 1, 2004)

Last Saturday's program at The Holy Cave was interesting for several reasons: because of the works by Haydn that were included in it, because the Brodsky Quartet was entrusted with performing them, and because a version of The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross by José L. Turina was premiered, one of the musicians belonging to the group that followed, back in the sixties, the previous one formed in Madrid by Ramón Barce, Cristóbal Halffter, Tomás Marco, Luis de Pablo and Carmelo Bernaola, among others.
Turina explains, and justifies it in the hand program, the approach followed to configure the tonal palette that he uses when composing the work. Starting from seven different keys -one per word- and ordering them in a certain way, after a transposition to C, a sequence such as C-D♭-E♭-F-G♭-A♭-B, with the semitones located, as can be seen, in the first to the second note and from the fourth to the fifth. The notes of this sequence establish -which is where we wanted to end up- the tonalities of each of the seven words of the score. Turina warns that the system used, despite the series that results from it, does not suppose or involve subsequent twelve-tone treatment.
The seven words..., due to their function of meditations to separate the different parts of the exhortations of the Good Friday sermon, and the slow nature of almost all of its fragments, limits the game of contrasts without reaching Haydn's own dramatic structure in his best oratorios. Did José L. Turina get it? Of course, there was no lack of religious anointing in some of the words in his version, but there were also many moments lacking in expressiveness, missing a greater adequacy between the different words and the music that illustrate them, and this despite the good work of the Brodsky Quartet.
Ian Belton, Andrew Haveron, Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas showed their very high quality. Not one but could put the most least critic to the reading that they did of the two quartets of Op. 77 of Haydn. The unitary conception of these two works was fully realized in a flexible and expressive discourse. The one on Saturday was a luxurious evening, a lesson and an exceptional point in the flow of music in Cádiz. Two works by Falla, the Nana of the Siete canciones populares, and the Song of hurt love from El amor brujo, a bit gypsy-like, signed the concert.

The expressive purity of the classical quartet in the Week
By Pedro Mombiedro
(Review published in the newspaper El Día. Cuenca, March 20, 2005)

Secondly, the work by José Luis Turina "The last seven words of Jesus Christ on the Cross", which, having its inspiration in Haydn's homonymous, has its foundations in L. Beethoven and in the Western tradition. Influence that is in the tonal evolution, in the musical virtuosity, in the development of the form and in the coldness of the speech. Turina approaches the last words of Jesus Christ in an abstraction closer to B. Bartok than to D. Shostakovich without descriptions, without symbolism.

The pleasure of doing things well
By Xoán M. Carreira
(Review to the concert offered by the Granados Quartet in the Religious Music Week of Cuenca on March 17, 2008, published in the Internet magazine Mundoclásico on March 21, 2008)

Four years ago, the Caja Madrid Foundation sponsored the restoration of the Church of the Rosario in Cádiz, a beautiful temple linked to Haydn's career because his brotherhood was the commissioner in 1787 of the first international commission that the composer received. It was a very peculiar orchestral work intended to be performed in the crypt of the temple, known as The Holy Cave, during the so-called "three-hour devotion", a semi-private prayer developed by the Jesuits after the earthquake in Lima in 1687, totally unrelated to the "sermon of the seven words" ceremony typical of the Catholic celebrations of Holy Friday.
The new work - entitled Musica instrumentale sopra le 7 ultime parole del nostro Redentore in croce, ossiano 7 sonate con un'introduzione ed al fine un terremoto - was enormously successful after its premiere in Vienna on March 26, 1787 and was quickly published in the most diverse arrangements, not all by Haydn, of which the best known today and totally original by Haydn is the string quartet The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
To celebrate the inauguration of the restored temple, the Caja Madrid Foundation organizes a concert in which the Brodsky Quartet performed the quartet The Last Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross by Joseph Haydn and premiered the homonymous work that the Foundation had commissioned from José Luis Turina, a composer who loves this type of tribute to music from the past, which he usually does with singular brilliance. Competing with Haydn in the field of the string quartet is no small challenge for any composer, and Turina wisely did not pretend to compete with his wise colleague in the field in which Haydn is the creator of the canon. "You will not find in my quartet not the smallest quote, not the slightest stylistic wink to the original quartet, but that is not why Haydn's work ceases to be present, albeit from a more conceptual point of view, as a pretext if you want, than formal or constructive."
Following his custom in such projects, Turina established his work plan with a single link to the source material, this time, the tonal succession of the group of Adagios from Haydn's Seven Last Words. For the rest, none of Haydn's ideas is maintained in Turina's work, neither the concept of succession of Adagios, nor the intense descriptivism, nor of course the thematic, harmonic material or the histrionic character of some onomatopoeias. This radical exclusion of any evocative aspect allowed Turina to dispense with the Introduction and the Earthquake used by Haydn and to maintain exclusively the seven 'words' -actually, phrases- that Turina rearranges "from the darkest to the brightest, assuming what this may be subjective".
In the Olivier Messiaen conferences held that same day, and in which this concert was framed, Turina gave a conference on Mysticism, music and structure in which he analyzed his quartet, and ended up parodying food labeling: "mysticism: there may be traces". The fact is that although Haydn was a devout Christian, he was far from having mystical feelings and he lived his faith with great pragmatism, the same one that he applied in most of his daily activities. And when he composed Musica instrumentale sopra le 7 ultime parole del nostro Redentore in croce he did the same thing that Stravinsky would do 150 years later when he composed his Apollo Musagetes: think of the violins.
It is as difficult to find traces of mysticism in Haydn's Seven Words as in Turina's, but in both there is an interest in providing contrast and variety to the whole of the work, for its perfect finish, for maintaining the elegance of the speech and for respecting the interpreters. The two wrote music for the enjoyment of reason and the pleasure of the senses, and for this reason the Turina quartet survived unscathed the harsh test of being the "opening act" for Haydn in his historic venue in Cádiz and for Bartók on this occasion. It is obvious that he can start his own career without sponsors.

Download pdf

(Score and parts without watermarks available at www.asesores-musicales.com )