Endellion String Quartet – Haydn “The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross”
A words and music project
Haydn’s work was originally commissioned in the 1780s by the Archbishop of Cadiz to punctuate his own sermons on the Words as part of an Easter Day service.The work was first performed on Good Friday, 1787, as part of the midday service. The cathedral’s walls, windows and columns were clothed in black; the only light came from a single central lamp; and the huge cathedral doors were locked at the start of the service. The Bishop delivered lengthy sermons on each of the Seven Last Words and Haydn’s music followed each sermon.
The Endellion String Quartet have solved the problem of how to perform this deeply intense and atmospheric work without the assistance of the Archbishop of Cadiz by commissioning a series of seven poetic meditations from Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate. The Quartet presents the work as a complete concert with each of Haydn’s sublime slow movements preceded by a narration of a meditation on the Word in question. The narrator is often Andrew Motion himself, and Sam West is also a regular narrator. Andrew Motion has created a wonderful narrative which creates the perfect context in which to perform this extraordinary piece without simply playing Haydn’s seven movements (and Introduction and Finale) without punctuation –which Haydn –with good reason- certainly never intended.
The Endellions also perform Haydn’s Seven Last Words in a version with poems written by Ruth Padel who narrates as well . These poems imagine Christ’s agony on the Cross as a journey of self exploration and at the same time are shockingly immediate in their depiction of physical suffering.