Music for Holy Week

This week is Holy Week, and with it the season of Lent comes to a close.  Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the most important holidays in Christianity, so it follows that over the centuries stunning liturgical music would be written for this time of year.  While Bach’s St. Matthew Passion has become the standard music for Holy Week, it is hardly the only treatment.  Musical Concepts presents four collections of Renaissance choral music, as well as a rare recording of Franz Liszt’s Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross).

More after the jump…

Via Crucis is one of Liszt’s most daring works, written in the last decade of his life.  Literally translating to “The Way of the Cross,” Via Crucis tells of the last hours of the life of Jesus through fourteen “stations” or moments culminating in His crucifixion and burial.  Though maintaining a reverential and sacred mood throughout, Liszt’s harmonies are unsettled and experimental, eschewing the flashy passages of his youth for austere meditation.  Gramophone magazine described this recording in powerful terms in its initial release: “Via Crucis is one of Liszt’s most extraordinary compositions, laconic, inward, searching and uncompromising. It makes its gestures succinctly, never developing anything, moving forward swiftly yet with a sense of complete timelessness. Some of the harmony is far ahead of anything achieved even by Wagner.” (Click here)

One of the most popular compositions for this time of year is the Miserere by late-Renaissance composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652).  A setting of Psalm 51 – a penitential psalm central to the Lenten season – Allegri likely composed this work in the 1630s for use in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week.  It was written exclusively for the Tenebrae services of the Paschal Triduum and was once regarded as so sacred, and so special to the Holy See, that until the late eighteenth century the transcription, publishing, or even performance of this piece outside of the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week was an offense punishable by excommunication from the Church.  Today the work is much more widely available; please click to see additional Renaissance polyphonic songs on this spectacular recording by James Griffett, James Bowman, and Pro Cantione Antiqua, directed by Mark Brown. (Click here)

Another important musical setting for the Tenebrae services are the Lamentations of Jeremiah taken from the Old Testament and written by the Prophet Jeremiah in mourning of the destruction of Jerusalem.  The most famous versions of the Lamentations were written by Thomas Tallis and Orlandus Lassus.  The two Tallis settings appear on a super collection of Tallis choral music performed stunningly by Pro Cantione Antiqua. (Click here)

Orlandus Lassus composed a more thorough setting of the Lamentations, with three lamentations for each of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  One of the most celebrated composers of his day and a contemporary of Palestrina, Lassus wrote works of piercing sorrow and penitence.  The five voices of Pro Cantione Antiqua, under the direction of Bruno Turner, create a breathtaking sonic space for reflection.  This recording has been lauded by Gramophone magazine and received a rave 3 Star review from the Penguin Guide: “These performances under Bruno Turner are expressive and vital. The recording too is spacious and warm.”  Truly a masterpiece of polyphony. (Click here)

We are also proud to present another excellent collection of Lassus by Pro Cantione Antiqua, featuring music for Easter Sunday.  These hymns and motets are paired with Lassus’s Requiem for Four Voices, providing a beautiful counterpoint of death and resurrection.  Vividly recorded, capturing all the nuance of Pro Cantione Antiqua’s stellar performances, this disc was also awarded 3 Stars by the Penguin Guide. (Click here)