As we approach Passiontide I thought I’d write a few words about my cantata Wondrous Cross – some of this was in my previous blog so you may have already read it.
At the school I attended from age 11 we sung J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion every Easter: so I probably sung all the voices over the years, and also played keyboard continuo, and the memory of that great work has stuck with me ever since, particularly the final chorus and the joyous exultation of the concluding chorale. It was pointed out to me after I wrote Wondrous Cross that one of the motifs in it is close to the beautiful descending three-note phrases of the penultimate chorus of the Bach Passion, and somehow, unintentionally, several elements of Bach’s Passion must have found their way into my Passion-tide work – Wondrous Cross (OUP 2012): details here.
I wrote Wondrous Cross in 2011 for Lion Walk Church in Colchester, where I worship regularly. My aim was to write a Passiontide work which was dramatic and accessible to a range of choirs, by giving some flexibility with regard to solo voices and forces used. Our small amateur choir performed it during Holy Week 2012 with strings and organ (you can hear this performance here; despite its imperfections I think it is a devoted and meaningful performance within a church service)
Later in the year it was recorded by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, director Sarah MacDonald, who later recorded it for Regent Records – details here
In presenting the Passiontide story I decided to focus on the crucifixion by using the ‘Seven Last Words’ of Jesus on the Cross and the Bible narration leading up to each. I set the narration for unison voice(s) and Jesus’s words for four-part choir, thus putting Jesus’s words into the mouths of all. I linked these passages by settings of other related texts and some traditional Passiontide hymns – and one spiritual. If it is performed in a worship situation, the congregation can join in with these. Underlying the whole work is the eighteenth-century hymn-tune ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’ which appears in the Prelude, in the background at various points in the work, and complete at the end. Here’s a link on Youtube with me talking about it.
Since publication in 2012 it has had a good and increasing number of performances – all over the UK and Scotland, but also in the Netherlands and the US, in concert halls, abbeys, cathedrals, and parish churches. I’m looking forward to singing it again this Passiontide!
You can obtain the Wondrous Cross CD from all good record shops including http://colchesterclassics.co.uk/ and from Regent Records
You can obtain the Wondrous Cross score from OUP and all good music shops including Forwoods Music