Joseph Haydn—Seven Last Words

Seven Last Words 2

Joseph Haydn. The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, ca. 1801. pp. 44-45.

Seven Last Words 3

Music Library M2000.H41 S5 1801

            Haydn wrote The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross in 1786 in response to a commission from the bishop of Spain’s Cadiz Cathedral. The bishop requested music to accompany the cathedral’s Good Friday service that year. In addition to introductory and concluding sections, Haydn wrote a movement for each of Jesus’ last sayings or utterances from the cross, creating a total of nine sections. For the service, each movement followed a recitation of the corresponding saying and an accompanying message by the priest. Thus, Haydn’s work in its original setting was not meant to be a single unit within the service, but rather interspersed throughout.

            The movement on display is the fifth, containing the fourth saying—“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Unlike Bach’s working with this passage, Haydn originally included no text within The Seven Last Words. The version on display here is from a later reworking of this material, where Haydn added voices to make a quasi-oratorio, a variant that was produced in 1796. The excerpt to the right is from the Cook Music Library’s copy of the first edition of the oratorio version, published in 1801.