A Note on the Music

While Tre Ore might seem like a wordy, cognitive slog, it isn’t. The music is as important as the words, both the hymns sung in community but also the choral and orchestral music. The composed orchestral and choral music is spread throughout the service and connected to the consideration of each word and homily.

There are two specific works that I’ve experienced at Tre Ore services that I’d recommend. The first is Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. The piece features the use of a countertenor, a voice that sounds like a female voice but isn’t. Here’s another relevant fact for this year’s music.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi never heard his masterpiece. It lived in his head, ideas germinating into complex dissonances, stories in rhythm, passages of coiled passion released into intense, personal reflection. At 26 years old, the composer died of tuberculosis, having just barely completed his final commission: a twelve-movement setting of the Stabat Mater, a thirteenth-century Catholic hymn that dramatizes and ponders the Virgin Mary as she sees her son crucified, buried and resurrected.


The second recommendation I’d have is Joseph Haydn’s choral The Last Seven Words of Christ (he also created one without a choir and one for piano). Here’s Haydn on the origins of the work:

Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the Seven Last Words of Our Savior On the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz[1] to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits


Tre Ore: The Last Seven Words of Christ