Composer Marcello Filotei’s work based on Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross”, commissioned and realized by Vatican Radio, is presented in the run-up to its world radio premiere on Good Friday.
By Linda Bordoni
“My God, why have you forsaken me?” are the words Jesus cried out as he died on the cross according to the Gospels. His dramatic cry resonates with Christians across the world as they commemorate the crucifixion on Good Friday, and reflect on how Jesus gave his life so that we may be saved.
They are the words and the inspiration at the heart of Joseph Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross“, commissioned for a Good Friday service in 1786. His work for full classical orchestra consists of seven main meditative sections that are framed by a slow introduction and a fast “Earthquake” conclusion.
So is the work composed by Marcello Filotei (who has added two interludes) for a contemporary interpretation of Haydn’s masterpiece, and created a “meditation” on humanity’s current sense of loss, bewilderment and need for resurrection and hope.
Entitled “7”, Filotei’s re-reading of Haydn’s oratorio comes to life in the sonorities provided by the percussions of the Ars Ludi ensemble – that Filotei explains, reflect the noise and chaos of today’s world, – an electronic score, and the voice of cantor, Patrizo La Placa, a baritone who sings with the Pontifical Sistine Chapel Choir.
The cutting-edge work, commissioned and realized by Vatican Radio’s Music Programme – to whom the composer belongs – echoes Hadyn’s work in many ways, including the fact that it sets the stage for Easter week and will be launched, as a world radio premiere, at one minute after midnight Vatican time, on 2 April, Palm Sunday.
Presenting the work at Vatican Radio on Wednesday morning, Filotei spoke of the genesis of the work and of how being at Vatican Radio, with its over 50 different language sections – inspired and guided him.
It was the day Russia invaded Ukraine – he said – and he was moved to see how the members of the Russian programme immediately reached out to their Ukrainian colleagues to say how sorry they were. Then, he added, he witnessed a steady flow of solidarity pouring into the Ukrainian programme as journalists, technicians and other staff all knocked on the Ukrainian door to give their support. Thus, the work’s last movement – the Earthquake – is a juxtaposition of Hadyn’s original score, the percussions as a backbone, and the voices of Vatican Radio’s journalists – each in their own language and modulated by Filotei’s electronic mastership – crying out “My God, why have you forsaken me?”. A wrenching lament that echoes today’s broken world’s cry of the poor and of the earth. The first uttered in Ukrainian, the last in Russian…