The Crucifixion

St Mary's church, Penzance TR18 4AP

Saturday 30th of March, 2024
7:00 pm

The Crucifixion – Sir John Stainer

On the Saturday before Easter Day there is a chance to both take part in and listen to The Crucifixion by John Stainer. Kevin Lane will be leading this and it will take place in St Mary’s church PZ. Chris Hortin from St Mary’s gives us the background to this wonderful piece of music

 Stainer lived from 1840 to 1901: he was an entirely Victorian figure. He was one of a wave of English composers who were able to refute Karl Muck’s unkind description of England as ‘Das Land ohne Musik’ (the land without music). Among his contemporaries both Sir Charles Parry and Sir Charles Stanford have long been highly esteemed for their fine settings for the Anglican church, but in recent years their symphonic music has come to enjoy similar value. Sir Arthur Sullivan, an almost exact contemporary, despite writing ‘serious’ music, is valued for his light operas. Stainer, in contrast, was very much a church musician; having sung as a choirboy in St. Paul’s Cathedral and been a student at Magdalen College Oxford, he returned to St. Paul’s as organist and to Oxford as Professor of Music. (There are more than a dozen hymn-tunes by him in ‘Ancient and Modern’.)

 Stainer wrote The Crucifixion, his chef d’oeuvre, in 1887. It was eagerly taken up by church choirs. Almost alone among great religious works, there was never an orchestra written for it, as it only calls for vocal soloists, choir and organ. This is probably the reason that major choral societies rarely include it in their repertoires, along with ‘Messiah, ‘The Creation’, the great Requiems, and of course Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions.

 For his two great Passions, accounts of the Crucifixion, Bach took the text from the Gospels, written in German. Stainer worked to a text by Sparrow Simpson (who is otherwise unknown).

 The work runs from Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, through the trial before Pilate, Jesus being put up on the cross, taken down and buried. — Christopher Hortin

The Crucifixion is scored for a SATB choir and organ, and features solos for bass and tenor. Structurally, it is based on the traditional format of the Passions by Johann Sebastian Bach, with a Biblical narrative interspersed with choruses, solos and hymns reflecting on the Passion story.
Stainer intended the piece to be within the scope of most parish church choirs; it includes five hymns for congregational participation.
The service starts at 7pm and lasts for approximately one hour.  There will be a retiring collection.

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