"'The Seven Words' contains some of the most deeply felt music in all Haydn. It is no accident that this work was an especial favourite of the composer, who wrote it in a spirit of profound religious conviction; the depth and sincerity of the work is immediately felt. The year 1785 is a significant one in Haydn's creative life, for it marks a turning point in his music; there is every reason to believe that this turning point, which eventually led to the last great symphonies, masses and quartets, was partially - if not wholly - the result of 'The Seven Words'" - Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon.
In his preface to the score of "The Seven Words of the Saviour on the Cross" (choral version), printed at the beginning of the 19th century, Joseph Haydn looked back to the work's performance in an Andalusian church on Good Friday: "I was requested by a canon of Cadiz to compose instrumental music on The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross. It was customary at the cathedral of Cadiz 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 centre 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, and prostrated himself 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 music 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..."
"The Seven Words" was originally scored for full orchestra (with kettledrums and brazen trumpets for the "earthquake" section), but Haydn, eager that the work should achieve wider circulation, made an arrangement for string quartet and also authorised a pianoforte reduction. On 8th April 1787 he wrote to his English publishers to announce "An entirely new work, consisting of instrumental music, seven Sonatas, together with an introduction and, at the end, a Terremoto or earthquake. These Sonatas are written for, and composed around, the words which Christ our Saviour spoke on the Cross... Every Sonata, or movement, is simply expressed by means of the instrumental music in such a way that even the most uninitiated listener will be moved to the depths of his soul."
Haydn considered "The Seven Words" to be amongst his most successful compositions. He often conducted the work, and it was on the programme of his last public performance in December 1803. In the CD booklet for the present release, writer Uwe Schweikert notes that an illuminating aspect of the composition is "the tension created by the contrast between Old and New, the sublime dialectic of baroque affect and classical style. Formally, all seven Adagio movements use the sonata form, with only the first movement omitting the restatement of the exposition. And Haydn will undoubtedly have viewed the classical sonata form as one of the factors guaranteeing the work the symphonic character of a piece of truly absolute music. At the same time he was striving for a rhetoric of musical discourse that makes recourse to baroque conceits and stylistic means for the depiction of biblical events, but recasts them in modern form, in the language of wordless, absolute music." Schweikert argues that on the strength of "The Seven Words", Haydn may even be ranked alongside Schoenberg as the boldest pioneer of post-baroque music.
The diverse versions of "The Seven Words" have each had their lobby amongst Haydn scholars who have long-debated the merits of the original orchestral score versus the vocal arangement, the string quartet and the piano arrangement. Today the string quartet - first performed in Vienna on St Cecilia's Day 1787 - is the version heard most often.
The Rosamunde Quartet takes up "the meditative, philosophical mood of the composition, lucidly merging it with the textures of four-part writing. Expressiveness issues from the repudiation of superficial subjectivity."
The Rosamunde Quartet, with members variously from Germany, Austria and Australia, was formed in Munich, and encouraged by mentor Sergiu Celibidache. The quartet gave its first public performance at the Berliner Festwochen in 1992. The four musicians, all of them successful in their individual careers, had decided to dedicate themselves to the string quartet only a year earlier. Critics immediately accorded the group membership of "the elite of the lofty guild of string quartets" when praising recordings of Haydn issued by the Berlin Classics label. Since then, the musicians have toured widely and played many major festivals. From the beginning their repertoire was broad in its reach. An ECM debut in 1996 with recordings of Webern, Shostakovich and Burian (ECM New Series 1629), won the German Record Critics Award. This was followed, two years later, by the genre-transgressing "Kultrum" (ECM New Series 1638), a collaboration with Argentinian bandoneonist-composer Dino Saluzzi. This was described by Gramophone as "easily amongst the best recordings this year", and hailed by America's Fanfare as "one of the most successful trans-cultural projects in its artistic integrity." The combination performed persuasively at ECM festivals in Brighton and in Badenweiler, and elsewhere. In Germany, the group's profile was further boosted by a documentary film about their work by Christian Gramstadt screened on national television channel ARD in 1999.
For details about their concert schedule consult the Rosamunde Quartet's home page: http://www.klangverwaltung.de/rqm/index.html
Further ECM New Series productions with the Rosamunde Quartet are in preparation.
CD package contains 32-page three language booklet with liner notes by Uwe Schweikert and artwork by David Godbold and John Virtue.