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BCS - Crucifixion Notes
BCS Next Concert

Concert Notes
The Crucifixion

7.30pm
Weds 23 March 2016

Bath Abbey

The Crucifixion

John Stainer was born in Southwark in 1840. In 1849, Stainer became a chorister at St Paul's Cathedral, soon becoming the choir's principal soloist. In 1854 he was invited to sing in the first English performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion under William Sterndale Bennett at the Hanover Square Rooms.

His career flourished, culminating in his appointment as organist of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1871. There he set about modernising the music of cathedral worship, raising the standard at London's cathedral during the 1870s to the position of pre-eminence which it still enjoys. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1888, the year in which he left St Paul's to become Heather Professor of Music at Oxford University.

We shall never know what gave Stainer the impetus to compose The Crucifixion. Perhaps he recalled his part in the performance of Bach's Passion but thought that it would be too difficult for any but professional musicians to perform. So he asked the Reverend William John Sparrow Simpson to write a libretto which he could set within the compass of more modest performers, afterwards given the title The Crucifixion.

The story of Christ's passion and crucifixion is told in recitative using text from the Gospels, with choruses and solo arias which reflect on the spiritual significance of the events. Although the resources needed are much less than those required for Bach's works, English audiences took it to their hearts and it has stayed hugely popular to this day.

Sir John died in March 1901; he was only 60. The Crucifixion remains his most famous composition but its reputation has suffered both from general antagonism to its late nineteenth century style and from particular criticism of its text and setting. What cannot be denied is that a sensitive, respectful performance is still a powerful experience and its place in the annual re-telling of the story of Holy Week is assured.


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