The Crucifixion, by Giambattista Tiepolo & Giandomenico Tiepolo, 1745–50

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato:

Passus, et sepultus est. (Nicene Creed)

 

Crucifixus Etiam Pro Nobis

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis: He was also crucified for us. That brief statement in the Nicene Creed refers to one of the two most important events of all time. The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection three days later form the fulcrum of human history.   

We commemorate the Crucifixion Friday of this week, Good Friday.  Our penitential and  liturgical preparation for that event began five weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday. It will build in intensity over the next few days to reach its culmination at the end of the week. Fasting, the Stations of the Cross, and the Veneration of the Cross will mark the Death of Jesus. Next, the silent, watchful waiting of Holy Saturday. Finally, we come to an explosion of joy in the Easter Vigil and the services of Easter Sunday.

Musical Treatments

Numerous composers over the centuries have looked for ways to invest the bare statement of the Nicene Creed with that intensity.  Howard Ionescu of Winchester College gives us two examples. He contrasts Johann Bach in his Mass in B Minor, and Antonio Lotti in his Crucifixus. Bach, he says, “depicts Christ’s suffering in continuous descending chromatic lines, with the voices plummeting to the depths of their vocal range and then hushed to a silence.” Antonio Lotti (whose Miserere we heard last week) goes in a different direction. Ionescu says of his Crucifixus:

Written for 8 voices, each part enters bar by bar starting with the lowest basses, piling up the musical texture with suspensions (musical crunches in the harmony) and creating a piercing intensity by the time the highest voice enters.

Bach’s setting creates a powerful impression of the living spirit departing the body as it dies.  Lotti’s composition instead feels like the Divine Soul of Jesus building up to the point where it bursts the confines of its human body.  

Lotti’s Crucifixus

Both treatments are extraordinarily beautiful and moving musical representations of the Passion and Death of Christ. Bach’s O Sacred Head Surrounded was our final musical selection of Lent last year, however, so we’ll give Lotti the honor this time around. His Crucifixus will be the last music we share on this site until we celebrate the Resurrection next Sunday.   

The NMH choir sings Lotti’s Crucifixus in the clip below.

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