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Easter in classical music...

posted Apr 18, 2017, 3:27 PM by Steven Vaughan
Easter has inspired some great works in classical music. Probably the best known is George Frederic Handel's The Messiah, with its "Hallelujah” chorus.

In addition to his St. Matthew's Passion, Johann Sebastian Bach also composed an Easter Oratorio. He revised it over 20 years, from 1725 - 1746; growing out of a single cantata written for a Lutheran church service into a semi-staged musical drama. This optimistic work skips the Crucifixion and begins after the death of Christ, with the discovery of Jesus’s empty grave in a joyous, trill-riddled opening.

The opening of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s simple, resourceful Stabat Mater – a hymn focusing on the pain of Mary watching her son die – puts two singers in dissonance over a small chamber orchestra, creating the eerie feeling of voices crying out. The 26-year-old Italian composer was suffering from tuberculosis at the time he composed this in 1736, and died just a few weeks later.

In 1783, Joseph Haydn was commissioned to compose orchestral music to punctuate the seven readings during the Easter service. A few years later he changed this music into a string quartet; and then he eventually dramatized it into an oratorio called The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross.

While attending the funeral of his friend, the conductor Hans von Bülow in 1894, Gustav Mahler got the idea to turn a short piece he had written six years earlier into a longer work about the nature of the afterlife. And the popularity of his Symphony No 2, “Resurrection”, established him as a major composer.
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