By Jesús Colina
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Prefecture of the Pontifical Household organized a celebratory concert in the Vatican for the feast day of Benedict XVI’s namesake, St. Joseph, featuring the music of Joseph Haydn.
The Pope, who was baptized Joseph Ratzinger, attended the concert in the Clementine Room of the Apostolic Palace, which featured a work of Spanish composer José Peris Lacasa. He presented his version of Joseph Haydn’s “The Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross,” which Peris Lacasa calls “In the Manner of Haydn.”
The Henschel String Quartet and mezzosoprano Susanne Kelling performed the work. Of Kelling, the Pontiff said afterward that she put her “extraordinary voice at the service of the holy words of the Lord Jesus.”
At the end of the concert, the Holy Father, who was accompanied by his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, commented in German, Italian and English, that the work of Haydn is a “sublime” example of “how it is possible to unite art and faith.”
Noting how the composer had taken inspiration from the Gospel, Benedict XVI reflected on how “on the hard cross, God pronounced in Christ the most beautiful and true word of love — Jesus — in his total and definitive surrender. He is the last word, but not in the chronological sense, but in the qualitative sense.”
“Perhaps I have gone a bit far with this reflection,” the Pope quipped, “but it’s the fault, or maybe the merit, of Franz Joseph Haydn.”
When the Spanish media asked Peris Lacasa this week how it happened that he was invited to the Vatican, he said he wasn’t sure.
“People of musical circles must have said something to Benedict XVI about ‘The Last Seven Words of Christ,’ and he must have said, ‘I want to hear this work.’ And like that it all began. I received letters and calls directed to me by the prefect of the Papal Household, Bishop James Harvey.”
Speaking of the work of Haydn, Peris Lacasa noted that “The Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross” was composed at the request of the Confraternity of the Madre Antigua that gathered in the Church of the Rosary in Cadiz, Spain.
“Haydn was amazed when he read of the way in which Holy Week was celebrated — with all the images covered, including the organ,” he noted.
“He accepted the challenge,” the composer added. “It is music that is profound and brilliant.”