VATICAN CITY, MARCH 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Friday at the end of a concert the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household organized in the Vatican for the feast day of Benedict XVI’s namesake, St. Joseph, featuring the music of Joseph Haydn.
The musical event 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.
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At the end of such intense and spiritually profound listening, it would be better to keep silent and prolong the meditation. However, I am very happy to greet and thank each one of you for your presence on the day of the celebration of my name day, in a particular way all those who have given me this great gift. I express my cordial gratitude to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my secretary of state, for the beautiful words he addressed to me.
I greet affectionately all the other cardinals, Cardinal Sodano, bishops and prelates present. Special thanks go also to the musicians, beginning with Maestro José Peris Lacasa, composer closely connected to the Spanish Royal House. He has the merit of having elaborated a version of “The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross” of Franz Joseph Haydn, who takes up the [version] for a string quartet and the [version] in the form of oratory, written by Haydn himself. I also congratulate the Henschel Quartet for its admirable performance, and Mrs. Susanne Kelling, who put her extraordinary voice at the service of the holy words of the Lord Jesus.
The choice of this work has really been a happy one. In fact, if on one hand, its austere beauty is worthy of the solemnity of St. Joseph — whose name the famous composer bore — on the other its content is very appropriate for the Lenten season, what is more, it should predispose us to live the central Mystery of the Christian faith.
“The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross” is, in fact, among the most sublime examples, in the musical field, of how art and faith can be united. The musician’s invention is wholly inspired and almost “directed” by the evangelical texts, which culminate in the words pronounced by the crucified Jesus, before exhaling his last breath. However, more than the text, the composer was also connected by precise conditions to those who commissioned the work, dictated by the particular type of celebration in which the music would be performed. And it is precisely from these very close conditionings that the creative genius was able to manifest itself in all its excellence: Having to imagine seven sonatas of a tragic and meditative character, Haydn is centered on the intensity, as he himself wrote in a letter of the time, where he says: “Each sonata, or each text, is expressed with the only means of instrumental music, in such a way that it will necessarily make the most profound impression on the soul of the listener, including the least sharp” (Letter to W. Forster, April 8, 1787).
There is in this something similar to the work of the sculptor, who must constantly measure himself against the material on which he works — let us think of the marble of Michelangelo’s Pieta — and in spite of everything, he is able to make that material speak, to have a singular and unrepeatable synthesis of thought and emotion arise, an absolutely original artistic expression that, however, at the same time, is totally at the service of that beautiful content of the faith, it is as though dominated by the event it represents — in our case, by the Seven Words and by their context.
Hidden here is a universal law of artistic expression: To be able to communicate a beauty that is also a good and a truth, through a sensible means — a painting, a music, a sculpture, a written text, a dance, etc. Well looked at, it is the same law that God followed to communicate himself and his love to us: He was incarnated in our human flesh and did the greatest work of art of the whole of creation: “the only mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” — as St. Paul writes (1 Timothy 2:5).
The “harder” the material the closer the conditionings of the expression, and highlighted in the main is the genius of the artist. Thus on the “hard” cross, God pronounced in Christ the most beautiful and true Word of love, which is Jesus in his full and definitive self-giving: He is the last Word of God, not in a chronological but in a qualitative sense. It is the universal, absolute Word, but it was pronounced in that concrete man, in that time and in that place, in that “hour” — says John’s Gospel. This connection with history, with flesh is the sign of fidelity par excellence, of a love so free that it is not afraid to be bound forever, to express the infinite in the finite, the whole in the fragment. This law, which is the law of love, is also the law of art in its highest expressions.
Dear friends, perhaps I have gone too far with this reflection, but the fault — or rather the merit! — is Franz Joseph Haydn’s. Let us thank the Lord for these great artistic geniuses, who have been able and have wanted to measure themselves with his Word — Jesus Christ — and with his words — the sacred Scriptures. I renew my gratitude to all those who have planned and prepared this tribute: may the Lord recompense each one of you with largesse.
Once again I thank profoundly all those who have made this evening possible. I address my particular gratitude to the Henschell Quartet and to mezzo-soprano, Mrs. Susanne Kelling who, with her expressive performance, has brought us close in a musical way to the words of the Savior on the Cross. Thank you very much!
I greet very cordially Maestro José Peris Lacasa, author of an successful re-elaboration of Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross,” which we had the pleasure to listen to today. I also greet those who have come from Spain for this occasion. Thank you very much.
I renew a cordial greeting to all with the hope that you will follow Christ closely, as the Virgin Mary, to live Holy Week profoundly and really celebrate Easter now so close. With this intention, I impart to you and your loved ones my Blessing.
[Translation by ZENIT]