via crucis pulpito

Monday, 27th March
h.20.45 Church of San Fedele

Sorrow of God, history of man
Musical Dramatisation

Music by
J.S. Bach
Franz Liszt

Il canto di Orfeo
Enrico Casazza, violin
Gianandrea Guerra, violin II
Jamiang Santi, viola
Antonio Papetti, cello
Davide Nava, violone
Marco Brolli and Anna Venutti, transverse flutes

Francesca Cassinari, soprano
Maria Chiara Gallo, alto
Massimo Altieri, tenor
Renato Dolcini, bass

Gianluca Capuano, conductor

Francesco Zago, electric guitar

Readers: Adele Pellegatta, Fabio Pizzul

in collaboration with Carlo Maria Martini Foundation with the support of Fondazione Cariplo


At the heart of San Fedele’s spring season, entitled “echoes of hope”, a musical dramatisation of the Way of the Cross with texts by Cardinal Martini written for the San Fedele Centre in 2010. Solo and choral arias from J.S. Bach’s Passions will alternate with pieces by Liszt, between ancient instruments, a vocal quartet of soloists, reciting voices, electric guitar and transitions of electronic music. A musical synthesis to represent the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the centre and source of Christian hope. Two spiritual traditions compared in a synthesis perspective, the pietist Lutheran and the Catholic. Musicians and readers will be arranged along the left wall of the single-nave church. The soloists will go to the 17th century wooden pulpit to sing Bach’s arias, a central architectural location that enhances acoustic clarity and provides full visibility from every point in the church.

The dramatisation was commissioned by the Carlo Maria Martini Cultural Foundation, which has been supporting musical creation projects inspired by biblical themes for several years.


A central moment in San Fedele’s musical activities during the liturgical season of Lent. A meditative proposal through music, of the Passion of Christ, with texts by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, specially written in 2010 for musical representations of the Way of the Cross. In this new dramatisation, after the first one that was presented in the Auditorium San Fedele in 2011, the sound material comes from the most emblematic compositions that thematised the sorrowful mysteries of Jesus: some arias for solo voices from J.S. Bach’s Passions and a partial reworking of Franz Liszt’s Via Crucis.

On the one hand, the Canto d’Orfeo conducted by Gianluca Capuano, an early music ensemble with basso continuo and vocal quartet to intone chorales and arias by the Leipzig master, on the other, the purged sound of Francesco Zago’s electric guitar, accompanied by a series of electronic effects devices, to recolour the hues and timbres of Liszt’s work in a new expressive guise, initially planned for piano, but without renouncing the Hungarian composer’s original devotional motivation.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini’s meditations do not follow the traditional order of the Stations of the Cross, but present a biblical succession, in line with a custom already attested in the 18th century and then taken up by Pope John Paul II in 1991 at the Colosseum. The sober and communicative character of the text is striking, capable of expressing in a personal manner – in the world of the psalmist – the voice of the believer and his song of hope before the mystery of the pain of God’s abandonment. The tone and content of Martini’s comments counterpoint the Gospel passages like resonant strings vibrating around the fundamental sound.

The unfolding of the dramatisation, which lasts about ninety minutes, includes an instrumental introduction on electric guitar with the notes of the ancient hymn to the cross, the Vexilla regis by Venantius Fortunatus (6th century), which Liszt used as the gateway to his Via Crucis.

There follow about ten stations with an almost always identical progression from one to the next. Each station consists of the Gospel reading, a Bach chorale (sometimes continued by brief references to Liszt’s work), the reading of Carlo Maria Martini’s meditation and an aria from Bach’s Passions. Stations VII, VIII and IX are grouped together in a large instrumental intermezzo that re-elaborates parts of Liszt’s Stations of the Cross. A moment of wordless breathing, a pause that allows the listener to recall the first scenes of the Passion with the help of musical images. From the tenth station, the journey begins again, alternating texts and music. The conclusion of the dramatisation is entrusted to the electric guitar with the transcription of an organ piece by Liszt: Recordare pie Jesu, which is followed by the greeting to the cross Ave crux, by the same author for vocal quartet and harmonium.


The arias and chorales by J.S. Bach are taken from the Passions according to Matthew and according to John and correspond to the Gospel texts associated with the different Stations of the Cross. This creates a rich pathway that compares Bach’s Lutheran pietism, borrowed from Johann Arndt (1555-1622) and Rostock Heinrich Müller (1631-1675), and the spirituality of the Catholic tradition with which Carlo Maria Martini’s meditations are imbued. A double contemplative reading of the Passion of Christ. On the one hand, the one inserted in the new pietist devotion that rereads Lutheranism by insisting on the personal experience of the faithful through a reform of life in daily life. Every day the Christian reads the Word of God and sings it both in the temple, with the assembly, and at home, in a personal way, so that the understanding of Scripture leads him to a knowledge, an intimate feeling and a birth of God in him, according to the terminology dear to Pietism. The role of music on sacred texts for Bach is that of ‘recollection’, as he learned it from his spiritual master, Heinrich Müller: ‘Recollection is the very core of prayer and songs of praise, without which nothing is pleasing to the Lord God. That is why it is not enough for the mouth to sing a sacred hymn without the heart being recollected. So the heart is required first and foremost’.

On the other hand, Cardinal Martini’s meditations seal the spiritual experience of the pastor who speaks in the first person plural because he is united to the community of believers and lives with his community the mystery of Christ’s Passion, addressing the Church’s intercession to God, on behalf of all, inserting himself, in this operation, in the great Catholic tradition.

The Via Crucis is a fundamental work of Franz Liszt’s last production, written fourteen years after receiving tonsure and minor orders in Rome. The sobriety and bare character of this work is striking, filled with moments of silence, reduced to the essentials of a melodic line, occasionally punctuated by a few chords or the chorale form. But a constant expressive tension, brought to life by Liszt’s modern harmonic science, counterbalances the apparent compositional simplicity. Original is the role of the piano or organ in this Via Crucis, the keyboard instrument in fact acting as a substitute for the narrating voice, drawing, through thematic cells and hinted phrases, some fundamental characters of the evangelical Passion narrative.

In the long preface to the score, the composer writes among other things: “I had the opportunity to experience the most solemn celebration of this devotion, participating in it one Good Friday at the Colosseum, this place whose soil is soaked in the blood of so many martyrs”. The texts of the sung parts (originally in French, in the final version in Latin and German) were chosen by Liszt and Sayn Wittgenstein and include passages from the New Testament, Gregorian hymns and Lutheran chorales (with some themes from J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion), elements that attest to an ecumenical musical direction. Completed in 1879, the Via Crucis was not created until after Liszt’s death in 1929. The work consists of a hymn and 14 stations, in which a profound austerity and interiority dominate. The hymns are both a cappella and simply accompanied on the organ. A version for solo piano exists.