John Stainer (1840-1901):  
The Crucifixion  

The Crucifixion (subtitled ‘A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer’) is a short oratorio for choir, tenor and bass soloists and organ.  It was written for Marylebone Parish Church, where the choirmaster was William Hodge who was also assistant organist to Stainer at St Pauls Cathedral.  It was first performed on 24 February 1887 with Stainer conducting and Hodge at the organ.  Five hymns intended for congregational participation are interspersed in the piece in a similar way to the Bach Passions.  The text, drawn largely from the Gospel accounts and other passages of scripture, was written by the Revd W. J. Sparrow-Simpson, the son of another St Pauls colleague.   It recounts, in the somewhat sentimental language of the time, the Passion of Christ from Gethsamane until the point of His death.

The music is comparatively uncomplicated, but it is shot through with the restrained emotional tension typical of the late Victorian period and performing it effectively is not an easy matter.  Stainer himself did not rate The Crucifixion highly among his output, and music critics have often rubbished it; but it has nonetheless become hugely popular with audiences.  Some of the hymn tunes (though not the words!) are regularly used in church worship, and ‘God so loved the World’ is probably the best-known nineteenth-century church anthem of all – and doubly effective when heard in its original context.

Peter Harbord,  North Yorkshire Chorus
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