The Passion, Improvised

It’s not often that we hear such a sensitive and thrilling rendition of the Passion as Trinity Church Wall Street (New York City) experienced last Sunday. But what stands out particularly is that this music was improvised. We lauded it below in the post “Best of Lent 2011” but it really deserves a thread of its own. The consummate musicianship of these singers, their perfectly clear diction, their ability to lift out the drama of the events described while still practicing a reverence totally in keeping with the liturgical celebration, all deserve praise. Even readers of the passion could benefit from hearing how this was sung. And the choir did this on one rehearsal. Wow.



  1. Absolutely superb. This should be mandatory viewing for all clergy and music directors throughout English-speaking Christendom. Such excellent diction, precision and use of ‘verbal organum’ deserves wide recognition.

  2. This was stunning. I still prefer the plainsong setting better (especially for Good Friday) but this was amazing. Considering the length though, it might work better as a para-liturgical choral meditation.

  3. Now if the Sistine Chapel Choir (to recall that recent thread) were capable of doing something like this, we would all be in awe.

    This is an excellent example of the way in which the influence of composers such as Arvo Pårt has impacted liturgical music. And apart from the musical performance, which was amazing, I was particularly struck by the way that a catena of other Gospel pericopes was used to pave the way for the Passion narrative itself.

  4. I lost you Paul–what other Gospel pericopes? They read the Passion according St. Mark (14:1-15:47) as the lectionary prescribes. This style of singing the Passion, while nice, wouldn’t fly at the Vatican, nor would I want it to.

    I’d be happy if the Sistine Choir sounded like the Westminster Cathedral Choir for a start.

    1. “I’d be happy if the Sistine Choir sounded like the Westminster Cathedral Choir for a start.”

      Unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, unless we get an Anglophone Pope who is willing to suffer mutiny. They have their style, they know what the English et al. think of it, and don’t care to concede that their style is in any way comparatively deficient for the context.

      1. Of course, there is no need for the Sistine Choir to sing ‘like Englishmen’… or Germans… or French… which is to say that there are quite very respectable Italian choral ensembles which sing in an admirable and scholarly fashion. They are the Italian equal of the best sacred singing to be found in England or elsewhere. What a grievous and shameful pity that they aren’t inside the walls of the Vatican. Judging from Mr Saur’s comments on the other discussion, it would seem that the Sistine Chapel’s music is held hostage in perpetuity by these crooning gentlemen and screeching boys. Something, too, was said about ‘brutta figura’. It seems to me that any ‘brutta’ in question is being performed by these incumbents. (Nor does it seem to me that ‘brutta’ is all that foreign to Roman or Vatican culture.)

        Relevant to the passion performance at hand. It is encredibly moving, imaginative, and, I should say, perhaps somewhat evocative of the very earliest efforts at improvised polyphony. One would think that every cathedral and large church would have resident singers capable of this sort of performance at various points of the liturgical year. Interesting, again, that such sensitivity and talent were found only in such a place as Trinity, Wall Street.

  5. Beautiful!
    Most Episcopal Churches, even those w/ small congregations usually have excellent choirs, chant well and take pride in them.
    …..and it appears the church was full.

  6. Excellent performance…but I doubt it was “improvised” in the sense that we’re apt to use that word. Those two narrators were just too polished. Impressive and beautiful, nonetheless.

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