|Click on photos to enlarge for a superior image|
|One of the beautiful wooden formerly Orthodox (now Roman Catholic) churches in the remote Bieszczady region of S-E Poland|
In Poland I feel strongly surrounded by the atmosphere of religion particularly at Easter. During my first experience it was as though childhood religious feelings had burst upon me with renewed vigour. The haunting feeling of Christ in his sepulchre lay heavy in the air. Easter is one of the greatest Roman Catholic festivals in Poland. In the Kazimierz parish church on that Good Friday rivulets of 'blood' ran to the floor from the body of Christ twisted in agony on the cross. His tomb was guarded by a pair of weary firemen in brass helmets holding silver axes. Three nuns were fervently praying while others performed the Stations of the Cross. Candles had been overturned and crucifixes were lying flat. Outside the sun was setting behind an old wooden barn and trees containing the nests of jackdaws and rooks thrust into a reddening sky. This beautiful Parish Church built in 1610-13 was inscribed by the builder Jacobus Balin and is decorated with elegant panels, rosettes and hearts in grey plaster. It is the finest example of the elegant Lublin Renaissance style which flourished in the south-east of the country in the seventeenth century.
|Imaginative, brilliantly carved but shocking Stations of the Cross each in its own chapel situated on their own steep Calvary one must climb at the astonishing Shrine of Wambierzyce near Duszniki Zdroj in the South-West of Poland|
|Wooden folk carving of the crucified Christ at the Carmelite Monastery on magnificent Lake Wigry in the remote N-E of Poland near the Augustow Wilderness|
[‘Loess is usually deep, fertile soil, rich in organic remains and characterized by slender, vertical tubes that are said to represent stems and roots of plants buried by sediment. When cut by streams or other agencies, loess remains standing in cliffs exhibiting a vertical, columnar structure.’Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth edition 2003]
|Wayside Shrine to the victim of a motoring accident in Poland|
A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland by Michael Moran (London 2010)
Available in both Polish and English.
http://www.michael-moran.net/poland.htm (English version)
Polish language version is now available direct from the author. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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In addition to the 'usual' large scale and operatic Bach St. Matthew Passion or St. John Passion, among the greatest masterpieces of the Western music, may I suggest at this time you also listen to this devotional piece by Franz Liszt on Good Friday. These intense miniatures of the greatest simplicity each depict one of the 14 Stations of the Cross. They are deeply personal but on the reduced scale of a Japanese haiku not what one would expect of Liszt. They are extraordinarily modern in almost fractured tonality and profoundly inward looking creating a mood in one of deep religious meditation.
Here is the appreciation I wrote of it after first hearing the work at the 2011 Chopin i jego Europa Festival performance in Warsaw. It convinced me completely of the truly religious basis of much of Liszt's misunderstood thought and philosophy. One realizes after listening to the Via Crucis that Liszt genuinely believed, was a fervent rather theatrical Christian and not the posturing Abbe of common view.
[Rarely recorded today but and excellent version available on Hyperion CDA67199
Corydon Singers and Thomas Trotter organ conducted by Matthew Best]
I was heartened to hear almost a complete performance of this work on uplifting and unapologetically serious Polish Radio 2 (Dwojka) last night 30th March 2015.
This was the version for piano soloist. I must confess to much preferring the version with the solemnity and grandeur of the organ and the added religious associations that instrument creates in the mind and heart.
Via Crucis, les 14 stations de la croix
soloists, mixed choir and organ
What an extraordinary manner in which to end a music festival and what inspiration lies here.
The venue for the concert was the beautiful and historic baroque Kościół św. Krzyża (Church of the Holy Cross) in Warsaw. It was built between 1679 and 1696 by Giuseppe Simone Bellotti. There are a large number of monuments to famous Poles here including the novelist Bolesław Prus, General Władisław Sikorski but above all, on the first pier on the left, a portrait bust of Fryderyk Chopin and an urn containing his heart brought back to Poland by his sister Ludwika.
Kościół św. Krzyża (Church of the Holy Cross) in Warsaw, Poland
‘Devotion to the 'Way of the Cross’ is very widespread among Catholics. Many churches feature images of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which in Good Friday, the faithful follow with an officiating priest. I have participated in this ceremony, notably at the Colosseum in Rome, steeped in the blood of the holy martyrs. In the pages of music which follow I have attempted humbly to express my devout emotion.
O crux, ave, spec unica! [Hail, O Cross, our single hope!]
(from the previously unpublished foreword quoted in Alan Walker Franz Liszt Volume 3 the Final Years 1861-1886 p. 381-2)
This was one of the most extraordinary pieces of music I have heard for a very long time. At the time it was composed it must have been shocking indeed it is so forward-looking in its atonality and avant-garde ‘harmonies’. Refused by publishers it was not performed until fifty years after it was written on Good Friday, 1929 in Budapest. Liszt himself said he ‘was quite shaken by it.’ Not only is the pain of Christ himself depicted but also the suffering of the witnesses, especially his mother.
|An Albrecht Durer engraving in his Great Passion series (1497-1510)|
The Prelude began with an old plainchant but this is a false indication of the astonishing music that follows. The organ has a heavy, simple phrase as Jesus staggers between Stations on the way to Calvary. He falls thrice. None of the Liszt pyrotechnics in evidence at all. Gone. Subdued. Sublimated into true religious feeling. ‘Jesus meets his mother’ was an absolutely heart-rending Stabat Mater by female voices. I have only ever felt this extraordinary devotional emotion scored for small forces in a performance at Versailles of Francois Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres.
The unfocused chromatic irresolution of ‘The Women of Jerusalem mourn for Jesus’ and then ‘Do not weep for me, but rather weep for yourselves and for your children’ – the grief seemed almost unbearable in light of our ghastly situation of horror, death and mutilation that pertains across many world cultures just now. The Crucifixion music was of extreme simplicity and all the more effective – such a surprise when you think of what Liszt might have written of it in his dramatic youth. I kept hearing Wagnerian chromaticism throughout. Liszt’s great biographer Alan Walker comments on this work ‘A work of outcries, whispers and laments….His music not only made history; it had a history of making history.’ (Vol.3 p. 383-4)
At the conclusion of this profoundly moving work I did not want to hear applause, I simply wanted to remain silent and meditate. The profound spiritual impact of this rarely performed music of Liszt in this unsurpassed setting was something I shall never forget until I too am taken away.