René Mense




Ecce lignum Crucis (2005)
Choral passion for violoncello solo, 7'

  The choral passion Ecce lignum Crucis was composed in December 2005 at the suggestion of the Weimar cellist Christina Meißner. The work is dedicated to the artist and was premiered by her March 31, 2006 in the Frankfurt Kaiserdom.

  The composition is based on three chorales. After a short introduction imitating the sound of bells, the first line of the chorale Ecce lignum Crucis, which is to be used in the liturgy on Good Friday, is heard: “Behold the timber of the cross, on which the Salvation of the world was suspended.” At the center of my piece is the melody of the Agnus Dei in a version from 1528: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us / grant us peace. Amen.” A short intermezzo connects the Agnus Dei to the Protestant chorale Es ist genug (“It is enough”) from 1662, the text of which documents the hope for redemption of Christians living during that time, marked by the experiences of the Thirty Years War. The text of the fourth and last stanza, reproduced here, is from the original version by Franz Joachim Burmeister (1633-1672): “It is enough; Lord, if it pleases you, / then grant me release! / My Jesus comes; now good night, o world! / I journey to heaven´s house, / I go there securely in peace, / my great suffering remains behind. / It is enough.”

  All three chorales have the finals (final note), in this case, F, in common. After the unresolved pause on the note G, that is, a whole tone above the finalis, instead of the antiphon which usually follows, single tones from the Ecce lignum Crucis are motivically and tonally developed. It is interesting to note, however, that the melody of the Agnus Dei itself ends on the note G, which – in the version of the Wittenberg Church Order of 1533 used here – is also emphasized as the last note by raising the F to F#; thus, the actual finalis disappears completely. The following intermezzo confirms the repercussa (reciting tone) A of both the Ecce lignum and the Agnus Dei before Es ist genug enters with the tones F-G-G-A in the original form of the Mühlhausen Cantor Johann Rudolf Ahle (1625-1673), a predecessor of Johann Sebastian Bach at St. Divi Blasii in the very same Thurangian city of Mühlhausen. The repetition of the first line of the chorale is given in the later form called for by Bach with the major second steps F-G-A-B. Here, the half tone, A-Bb is skipped over and an augmented interval is created between the F and B out of three whole tones, the tritone, which was, in early music, regarded as the “devil in music” and which, in my composition, finds its resonance, especially, in the harmonization of the cadence of the last chorale.

Sheet music sample (PDF)

Complete recording of the world premiere (MP3) 7.4 MB

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