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Crucifixus pro nobis, Op 38

1961; cantata for tenor or soprano solo, SATB + organ; written for David Lumsden and the choir of New College, Oxford

Crucifixus pro nobis, Op 38, dates from 1961 and was written for David Lumsden and the Choir of New College, Oxford. This cantata is scored for tenor or soprano soloist, chorus and organ. Here the part is sung by Neil Mackie who commissioned the composer to write a song cycle Earth, Sweet Earth (1988).

Crucifixus pro nobis is the most substantial of the works on this recording and is divided into four movements: ‘Christ in the Cradle’, ‘Christ in the Garden’, ‘Christ in His Passion’ and ‘Hymn’. The rather chilling and atmospheric first movement is for tenor alone, in contrast to the second movement which is for choir alone. The movement surges to a climax at the words ‘He only breathes a sigh’ where the choral writing breaks briefly into six parts before the atmosphere of the first movement returns over long, held pedal notes for the final phrases of the stanza.

The third movement combines both soloist and chorus. The soloist begins and the sense of restlessness is generated by the repeated semitone crotchet movement in the organ part. A central questioning six-part section ‘Why did he shake for cold?’ builds up to a climax before the movement concludes in the most bleak fashion. It is then, at this moment of despair, that Leighton plays his masterstroke in presenting the final ‘Hymn’ with sonorous harmonies.

In the early 1960s the writer André Hodeir boldly declared that Messiaen had been ‘defeated by the obstacle which has been the stumbling block of every composer since Debussy: form’. It is interesting that the construction of Leighton’s music always seems wholesome and complete. Many contemporary composers have struggled with form. Milner has observed that Leighton’s musical climaxes arise out of the growth of the music itself, and are not artificially contrived. Despite the composer’s use of tried and tested musical building blocks (such as fugue), Leighton rarely seems uncertain as to the direction of his music. Writing of his own organ work Martyrs: Dialogues on a Scottish Psalm-tune (1976), Leighton confessed to his admiration of the Dorian, rock-like quality of the hymn tune ‘Martyrs’ (1610), a hymn which he also used to conclude his sequence of psalms Laudes Montium written in 1975. The hymn tunes and plainsong which the composer experienced as a chorister have remained an inspiration, appearing throughout his compositional output, including his second symphony.

Returning to the fourth and final section of Crucifixus pro nobis, Leighton uses the largely homophonic movement of his hymn-type movement to ease the disquiet of the previous three movements and very effectively turns the intense questioning of the work into the hope of the resurrection.

from notes by William McVicker © 1992


Leighton: Cathedral Music
CDH55195Last few CD copies remaining
Leighton: Crucifixus & other choral works
Studio Master: CDA68039Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Evensong Live 2016
Studio Master: KGS0015Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Christ in the Cradle  Look, how he shakes for cold!
author of text

Track 14 on CDA68039 [4'24]
Track 8 on CDH55195 [4'46] Last few CD copies remaining
Movement 2: Christ in the Garden  Look, how he glows for heat!
author of text

Track 15 on CDA68039 [4'10]
Track 9 on CDH55195 [4'55] Last few CD copies remaining
Movement 3: Christ in his Passion  What bruises do I see!
author of text

Track 16 on CDA68039 [7'13]
Track 10 on CDH55195 [8'40] Last few CD copies remaining
Movement 4: Hymn  Drop, drop, slow tears
author of text

Track 17 on CDA68039 [3'14]
Track 11 on CDH55195 [3'36] Last few CD copies remaining
Track 8 on KGS0015 [2'30] Download only

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