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ClassicsOnline Home » RENDINE: Passio et Resurrectio
The Easter cantata Passio et Resurrectio, by the contemporary Neapolitan composer, Sergio Rendine, is a musical setting of the feelings expressed by ordinary people about the most important event in the church calendar, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Taking its inspiration from folk traditions from throughout Southern Italy and set to texts in dialect and Italian, the Cantata displays a masterful use of simple yet expressive structures in a neoromantic vein. It was written for Good Friday in the Jubilee Year of 2000 and broadcast after the late Pope’s traditional Via Crucis ceremony in Rome.
Sergio Rendine (b.1954)
Passio et Resurrectio
This music is made of flesh, as well as spirit; nerves, as well as spirit; anxiety, uncertainty, fear, pain and confusion, as well as spirit.
Anyone who believes that sacred music is no more than music written of or for the spirit, will not understand it. This, this is music of love. And the love of the Father is clear in the terrible humiliation and suffering of His only Son, a Son who is God and at the same time is no longer God: in his final moment he is alone. He is only the Son of Man. Through him, humanity cries out,“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”. And I, a speck of humanity, want to cry out with them.
My music, therefore, is only that of a man, for men; of a child, for those who, like him, stand before the risen Christ as if before a pumpkin transformed into a carriage, open-mouthed in amazement. This is nonintellectual music, in that it seeks to be free of the banality that some foolishly call “intelligence”. This is intuitive music, written without thinking, or rather by thinking along different lines. It is music... and this is the point...Talking about music is like trying to wear clothes made of water... Sometimes it is useless, and yet it bathes us. It is better to listen to music, and even better to make it ourselves. As always...
In spring 1977, the Teatro Marrucino in Chieti, in the Italian region of Abruzzo, opened its doors for the first time to groups of non-professional singers and musicians. During Holy Week these groups travelled from house to house around Chieti, singing Passiontide songs. They performed two each day throughout the week, ancient pieces of music, often dating back to the days of Gregorian chant, and handed down from generation to generation over the centuries.
More than a hundred miles away, in Naples, where this Easter tradition has its roots, Sergio Rendine was composing the cantata that was to become the Passio et Resurrectio for soloists, “folk” voices, chorus and orchestra. At that time, we did not know him, and he did not know us or the Teatro Marrucino.
Fate brought us together in the summer of 1997 and we soon began to talk about this lovely tradition which, in different forms, had long existed across southern Italy. Not long afterwards, on 13th April 2000, the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Marrucino gave the première of the Passio et Resurrectio (texts by Vincenzo De Vivo) in Chieti’s San Giustino Cathedral.
The concert was recorded by RADIORAI and broadcast on Good Friday immediately after the Pope’s traditional Via Crucis ceremony in Rome. It went on to be broadcast by RAI SAT and RAI International in 58 different countries. The Marrucino Orchestra has since performed the work in both Abruzzo and Rome, while the Exultate movement formed part of the Christmas 2003 concert broadcast by RAI from Bethlehem.
Aurelio Bigi, Special commissioner of the Teatro Marrucino
Nicola Cuculo, Mayor of Chieti
The Easter cantata Passio et Resurrectio is a musical setting of the feelings expressed by ordinary people about the most important event in the church calendar. It takes its inspiration from local folk traditions (themselves rooted in ancient rituals) which survived until very recently in the rural areas of Abruzzo, Campania and Puglia.
The Easter customs of the Kingdom of Naples varied from place to place but all had one thing in common: the Passiontide song, for a solo voice or unison chorus, often accompanied by strings (plucked and bowed), wind, percussion and, in later years, accordion. This musical tradition began in rural areas with travelling singers going from farm to farm, but soon spread to urban centres where they would go from house to house instead. The music they performed was more or less the same across the different regions: the ritual telling of the 24 hours of the Passion, from the Last Supper to the Burial, the Pianto della Madonna (tears of the Virgin) as Mary looks for her son, and the story of Christ’s last hours, ending with the blessing of the holy palm.
The origins of the customs surrounding the Easter Passion go back a very long way, and encompass many of those originally associated with the passions of the middle-eastern gods worshipped by imperial Rome. The different versions of these folk-songs, still to be heard in Campania and Abruzzo, have been handed down with infinite variety. The language changes from place to place, from dialect to Italian, or Italianised dialect. The form varies too, and the verses, often irregular in terms of rhythm and rhyme scheme, tend in surviving transcriptions to conform to a model owing much to the eighteenth century and the musicality of the eleven-syllable lines of poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio, many of whose lyrics can be found alongside more authentically folk-based lines in the Easter music of the Amalfi coast. It was during the eighteenth century in fact that local traditions and more learned literary forms came together thanks to St Alphonsus Liguori, bishop, musician, poet and moralist. He encouraged the integration of traditional rituals into Catholic orthodoxy, codifying as “holy practice” the singing of the Orologio della Passione (the 24 hours of the Passion) which would then join the later practices of the Via Crucis (the procession past St Leonard of Port Maurice’s fourteen stations of the cross), the Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross and the Three Hours of Agony of Christ on the Cross.
The text of Passio et Resurrectio is a meditation on the “salutary contemplation of the Passion” (St Paul of the Cross). It combines traditional music with the reflective moments of the Seven Last Words, which become an integral part of the popular ritual of the Orologio della Passione and which together with the Gospel text sung by the chorus accompany Mary’s grieving, as expressed through the forms of oral and medieval literary tradition.
For some time now Sergio Rendine has invested his work with a sense of spiritual longing that transcends the human dimension, and in Passio et Resurrectio his religious and naturalistic inspiration is evident. Over the years his style has developed, becoming linguistically and formally more elaborate through borrowings from other times and places. Here, in the themes of the Passion and the Resurrection, it finds the ancient life blood of his Mediterranean roots, the structures of the great Neapolitan tradition of rhetoric, be it the sacred “theatricality” of Francesco Durante and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi or the severity of Leonardo Leo, the Lutheran chorales in the Passions of Bach and others, the purity of eighteenth-century sacred music, the visceral sounds of street music, the unbridled rhythm of ritual dances, and the desperate cry of men relating their own day-to-day pain to the suffering of God and seeking the hope of resurrection. All of these come together to form a vast edifice, or polyptych, some of the panels of which have a previous existence, such as the Alleluia, in the Missa pro pace conducted by Ashkenazy in Stockholm, or the Exultate and Agnus Dei which, slightly adapted, had earlier formed part of Rendine’s Missa de Beatificatione in onore di Padre Pio.
The cantata opens with the words of Christ who is approaching his final hour on earth. “Tristis est anima mea” (Sad is my soul) sings the chorus. The “folk” voice replies, accompanied by percussion beating time to the first nineteen hours of the Orologio della Passione. Then come the Seven Last Words, sung by the chorus and followed by meditative Abruzzian texts. An instrumental episode, with solo trumpet, represents the story of the good thief, while a flute solo depicts Mary’s sorrow, before the declaration of the twentieth hour. The final Three Words are contained within the verses of the Agnus Dei, and the Passio section is brought to an end by the last three hours of the Orologio.
Heralding the Resurrection, a voice in the distance sings a joyful Alleluia. Then the people’s joy soars in the rhythmic Exultate, written for two unpitched voices, one male and one female. Finally the Alleluia theme returns, recapitulated and developed by the mezzo, and the chorus enters to share in a song of praise.
Vincenzo De Vivo
English translation: Susannah Howe
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RENDINE: Passio et Resurrectio