. . . The Passion According to St John was a bit trickier for me [compared to the instrumental Irreplaceable Doodles and The Mousetrap]. There are a few areas of classical that I just have not been able to get into — and a cappella works are one of those areas. But I listened. [...] Again, you keep the work taut and don’t let it go on too long. You also pull off a couple interesting tricks. For one, you build a sense of urgency into much of the music, especially the latter parts. For the other, you make some of the music sound, for lack of a better word, comforting. I’m not religious personally, but there’s always something special about well done sacred works, and this was a fine work to listen to, even considering my general antipathy to a cappella works.” — Todd Arola, US
At last I have had a chance for a run at your substantial St John Passion. I listened to it on a train journey, both going then returning from Leeds. Thanks....it really took me back. When I was a child, although not brought up in a remotely Christian atmosphere, nevertheless, my Radio fan parents would, through inertia, leave on the Daily Service or even the Sunday Service broadcasts.
Although these were substantially ignored, there would on occasion be metrical psalms from Scottish sources and quite a bit of your setting reminded me of those. It is certainly an ambitious piece and a lot for the choir to learn, though most of it is straightforward for them. I enjoyed it with its sudden lush passages and the clear telling of the story. — Mike Brook, chorister, Gloucestershire, UK
I’m listening to the Passion right now. Spellbound. I adore it, especially the fluidity of the harmonic language, the use of different harmonic types as part of the way you define your various musical materials — the fourths, the telescoped Stravinskian harmonies, the almost Bachian moments — and yet (this is my point) it all gels so beautifully. The restraint and purity still remind me of Pärt’s Passio, but of course this is very much your own. A fantastic achievement.
And, oh, Karl — the startlingly new music starting on page 28 is simply exquisite, as I thought it would be from the first time I saw it. Kudos in great heaps — such a beautifully realised idea. And though this may not be the perfect performance, I actually think that the vocal quality of your various voice types in this section works splendidly well.
The closing choruses, too, btw. The delineation of the three main sections — before, during, and after crucifixion — is masterfully done. — Luke Ottevanger, composer, UK
Luke further commented:
I’ve just had the immense pleasure of listening to Karl’s Passion and I’m simply staggered by it. I’ve just overloaded Karl’s PM box with a series of missives as I ponder on just some of the many and various striking qualities of the piece, but essentially I think it is a consummately realised, perfectly paced, and above all hauntingly beautiful piece which Karl must be immensely proud of. The large-scale structure is underpinned with the most wonderful sense of harmony and harmonic type, and an ability to slip between these types completely naturally. The spellbinding chorus during the crucifixion is almost unbearable, with its aching augmented intervals, its melismas, its softly droning lower voices — I expected it would be when I first saw the score a few months ago. The restrained and sonorous beauty of the closing pages, though, really only comes home listening to a recording, and again it’s bursting with subtle touches — like the soprano/alto doubling on the last page — which passed me by when I read the score but which seem inspired now I hear the music in the flesh. Which puts me to shame somewhat, I feel.
Thanks for sharing this piece, Karl — it’s one of the very very few ‘pieces-by-a-bloke-I-know-off-the-internet’ that I’ve acquired which is worthy of a much, much greater hearing. Most of the others are by Henning too, FWIW.....
The Passion is a beautiful piece. Wringing harmonies. The last section is hypnotic in a Pärt-like way (Fratres sprang to mind). I think you have created a very effective and affecting piece of music. — JZ Herrenberg, writer, The Netherlands
I found that listening with the text enhanced my response to the music. The verse by verse chanted narrative, seemingly simple and predictable during the first few minutes becomes poignant as the story progresses and prepares the ground for a crucifixion/entombment that is almost wrenching. The tessitura widens markedly, modulations and vocal effects (droning voices) are introduced for the first time to quite dramatic effect. All the while keeping an almost distanced stance. Very moving. I certainly wish it will be taken up by professional ensembles.
What I crave most about your Passion, Karl, is its closeness with John’s unique writing style. He, alone among the Evangelists, wrote in a repetitive-accretive idiom. And that’s where that First Part really hits it: the increasingly hypnotic manner in which John brings us into the Passion narrative. And then that break of emotional/writing style for a more emotional, broken, “quavering” response to the Crucifixion and Entombment. And how the initial “archaic” musical style comes back in places in that last third of the work. Mixing the old with the new is particularly relevant here.
I’ve always preferred Bach’s St-John Passion to his St-Matthew one — even though the latter has a more ‘spiritual’ bent. No wonder he was called St-John The Divine. Karl has grasped this essential — unique — character about John’s writing. I’m not comparing Henning to Bach, but the artist’s response to his subject. And it’s fully worthy of It. — André Purenne, Canada
This is an outstanding piece of work, in itself a musical manifestation of Corpus Christi, being full and melodic in the Western Christian tradition and quoting directly from the gospel of St. John. It can be heard in two parts. The denial of Peter and Jesus’s trial are contained in the first part of this sacred anthem which lasts for 20 minutes, and gives the listener a deep religious understanding of events through beautifully structured vocal harmonics. The second part opens with deep and resonant male voices overlaid by a clear, lower register female voice announcing: “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.” The harmonics throughout this part are considerably different from what went before, and we come to appreciate the gravity and horror of what is happening unto the end of St. John’s gospel.
To paraphrase a decree on Litany by The Council of Vaison in 529; Let that beautiful custom of all the provinces of the East and of Italy be kept up, viz., that of singing with great effect and compunction
Christian music performers and publishers out there should do more than take note with this one. It should be pressed to CD immediately and both released and performed in time for Lent so practicing Christians can listen and come to understand with every fibre of their being the holiness and reverence Paschal Time demands. — John, UK
Just finished listening to the Passion piece on good speakers @ home w/ my wife — I really loved that composition and the use & blending of the voice, but was disappointed w/ the chorus and the recording quality — not sure about your impressions? I would love to hear this work done by a more ‘professional’ chorus (esp. better diction & my wife, Susan, agrees) and much better recording w/o all of the distractions.
Not sure that you can arrange such a recording, but I would certainly be ‘first in line’ to make a purchase, which you deserve!
Keep up the great work — wonderful to have you as a member of the forum. — Dave, North Carolina
Just a note to let you know that I’ve just listened to your passion and I loved it very much. The main repeating theme of the chorus when John speaks is strikingly simple and beautiful. The part I liked most is when Peter is asked again, by the slaves, if he is a disciple and once more he denies it. Very effective.
So congratulations, and I hope that it is recorded in a studio to be released on CD soon! — Alain Matalon
Beautiful, quite, quite beautiful!! And so moving!
My grandfather was a church organist in a Presbyterian church near Glasgow during World War One and in an Episcopal church during World War Two and my father and brother sang in church choirs.
I love plainchant; it seems to me one of the purest forms of music, the unaccompanied human voice! I would have loved to hear the work in the acoustic of the cathedral in Boston. Music like this so benefits from the marvellous real church acoustic.
Thank you for the opportunity to hear this glorious music! — Colin, UK
Add another emphatic and enthusiastic vote for Karl’s St. John’s Passion.
I have still not been able to perform the score mentally in one sitting, and have not really looked at the middle or end unfortunately, (that will happen tonight for sure!) but the first part contains some marvelous moments: (those of you with the score can chime in here, if you wish) e.g. the E major chord for Peter’s denial (bar 139) I find highly ironic with Jesus’ E major chord on the word “voice” in the line “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (bar 226)
Pilate’s music for “truth” consists, however, of the chord E/A/Bb. (bar 231)
Also, I can imagine the open fifth of bar 253 on the word “man” (“Here is the man!”) echoing medievally throughout the church: no dynamics are given in my copy, but I would think this would be forte with a long pause afterward.
See?! I am already interpreting the work as if I am the conductor. — Lee Schulte, writer & composer, Ohio