For the modern reader, the word "passion" suggests strong emotion or sexual desire. However, the word derives from Latin -- passio -- and even more distantly, from Greek -- pascho, pathos, pathema -- meaning "to suffer." In this latter sense, it relates to "the passion" -- the gospel narrative of Jesus' suffering and death on the cross as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament.
The challenge of composing a passion in the twentieth century is considerable given the fact that there is no sizable contemporary repertoire in this genre and hence, no prospective models -- only two "recent" works come to mind: Krzysztof Penderecki's St. Luke Passion (1963-65) and Arvo Part's Passio (1973). In these modern passions, as well as those by Bach and other baroque composers, the story is narrated by a singe figure, one of the four evangelists. From the beginning, I decided to take a different path in terms of storytelling and musical dramatization. In writing the text, I began with the Revised Standard version of the gospels, and after interweaving the four stories together, I set about the task of "editing" the entire text. I distilled the stories into a poetic form which has been created, not as literature, but as a text to be set to music.
In The Passion According to Four Evangelists I intend every note to be heard simply and directly -- I hope that the power of the story is felt through the starkness and clarity of the musical expression. I am not interested in reflecting trends or fads (the latest "-isms") or relying on historical references -- rather, for each scene, I have strived to compose music which proceeds from the inner core of the narrative. I have tried to convey only the essential -- no more, no less. Beyond that, that story speaks for itself.
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