Lotti: Crucifixus a 8

More like CRUNCHYFIXUS amirite???

THE PIECE: Crucifixus a 8

COMPOSER: Antonio Lotti

DATE: 1717-1719 (possibly earlier)

ERA: Baroque

GOOD FOR: Emotional self-torture (the fun kind)

This is an amazing piece of music that’s quite popular with both church choirs and school/community choirs. Before we get into the piece itself let’s have a quick background on the composer, Antonio Lotti (1667-1740). My Concise Oxford Dictionary has a charmingly abbreviated summation of his life:

For a time organist of St. Mark’s, Venice; composed important church music, over 20 operas, etc

Let me add that Lotti gave a lot of his life to St. Mark’s Cathedral. He worked his way through the ranks from singing alto in the choir in his early twenties, various organ positions until finally attaining the title of maestro di capella (or more informally, king of music at St. Mark’s) when he was almost 70, a position he kept until his death. Church music was always a crucial part of his musical life, either as a performer or as a composer, even though he took some sabbaticals to go to Germany and write secular music (that’s where those 20 operas etc. come in).

So what makes Lotti special? His music is characterized by a lot of word painting (the music sonically depicts the subject), and suspensions and dissonance (aka CRUNCHY harmony). Given that those are all super dramatic techniques and that suspension and dissonance produce constant tension and release, it’s no shocker that Lotti’s best-known works today are Lenten choral pieces about suffering (this Crucifixus and also his Miserere mei)

The Crucifixus a 8 deals with a tiny section of text that packs a whole lot of liturgical punch

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato:
Passus, et sepultus est.

He also was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate:
He suffered and was buried.

Right? That’s pretty much the big crux (pun intended) in Christianity, and this text comes from the Credo (“I believe”) of the Mass, where the entire congregation recites the central beliefs of Catholicism. Lotti’s Crucifixus a 8 is from the larger work, Credo in F but usually is performed all on its own.

Starting with the lowest voice, the choir begins building voice by voice on the word crucifixus (crucified). Each choral section has been divided (so Bass I and Bass II, Tenor I, Tenor II etc) and in each section, the second voice enters and creates a dissonance before finally, all 8 voices resolve into a big, beautiful and consonant G Major chord at the end of the word.

This ending is a great example of word painting and symbolism because yes, the Crucifixion of Christ is unspeakably terrible and yet ultimately it’s also an incredible and positive thing for the world (liturgically speaking).

More things to listen for:

  • descending lines on passus (he suffered) sound like weeping, beginning first in individual voices and building (like Christ’s suffering) until the entire choir is wailing and descends into some of the most dissonant moments of the piece around measures 27-30 (around 2:07 in this video). The sopranos also do a beautiful thing where they appear to enter (really its just the second sopranos initially, but the effect is the same) on the same note (F) and break apart into descending wails.
  • Two different treatments of “et sepultus est” (and was buried) at the end: The first is fantastically dissonant and when you think it cant get crunchier IT DOES. The final “burial” ends in a rather unsteady major chord. Why so unsteady? Well it’s not quite Easter yet friends and we haven’t made it to the next lines of the creed “and on the third day he rose” so this is just as much as we can get during Lent.
Sorry Natalie, Easter is still a few weeks away. Suffer on.

I have to say, I included that video because I love giving you guys a chance to see the music as it’s happening, but while it’s perfectly lovely it is not my favorite performance of the piece because I prefer something that embraces the crunch and makes this piece NASTY. Here are my picks, listen to a few and let us know what your favorites were or if you have another favorite not included on our list!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *