MacMillan progress: 1st and 2nd movements memorized (except for that crazy Peter’s denial nonsense, which I can’t for the life of me figure out), and most of the 3rd movement (I think I have all of Pilate’s lines down now in the 3rd movement as well as the “Hail, Hail” and “Crucify him”, but not the Judas conclusion. The rest is mostly still limping along.
Today I think I nailed the end of movement two, and I really like the subtext of this one. Peter has just screwed up — he’s denied Jesus three times, and the cock has crowed (via a frantic trumpet-led arpeggiated lead-in). This is where in most Passion readings you feel bad for Peter. In St. Matthew’s Passion story, Peter goes out and weeps — Bach has his evangelist do this magnificent sobbing on the word “weinete” when Peter goes out and weeps bitterly (Und ging heraus und weinete bitterlich).
No such moping here. Our text is about building up off of failures:
Tu es Petrus et super hance petram aedificabo ecclesiaum meam
Translation: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Rather than chide Peter for his failings, MacMillan chose text to remind Peter, and therefore all of us, that even though he has failed, he has great deeds ahead of him. Pick yourself up! Dust yourself off! No matter what happens, you will be the foundation of my legacy on earth.
This is further emphasized by the music. In a piece with tone clusters, glissandos, indeterminate pitches, occasional yelling, and some painful dissonances, for this entire piece the chorus is locked in strong, on the beat rhythms, in tonal chords. There’s a bass pedal tone anchoring the whole thing through many of the measures, like a cornerstone on that foundation Petrus is creating for us. Meanwhile the orchestra is dancing all over the place with crazy accented outbursts from the brass, tremolos from the strings building up intensity, a gong playing… to me, it’s all the distractions, all the failures, all the things that can go wrong, all assailing that foundation trying to bring it down. But Peter is the rock, the petram, and none of this stuff shakes the chorus’s foundation as we methodically build this choral church up to a fortissimo at the end. And in a nice goose-bumpy touch, the organ comes blaring in at the end asserting this foundation on the same chord that we’ve just finished holding for a long three measures… saying YES THIS CHURCH IS HERE TO STAY with a final flourish.
I love this effect. It’s a nice respite from all the sadness of the rest of the story.