Posted on: 2 April 2021, by :

Christians the world over recall the crucifixion of Jesus Christ often, not only on Good Friday. They affirm their beliefs about it, every time Mass or Holy Communion is celebrated, through a particular sentence in the Nicene Creed (the Credo portion of the Mass) that can seem all too brief and matter-of-fact: He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. A special musical setting of those words for a special day helps to counteract the tendency for that affirmation to become an unthinking habit in which the prolonged agony of the crucifixion, and all that it meant, becomes overlooked.

Probably the most well-known setting of the Crucifixus today is one in eight vocal parts by the Venetian composer Antonio Lotti (c1667-1740)—sung in the first of these three videos—that became famous and remained popular following its publication in the 1830s. It’s often labelled simply as ‘Lotti’s Crucifixus’, which is a problem because six distinct settings by Lotti survive: two for four voices, and one each for five, six, eight and ten voices. All six were probably written for the basilica of San Marco, Venice, where Lotti served at first as a singer, then as first organist (from 1704) and later as maestro di cappella. All six began life within a setting of the whole Credo, but today are often performed in isolation, as motets.

They have in common the use of counterpoint made beautiful with extreme dissonances and other rich harmonies. Such beauty of an awesome kind when representing the extreme pain and prolonged agony of Christ’s death is not incongruous, for the Credo is affirming how that suffering and death was God’s self-sacrifice ‘for us’, for all humankind: the good part of Good Friday. In encompassing also the aftermath ‘and was buried’, these settings are not unlike the paintings known as lamentations, which depict the scene of the crucifixion when Jesus’s lifeless body is taken down from the cross and cared for. See, for example, one by Giovanni Bellini here.

For more music for Holy Week, see the series from 2020.

* *  This post, on Good Friday, is in a series for Lent to Easter, 2021 * *

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

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

Above: Lotti, the Crucifixus with eight vocal parts, from the Credo in the Missa Sancti Christophori, performed by the Schola Cantorum of Christ Church in Rochester, NY, directed by Stephen Kennedy.

Above: Lotti’s ten-part Crucifixus performed by the choir of Royal Holloway in the chapel of Royal Holloway, University of London, directed by Rupert Gough.

Above: Lotti’s six-part Crucifixus performed by Les Cris de Paris, directed by Geoffroy Jourdain, for a CD recording issued in 2019.