St Luke Passion (Penderecki)

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St Luke Passion
by Krzysztof Penderecki
Passion selon saint Luc. Nouvel Opera de Moscou (2016).jpg
Performance at the Novaya Opera Theatre, Moscow, in 2016
EnglishPassion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to St Luke
Full titlePassio et mors Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam
Performed30 March 1966 (1966-03-30)
  • narrator
  • soprano
  • baritone
  • bass
  • three choirs
  • children's choir
  • orchestra

The St Luke Passion (full title: Passio et mors Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam, or the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to St Luke) is a work for chorus and orchestra written in 1966 by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, which, considered within the context of the officially atheistic Polish People's Republic and other Eastern Bloc countries, makes its potentially subversive subject matter even that much more remarkable. Penderecki wrote the work to commemorate a millennium of Polish Christianity following the baptism and conversion of Polish duke Mieszko I in 966 AD. Penderecki's setting is one of several musical settings of the Passion story and contains text from the Gospel of Luke as well as other sources such as the Stabat Mater. Despite the Passion's almost total atonality and use of avant-garde musical techniques, the musical public appreciated the work's stark power and direct emotional impact and the piece was performed several more times soon after its premiere on 30 March 1966.


Musical content

Compositional techniques

The Passion is almost entirely atonal, except for two major triads which occur once at the end of the Stabat Mater, a cappella , and once, an E-major triad, at the very end of the work with full choruses, orchestra and organ. It makes very frequent use of tone clusters, often played fortissimo by brass or organ. The contrapuntal equivalent of tone clusters is micropolyphony, which is one approach to texture that occurs in this piece ( Stein 1979 , 234).

Occasionally, Penderecki employs twelve-tone serialism, and utilizes the B-A-C-H motif. Moreover, David Wordsworth believe that the B-A-C-H motif unites the entire work ( Wordsworth 2013 , 47). The principle tone row, Cantus Firmus I, is C–D–F–E–E–F–G–G–B–B–A–C. The tone row of Cantus Firmus II is E–E–F–F–D–C–G–A–B–A–C–B. The chorus makes use of many extended techniques, including shouting, speaking, giggling and hissing.


The St Luke Passion is scored for large forces: a narrator (who acts as the Evangelist); soprano, baritone and bass soloists (with the baritone singing the role of Christ and the soprano and bass taking other roles as necessary); three mixed choruses and a boys' choir; and a large orchestra consisting of:


The text of the St Luke Passion is entirely in Latin. The primary source of the text is the Gospel of Luke; however, it contains other sources such as hymns, Psalms and Lamentations.

Sections of text

The Passion is divided into two parts and twenty-seven sections, thirteen in Part I and fourteen in Part II. Their titles are as follows.

Part I

  1. O Crux Ave ("O Holy Cross," from the hymn Vexilla Regis prodeunt), chorus and orchestra
  2. Et egressus ibat ("And he went out," Garden of Gethsemane), narrator, baritone and orchestra
  3. Deus Meus ("My God," Christ's prayer at Gethsemane, from Psalm 21), baritone, chorus and orchestra
  4. Domine, quis habitat ("Lord, who shall dwell...", from Psalms 14, 4 and 15), soprano and orchestra
  5. Adhuc eo loquente ("And yet while he spake," Judas's betrayal of Christ), narrator, baritone, chorus and orchestra
  6. Ierusalem ("Jerusalem," from the Lamentation of Jeremiah), chorus and orchestra
  7. Ut quid, Domine ("Why, Lord," from Psalm 9), chorus a cappella
  8. Comprehendentes autem eum ("Then they took him," Peter's denial of Christ), narrator, soprano, bass, chorus and orchestra
  9. Iudica me, Deus ("Give sentence with me, O God," from Psalm 42), bass and orchestra
  10. Et viri, qui tenebant illum ("And the men that held Jesus...," mocking of Christ), narrator, baritone, chorus and orchestra
  11. Ierusalem (text identical to section 6)
  12. Miserere mei, Deus ("Be merciful to me, O God," from Psalm 55), chorus a cappella
  13. Et surgens omnis ("And the multitude arose...," Christ's trial before Pilate and death sentence), narrator, baritone, bass, chorus and orchestra

Part II

  1. Et in pulverem ("And into the dust," from Psalm 21), chorus and orchestra
  2. Et baiulans sibi crucem ("And bearing his cross," the road to Calvary), narrator and orchestra
  3. Popule meus ("My people," from the Improperia), chorus and orchestra
  4. Ibi crucifixerunt eum ("There they crucified him," the crucifixtion of Christ), narrator and orchestra
  5. Crux fidelis ("O faithful cross," from Pange lingua gloriosi proelium certaminis ), soprano, chorus and orchestra
  6. Iesus autem dicebat ("Then said Jesus," Christ's forgiveness), narrator, baritone and orchestra
  7. In pulverem mortis ("Into the dust of death," from Psalm 21), chorus a cappella
  8. Et stabat populus ("And the people stood," Christ's mocking on the cross), narrator, chorus and orchestra
  9. Unus autem ("And one of them...," the good and bad thieves), narrator, baritone, bass, chorus and orchestra
  10. Stabant autem iuxta crucem ("Now there stood by the cross," Jesus addressing his mother and John, from the Gospel of John), narrator, baritone and orchestra
  11. Stabat Mater ("The mother stood...," from the Stabat Mater sequence), chorus a cappella
  12. Erat autem fere hora sexta ("And it was about the sixth hour," Christ's death account from both Luke and John), narrator, baritone, chorus and orchestra
  13. Alla breve (a tempo marking in Italian indicating a quick duple meter), orchestra alone
  14. In pulverem mortis... In te, Domine, speravi ("Into the dust of death...In thee, O Lord, I have put my trust" from Psalm 30), soprano, baritone, bass, chorus and orchestra

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