At the cry of the first bird
They began to crucify Thee, 0 Swan!
Never shall lament cease because of that.
It was like the parting of day from night.
Ah, sore was the suffering borne
By the body of Mary’s Son,
But sorer still to Him was the grief
Which for His sake
Came upon His Mother.
“The Crucifixion” is from “Hermit Songs,” a cycle of ten songs for voice and piano by American composer Samuel Barber. He wrote of this song cycle: “They are settings of anonymous, Irish texts of the eighth to the thirteenth centuries written by monks and scholars, often on the margins of manuscripts they were copying or illuminating—perhaps not always meant to be seen by their Father Superiors. They are small and speak in straightforward, droll, and often surprisingly modern terms of the simple life these men led, close to nature, to animals, and to God.”
Some of the texts are devastating and sublime, like “The Crucifixion,” while others are more raucous, like “The Heavenly Banquet” about one monk’s desire to drink an ocean of beer with God in Heaven, or “Promiscuity”: “I do not know with whom Edan will sleep, but I do know that fair Edan will not sleep alone.”
The introductory note to the score expands on Barber’s observations: “Some are literal translations, and others were translated (where existing translations seemed inadequate). Robin Flower has written in The Irish Tradition: ‘It was not only that these scribes and anchorites lived by the destiny of their dedication in an environment of wood and sea; it was because they brought into that environment an eye washed miraculously clear by a continual spiritual exercise that they had that strange vision of natural things in an almost unnatural purity.’”
You’re in luck, because on YouTube I found a recording of Cheryl Studer singing “The Crucifixion” and “Sure on this shining night” (about which I posted last July 1st). This is the best recording of these two songs that I know. Hope you enjoy them: “Sure on this shining night” is first and then “The Crucifixion” at about 2'30".