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Liszt masterpiece ‘Christus’ gets a rare showing in Tokyo

by Tai Kawabata

Staff Writer

In 1873, to mark the 50th anniversary of his musical activities at a concert, Franz Liszt told people of the “Christus” oratorio: “This is my will.” The piece was one of his most important, and on March 31 an orchestra and three chorus groups in Tokyo — the Orchestra Symphonia Musica Poetica, Heinrich Shuetz Chor Tokyo, Mendelssohn Chor and Ensemble Aquarius — will play it for audiences here.

“Christus” is about three-hours long and is rarely performed. The upcoming show was originally scheduled for July 31, 2011, the anniversary of Liszt’s death, but it was postponed due to the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

“Christus” stars baritone Taro Tanno, who will play the part of Christ. He will be backed by a full orchestra that includes a Romantic organ, a harp and a harmonium (which is a free-reed organ) — all requirements for performing the piece.

Liszt wrote the oratorio between 1862 and 1866. It is composed of three parts: “Christmas Oratorio” (five movements), “After Epiphany” (five movements) and “Passion and Resurrection” (four movements). Of the oratorio’s 14 movements, three are performed by the orchestra alone.

The oratorio has a symmetrical structure. The grand Stabat Mater appears in both the third movement and the third movement from the end. It has been called the most successful musical piece of the 19th century. The overture starts with a Gregorian chant whose verse is taken from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible’s Old Testament, and the melody of the chant is repeated in the last tune.

The seventh and eight movements center on the male principle, and are represented by “The Lord’s Prayer” and the “Foundation of the Chruch (Tu es Petrus).” The third and 11th movements, which appear on either side of the male-centered portions, provide a contrast in that they are based on the female principle, Mary.

Conductor Yumiko Tanno says the oratorio is Liszt’s masterpiece, noting that its instrumental movements are grand and characterized by beautiful flowing sounds.

“Christus” will be performed at Shinjuku Bunka Center in Tokyo on March 31 (5:30 p.m.). Tickets cost ¥5,000 for reserved seats, ¥2,500 or ¥4,000 for nonreserved seats, and ¥2,500 for students. For more information, call/fax (042) 394-0543.