In Seven Responses, the spiritual power of Baroque composer Dieterich Buxtehude’s iconic choral work Membra Jesu Nostri resonates across seven 15-minute choral responses by composers: Lewis Spratlan, Hans Thomalla, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Caroline Shaw, Santa Ratniece, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and David T. Little.
Arranged as a cycle of seven cantatas, Buxtehude’s ambitious 1680 work is a deeply moving meditation on Christ’s suffering, with each cantata corresponding to a part of his body. By juxtaposing each cantata with its contemporary response, the program invites the audience into an immersive, century-spanning musical dialogue that illuminates the miracle of human resilience.
Seven Responses is the brainchild of Donald Nally and the late Jeff Dinsmore, cofounders of the acclaimed Philadelphia-based chamber choir, The Crossing. On August 21, The Crossing will be joined by the International Contemporary Ensemble and Quicksilver Baroque Ensemble for the two-part New York premiere of Seven Responses at the Mostly Mozart Festival.
The Crossing has put together an incredible website filled with illustrations, videos, essays, and program notes on the works. I highly recommend exploring the site, but before you go, here are seven things that inspired the composers’ responses, with images selected from the Metropolitan Museum's collection:
In Ad Cor (“To the Heart”), Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen blends Buxtehude’s original texts from the Biblical "Song of Songs" with poems by contemporary Danish poet Ursula Andkjaer Olsen, capturing the full spectrum of emotions we associate with love—from euphoric highs to bitter disillusionment.
David T. Little’s response to Ad Pedes (“To the Feet”), dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet, ponders (and questions) the bizarre medieval practice of using crucifixion nails as protective charms.
With the explanation that “sometimes data is the cruelest and most honest poetry,” Caroline Shaw (To the Hands) has the singers speak a series of figures representing internally displaced persons in different countries.
Shaw juxtaposes those numbers with texts riffing on Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus,” engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty and best known for its line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
For Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Ad genua/To the knees), the act of getting onto ones knees can be associated with love, forgiveness, supplication, or desperation, but in each case she finds a sense of longing for beauty in the face of pain and difficulty—and that is where she focuses her response.
The evocative title of Santa Ratniece’s response to Ad faciem (“To the Face”), My soul will sink within me, was taken from a letter penned by St. Clare of Assisi, a 13th-century nun, founder of the Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano, and an inspiration to St. Francis.
Images (from top to bottom)
Venus breaking Cupid's bow over her knee with Cupid stretching both hands toward it, from the series 'Sport of Love' (Scherzi d'amore) (1617) by Odoardo Fialetti | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Phyllis Massar, 2011. (2012.136.75.2)
Sunrise by Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellée) (1646–47) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1947. (47.12)
Witches' Sabbath by Jacques de Gheyn II (late 16th–early 17th century) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1962. (62.196)
Migrants by Thomas Rowlandson | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Walter Carlebach, 1969. (69.131.7)
Liberty by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1875) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Julia Neville Adams Aubry (Mrs. Charles Georges Aubry), in memory of Jules Weber and his grandson, Charles George Aubry, 1999. (1999.49)
Old Man Kneeling Facing Upper Left by Salvator Rosa | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1970. (1970.101.15)
St. Claire by Claude Mellan (1667) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1953. (53.601.260)