St. Martin’s Church to present Liszt’s 'Via Crucis' on Palm Sunday

by Michael Caruso
Posted 3/30/23

The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields will present a rare performance of Franz Liszt’s “Via Crucis” (“The Way of the Cross”) on Palm Sunday, April 2.

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St. Martin’s Church to present Liszt’s 'Via Crucis' on Palm Sunday


The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields will present a rare performance of Franz Liszt’s “Via Crucis” (“The Way of the Cross”) on Palm Sunday, April 2, at 5 p.m. The parish’s director of music and arts, Tyrone Whiting, will conduct the church’s choir and accompany them at the organ.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was the most famous pianist of the 19th century. Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Liszt was ethnically Hungarian but raised in a German-speaking province. His musical talents were apparent early on, and he was sent to study with Carl Czerny in Vienna.

Establishing his first international career as a concert pianist in Paris, Liszt is still revered as the legendary “greatest pianist of all time.” He toured all of Europe until he decided to retire in 1848. From that time, he devoted his energies to teaching, conducting, and composing, challenging the boundaries of 19th-century tonality. He championed composers like Richard Wagner, whose operas remain daunting and controversial today.

Liszt composed “Via Crucis” over two years, beginning in 1878 in Rome and completing in 1879 in Budapest. The title is taken from the 14 “Stations of the Cross.” St. Francis of Assisi first marked the “Stations” in the 13th century, and the Franciscans established the tradition of praying specific prayers for those “Stations.”

Although not always known for his religiosity, Liszt eventually took minor orders in the Catholic Church and was styled the “Abbe Liszt” during his final years.

Whiting explained that “each Station will be read before the performance of each movement. Liszt’s composition features dramatic and evocative movements for organ and choir, as well as the organ alone. The service will last a little over an hour and is a meaningful way to begin Holy Week.”


Two of Chestnut Hill’s nearby churches offered consecutive musical performances on Sunday, March 19.  First on the roster was the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, followed by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Both events were well attended, continuing the trend of local music lovers returning to in-person performances.

Chestnut Hill Presbyterian’s music director, Dan Spratlan, assembled an impressive array of local musicians to perform a program of sacred choral music suited to the Lenten season. On hand were the Drexel University Chorus, Chamber Singers and Orchestra, the congregation’s own Gallery Choir, and soloists. They performed pieces by Herbert Howells, William Byrd, William Albright, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Spratlan led his musicians in an expressive reading of the Howells, well-tuned renditions of the Byrd and Albright, and an emotional interpretation of the Vaughan Williams. He chose organically convincing tempos, maintained transparent textures, employed a broad expanse of dynamics, and elicited pristine diction from his singers.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church followed up with a presentation of Choral Evensong for the fourth Sunday of Lent. Parish music director Andrew Kotylo was joined by assisting organist Charles Grove for a musical program of works by Healey Wilan, William Byrd, Bruce Neswick, Orlando Gibbons, Samuel Barber, and Louis Vierne.

The Evensong’s major works were the two movements from Gibbons’ Second Service: the “Magnificat” and the “Nunc dimittis.” Kotylo conducted his musicians with sensitivity and authority, delineating the celebratory lyrics and reflective ruminations.

The musical part of the service was held together by Byrd’s “Responses.” Byrd, permitted by Queen Elizabeth I to maintain his fidelity to the “Old Faith” (Roman Catholicism), composed the first great music for the newly established Church of England. Hearing his English and Latin language sacred choral music reminds the listener of his talents as a choral composer.

Additionally, the Adagio movement of West Chester’s Samuel Barber’s “String Quartet” was popular enough that Arturo Toscanini requested Barber to expand it for a full string orchestra, which he did. Barber himself set its parts to the Latin text of the “Agnus Dei,” the final section of the Ordinary of the Latin Mass. Kotylo led his singers with passion, eliciting singing of overwhelming beauty.

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