What Does Crucifixion Sound Like?

What Does Crucifixion Sound Like? March 19, 2018

One of the questions that I ask students in my course on the Bible and music is “what does crucifixion sound like?” We survey a range of treatments of the passion story that involve music, including straight settings of biblical text, classic oratorios that combine biblical and other material in their libretto, and also cinematic depictions. The contrast between the music that accompanies some of the crucifixion scenes in this latter category is very striking indeed. Here are some examples:

From the Manger to the Cross

King of Kings silent film (music by Hugo Riesenfeld)

King of Kings (music by Miklos Rosza)

The Last Temptation of Christ (music by Peter Gabriel)

The Passion of the Christ (music by John Debney)

The Gospel of John (music by Jeff Danna)

There are many more that could be included, but these will do for the purpose of this post. Which of these seems to you to convey the appropriate mood and emotions? Does it matter whether the film in question (or the prototype that you are thinking about) is drawn from one particular Gospel, from a combination or attempt at harmonization of several or all of them, or takes much license and introduces lots of new material? Which other examples of crucifixion music would you include besides these?

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