Hallgrímspassía (Hallgrímur´s Passion)
(2007) oratorio (75 min.)
Text from The Hymns of Passion by Hallgrímur Pétursson
English version, with translation by Gracia Grindal, available.
Hallgrímur: bass, Jesus: tenor, Pilate: bass, Judas: tenor, Kaifas: tenor, sopran solo and choir: S.A.T.B
Orchestra: flute, bass-flute, oboe, clarinet in b flat, basson, 2 French horns, 1 percussionist (timpani,tam-tam, tubular chimes, cymbal and bass drum) and strings.
Hallgrímur Pétursson and the Psalms of the Passion
Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674) is one of Iceland’s chief poets. In the minds of many he is first and foremost a religious poet, although his secular poems are also important. Hallgrímur is notable amongst the other Icelandic psalm-poets in that his poetry has been sung and read more than any other and his most important work, the Psalms of the the Passion, has been sung and read by Icelanders during Lent for centuries. Even today, these meditations on Christ’s Passion are broadcast every day during Lent. The Psalms of the Passion have been published in Iceland more often than any other piece of writing – about eighty editions – and been translated into many languages.
His chair stood by the window which overlooked the church at Keflavík. Beneath the window was the old radio which took an eternity to warm up. I especially remember him listening to the news, weather forecast and the weekly radio broadcast of the Sunday church service. He sat there, hymn-book in hand, bookmarking the hymns which the announcer said would be sung at the service. He left the singing to the voices on the radio, following them in his hymn-book.
Two books lay beside the radio; one, the hymn-book, the other containing Hallgrímur Pétursson’s Psalms of the Passion. There was a certain seriousness in that room during Lent, when he turned on the radio to listen to the Psalms being read. He sat there, silently following the texts in his own book. The volume on the radio was turned down lower than when he listened to the news. Maybe as a mark of respect for the Passion.
Many years later, as I sat by his deathbed at the hospital – the day he left this earthly life – he murmured passages from the Psalms of Passion, as if in his sleep. That he should use his dying breaths to recite the words of Hallgrímur’s Psalms made a profound impact on me. From that day, there was no question in my mind that I would set them to music.
At first, I had the idea to write a work that would somehow recall those broadcasts from my youth – quiet, unostentatious recitation. Yet it was as if Hallgrímur’s words led me in a completely different direction: I felt his anger and grief. Alliterations and rhyme-schemes suddenly seemed unimportant to me. Rather, I experienced a deep intimacy with the Passion. I became a witness to that Passion.
In memory of my grandfather.