Ferenc Liszt: Via Crucis

Ferenc Liszt’s sacred music is a particularly rich part of his oeuvre, and even among these there is a special place for his late work titled Via Crucis [Stations of the Cross], a 15-movement oratoric piece written in 1879 especially for church performance, choir and vocal soloists. When he sent it to a church music publisher, he emphasised that remuneration was not important to him, but nevertheless the work remained in manuscript. It was first performed posthumously in 1929 under the conductorship of Artur Harmat, who later became the choirmaster of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Perhaps this is because its harmonies and melodies point explicitly towards modern, turn-of-the-century musical aspirations. The motto of his profound reflections on the Passion is expressed in the final movement, based on the hymn of Fortunatus: the Cross is “our only hope”.

After its foundation in 2005, the Modern Art Orchestra has quickly become a leading player in Hungarian jazz culture. Its founder and artistic director Kornél Fekete-Kovács chose this name because he wanted to embrace the contemporary musical aspirations while standing in the world of jazz, so the members of the orchestra include instrumentalists who are experienced in classical music as well as musicians who play jazz music. The orchestra, which operates as a contemporary music workshop, has been exemplary in its activities, with many new compositions written specifically for the Modern Art Orchestra since its foundation. Their emotional and deeply moving performance of Liszt’s work is part of a series of adaptations of works by Bartók, Kodály and György Ligeti, following their collaboration with Péter Eötvös.

The adaptation, created for the Liszt Festival 2022, bears the signature of composer-arranger jazz musicians who have already demonstrated their skills and composed significant pieces for the orchestra. The individual movements (Stations of the Cross) have been arranged by six of the orchestra’s in-house composers (János Ávéd, Kristóf Bacsó, Gábor Cseke, Kornél Fekete-Kovács, Attila Korb and Gábor Subicz), joined by two multi-award-winning composer-performers (Dániel Hofecker and Dániel Szabó) who work closely with the Modern Art Orchestra.

The role of the choir in the composition will be taken over by the orchestra, but as appropriate to the theme, the members will not improvise freely this time, but will perform cadenzas and variations according to the instructions of each composer. For the vocal parts, the Modern Art Orchestra has invited Lilla Horti from the Hungarian State Opera and the iconic singer of the jazz scene, Krisztina Pocsai. The organ parts will be performed by László Fassang.

“It was a stunning realization for me to see how Liszt’s genius as a composer and performer competed with each other for most of his life. This work evokes not the fame and the successes, but the thoughtful, to-the-point, meditative composer.” – says artistic director Kornél Fekete-Kovács about the piece.