The three hours of Agony, sacred music
music score edited by italianOpera
The Introduction is in E flat major. The vocal part, for two tenors and a bass, proceeds homorhythmically, after the tenor's cantabile section. The increasingly difficult pianissimo opening creates a dramatic atmosphere, consisting of a contrast of dotted rhythms and more linear moments. Zingarelli pays great attention to the dynamic shading; to the staccatos, the legatos, the piano and the forte, emphasising the degrees of expressiveness as suggested by the poetic text, as he had done for Ines di Castro in 1798 and in the Apelle e Campaspe in 1795. The drama of the text is underlined by madrigal forms, for example, the sighing of both the instruments and the voices on the word "spirar", or the sweetness of certain moments in the melody, when Saint Alfonso invites us to listen to Christ's last words. The form is expanded by the continuous repetitions of the text over a deliberately simple harmonic base, similar to certain operatic arias, such as those in the Death of Caesar in 1790. The melodic simplicity and the sweetness found in this work, which rejects theatrical effects, is evident in the secular compositions and the operas, for example, Antigone in 1790 or II ratto delle Sabine in 1799, famous for the duet Parto ma tu ricordati. This composition is equally symmetrical and concise, vibrating with emotion, recalling certain moments from Gluck.
First Word (MIDI 34k)
from Le tre ore dell'Agonia
by Nicolò Zingarelli.
Italian Opera (copyright) 2001 The First Word in G minor, is in fugal style with the subject in chromatic form. The emotion generated by the minor key accompanies Jesus' prayer for his executioners. The incisiveness of the text is emphasised by the first violas' acute accenting of the downbeat. The miriad sins of man, evident in the use of counterpoint, appear ineluctable and seem to multiply themselves in the form of a fugue over the rapid flow of the themes. The moments of homophony, when Zingarelli abandons the imitative mode, contain a sense of hope and pardon.
The Second Word, in G major, is the longest episode. The tendency to amplify an orchestrated vocal piece was already evident in the operas. Zingarelli often employed a complex scenic construction, to great effect dramatically, thus arousing the admiration and respect of his contemporaries (for example, in the rondo from Pirro in 1791, which Zingarelli retained one of his best works). The operatic aspect and the solo entries, for each of the voices, evolve unexpectedly into homorhythmic styles. Zingarelli abandons the solernn, subdued atmosphere in the melody which serve to admonish "quel barbaro" who, whilst Jesus languishes, "un refrigerio gli nieghi ancor". and contemplates, from the mortal world, the joy of eternal life, represented beautifully by sudden, optimistic, ascending leaps. The melody seems to be mocking death and his "orrido artiglio". Even the sweetness of the second theme, over an Alberti bass, has a popular character. The processional mode is a worthy expressive counterpart to the first motif.
In the Third Word in F major the vocal parts are homorhythmic. The softness, the references to the Mother and the Virgin Mary are underlined by the appoggiaturas and by the ornamentation of the instrumental line, marked Andante and containing light dynamic contrasts. The coloratura in the orchestrated vocal piece, as in the opera Alsinda from 1785 and Ifigenia in Aulide from 1787, has no structural function but emphasises the emotions and elsewhere the expression of anger.
The Fourth Word employs in cyclical form the thematic material from the Introduction, transposed into D minor followed by A major. The instruments alternate with musical pauses, anticipating the monochordal entrance of the voices. There are hints of both fugues and descending accidentals, and other harmonic effects whilst the masterly division of the vocal forces, with alternating entries, emphasises the key words.
The Fifth Word in G major is divided into two contrasting sections. The first is homorhythmic, with a sublime, ethereal melody, recalling the candour and the purity of the lily, like an aria of comparison. The lily's drooping head is compared in poetic imagery to Jesus on the cross. The second section, Allegro, alternates homorhythmic passages with solo passages. As in an opera's orchestrated aria "of anger" there are leaps in the melody which serve to admonish "quel barbaro" who, whilst Jesus languishes, "un refrigerio gli nieghi ancor".
The Sixth Word in C major is sustained almost exclusively by the bass voice, illuminated by brief parallel interventions by the tenor voice. The ascending scales in C minor and then major are both stunning and dramatic, heightening even more the emotional contrast; the sadness at Christ's death and descent into the Abyss, depicted by the voice in descending madrigals, and the joy in the desire for eternal life "che Gesù ci ridonò". The major key, for Zingarelli, is often tinged by the minor, and he frequently uses, in other compositions, neapolitan sixths. Simple harmonic schemes appear both in this and other works by Zingarelli.
The Seventh in G minor, has homorhythmic vocal parts. It is
simple, moving and severe in order to underline with repeated, almost suspended
notes, the tragic moment of Christ's death. The words, repeated three times,
in a symbolic sense, would resound with pain and pessimism, If it were not for
the hope in the Resurrection which Zingarelli introduces in the beauty of the
The closing Amen recalls substantially the First Word, concluding in a worthy manner an extraordinary composition of significant musical and spiritual content.