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Duration: c. 13.30 minutes








Programme Notes:

VIA CRUCIS was commissioned by Dr Matthew J George and the Symphonic Wind Ensemble of the University of St Thomas at St Paul, Minnesota. I had previously written a light-hearted work entitled Dreamscapes (2001) for this ensemble, and when offered a second opportunity to write for them, wished to compose something of more searching and serious intent. In between these works I had completed a UK commission Meditations (2002) which was based on the Seven Last Words of Our Saviour from the Cross, and a composition by Haydn of the same name (1787). This was a memorial work dedicated to the events in the USA on September 11th 2001. Via Crucis is equally inspired by a work of the same name by Franz Liszt that I first encountered as a music student in London, November 1977. I was intrigued by the structure of the work and thought I might attempt a version of my own in the future.


As an introduction, a quotation from the writings of Liszt explains the concept behind the ‘Way of the Cross’ as he had envisaged it:


'The devotion to the Stations of the Cross, called Via Crucis, has become a service for the souls of the dead. As such a religious observance it became general in many countries, and even popular in some of them. In some churches we may find paintings showing the Stations of the Cross, and members of the congregation used to tell their respective prayers before each of the pictures hanging on the wall. Sometimes these prayers are told by single persons, sometimes by little groups, in which case the words of the prayers are divided among themselves'.


Via Crucis describes the journey of Christ carrying the Cross, divided into fourteen stages or ‘stations’. Most Catholic churches have pictures or statuettes of these scenes along the walls of the nave, generally seven on either side. The devotion consists of meditations on each scene, usually in the form of prayers or singing in the form of a Passion, and is particularly associated with Lent. The number of stations has not always been fourteen: sometimes fewer were used. Today it is common to add a fifteenth in order to conclude with the Resurrection rather than with the tomb. This enables a positive ending and one I have also adopted. In the concert hall, the episodic nature of so many movements is difficult successfully to sustain and manage, so I have further elaborated the form, leading to a total of seventeen sections. Audiences should not be discouraged at this lengthening of an already long process, as this work is in one continuous span, or movement, played without a break and using the various internal station titles as reference points rather than separate entities.


On a personal note, for the premiere performance, I mulled over this work for over a year before committing to paper. There always seemed to be problems of how to convey the meaning of the original concept within the parameters of a concert hall composition. A solution was provided by Dr Matthew George on a visit to England when he happened to mention that I might like to include a part for 'cello. I followed this up with the idea of the 'cello as a soloist, which met with a positive response. The piece then seemed to unfold naturally, and was completed rapidly in time for the premiere performance on December 14th, 2003.


The work features a solo 'cellist, not as the protagonist in the story, but more in the role of commentator, enabling links to emerge between the various sub-divisions. As Jesus falls three times during the stations, there was the possibility of repeating sections of material, giving greater cohesion to the whole. The work opens with a Prelude -The Cross, which establishes an atmosphere before the first station proper, and announces the key musical motif of the work. This returns, repeated and varied, forming a cementing device and element of reference for listeners. The various stations are then commenced to a halfway point where an Interlude – Golgotha (The Place of a Skull) emerges. The stations are soon resumed to the point where Jesus is laid in the tomb. For my own Postlude – The Resurrection I deliver an instrumental setting of The Lord’s Prayer, reaching an epic conclusion, immediately followed by a gentle coda representing various Amen statements. In order to give a sense of gradual and ceaseless procession to the music, I have kept the work (with the exception of The Lord’s Prayer segment) in one tempo. I also employ many effects from within the band to add both colour and drama to the imagery of the ‘text’. The whole procession takes just under fifteen minutes to realise, some station depictions being extremely brief, others more extended and considered. The structure is laid out as follows:


  A: Prelude – The Cross

  1: Jesus is condemned to death

  2: Jesus takes up the Cross

  3: Jesus falls the first time

  4: Jesus meets his blessed Mother

  5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross

  6: Saint Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

  7: Jesus falls the second time

  8: The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus

  9: Jesus falls the third time

  B: Interlude – Golgotha (the place of a skull)

10: Jesus is stripped of his clothes

11: Jesus is nailed to the Cross

12: Jesus dies on the Cross

13: Jesus is taken down from the Cross

14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

  C: Postlude – The Resurrection (The Lord’s Prayer)


I do not think it important to discuss each movement individually. A greater relevance is to be had by referring to my detailed performance notes, which give an insight into many aspects of interpretation, more significant in this work than its structural dimensions.


To close the programme details, this work is in effect an allegory on the ‘Way of the Cross’, and I use the work’s universal dedication, in this offering, to give a clue to its memorial status, which it is hoped lends its meaning both contemporary relevance and historical reverence:


For Those Who Also Fell in Before and After Centuries


O! Crux Ave! Specs anica!

(O Cross, Hail Only Hope)


I always wondered just who remembered the 'tenth legionnaire in the third cohort of Roman soldiers' who fought and died at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. After all, he had a mother too! We seem (for obvious reasons) to remember the Christ figure, whereas humanity has claimed the lives of countless millions in conflicts and tragedies before and after 'His' symbolic demise. So my allegory remembers all the unknown names and faces that suffered equally and have no memorial, story or legacy to account for their presence on this fragile planet. 



Flutes 1.2.3 (all dbl. Piccolos), Oboe, Bb Clarinets 1.2.3, Bb Bass Clarinet, Bb Contrabass Clarinet, Bassoon,

Eb Alto Saxophones 1.2, Bb Tenor Saxophone, Eb Baritone Saxophone,

Bb Trumpets, F Horns, Trombones 1.2.3, Euphoniums 1.2, Tuba,

Double Bass, Piano (Concert Grand), Synthesiser ( 'Voice' patch), Harp,



Percussion Requirements:

These five players are involved in the effects mentioned above to a lesser degree – usually to support thinner textures. There is no separate timpani part – all five performers play various instruments, sometimes shared, from the following list:


Glockenspiel, vibraphone, claves, tam-tam, tubular bells, 2 suspended cymbals (high and low placed together sometimes), bass drum, timpani (5 if possible), xylophone, side drum, 4 temple blocks, 2 bongos (with sticks), 2 wood blocks, clashed cymbals, 2nd xylophone or marimba or vibraphone played with hard beaters, Two sets of 6 same sized wine bottles filled with ever increasing amounts of water to vary the pitch – the actual pitch is not important just a noticeable difference – these will need to be suspended somehow and hit with metal beaters.


Performance Notes:

The following notes are included here to give clarification and detail to the notation used in the score.


1: Instrumentation:

All 3 flutes double piccolos. 1st alto saxophone doubles soprano saxophone. The piano (must be a grand) needs to be ‘open’ so that the internal strings can be hit – this will probably require a special set up for the music stand.


2: Special Requirements:

There are several effects notated in the score requiring the use of wineglasses, bottles, sticks, beaters, metal cans etc. These have been notated in all available parts at each specific time but do not necessarily need to be played by everyone. The wineglasses need not be of any specific pitch but should have a little water placed in them to enable the performer’s finger to be wetted prior to execution of the rubbed rim effect. The bottles are to be of as many varied sizes as possible and blown rather like pan-pipes. The 'sticks' section is to be made up of whatever is available, although ‘bright’ sounds are preferred. It is appreciated that it is easier for some instrumentalists to put their down instruments and perform effects than it will be for others.  Should this prove difficult (instrument stands may help if available) such players can enter at a later moment than others, or if too problematic not contribute. The vocal effects do not cause the same logistical problem.


N.B. for the recording by the RNCM Wind Orchestra, the wineglasses and bottles were recorded later and ‘dropped’ in. In the parts set there is a CD which has all the relevant sounds so they could be 'performed' by a CD operator suitably amplified. The parts set also includes a reference part concerning these effects which could also be used by any additional performaers that may be available in some circumstances. For reference purposes the CD tracks are as follows:


3: Register Note:

In the case of the string bass, should a five-string version not be available then any notes out of register should be taken up an octave. This also applies to the bass clarinet should the lower notes not be available on the model used by the specific performer.


N.B. this is of particular relevance in the USA


4: Tempo:

The work spends a great deal of time in the same tempo – this is to enable a sense of steady, relentless procession. However it is permissible to add moments of rubato, a little accelerando and a return to a tempo to drive forward the drama. There should not be gaps between the sections, as a continuous flow of proceedings is desirable.


5: Dynamic Indication:

The notated dynamics refer to the audible level requested, thus if a line is not emerging clearly, then extra weight will need to be given. The wine glasses/bottles effects have been given a marking, albeit this is potentially irrelevant, as in order to be audible maximum effort will normally need to be applied.


6: Vocal/Special Instrument Effects (clarification by bar number):


  • Bar 8: entries can be in succession, building up the textures – no words should be recognisable – the effect is rather like a mumbling crowd, so the vocal contribution should be somewhat introvert.


  • Bar 14: The free instrumental notation is to produce a violent 'sigh' – the same when this returns later.


  • Bar 89: The notated rhythm is by no means to be adhered to; it is merely a guideline of intent. Players should not enter together but in small contingents over say a 4 bar period, then 2 bars of full intensity, then 3 bars of losing intensity of rhythm into absolute notated rhythm commencing at bar 98.


7: Solo 'Cello:

This is obviously a key part but is not written in the vein of a concerto, rather obligato. A lyrical style is required, as the soloist is acting as a commentator on the procession and a transition between sections. The 'cello part needs to be executed with confidence. Careful attention is needed in the placement on the stage of this player, and I sanction the soloist being amplified for additional prominence and projection.


8: Bar 92 Solos:

The piccolo, oboe and soprano saxophone solos should be rather ethnic in style and essentially 'strained' in tone, hence the high register writing. Great purity of timbre is not the paramount consideration in this section.


9: Postlude Bar 143:

This is in effect a literal setting of The Lord’s Prayer without an audible text, therefore the lines should have a ‘sung’ quality to them. Bar 178/179 saxophones etc., bar 180/181 flutes etc., and bar 182/183 brass represent an ‘amen’, as do the final later bars of the work.


Available Recordings:

Via Crucis

The 14 Stations of the Cross - A Processional Service

Click image to view page 1 of the score

Vizcaya - Great British Music for Wind Band - Vol. 10

Joanna Rusby (Cello), Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra

Cond.  James Gourlay


Polyphonic Reproductions Ltd.


Bilboko Udal Musika Banda

Banda Municipal de Música de Bilbao

Cond.  Rafael Sanz-Espert


Bilbao Musika


Carnegie Hall 2005

Murray State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble

Cond.  Dennis L. Johnson



Midwest Clinic 2010

Grand Symphonic Winds

Cond.  Matthew George




(Shortened version)

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