Bosetti Sunday Concert

April 9, 3:00 PM ~  Passion Sunday

Tournemire’s “Seven Last Words of Christ”

Performed by Steve Anisko from Pittsburgh, PA

Steven Anisko is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh where he studied organ with the late Robert Sutherland Lord, who was the foremost authority on the composer Charles Tournemire and his music and its proper interpretation. He also studied choral direction with John Goldsmith. Steve has served and organist and music director at various churches in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, including Heinz Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh. Currently he serves as organist at the United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington PA. 


Steve is an avid promoter and performer of the music of Charles Tournemire and seeks greater awareness and appreciation of Tournemire's music.



Charles Tournemire (1870-1939), was best known as organist of the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris.  A prolific composer, he created eight symphonies, twelve chamber works, four operas and numerous compositions for organ and piano.  He is best known for his magnum opus, L' Orgue Mystique, a set of organ pieces written for the Roman Catholic Liturgical Year and thematically based on the Gregorian Chant Propers of the year. Tournemire was also well renowned as the finest improviser of his time, recordingfive improvisations in 1930.


Sept Chorals-Poèmes D'orgue Pour Les Sept Paroles Du Christ, Op. 67


The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross were composed between February 15, 1935 and March 29, 1935 following Tournemire's visit of prayer and meditation at the Cathedral of Beauvais with his wife.


Olivier Messiean wrote of the work, “These seven pieces are a direct expression of powerful originalityat the service of a profound faith.”


Faith and spirituality were quintessential elements in both Tournemire's and Messiaen's compositions.

Tournemire wrote, “Organ music where God is absent is a body without a soul.”


The first four words demonstrate the conflict of Jesus as man. The last three words prepare for the end which Jesus as God has accepted.


  1. Pater, dimitte illis; nesciunt einim quid faciunt (Father Forgive them; for they know not what they do.) This is the longest and most complex of this work. Great anxiety and agitation are immediately unveiled and suggestive of violence and scourging. Dissonance and volume builds until the Divine element of forgiveness is introduced and the work builds in majesty and finally ends suddenly and on a major chord suggesting complete abandonment.


  1. Hodie, mecum eris in Paradio (Today you will be with me in Paradise)   This is a vision shared with the repentant criminal hanging on a cross next to Jesus. While the visionis seen through the brutalized body of a tortured man, a quite ecstasy consumes the criminal with a foretaste of Paradise. The Vox Humana stop is used. Tournemire often would reserve use of this stop to represent Divine Communion.


  1. Mulier, ecce filius tuus. Ecce Mater tua. (Mother behold your son. Behold your Mother)            Great emotion is expressed in this movement as Jesus spiritually joins his mother with his      disciple. The work begins as a canon and develops until a dramatic unison ending reflects the mother to her son, the disciple.


  1. Eli, Eli lamma sabachthani (My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?)   Jesus resistance to the Divine will is evident with strong dissonance and violent wavesfollowing a stately passacaglia introduction. The death of Jesus the man in musically symbolized in this movement which then ends quietly and mystically.


  1. Sitio (I Thirst)    This was the first movement of the seven which Tournemire composed. It opens with two simple voices representing the human and Divine nature of Jesus. The theme of Christ and Divine love is created from a Hindi mode, the Chalanata. It appears throughout the the Seven Words.
  2. Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit).  This movement begins with a fugal exposition, but proceeds with greater agitation and dissonance as it climaxes in a series of dissonant chords which are followed by a period of silence.  After the silence, a quiet ending prepares for the last word.


  1.  Consummatum est. (It is finished)   This begins with a solemn pedal ostinato anticipating the first theme. The piece suggests a perfect Divine end to the earthly mission of Jesus. It ends quietly and with a notion of eternity.


Please note, these simple program notes are mostly reduced from the authoritative article written by my teacher, Dr. Robert Lord: Charles Tournemire & The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross. The article can be found in the November 1977 issue of The Diapason Magazine. For an in depth review of the music, footnotes etc. please refer to that article.