On Good Friday, the Sardis Presbyterian Church choir will perform, for the first time in English, a work written almost 140 years ago.
The performance of Franz Liszt’s “Via Crucis” is the culmination of six years of work that Sardis Presbyterian Minister of Music Jared Daugherty put into his doctoral degree and project – translating the German and Latin words of the piece into English. Liszt, who wrote “Via Crucis” around 1879 to commemorate the observance of Jesus’ last day on Earth as a man, never heard the piece performed during his lifetime.
“We have performed many outstanding works by noted composers, but we have never done anything quite like ‘Via Crucis,’” said Alice Cauble, who has sung in the Sardis Presbyterian choir for 28 years.
The work will be performed as an observance of the stations of the cross, a predominantly Catholic tradition of moving around to stations, usually icons or images, where Christians meditate on the events in Jesus’ final day that are depicted at each station.
The music is somber and sparse, reflecting the atmosphere before Jesus’ crucifixion.
“I like the quiet introspection of the ‘Via Crucis,’” said choir member Karen Carpenter. “If you really pay attention to the words and let the music, both instrumental and sung, carry you, I believe that you will come to a new and deeper understanding of the sacrifice made for us in Christ.”
Translation to English
Daugherty first encountered “Via Crucis” as a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, where he was recruited along with other students and faculty to perform Liszt’s music at a meeting of the American Liszt Society that the school was hosting. Daugherty conducted a movement from “Via Crucis.”
His interest piqued, Daugherty researched the work. He learned it had been rejected by printers during Liszt’s lifetime because they didn’t believe it would sell. Daugherty theorizes that it could be because it’s a mixture of chants in Latin, a language that is part of traditional Roman Catholic masses, and German chorales that were connected to the country’s Protestant Lutheran tradition.
“The mixture of Catholic and Protestant, who would do this?” Daugherty said.
He also learned that the work is rarely performed, and never in English. Drawing from centuries of tradition where composers translated their lyrics into another language so that more people can understand them, Daugherty decided to set “Via Crucis” in English.
He isn’t fluent in German or Latin, so he used existing translations of some songs and translation tools set the rest of the work in English. The translation, he said, also required him to tweak the music because the syllables in English didn’t always quite fit with the beat.
For the performance at Sardis Presbyterian, which is open to the community, Daugherty chose an arrangement of “Via Crucis” for piano and organ and is keeping the program simple.
“I felt like not giving them too much would allow the audience to create the scene the music is calling for on their own,” he said.
Living with ‘Via Crucis’
The choir at Sardis Presbyterian is more than just the singers who will perform “Via Crucis.” They’ve been with Daugherty through the past three years as he’s finished his doctoral program while working at the church.
“The choir encouraged me to do it,” Daugherty said of organizing an English performance of “Via Crucis.” “They knew I was working on this project to finish my degree, and I think they just wanted to celebrate the finishing of this milestone with me.”
Choir member Chris Bateson said Daugherty “lived with this piece for a long time” while he worked on it.
“No one is more knowledgeable about it in the fine details required,” Bateson said. “It is a great honor for the Sardis choir to sing it in English as a world premiere.”
Daugherty spent three years in Georgia completing coursework before moving to Charlotte and taking the job at Sardis Presbyterian. He is married and has two children – one who was born while he worked on his doctorate of musical arts in Georgia.
He said it’s “very, very neat” to hear the choir sing his English translation of “Via Crucis,” which he said also includes his own “connection with the piece and understanding of history.” Daugherty’s doctoral dissertation, which some choir members have read, includes an extensive history and analysis of the work.
“Jared has been our minister of music for three and a half years now, and choir members appreciate the new life he has breathed into our music program, coming from a mix of his creativity, energy and musical knowledge,” Carpenter said. “We were thrilled when he completed his doctorate and are honored to be the first ones to present his project, under his direction.”
The performance will last about 45 minutes, and Daugherty said the audience will leave in silence when it ends.
“It will be very solemn, very serious and a real down compared to Easter,” he said. “Hopefully the people who come will then really appreciate the excitement of Easter.”
Choir members John Hovis and Katie Daugherty, Jared Daugherty’s wife, are soloists in “Via Crucis.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
The performance of “Via Crucis” is free and open to the public. It will be held 7 p.m. April 14 at Sardis Presbyterian Church, 6100 Sardis Road, Charlotte.