Frank Martin's Golgotha is being broadcast live from King's College Cambridge on Friday evening 22 April and is presumably available on BBC Radio 3 on demand online for 7 days. Martin's Golgotha is not "easy listening" but it's a bracing experience. It's uncompromising and stark - in comparison Bach seems almost cheery. Significantly, Martin began writing Golgotha in 1945, when Europe was torn apart by war. While he was working on it came news of the Holocaust, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the start of the Cold War. The Soviets marched into Eastern Europe, and the Communists took China. It must have felt like Armageddon.
Frank Martin (1890-1974) was Swiss, theoretically "safe" from political chaos, but moved in 1946 to Amsterdam. A huge mid-life upheaval, especially as the Netherlands was still recovering from the German Occupation. In Holland he saw a copy of Rembrandt's etching The Three Crosses which inspired him to write Golgotha. Jesus hangs from the cross in the centre, lit by a dramatic shaft of light from above. Whatever the light may be, it throws everything else into shadow. All the suffering that went before, the soldiers, the world, all meaningless in the face of the divine. Two thieves hang on crosses at the side. One mocks Jesus for willingly letting himself into this situation. The other, who knows a thing or two about lowlifes, recognizes that Jesus isn't a crook. Jesus turns to him and says Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. What it signifies is that even the lowliest sinner can be redeemed.
Whether we believe in any religion, or even in an afterlife, fact is that we're all going to die and those we love, too. That's maybe why all over the world, different faiths ponder why we live and what happens when we die. When the Egyptian Gods weigh up a person's soul, they're doing much the same as Jesus who sees the thief's kind words as an act of good faith. Think about Rembrandt's picture when you listen to Martin's Golgotha because it expresses the darkness of the situation, and the shaft of light which tears away the gloom. On Good Friday, Jesus sacrifices himself that others might be saved.. Because he was mortal, he suffered and had doubts, but felt it was worthwhile if it helped others. Liturgically,Good Friday is even more important than Xmas because it leads up to the Resurrection. The image of Jesus on the cross has helped millions make some sense of life and its termination.
Please read more about Frank Martin on this site and follow the link to Opera Today to hear the only full recording of his opera Der Sturm.