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Liszt - Christus-Oratorio - 03 1 Tristis est anima mea (Sad is my soul)



Type of Spiritual Experience


Christus (S.3, composed 1862-1866) is an oratorio by the Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. The oratorio takes the traditional plot of Jesus Christ's life from his birth to his passion and resurrection, using Bible texts.

When Liszt, after his prolific Weimar years, moved to Rome in 1861, the majority of his works for the next ten years would be religious music for choir. The composition of his most famous oratorio, Christus, occupied Liszt from 1862 to 1866, with shorter or longer pauses. He finished the score by the end of September 1866, but he wished to make some revisions and corrections, and therefore the work was not completed until the December of that year. 'Christus' was published in 1872 and premiered in the Protestant church at Weimar on 29 May 1873.

The oratorio is of around three hours in duration and requires significant orchestral and vocal forces, which makes it rather a rarity in concert halls of today, and despite this most of the work is of almost chamber proportions and quite personal in mood. For the text Liszt uses the Bible, the Catholic liturgy and some ancient Latin hymns. It is of note that the role of the orchestra in the oratorio is really more significant than that of the chorus, the orchestra being the moving force of growth and development. This is unlike earlier, baroque and classical oratorios, where the chorus prevails, and the orchestra simply acts as a commentary, providing harmonic texture. The oratorio lacks recitative sections, although the score is periodically annotated with Latin passages as though explaining what the music is depicting, or the underlying emotional or religious relevance. It is unclear whether or not these passages are meant to be spoken by a narrator during the music. Some performances have done this to great effect, although the majority omit them.

The work consists of three parts:

  • Part One: Christmas Oratorio (of five movements)
  • Part Two: After Epiphany (of five movements)
  • Part Three: Passion and Resurrection (of four movements)

Part Three: Passion and Resurrection

XI. Tristis est anima mea ('Sad is my soul')
XII. Stabat Mater dolorosa ('Stood the grievous Mother')
XIII. O filii et filiae ('O sons and daughters')
XIV. Resurrexit! ('He has risen!')

The final part of the oratorio begins with a sombre and pain-filled movement 'Tristis est anima mea'. Here Jesus talks to his Father, meditates over all the horrors that await him, however 'sed non quod ego volo, sed quod tu'. The sparing use of the baritone soloist makes the words even more effective and meaningful. The orchestra once more plays the significant part.


A description of the experience

The source of the experience

Liszt, Franz

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Believing in the spiritual world
Squash the big I am