Spohr’s “Die Letzten Dinge”

Let’s look at Spohr’s music some more.

One of my favorite works of his is Die Letzten Dinge, an oratorio whose title translates literally as “the last things,” but more meaningfully as “the last judgment.” It predates Mendelssohn’s Biblical oratorios but has the same kind of feeling, being more concerned with drama and human reactions than with deep the religious feelings of Bach or the doubtful inquiry of Beethoven. It’s direct and forceful, presenting sharp contrasts between the ideas of God as a loving redeemer and as a mass executioner. It may not make much sense, but it makes for very effective music. Occasionally it loses momentum, but the problems are minor.

The opening is a baroque overture in form, though definitely Spohr’s in style, introducing some motifs which are used repeatedly through the work. Part 1 is stage-setting, but it includes some fine music, particularly the opening chorus, “Preis und Ehre ihm,” and the closing piece for soloists and chorus, “Heil, dem Erbarmer Heil!”

A stern Sinfonia opens Part 2, followed by an equally stern aria by the bass. Then the music turns ominous as soft drum rolls cut off the closing cadence, and the bass announces the coming of the world’s end. There’s a sharp contrast in the duet, “Sei mir nicht schrecklich in der Not.” The tenor announces the final hour and the climactic moment is the chorus, “Gefallen ist Babylon, die Grosse!” It gives the full force of the orchestra and chorus to describing how Earth’s inhabitants want to die but can’t, then sinks into a quiet, ominous passage as the dead rise. At the end, the storm fades into the distance and the tenor sings unaccompanied, “Es ist geschehen.” It’s easy to imagine a cityscape lying in ruins. This is followed by the unexpected contrast with the beautiful quartet and chorus, “Selig sind die Toten.” The wrap-up isn’t quite up to the same level, but it finishes with a lively fugue.

Musically, the oratorio isn’t very difficult, and it could be a good choice for choral societies to perform. The recording which I have is a Philips CD With Gustav Kuhn conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart and the Südfunk Chorus.

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