For me, Golgotha was a unique event in my life as a composer. The decision to write the composition did not come from a deliberate choice [of material] like Rilke’s Cornet or Shakespeare’s Tempest, for instance. Everything, it seemed to me, forbade it, especially a true cult-worship which I had devoted since childhood (up to the present day) to J. S. Bach’s Matthew Passion – but perhaps it was even more so the fact that I felt myself unworthy – utterly, completely unworthy – of treating such a topic. Nothing and no one had ever challenged me to do it. But something was called for, something that felt like a call to me, and at first I strove against that call with everything I had. But the call was stronger than my resistance, and so I sat down to work … (Letter from Frank Martin to Willy Fotsch, February 1970)
Ever since Frank Martin’s moving Easter oratorio Golgotha appeared in the 1940s, conductors have gladly fallen back on this exceptionally dramatic work whenever a dignified church celebration of Easter was needed. Martin had reservations about being able to create something to stand alongside Bach’s Passions, but was so fascinated by the three versions of Rembrandt’s Three Crosses that he found the courage to begin.
Golgotha is being performed on 13 and 14 April by the Gemischter Chor Zürich and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich (cond. Joachim Krause) at the Tonhalle Zurich.