A SORCERER’S APPRENTICE? TRACES OF WAGNER IN THE
PASSION OF ST. MATTHEW BY TROND KVERNO
Trond Kverno (b. 1945) – arguably Norway’s finest composer of sacred music – wrote his Passion of St. Matthew in 1986. The work is scored for two choirs and soloists. The text - in Latin –
is based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapters 26 and 27. The composer has included a number of passages which highlight connections between The New testament and The Old, thus making the work an exercise in typological exegesis.
Kverno’s music is based on formulas, derived from simple melodic and/or harmonic patterns with minimal degree of elaboration. Structural simplicity is combined with an eclectic approach to traditions of European vocal music, both sacred and secular. This paper explores some reminiscences of Richard Wagner. The influence of the great composer may possibly be traced in Kverno’s associative use of tonality and his use of mediant relationships. The contrast between E-major and E-flat major is as pervasive in Kverno’s passion as it is prominent in Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Kverno’s extensive use of mediant harmony brings Wagner’s Parsifal to mind. It may even be argued that the Passion of St. Matthew contains a veiled quotation.
If that is so, one suspects that Kverno – a composer of ritual music with a leaning towards myth and drama – paid homage to an opera composer with a leaning towards ritual and myth. Bearing in mind that the first and third acts of Parsifal takes place on Good Friday – the very day that Amfortas uncovers the Grail – one is tempted to claim that Kverno succeeded in recreating wagnerian Karfreitagszauber in his own,