By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Dr. Philip Brisson, director of music for the Cathedral of the Assumption, accompanied by Dr. William P. Bradford II, will present the Dupré/Claudel Stations of the Cross March 19 at the Cathedral, 433 S. Fifth Street.
This interpretation of a traditional Lenten service sets the 14 stations to organ music intermixed with liturgical poetry.
The Dupré/Claudel version dates back to the early 1930s, Dr. Brisson said. Marcel Dupré, a prominent organist in Paris, was asked by his professor at the Paris Conservatory of Music to read the poetic meditations on the Stations of the Cross written by Paul Claudel. Dupré would follow each station with an improvised musical piece, Brisson explained.
“Improvisation back then is not the way we think of it today,” he noted. “He (Dupré) diligently researched previous composers. He came up with different melodic ideas and based his improvisations on that.”
The highly complex piece is broken into 14 sections coordinating with the 14 Stations of the Cross. First, a meditation on the station is read. Following the poetry, a musical piece is played describing each reading.
“The music is extremely descriptive. Even if the poetry were not read, you would know what’s going on. It’s very powerful,” Brisson said.
The music alone is 60 minutes, Brisson noted. Combine that with the poetry and moments of silence, the program lasts about an hour and a half.
Brisson first encountered the Dupré/Claudel Stations of the Cross when he was a graduate student at Westminster Choir College in 1996.
“I had never heard the piece before. I remember walking away thinking it was so powerful. I tucked it away. I knew I wanted to revisit it,” he said.
The idea to perform the piece at the Cathedral first germinated last spring when Brisson put together the schedule for the Cathedral’s upcoming concert series.
Brisson noted that many people in Louisville may be unfamiliar with this rendition of the Stations because it’s been a number of years since it was last performed.
“No one can remember when it was done last. Perhaps back when the seminaries were more involved in music programs. But, it’s definitely not been in the 12 years I’ve been here,” he said.
But Brisson hopes to change that. He plans to make the Dupré/Claudel Stations of the Cross part of the yearly concert series at the cathedral.
Preparations for the intense performance began last summer.
“It’s something that I always wanted to learn. This is a hard, hard piece,” he said.
Brisson described the task as a “monumental undertaking.”
Many nights he returns to the Cathedral after putting his daughter to bed and practices until the wee hours of the morning.
Bradford, a long-time faculty member of Trinity High School and retired instructor of the Youth Performing Arts School, said he’s been preparing for a number of months.
“I look at little pieces of it (the poetry) at a time,” he said.
Bradford noted that the original text was in French so some of the translations have been awkward but the duo will “make it work.”
Brisson said he hopes this performance will help people spiritually prepare for Easter.
“All of us are preparing during Lent. This is a perfect way to do so,” he said.
The Dupré/Claudel Stations of the Cross will begin at 7:30 p.m. March 19. A light meal of soup and bread will be served before the service in the Cathedral’s undercroft at 6:30 p.m.