Commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival, Finland

An optional instrumental introduction to this work, Nine Fragments for the Barabbas Septetto is available on hire separately

  • fl(pic).cl(bcl)/perc/
  • narrator, soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone
  • 50 min
  • by Lassi Nummi, Aulis Sallinen
  • English, Finnish, German

Programme Note


Barrabas baritone
The Woman mezzo-soprano
Judas bass-baritone
The Maiden soprano
The Youth tenor
One of The Twelve narrator


Dialogue 1: Nocturne (The Woman - Barabbas)
Dialogue 2: Easter I (Judas - One of The Twelve)
Dialogue 3: Easter II (Barabbas - One of The Twelve)
Dialogue 4: Easter III (Judas - One of The Twelve)
Dialogue 5: Pas de Deux (The Maiden - The Youth)
Dialogue 6: Passacaglia (The Woman - Barabbas - The Maiden - The Youth)
Dialogue 7: Finale (all)


Barabbas Dialogues, Op. 84, was composed in 2002 and 2003 and was commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival. This 50-minute work consists of seven dialogues, which - apart from the three Easter story sections - carry sub-headings serve to characterise the musical content.

‘Dialogue’ means conversation or a verbal exchange, but here it also suggests an exchange of influence, an idea which seemed appropriate for a work dealing with world order. And so the Nocturne, for example, took its shape when I cut Lassi Nummi’s even verse poem into dialogue form - with the poet’s permission, of course. It seemed workable, and straight away I placed The Woman at Barabbas’s side, because it is not good for people to live alone. Generally-speaking, one should not expect to find in these dialogues the usual question-answer or argument-counterargument formula. I hope they knit together on some other level into a concept which might touch on profound questions of humanity.

The official new Finnish translation of the Bible was perhaps the most important inspiration for the text, and also for the start of the musical composition process. (Could it be by chance that in the fine translation one can also identify Nummi’s hand? He himself was a member of the Finnish Bible Translation Committee.) The experience of reading didn’t provide clear answers, but rather raised a cascade of big questions. Yet it was an integral part of the work, which - and not for the first time in art - sought to open a dialogue with a God who does not answer back.

Barabbas is a character who excites the imagination. His name is only glimpsed in the record of history which Christianity regards as one of its main pillars. It is pointless for us to concern ourselves with who really played this important minor role: bandit, murderer, or freedom fighter? But, we can always imagine what he might have been like. The same might apply to Judas. The fact that he was designated a traitor by prophecy could make him one of the most tragic martyrs of world history. In the end is he nothing more than a religio-political jigsaw piece, like Barabbas, who makes space for the more important sacrifice on the cross.

The work’s instrumentation is also for a seven-piece ensemble. The choice of instruments confirmed my belief that they could provide enough tone and colour for this extensive work. The same objective can be seen in the choice of The Maiden and The Youth: from their sensitive love, youth and thus continuation of life, the representative dialogue serves to create enough contrast in the musical language. If anyone wished to interpret the sparse and light instrumentation as an overt protest against the overpowering noise of our time, they wouldn’t be far wrong.

Is Barabbas Dialogues a song cycle, a chamber oratorio, a cantata, a piece of musical theatre or something else? I haven’t troubled my head with this question. In the best of circumstances, a work of art creates its own world.

Programme note by Aulis Sallinen



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