• Nico Muhly
  • The Street (2022)
    (14 Meditations on the Stations of the Cross)

  • St. Rose Music Publishing (World)

Commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge, with the generous support of the American Harp Society, the Association of Anglican Musicians, Michael Davidson and Benedict Cadbury. First performed and recorded by Parker Ramsay. The first performance was given on 16 April 2022 by Parker Ramsay (harp), Rosie Hillal (narrator) and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

  • hp/narrator
  • [choir]
  • 1 hr 15 min
  • Alice Goodman

Programme Note

The Street is a set of meditations on the fourteen stations of the cross scored for solo harp. Each movement can, in some performances, be paired with plainchant, chosen to augment and in some cases provide counterpoint to the traditional narrative of Good Friday. The spark for each movement is original texts by Alice Goodman — either read aloud or read in silence — which are simultaneously specific, evocative, mysterious, and poetic. Often, a single line will provide the starting-point for the music; when Jesus is condemned to death (Station I), Goodman describes the crowd shouting "crucify him": “the pitch dropping as it passes where you stand.” The harp, in turn, plays a modern version of the same, a kind of digital-delay effect, where the pitch creeps down the scale. This two-note descending motif becomes the governing gesture of the piece.  

“Remember the carpenter’s work” (II) suggests an honest, folksy labor, work done with the hands; Mary, come to Jerusalem “to be seen in that first look between mother and child,” hears the echo of a rocking-song from three decades before (IV). Veronica, looking at her sudarium (VI), notices that “He is printed in molecules of blood and sweat,” and hears a chord, diffused and delicate, as if seen under a microscope. A narrator — all of us, perhaps — causes Jesus’s second fall: “My fault. I put out my foot and tripped him. What can I say?” and the harp responds with a bullying, rhythmically intense unbroken set of shifting, stumbling gestures (VII).

Other stations of the cross take their musical cues from the attendant plainchant, most explicitly heard in station VIII, when Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem and we hear the chantFiliæ Jerusalem played by bell-like harp harmonics. Although Goodman’s texts are never themselves sung, they often suggest lyrical writing which itself could be sung: the line “However low I fall, let me not fall far from you” (IX) engenders a little tune which haunts the final five movements.

The “rich, ferrous smell of blood” encourages the harp to play the instrument with a guitar pick: a small little hand-tool, brittle and sharp. After Jesus’s death (XII), the music becomes simpler, almost businesslike; Goodman avoids the eclipses, rending of the veil of the temple and earthquakes, and asks: “Isn’t it enough that he died?” As Joseph, Nicodemus, and Peter take down the body from the cross, and prepare the burial ritual, the music becomes simpler still, built on a simple drone on middle C: it’s going through the motions, but somehow transformed into something uneasy. Goodman ends her meditations with the mourner’s kaddish (XIV), performed just before the appearance of the first star in the sky (per Jewish law), and the harp, having played a kind of transformed cradle-song, fast forwards an hour, and ends with a vision of the night sky.

Nico Muhly



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