The subtitle states that this work includes the resurrection story, and in that respect differs from the traditional passions.
The spiritual "Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord" serves as a ritornello, with each of the stanzas sung by the choir, following the course of the Gospel text. By asking, ”Were You There..”, its text points to these events not just as something in the past. Making St. Mark story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection present to the listener is also what the entire work aims at.
In addition to the spiritual, the narrative from St. Mark's Gospel is commented by other Bible passages: Col 2,14-15 (XI) as a conclusion to the part about the crucifixion and Phil. 2,6-11 (XIV) summing up the whole story.
The narrative text is spoken, not sung. The vocal soloists (Soprano, Tenor. and Bass) have their respective “parts” (Jesus, Pilate etc.), and the soprano soloist in addition alternates with the choir in singing the commenting Bible texts. When she repeats the phrase "triumphing over them on the cross" from Col. 2,15 (XI), the bass enters with the words he has sung as the centurion by the cross (in IX): "..this man was the son of God" as a counterpoint.
Another important task for the soprano is conveying the words of the angel in the tomb (XII), where she is joined gradually by the tenor, who elsewhere in the work represents Jesus.
The choir is involved in 10 of the 14 movements. It represents collectives (the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, the multitude etc.), and is also trusted with the translation of the Aramaic cry at the cross (“Eloi, Eloi ...”)
The orchestra has not merely the role of accompanying the choir and the soloists, but is on the contrary an independent voice which at times also plays alone.
The first 10 movements present Mark's account of the passion story, with the 11th movement as a summing up with a focus on Jesus' death as a victory over the powers of evil. The music in these movements is based on a mode of nine tones within an octave, which gives room for both diatonic and chromatic melody, and a harmonic focus on minor seventh chords and tritone. Within this mode it is also possible to build successions of three whole note steps, like the 8th, 9th, and 10th harmonic. In combination with other tones of the mode, these are used to approach a harmonic spectrum for the orchestral part in most of the passages with words of Jesus sung by the tenor soloist.
The 12th movement, which is also the longest one (approx. 11 minutes), is a turning point. Twice, the orchestra builds up large clusters by transpositions of a major second motif. The second time, after we have heard about the "trembling and bewildered" women fleeing from the tomb, the cluster is broken down to a bright, shimmering sound field forming a harmonic spectrum, with the trumpets repeating the motif of the angel's message, "he is risen.” The higher notes in the spectrum are soon filled in by the soundtrack played back through loudspeakers behind the audience (the choir, soloists and orchestra are in front), and the choir sings the last stanza of "Were You There.." in unison and later in four or more parts until they repeat the "He is risen" motif from the angel.
In XIII the commission of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples and his promise of the signs that will follow those who believe are sung by the tenor. As this takes place during a meal, the orchestral opening borrows material from the Passover meal section in movement II.
Movement. XIV with Phil. 2,6-11 as a text is performed by the choir and orchestra. In the last words ("…every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father”), the choir is joined by the soprano and bass soloists, before a short instrumental epilogue closes the entire work.
When choosing between a Norwegian or an English translation of the biblical texts, I thought of the example of the New Testament writers. Many of them did not have Greek as their mother tongue, but still chose to write in the world language of their times, in that way underlining the universal relevance of their message, and facilitating its spread.