In Christian mythology, the seraphim were divine warrior angels, which typically manifested in the form of great wheels of fire with six wings hiding their true form, which was too terrible for the eyes of humans to behold. The word “spectral” means that something is like a ghost, and there is a DC comics character called The Spectre, who is a seraphim who acts as the embodiment of divine wrath. Both of these words, therefore, have an element of the divine, a sense of being something otherworldly that haunts those who witness it.
Whether all of this is a coincidence (it almost definitely is, please do not try and make a conspiracy out of it, as fun as that may sound) or if the two groups have accurate names (they do) matters not, because the Seraphic Fire vocal group and the Spektral Quartet, a string group based in Chicago, united together to perform Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ” to great fanfare in the Chapel Friday, April 18.
The piece, which is a traditional meditation on the seven last phrases Christ spoke before he died on the cross, worked as a perfect soundtrack for Good Friday, the unified voices of the Seraphic Fire overlapping perfectly with the Spektral Quartet’s music, both of them equally excellent alone but synergizing to create something greater when together. In a performance that lasted a little over an hour, they delivered waves upon waves of music with voice and instrument, creating a sort of comforting shroud of sound that enveloped the audience, so much that you could see people starting to drift out into some other place, the sound their only companion.
But they are the Seraphic Fire and the Spektral quartet, and no matter how comforting or beautiful the music is, it is still haunting. The words they sing are in German, but the translations provided for the audience are of Christ’s dying pleading to God. The string music accompanies the feeling, and adds tragedy into the chorus. When the performance is over, we clapped, but there was a weight on our chests, a heaviness resulting from what we had heard. We would be haunted by this performance for a long time yet to come.