On the music and message of Marian Anderson’s 1941 rendition of “Crucifixion”

Posted on: October 22, 2021

“Over the summer, the Sony Classical label released ‘Marian Anderson: Beyond the Music,’ a sumptuous boxed set containing the contralto’s complete published recordings for the RCA Victor label, from 1924 to 1966,” writes Alex Ross in Tuesday’s (10/19) New Yorker. “By all reports, her wide-ranging contralto possessed the kind of resonant halo that technology is helpless to reproduce. A complicating factor is that racism in the music business prevented her from being fully documented when she was in her prime…. I was stopped short by a track on the first disk … the Easter hymn ‘Crucifixion,’ also known as ‘He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.’ … Anderson liked to sing ‘Crucifixion’ at a glacial tempo, but the 1941 recording flirts with absolute stasis…. The descent to the bottom E inspires a particular kind of awe: the dynamic is low, but the ground seems to tremble.… ‘Crucifixion’ exemplifies, in a way, the entire strategy of Anderson’s career: to remain above the fray, saying hardly a word about the racist society in which she had to move…. How passive, though, is Anderson’s rendition of ‘Crucifixion’? … In my own mind’s eye, Anderson is raising an arm and pointing a finger as she sings.”