The Crucifixion

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Robert F Kunkle - Choral Director, Annapolis High School

Robert F. Kunkle, Choral Director Annapolis High School (AHS), in Spring 1959, creatively utilized his 3 choirs: mixed choir and 2 women's choirs, plus student soloists from the choirs, to mount 2 performances of The Crucifixion by composer John Stainer. Members of the 3 choirs were from the graduating classes of 1959, 1960 and 1961.

Somehow Mr. Kunkle obtained what by 1959 standards was a good monaural tape recorder and single nice microphone. (Neither were commercial studio grade.) He used them to record the 2 performances of The Crucifixion. The "best of" from those 2 performances were edited together and pressed as a limited release, private monaural record.

Mr. Kunkle graduated from The Eastman School of Music and attended the Dusquesne University Music Appreciation - Chorus Orchestra. In addition to being the director of the choral program at AHS in 1959, he also taught music theory at AHS and was organist/choirmaster for at least one church in Annapolis.

Adaptation of The Crucifixion for Annapolis High School Choirs

The performers on the vintage, historic 1959 AHS choirs' performances deviate substantially from who Stainer designated in the score for performing which numbers. That is because Mr. Kunkle assigned a number of the recitatives to his 2 women's choirs, thus creating considerably more choir participation than Stainer indicated in the score. The performances did use only the organ accompaniment. In this case it was the electronic Hammond organ, which in 1959 AHS was on the right, front of the school's auditorium. There still are a few solos of differing length and number of appearances performed by selected members from the choirs.

The soloists names from the record are clearly in order of the playlist, which enabled including their names on the playlist and lyrics pages of this website each time they appear.

The two performances were recorded using the monaural tape recorder. One performance was for the students during the day, and the other was in the evening for family and friends in the community.

The single track/monaural 1/4 inch tape recorder, without any tape noise reduction capability, had only one microphone (with limited sensitivity/frequency response). Performers were in the front of the auditorium on risers on the stage, and the microphone and recorder were in the back of the auditorium up in the balcony next to the lighting booth. Because the microphone was a long distance from the performers, that caused considerable audience noises and auditorium reverberation/echo effects to be captured on the recording. The auditorium reverberation/echo is much more noticeable on the bass solos.

(Note. Stereo LP records were commercially introduced only the year before in March of 1958.)

Neither Mr. Kunkle, nor others involved in creating the tape recordings or later editing together the "best-of" master from the 2 recordings, had any knowledge about the complicated technical processes required for making a quality recording with 1959 technology.

Creation of the Private, Limited Edition Recording in 1959

After recording the performances, the idea of having a limited, private record made became known to students involved. So, no professionally knowledgeable persons about the complicated techinques of the recordmaking processes in the 1959 era of recordings were consulted upfront for planning management of taping the performances.


Recordings of such performances now days would prefer to use multiple microphones, and place them closer to the performers.

(For the 1959 performances, there was No safe place to put the microphone closer to the performers. That would have placed both the tape recorder and microphone in a isle on the main floor with a power cord running to it.)

Such modern placements of multiple microphones get both stronger signals for the different performers, and minimize recording auditorium reverberations. That also allows for each of the multipe microphone signals to be recorded separately, which in turn allows mixing the final, most balanced sound. (None of that was available at AHS in 1959 for making this vintage recording.)

It is worth reflecting on the miracle of what was accomplished:

After the recordings from the 2 performances were made, what was then known about industy practice was to edit/splice together the best-of-performances. That was carried out with then existing technology, which was razor blade and splicing recording tapes together. That meant the resulting spliced together master tape of best-of-performances was louder and softer at each of the edits throughout the recording, depending on which performance part was spliced in as the best.

The AHS student editor of the "best-of" tape became aware of the volume level differences and prepared a detailed set of instructions with exact timings where the recording volume levels needed to be adjusted to equalize them.

The record company that pressed the record (Century Record Co) was only founded the year before in 1958, the year before they pressed the record of the 1959 AHS recording. They focused on the music education market.

A search of the internet implies that record company did not provide any mastering services, i.e., such services were not available from them. (Even if they had been available, such services likely would not have been in the School's choral budget.)

In 1959 using analogue tape, mastering was not widely practiced. A careful listening during the December 2022 converstion to digital process, detected it sounds like the record pressing company made some volume level changes, presumably on the fly, perhaps guided by the notes provided. But, those on the fly edits did not solve the multiple underlying volume change problems, and likely contributed some of its own problems. The resulting combination of those volume changes throughout the 1959 record produced an uncomfortable listening experience.

The lesson learned looking back from many years later working with recordings, is that much of what can now readily be accomplished via digital mastering and some restoration techniques for recorded materials were then VERY difficult, and not widely practiced. The technology in 1959 required all recording conditions up front had to be made as identical as possible when making alternative recordings to patch together. That was then the process required for making sure different takes when spliced together sounded like a coherent whole, without any mastering.

The GREAT news now in 2023 is:

Why The Crucifixion Became Public Domain in 2023

Under copyright laws (including U.S., Britain and France), copyright exists for 70 years after the death of the last surviving person associated with creating the work.

Thus, as of 2023, it is 71 years since William Simpson the younger died. Therefore, in January 2023, the score for The Crucifixion entered the Public Domain.

That means there is no longer a requirement for royalty payments for providing copies of this recording of The Crucifixion, making it practical to provide free digital audio file downloads, or "at cost" CDs.

Digital Mastering and Restoration (for the first time)

More than 60 years after the original historic limited edition, vintage record was edited together and pressed, because the score became Public Domain the beginning of 2023, TortoiseClimbingAudio is now permitted to provide free download of the digital audio file mastered and restored from this recording.

Timing was perfect!! We just completed mixing and mastering the Hymns and Songs for Living album in December 2022. We immediately turned our attention to producing the mastered and restored version of the record from the 1959 AHS choirs'performances of The Crucifixion.

During January we mastered and restored the recording. Among other things, that:

  1. Removed the uncomfortable volume changes scattered throughout the recording (both within some numbers and between numbers) that were produced by the original editing together of "best-of" from the 2 performances, plus the record company's on-the-fly edits throughout the original record;
  2. Additionally we performed extensive restorations:
    1. That removed most of the audience noises;
    2. Lowered the volume on individual overwhelmingly loud bass/pedal organ notes that overwhelmed some of the singers;
    3. Increased volume on soloists individual notes making it easier to master their voices to be better heard above the auditorium reverberation, i.e., all other information on the track could remain lower, with its reverberations.
  3. Balanced volumes on all numbers, so they are both balanced internally where there were edits, and flow together without unexpected volume changes
  4. Programmed the website to add Download pages for the files.

Thus, subject to frequency response/fidelity limitations of the 1959 single microphone, monoaural tape recording technology, for the first time since the 1959 private recording was produced of the performances in spring 1959, this digitally mastered and restored version of the vintage, historic record from the 1959 performances finally achieves even better listenability than originally envisioned for this recording of the choirs' performances.


Download pages for this 1959 AHS The Crucifixion are posted, providing access to a Free download capability.

What Is Available?


The mastered and restored digital audio file is made available at the unbeatable price of Free digital audio file download, in alternative digital audio file formats with different fidelity (and size).

For those who would prefer a CD as a simple way to play this recording on existing home sound systems, TortoiseClimbingAudio is researching options for how to make available an ordering capability for a few simplistic CD copies at cost by individually buring them. That means they will not have commerical printing on the CD.

A questimate of incremental costs for making and sending such individual CD's (including order processing, packaging and mailing) could be perhaps as much as $3.50, hopefully less. (That assumes an ordering/selling site like eBay or Bandcamp, etc., can provide a practical solution for taking payment, collecting the mailing information, and notifying TortoiseClimbingAudio to whom and where to ship very limited CDs ordered).

At this point it is unknown who might be interested in obtaining a copy of this first-ever, mastered and restored performance of this vintage, historic performance, be it a download of a digital audio file or a CD?

Possibilities include:


The Dropdown SubMenu top left, provides a link to the webpage where the download capability is available for you to download your choice of versions of digital audio file formats of this mastered and restored recording.

4 formats of digital audio file formats are provided:

Whether the mastered and restored recording can/should be provided in other formats depends on research and interest. Examples include:

Let TortoiseClimbingAudio know whether you have an interest in any of these.

How to Express Interest

You can express your interest for:

  1. Obtaining a copy of one of the 4 audio file formats of the mastered and restored performances, or
  2. Other options, such as:

You can send your comments via the comments form on this website.

To submit your comment, go to the bottom of this page and click on the link Click to provide comment. It will take you to the comment page, where after providing identifying information, in the comments section at the bottom of the form you can explain your interest/request.

Possible Video Version On YouTube

Conceptually there is the possibility of creating a YouTube version of the mastered performance. That would be a bit of an undertaking to produce appropriate video content to accompany the mastered audio, in order to allow it to be posted to YouTube. But, it is a possibility. Again, is there any interest?

For Those interested About The Crucifixion

Summary History of The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion was published in 1887. The libretto and score were written following the period when both W J Sparrow Simpson Sr. (father to the younger W J Sparrow Simpson) and John Stainer had worked at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England, which was 1876-1882. W J Sparrow Simpson Sr. was appointed Succentor at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1876, which was 4 years after Stainer was appointed Organist at St. Paul's Cathederal in 1872.

Stainer had previously been influenced by J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. In 1854, 7 years after Felix Mendelssohn's death in November 1847, who had championed revival of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, Stainer was invited to sing in the first English performance of Bach's St Matthew's Passion under William Sterndale Bennett at the Hanover Square Rooms. Eighteen years later, Stainer was appointed organist at St. Paul's Cathedral, London in 1872. The following year, 1873, he made the St Matthew's Passion part of St. Paul's Cathedral's Holy Week liturgies.

Stainer was thus familiar with the musical structure of the St. Matthew's Passion and chose to model his score for The Crucifixion on the scheme of choruses, chorales, recitatives and arias as used by J.S.Bach in his St Matthew's Passion. Thus, Stainer's score gave his soloists a mixture of recitative and reflective arias, while the chorus commented on the action and also took part in it.

For those interested in a bit of the history of how J S Bach's St Matthew's Passion became established in England and thus became the model Stainer used for his score for The Crucifixion, you can read about it by opening the window below. It is an interesting story.

W J Sparrow Simpson the younger was born in 1859, obtained his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1882, with first-class honours in the Theological Tripos, and was ordained. After ordination he was a curate at Christ Church, Albany Street, (just down the road from Marylebone Parish Church where the first performance of this score was given).

The Crucifixion was the second libretto Simpson the younger wrote for Stainer while a curate at Albany Street in Marylebone, London. (The musical score was composed by John Stainer, who died in 1901.) The year following publication of The Crucifixion, Simpson left Albany Street in Marylebone where he was a curate and became vicar of St Mark's, Regent’s Park, 1888–1904. In 1904 he became chaplain of Ilford Hospital Chapel until his death in 1952. (Thus, the score for The Crucifixion became Public Domain January 2023, the beginning of the 71st year after the death of W J Sparrow Simpson the younger.)

J.S.Bach lived his entire life in North East Germany. (That is the area where Martin Luther established Lutheranism and which after WW II became part of East Germany.) J.S. Bach died in 1750, and by 1829 in Germany, when Mendelssohn was only 20, J.S. Bach's works had become popularly unknown. That year Felix Mendelssohn mounted a performance of his shortened version of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, to great success. (Subsequent performances added back more parts of the Passion getting closer to the original version of J.S.Bach's composition.)

Mendelssohn first visited Britain in 1829, the same year he premiered his revival of the St Matthew's Passion in Germany. He returned to Britain in 1832 for what is called his Grand Tour. He returned a number of times afterward, and on a visit in 1842, Mendelssohn spent an evening at the Palace accompanying the 23-year-old Queen Victoria in songs composed by himself and his sister Fanny. After which, Victoria gave him two themes on which he extemporized.

Mendelssohn continued to be based in Germany, where in 1843 he helped set up the Leipzig Conservatory. (Note. The American hymnist, William Batchelder Bradbury, departed for Europe in July 1847 to study under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Conservatory. Unfortunately for Bradbury, Mendelssohn died in November that year, age 38. That was shorthly after his sister Fanny died in May 1847.)

Perhaps Mendelssohn's greatest musical success came the year before in 1846, the year before his death. In Birmingham, England he premiered his oratorio Elijah.

He was quite overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience that night: "No work of mine ever went so admirably at its first performance," he reported, "nor was received with such enthusiasm by both the musicians and the audience alike as this oratorio. No fewer than four choruses and four arias were encored!"

Although he died the following year in 1847, his influence in England held strong throughout the century, exerting a dominate influence on the entire British school of composers. Mendelssohn loved England from the moment he first arrived in London in 1829. His popularity in England contributed to them also embracing Mendelssohn's revival of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. As noted above, the first English performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion was in 1854, 7 years after Mendelssohn's death, with Stainer a praticipant singer.

How pervasive Mendelssohn's influence was on the continuing popularity of J.S.Bach's music in England is illustrated by the fact that 66 years after the 1854 first performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion in England, in 1920, Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) heard a rehearsal by the Bach Choir of London of Bach's Cantata 147. She decided she really liked the last chorus of Part II of that cantata and proceeded to popularize it under the title of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

Dame Hess began including a piano arrangement of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as an encore number to her performances. She was persuaded to write down and publish her piano transcription in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for two pianos, i.e., a piano duet.

Note. This song is included as song 17 on David Goettee's Hymns and Songs for Living album. See Hymns and Songs Playlist. More history about this song is included in David's History Through 26 Hymns and Songs, which is the companion to the album. The English lyrics to this song were created by the Englishman Lord Robert S. Bridges as a "Very Loose" translation, with much poetic license from the original lyrics by Martin Janus (c. 1620 – c. 1682).

-- End of Accordian Window on J.S.Bach in Britain --

Opinions about Literary and Musical Quality of The Crucifixion

The first performance of The Crucifixion was at Marylebone Parish Church in London, February 24, 1887. The simplicity of the music in The Crucifixion is perhaps an indication of the limited capability of the Marylebone Church choir. After all, many of Stainer's other works display his skill in things like fugue writing, which is usually more demanding for a choir to sing than the homophonic writing here (characterized by the movement of accompanying parts in the same rhythm as the melody). Also to keep performance of this score more managable by churches, Stainer only scored it for organ accompaniment.

Not only was the Crucifixion well received, but it has outlived almost all church choir music from the period. Never an Oratorio, it is a “meditation” designed to form an integral part of a Church of England service.

However, that has not stopped some critics of both the literary quality for the libretto and the musical quality of the composition. Those attacks by some say it is not high quality poetry or composition. (I would not say some Opera librettos would pass that level of criticism either.)

It seems likely the compositions The Crucifixion is being compared to as the basis for those comments are inappropriately, Oratorios, which are designed as concert pieces. They require trained/professional cathedral (or secular) choirs and orchestras.

It is worthwhile understanding, the target/goal for this composition was for performances in church Parishes. Namely, it was explicitly intended as an extended Passiontide (Easter season) "meditation" for ordinary Parish choirs in Britain to perform, and to which their congregations could immediately relate. There was no piece of English church music fitting that goal in England at the time Stainer wrote The Crucifixion.

That goal also seems to explain why Stainer's accompaniment score for The Crucifixion only uses pipe organ. That is because pipe organs were available in almost all parish churches. Using only pipe organ accompaniment for The Crucifixion was in contrast with many orchestrated oratorios, such as: Handel's Judas Maccabaeus (and even the Messiah); and Mendelssohn's Elijah. Those oratorios are essentially concert pieces, requiring more expansive resources of professional soloists, choirs and orchestra.

Stainer's success at meeting his goal of creating a "meditation" performable by parish choirs is clear, as is testified to by the enduring popularity of The Crucifixion as a solid favorite in churches. Its simple melodiousness does nothing to hamper its beauty, and those who dismiss it fail to recognize its (arguably sometimes patchy) worth, which is surely indicated by its seasonal staying power. As a Passiontide meditation it continues to live on, in the role for which it was intended. The Crucifixion's memorable tunes are a hit, and seem to have a continuing future.

Note. The AHS choirs' vintage, historic performance of this work in 1959 is likely a reasonable representation of musical capabilities you might find in larger Church of England parish churches.

The 1959 AHS choir's vintage, historic performances were only 72 years after The Crucifixion was written. Even now, Stainer's setting of the chorus "God so loved the world" continues to be performed as an anthem by many churches in its own right.

Many still enjoy the palpable sense of ritual, which folklore status has given to The Crucifixion. For such reasons, including the character of music and text, even in 2023, 136 years after it was first performed, few towns in England are likely to find themselves in Holy Week without any local performance of Stainer’s The Crucifixion.

New Orchestrated Accompaniments

For those that consider The Crucifixion to be musically less worthy of attention, it is interesting to note that in addition to the observation that this work is a perennial Holy Week favorite, there have been at least two orchestrations produced for this work since the turn of the 21st century.

Previous High School Building

In 1959 AHS was located in the building at 801 Chase Street, in what is now known as Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. (Access was from West Street to Amos Garrett to Constitution, to the front of the school on Chase.) That the old high school building is preserved is a testament to those in Annapolis who came together to preserve the old AHS building. It is open to the public to browse its art gallaries. Their website is

Street map from West St to Maryland Hall on Chase St

Maryland Hall has 4 resident companies, one of which is the Annapolis Chorale. (See The Resident Companies of Maryland Hall.) The Chorale's contact form cites room 202. (I wonder if that is the same large room on the 2nd floor where Mr. Kunkle's choruses practiced?)

Maryland Hall can be contacted at:

Annapolis Chorale can be contacted at:

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