Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Biographies of Poets & Composers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Bach & Other Composers

Barthold Heinrich Brockes (Librettist)

Born: September 22, 1680 - Hamburg, Germany
Died: January 16, 1747 - Hamburg, Germany

The German poet, Barthold Heinrich Brockes, studied jurisprudence at Halle, and after extensive travels in Italy, France and the Netherlands, settled in Hamburg in 1704. In 1720 he was appointed a member of the Hamburg senate, and entrusted with several important offices. Six years (from 1735 to 1741) he spent as Amtmann (magistrate) at Ritzebüttel.

Barthold Heinrich Brockes' poetic works were published between 1721 and 1748 in a series of nine volumes under the fantastic title Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott. This collection of poetic anthologies had made him the leading German poet of his generation. His connections to music were also numerous. He was a personal acquaintance of George Frideric Handel (not only did the two men share a Hamburg connection, but Brockes had studied at the University of Halle (Saale) between 1702 and 1704, coinciding with G.F. Handel’s registered period of study there. Brockes held weekly concerts in his apartment at Halle, and perhaps these were the catalyst for his cultivating a lasting friendship with G.F. Handel. G.F. Handel also set music to German Arias by Brockes between 1724 and 1726), Georg Philipp Telemann (Brockes supported his appointment as Hamburg's church music director), Johann Mattheson (in his autobiography this music journalist mentions with proud detail his every meeting with Brockes and even the bottles of wine which Brockes honoured him), and Reinhard Keiser. G.F. Handel and G.P. Telemann set texts from the Irdisches Vergnügen. Brockes also translated Giambattista Marini's La Strage degli innocenti (1715), Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1740) and James Thomson's Seasons (1745). His poetry has small intrinsic value, but it is symptomatic of the change which came over German literature at the beginning of the 18th century.

Barthold Heinrich Brockes was one of the first German poets to substitute for the bombastic imitations of Marini, to which he himself had begun by contributing, a clear and simple diction. He was also a pioneer in directing the attention of his countrymen to the new poetry of nature which originated in England. His verses, artificial and crude as they often are, express a reverential attitude towards nature and a religious interpretation of natural phenomena which was new to German poetry and prepared the way for Klopstock.


Barthold Heinrich Brockes published the text of his passion to Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (Jesus Who Suffered and Died for the Sins of the World), which came to be known as the Brockes-Passion himself in 1712. The work was one of the first passion oratorios - a free, poetic meditation on the passion story without the use of an Evangelist character. It became quite popular and was set to music many times. Already in 1712 Brockes organised a performance of the first musical setting of the text, by the opera composer Reinhard Keiser, in his home. The poetic text met with immediate recognition: its theological accent and the new possibilities of artistic design that it opened up were just what people of those times needed and wanted. Other musicians set the libretto to music in rapid succession. G.F. Handel supplied the second version, probably in 1715. G.P. Telemann performed his setting of the passion in Frankfurt in 1716. Astute businessman that he was, Brockes found a clever way of getting around the ban on charging admission to a church. He put texts of the passion on sale and made their purchase obligatory. The settings by J. Mattheson in 1719 and Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel in 1725 were followed by numerous other later settings: Johann Friedrich Fasch (c1730), Christoph Gottlieb Fröber, Jacob Schuback, Paul Steininger, Johann Balthasar Christian Freißlich, and Johann Caspar Bachofen. J.S. Bach employed some passages from the poem in his Johannes-Passion (BWV 245).

The Brockes-Passion has a number of features in common with the passion oratorio type familiar to us today from J.S. Bach's works. The Evangelist's account of the action, set in recitative, alternates with speeches on the part of the persons of the drama, the soliloquists and turbae. Meditative poetry in the form of arias sung by the persons of the drama, allegorical figures, or figures representing the faithful in meditation are inserted into the flow of the action. Hymns involve the congregation - actually or symbolically? - in the events. In contrast to the J.S. Bach passions, however, the Brockes-Passion does not follow the exact wording of the Bible. The whole text, including the Evangelist's account, was lent a new artistic design by the poet. In this kind of passion oratorio the verbal component pursues other goals, such as the conveying of Christ's suffering in finely crafted images (»dem Himmel gleicht sein buntgestriemter Rücken, den Regenbögen ohne Zahl als lauter Gnadenzeichen schmücken«), the onomatopoetic illustration of the dramatic processes of nature (»Brich brüllender Abgrund«), to give some inkling of the salvific significance of the passion in paradoxical formulations (»Mich vom Stricke meiner Sünden zu entbinden, wird mein Hei1 gebunden,« »Sein ausgesperrter Arm und sein geschlossnes Auge sperrt dir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu«), and above all to involve the audience in every way in the passion events and to move it emotionally through such involvement (»Welch ungeheuer Schmerz bestürmet mein Gemüt! Ein kalter Schauder schreckt die Seele, die wilde Glut der dunklen Marterhöhle entzündet schon mein zischendes Geblüt, mein Eingeweide kreischt auf glimmen Kohlen!«). In order to produce these affects, the poetry draws on the rhetorical devices of the sublime style together with all its artistic figures of speech.

This alone is enough to make us wonder about the appropriateness of such oratorios For inclusion in a religious service. In addition, Brockes' text includes motifs of passion meditation representing the pietistic religious stance or linked to that position. Among these motifs are the emphasis on the personal penitential struggle and the experience of spiritual rebirth. Examples include Peter and the Centurion at the cross. The bittersweet poetic and musical tone of the meditations on Jesus' wounds also find their explanation here. Lastly, the passion aims at triggering the individual emotional experience of catharsis. The deeper the shock produced by the passion is, the greater will be the sense of relief. The idea that faith also finds a basis in the individual emotional experience was one of the fundamental ideas of the pietistic renewal movement.

The orthodox religious authorities in Hamburg were suspect of the remote liturgical connection and artistic character of such works. It was for this reason that their performance was forbidden in reliservices. As a rule, however, such performances were not desired by the artists or their public. They were more interested in the extraliturgical concert event. Passion oratorios were presented in the private home of the poet Brockes, in the Drillhaus, in the Klefeker Orangerie, and above all in the cathedral Reventer. This former refectory was on excellent concert hall for sacred performances. (It had already played a role in the first public performances of a collegium musicum in the 17th century; during its early years, the Hamburg opera served as a performance space.) The first performance of Brockes-Passion in 1712 made history, and in the following years further performances followed. In 1719, 1722, 1723 and 1730 there were series of passion performances in Hamburg, with the Brockes text being presented for artistic comparison in four different settings (of R. Keiser, G.P. Telemann, G.F. Handel and J. Mattheson) on a series of four evenings. This shows just how much the artistic function of such works had taken over from their religious function.

Barthold Brockes, Portrait by Dominicus van der Smissen [01]

Engraved portrait of Brockes (1744) by Christian Fritsch (1704-1760) [02]

Source: Wikipedia Website (This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.); Liner notes by Axel Weidenfeld (translated by Susan Marie Praeder) to the 2-CD album "G.H. Stölzel: Brockes Passion", conducted by Ludger Rémy (CPO, 1998); Liner notes by David Vickers to the album “G.F. Handel: German Arias” by Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Alexandra Bellamy (oboe), and The King's Consort (Hyprion, 2007)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008, January 2009); Flynn Warmington (September 2013)

Barthold Heinrich Brockes: Short Biography | Brockes-Passion - Musical Settings & Performances | Brockes-Passion - Discussions
J.F. Fasch:
Brockes-Passion, FWV F:1 | G.F. Handel: Brockes Passion, HWV 48 | R. Keiser: Brockes-Passion | J. Mattheson: Brockes-Passion | G.H. Stölzel: Brockes-Passion | G.P. Telemann: Brockes Passion, TWV 5:1 | J.S. Bach: Johannes-Passion BWV 245

Works performed by J.S. Bach

G.P. Telemann: Brockes Passion, TWV 5:1 (Text: B.H. Brockes) - performed by J.S Bach at Nikolaikirche in Leipzig on Good Friday 1739 (?)
G. F. Handel: Brockes Passion, HWV 48 (Text: B.H. Brockes), prepared for performance & performed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig
- 1st performance on
Good Friday c1746-1747
- 2nd performance on
Good Friday August 1748 - October 1749
Pasticcio Passion, based on Markus-Passion by
Friedrich Nicolaus Brauns [previously attributed to Reinhard Keiser] with insertion of 7 arias from Brockes Passion, HWV 48 by G. F. Handel - prepared for performance & performed by J.S. Bach at Thomaskirche in Leipzig on Good Friday March 31, 1747 or April 12, 1748.
J.S. Bach: Johannes-Passion,
BWV 245 (parts of the text in all versions include sections from Brockes-Passion) - composed and performed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig: 1st performance (1st version) on April 7, 1724; 2nd performance (2nd version) on March 30, 1725; 3rd performance (3rd version) on April 11, 1732 ?; 4th performance (4th version) on April 4, 1749.

Links to other Sites

Barthold Heinrich Brockes (Wikipedia)
Brockes-Passions (Oratorio Baroques) [French]

G.F. Handel: German Arias (Hyperion)


Brockes' autobiography, published by JM Lappenberg in the Zeitschrift des Vereins für Hamburger Geschichte, ii. pp. 167 if. (1847)
A. Brandi: B. H. Brockes (1878)
David Strauss: Brockes und H. S. Reimarus (Gesammelte Schriften, ii)

Biographies of Poets & Composers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Bach & Other Composers


Back to the Top

Last update: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 09:09