Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Anti-semitism in Bach’s Vocal Works
Part 3

Continue from Part 2

What may be found under the allegation of an anti-Semitic Christ's Passion?

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (June 11, 2004):
If sacred cantatas were ornaments on a dining table, and a constant motif for being debated by the household that, while waiting for meal, regarded the way the chords were been struck up by those who garnish the dining room through skillful hands well balanced with a historically informed head, then the aesthetic efforts to decorate the chamber of kitchen's fruits would not let the daily hungry folks without subject, for a well garnished dining room would furnish a decorative talk before the steak's triumphant arrival. But although he who introduces the exterior of life in his inner space is not necessarily a void person, it does not mean that he who embellishes his house does not prefer to be inside while living in it, instead of nullifying himself in honor of the house's aesthetic bright, so that, in the wonderful house, he turned to be merely a talkative mirror of such marvel. There is no irony in these statements, they are blind assertions and do not accuse a single list member. I'm, by the way, very inclined to refrain myself from irony here, even knowing that irony could be better received by the ancient Greeks if they had smiled instead of giving hemlock to an ironical man. But certainly those who are always calling us to talk about music have not embraced the idea that their understanding of music is seriousness against all other approaches. As if we could only discuss on the palace's walls and towers of sacred cantatas, and never let something different from such glorified mansion to be the substance inside it. For the ornament is settled on the dining table, but the wine is not merely the bottle - and is there really a person defending that the wine was drunk by persons who had a nazi neighbor, that he could even heard an anti-Semitic echo from their sacred houses? Does someone claim that Christianity's message, although not anti-Semitic, is regularly echoing anti-Semitism, being therefore happy in not understanding German, since the librettos won't thereby bother much, inasmuch as the bottle must remain sealed, and the present palaces reconstructed to furnish saloons where people can come even from the four corners of the globe, but in order to talk about the bottles only?

I will not be in a hurry, suspecting an anti-Christian smell transpiring from the hasty sprint of establishing an indissoluble matrimony between the cantata's wine and anti-Semitism, but let our noses do not be incapable of discernment among manifold incenses alight; for in every class, group, nation, race and profession we find transgressions, and although there are quacks among doctors and corruption among policemen, we presume that there aren't many genuine doctors desirous of being regarded quacks by virtue of quacks' existence. And even if men eventually stumble in horrible weaknesses, many Jews have valued David, but not in agreement with him when, fallen in adultery, he sent a deluded husband to the arms of a brave death in war. We have other reasons and do not extol him in his worst moments, as Lutherans do not extol Luther's sin. Neither the Jews are the fathers of adultery and crime on account of David's sin, and to accuse them of such would be a poor reasoning and an anti-Semitic one, as it could be an anti-Christian reasoning to accuse the Gospel of anti-Semitism whenever it is possible to find a Christian, in whatever age, suspected of sinning against the Gospel's teachings to gentiles, for, according to Paul's epistle, they shall not disdain the Jews, even in the secrets of their hearts. And, please, do never believe in words trying to approach Christ (a Jew) to Hitler, even if Hitler one day has distorted Jesus' words. For you won't perhaps call the Buddhists nazis, even being the swastika a Buddhist symbol, and Darwin is not labeled as the father of Nazism by those who believe in his theory, even if the idea of a superior race, cherished by Hitler, is taken by Nietzsche's Darwinist logic of Übermensh. And we do not ignore that, while a German, a non-Christian philosopher, Martin Heidegger, was temporarily deluded by Nazism, giving it his welcome, another German, by the way a Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, battled against Nazism, being imprisoned and thereafter murdered in a concentration camp. So, although examples are chosen, let Nazism be itself; for philosophers have their own teachings, and Christianity too. And you will be able to find neo-nazis speaking against Jews, but will not find anti-Semitic propaganda on real Christian web sites. Baptists, Calvinists, Lutherans, Catholics are not preaching against Jews, and I have been listening good and regular quality sermons inside churches for twenty years, and, being myself from a Jewish root, I haven't listened a single anti-Semitic commentary; on the contrary, churches praise God for Israel and speak positively on Jews, whereas I have heard eventually hard critics on them by non-Christians. And, just think about what is anti-Semitism, and apply the same measure to discover what anti-Christianity is, for such thing exists nowadays in great scale. I do not know how many books you can find in a bookstore blaming Jews, or spreading racist ideas; but certainly you will be able to find dozens of anti-Christians remarks, whether the brilliant author be a proficient connoisseur in the art of history, philosophy, science or politics. At university, I do not know how many professors you have heard spreading racial ideas, but when I studied Philosophy there were dozens of them calumniating Christianity. And from schools, I ignore if you have ever noticed your sons and daughters coming home with racial ideas spread by their teachers; but I was leaving the Museum of the wonderful Brazilian composer, Villa-Lobos, in Rio de Janeiro, when I met schoolboys on the street retelling their teacher's disdaining the Christian martyrs, and they seemed to enjoy a lot. By the way, there are countries already engaged in prohibiting Christians to say something of their cores inside the schools, but the teachers who disdain us still have a free pass of honor. For debates on Christianity are not necessarily started by Christians, but many persons who do not like to listen Christians talking on Christianity, nevertheless like talking on it, suggesting it is, for example, anti-Semitic, what can pass unnoticed as an anti-Christian assertion, especially if Christians are compelled to remain in silence about their faith whereas those who abhor it will say what Christianity is.

 

Bach & Semitism

Continue of discussion from: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - conducted by Leonard Bernstein [Other Vocal Works]

Johan van Veen wrote (February 2, 2005):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< The main cause of the drastic interventions Leonard Bernstein made is most likely his conflict with the biblical scenes of the betrayal and the dubious role of the Jewish leaders and the agitated people. They do not occur in "Messiah" because Händel did not deal with the events of Good Friday. The idea that the Jews are to blame for the death of Jesus has stirred up and intensified anti-Semitic feelings and discrimination of Jewish people in European countries throughout the Christian era. Especially the words "Sein Blut komme über uns und uns're Kinder" have caused much harm. It is a not a Christian doctrine, yet it was readily accepted by numerous people and eventually led to other unreasonable accusations, paving the way for persecutions, pogroms and even the Holocaust. Even Bach, although fully aware of his own guilt ("Ich bin's, ich sollte büßen!"), was susceptible to anti-Semitic sentiments. So were his contemporaries, since these feelings had been far from alien to the great Martin Luther himself, and the generations to follow. Thus it is not surprising that Picandeand Johann Sebastian Bach shaped their passion the way they did. No one at the time would take offence at the scenes of Jesus before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. The accusations against the Jews were even harsher in St. John's Passion (BWV 245). That's why Bernstein never performed Bach's second greatest passion. >
I fail to see how Bach's Passions can be used as evidence that Bach and his librettists were susceptible to anti-Semitic sentiments. What did they add to the text of the gospels that can be interpreted as 'anti-Semitic'? I also can't see how anyone who wants to take the gospels seriously can take offence at the scenes of Jesus before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. Many Christians then and now take these as faithful descriptions of historical events. That they have been wrongly used as justification for anti-Semitic ideas is a completely different matter.

Jason Marmaras wrote (February 2, 2005):
[To Johan van Veen] My opinion on the matter is that there are two main ways of looking at the gospels (or rather, at how they were written):
(A) as a historical account of facts (that was also used as a source for religious guidance) or
(B) as a (symbolic) source for religious guidance (that was eventually used as a historical source as well)

I (though not a believer, rather an agnostic) think that the latter is the wisest way; four Apostles, messengers of God, would not write history for its own sake(*). Then again, why not just record the facts if they illuminated the 'point' of the Son so brightly that no further symbolist needed be?

In any way (though perhaps more in the latter) the interpretation most close to the teachings of the Apostles (and their Master) is that 'His blood be on our heads' (that is, mankind's), not only the Jews', or Indians (!), or whatever.

That Jewish people today may be offended, I may be able to understand, as these passages (easy to misinterpret(**) as they are) have, to the best of my knowledge, been misused(***) in the past.

(*) This is, of course, the sane choice for atheists (how could one accept a miracle as history when they don't deem it possible)
(**) or "interpret in different ways", for you sceptic non-believers :)
(***) or "used in diverse ways", for you racists (if this offends, please pardon my ill-placed humour)

Leonardo Been wrote (February 2, 2005):
Contributing to a discussion about Bernstein's ('Jewish')

I strongly feel the view (attached below) expressed by Johan van Veen, and I like to prove my support as follows to those who like to understand the general idea of it:

Criminal Minds use ANY 'acceptable' justification to make other people do evil; and, a group of people brought - by a priest (Caiaphas) who is a Criminal Mind - into that state of mind where they feel that the forces of good are threatening to them, and must be publicly destroyed, that activity is the (attempted) action of any Criminal Mind anywhere.

And I like to mention, what the discussion reminded me of, regarding that subject with the same dramatis personae:

' 'If Pilate Had Provided King Solomon's Justice...'
' {HRI 20041102-V1.1} (2 November 2004 - Version 1.1 on 26 Nov 2004)
http://www.googlegroups.com/group/alt.journalism/msg/3f52ab6407920ac9

Koos Nolst Trenite "Cause Trinity"
human rights philosopher and poet
http://www.angelfire.com/space/platoworld

Doug Cowling wrote (February 2, 2005):
[To Johan van Veen] This is an extremely complex question, in fact a cluster of questions which is really beyond the scope of this discussion. I would identify these issues:

1) What actually happened at the 1st century Trial and Death of Jesus of Nazareth and what were the roles of individual Jews and the the Jewish authorities?

2) What did the writers of the New Testament books (Paul in the 50's C.E. and the Gospel writers in 70-90 C.E.) think happened and how do they interpret it.

The principal biblical scholar, Raymond Brown in his recent study, "The Death of the Messiah" concludes that question (1) is unanswerable, that the historical record is not adequate to the task. Question (2) is also unanswerable because the NT writers are more interested in the meaning or theology of the events than the factual record.

3) What did Luther think about both the theological relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the everyday social treatment of German Jews. This is the theological foundation of the tradition which shaped Bach's thought. Luther expresses a deep theological anti-Judaism and holds social opinions which are harsh and exclusive.

4) What were Bach's attitudes about religious tolerance and human rights? Between Luther and Bach lies the Enlightenment . I doubt if we would ever be able to reconstruct his philosophical beliefs about those issues or his everyday social attitudes to Jews in Leipzig.

As such, we are probably restricted to saying that Bach worked in a religious tradition which had strong attitudes of anti-Judaism. Whether he had personal anti-Semitic attitudes is beyond historical inquiry.

At the same time, his Lutheranism was strongly influenced by Pietism which tended to moralize the Passion narratives. Thus the chorales and freely poetic arias are more interested in the contemporary listeners' moral state than historical record. Bach's Passions are not so much interested in the Jewish servants who struck Jesus but in the way the soul's sins strike God.

This above paragraph should not be construed as apologetics for Bach. Bach was a creature of his time, and if his culture was part of larger historical movements which led to the horrors of the 20th century then we have to frank about history.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (February 3, 2005):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I would have been more delighted listening to Bach' Passions with a different text. >
I am convinced that any composer who composes such musical masterpieces, aturally adopts the text and its meaning. By no means I am entitled to accuse Bach. Unfortunately, this was the trend and attitude at his time.

Luke Hubbard wrote (February 4, 2005):
Bach and so-called "Anti-Semitism"

Bernstein's vicious approach of SMP proves this "superstar" conductor had no respect for Bach at all. Just like our modern superstar "artists", these types of characters come and go and, normally, rest forgotten. I cannot look upon Bernstein's way of seing music with anything more than pure spite. He seems to believe, and most of BCML members apparently aggree with him, that every artistic creation must conform (or BE conformed, or idiotically CENSORED to BE conformed) with modern ideology. For instance, if Bach believed Jews were guilty of killing Jesus, then we, as the spiteful idiots we are, must CUT OUT the tongue of this "racist" demon or, if we really need him to push forward even more of our "truth", then we must rewrite his biography or his words to make it look like he was a supporter of our marxist views, after all. I am also amused to see how many of those eager of doing this brag about being "the first to be" objective and reveal the "hidden" aspects of Bach's music.

According to modern principles, Bach was indeed an "antisemite" <snip>. He didn't have any regard for Jews and that was the norm in his age. That has no impact upon the quality and thoroughness of his music. His music is outstanding and that is it.

Modern people may be blind to see that in Bach's age (18th century) true art was possible as a sincere phenomena. It wasn't just a method of getting rich, acting artsy and earning fame. Persons such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart really had talent, something which, disregarding the whole ideological "liberation of tonality" doubletalk, NONE of the 20th century modernist artists had AT ALL. When someone has talent and intelligence to channel this talent properly, then he really needs not any of the sorry excuses modernist critics always have in their pockets.

Theref, I urge the audience to take some time, check out the reality in their views, and accept Bach as he is and not as THEY wanted him to be (a neo-marxist activist, that is).

I also wish BCML will not degrade into a marxist political tribune where folks pay their tribute exposing illusory "fascism" or "anti-semitism" in the views not identical with theirs. Honest people should accept others are just as entitled to different oppinions and as long as all sides substantiate their arguments with solid proof, the quality of discussions will raise sensibly. Here am I not talking about the false prearranged "diversity" of slightly deviating views gravitating around a singular basis. This is only utter uniformity with an obsession to disguise itself into multiple components which give an apparence of diversity and help obscure any real dissent. This mentality that society must act like a single body, every individual being the cell in the organism while the "always right" party ideology constitutes the brain has been the basis of totalitarianism and its inherent vicious habits towards mass murder. Dissent was no longer merely a different oppinion, but a cancerous cell that had to be dealt with thoroughly. This need towards ideological purity was what both nationalist and internationalist socialism were made of and EXPOSING THE FORMER WHILE SUPPORTING THE LATTER PROVES A GUILTY AVERSION ONLY AGAINST ONE KIND OF GENOCIDE.

You are free to comment my views as you wish, but I hope we all aggree BCML should evict ideology from its discussion list...

John Pike wrote (February 4, 2005):
[To Luke Hubbard] I haven't heard Bernstein's recording. I have Fasolis' recording of Mendelssohn's version of the SMP. I can well understand why Mendelssohn and Bernstein did cut out so much, albeit for different motives. I don't approve of that sort of thing. I want to hear every work completely unabridged. However, Mendelssohn is one of my favourite composers and we have much to thank him for, especially for the part he played in resurrecting Bach's music.

I regard Bernstein as one of the most exceptional all round musicians of the last century. As composer, conductor and musicologist, as a man of immense energy, wisdom and insight, he was a most extraordinary phenomenon.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 4, 2005):
[To Luke Hubbard] Not only is this list full of blind persons who simply will not see, WILL (an act of volition in this case) and seem to want to ignore the 2000 years of Christian Judenhass and put it as a relatively minor aside while praising "Brother Martin" and of course the early Church Fathers many of who were odious and ignoble Jew-Haters, but now a self-respecting Jew like Leonard Bernstein is to be subjected to vile abuse here for bothering to subject himself to the conflict inherent in performing these odious texts. The plain fact is that all you evangelizing music-lovers should accept once and for all the realities of your faith's tenets which have always included the demonization of the Jew. It is part and parcel of Christianity and the more persons attempt to deny and ignore it, the more it raises its ugly head. Those who apologize or justify it, only contribute to it. Poor Bernstein went through the same problem in his relationship with Herr Wagner who, I suppose, many of you will divorce from the long tradition. It is all the same.

John Downes wrote (February 4, 2005):
Bernstein

Luke Hubbard wrote:
< Bernstein's vicious approach of SMP proves this "superstar" conductor had no respect for Bach at all. Just like our modern superstar "artists", these types of characters come and go and, normally, rest forgotten. I cannot look upon Bernstein's way of seing music with anything more than pure spite. >
John Pike wrote: <snip>I regard Bernstein as one of the most exceptional all round musicians of the last century. As composer, conductor and musicologist, as a man of immense energy, wisdom and insight, he was a most extraordinary phenomenon. >
On the other hand, there is another school of thought to the effect that Bernstein was an egregious self-publicist, a narcissistic egoist, a self-regarding twerp who never performed anybody else's music without messing it about.

John Pike wrote (February 4, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I am sorry but this is highly offensive and untrue. It is also a simplification of what many have thought about the Jews over the ages. There have been many excellent contributions to this topic in recent days by well informed members of the list, especially regarding Luther's views, the New Testament texts and the libretto of some of Bach's passions. We must be careful not to make too many assumptions about what Bach thought on this topic.

In common with many other commited Christians, I am appalled at the treatment given to the Jews by Martin Luther (at times), Hitler and many others over the ages. It is a great stain on the history of Christianity. Any right minded Christian will feel the same way. No-one in their right minds will hold anything against the Jews because of what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. In the same way, no one in their right minds will hold anything against the Germans for the terrible acts during the holocaust. They will also acknowledge the immense gifts that the Jews have brought to Western Civilisation and the impoverishment of that civilisation by the holocaust.

Please do not tar us all with the same brush. The man whom Christians hold in the highest esteem above anyone else was himself a Jew, Jesus Christ.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (February 4, 2005):
[To John Pike] I wish to congratulate John Pike for his remarkable comments.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 5, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] My my. It does appear that Yoel is trying to put words in my mouth. That's another day at the office for any historian who has been in print, but it does nothing to raise the spirit. Perhaps I should try again.

Since the beginning of modern historiography in the early 19th Century, with men like von Ranke and Bancroft at the fore, there has been a general disagreement over what degree the tools of history should be used like the tools of criminal law. Some historians have argued that "judgement" is inevitable and indeed desirable because it can be used to fight contemporary political struggles. (You will find this concept in "post-modern" social sciences and humanities, although it is much less widely held among historians.) However, I would say most historians, while recognizing the limits of their craft, hold much respect to Ranke's famous dictum that the role of the historian is to describe and analyze the past "as it actually happened." This is hard enough to do, and explicitly removes from the historian's hands the job of prosecutor or defense attorney for the long-dead. It certainly includes the awareness that if one wishes to understand the past one must have empathy for the belief systems held by the people that lived there. This does not mean approval, it means understanding. So how does one judge a villain like Hitler, or an evil social institution such as slavery in the 19th Century Western Hemisphere? Simple - use the standards that existed at the time. (Think this through please. Slavery in the ancient world has received a great deal of study. Nobody thinks it was a good thing. But it's a rare historian who condemns it unconditionally simply because it was accepted universally as a natural condition of the social order. By all means condemn it, but by doing so, one must condemn the entire structure. It would be a little pointless to simply dismiss the Greco-Roman World as being rotten. It's also a little pointless to condemn the Mongols for fighting wars. By the 19th Century, however, slavery was increasingly viewed as both dysfunctional and immoral. So if one wishes to trash Southern slavery one could employ the words of the young Thomas Jefferson or the old George Washington much less Abraham Lincoln. As for the Nazis, one could quote Himmler who urged his SS minions to have the courage to commit evil acts: naturally,it might be easier to employ the rhetoric of Churchill and his many supporters. One might point out that Hitler was destroyed by other Europeans.)

I can't begin to outline the subject of the Jews and Europe. Simply put, generalizations fall apart simply because the relationships between the peoples varied so radically according to time and place. To simply categorize the relationship as 2,000 years of radical anti-semitism is ridiculous. Had this been the case the Jews would have either fled Europe or would have been forced to convert or be killed. Instead a sizeable Jewish community, already existing in the Mediterranean World of the Roman Emperors, remained in Europe and the its American child until the present day. Until the 17th Century the idea of a truly secular society was almost unheard of in any part of the world. Whether one was a Muslim in China, a Christian in Ottoman lands or a Jew in Europe maintaining a faith outside the mainstream inevitably led to be one being considered an outsider. What is important to realize is that usually this position was desired by the religious minority itself - "integration" in the modern sense of the term was seen as a threat to the faith and culture of the given minority. (This is a very sensitive issue among some Jews in the US and some Israeli Jews when viewing American Jews today. "Assimilation" in upper/middle class European Jewish society sparked a similar debate in the 19th Century. Zionism was one off-shoot of the dispute.)

What fuels rancor was the policy of extermination carried out by Hitler. This has spawned in the past generation a literature that implicitly or explicitly argues that 2,000 years of Christianity led inevitably to Auschwitz. As should be clear I find the idea bizarre. Had such a momentum existed, it would not have taken 2,000 years to have been carried out. Instead, I look at the Third Reich as the ultimate cautionary tale of what can go wrong in the industrial world if the social and political chemistry of a society turns rancid. Hitler was not inevitable, but he was possible. The good news and the bad news if you will. If, however, one wishes to view the European West as a pathological culture then, like someone dismissing the Greco-Roman world for slavery, it is essential to view the entire experience as a gigantic, malicious failure. (This is, of course, the view held by radical revolutionaries of any stripe. Revolution must start with a war upon the past.) The problem here is that junking the West means junking the modern world. That's a big order.

And where does this leave Luther? As I noted earlier, Luther has been condemned for a multitude of sins - glorifying the state, inciting religious intolerance, smashing the unity of the West, almost single-handed creating an early form of nationalism and lending sanction to the Final Solution. But Luther doesn't need a defense attorney. He was a medieval man living in the waning years of the Middle Ages. His political ideas (all of which revolved around the fundamental assumption that earthly life is insignificant and that order is required for a spiritual life in which everything of importance takes place) were echoed by other Protestant leaders and certainly held by Mother Church. To a modernist there is much to admire about Luther's politics. Unlike Calvin or Cromwell Luther specifically rejected the idea of theocracy. Luther had scorn for science, but believed strongly in literacy. Luther believed political order was required for the "elect" to find God. Luther also condemned almost all war and was quick to remind the princes that a betrayal of the their responsibilities on earth would land them in hell. Luther did more than any man of his age to bring what solace that exists in Christianity into the homes of the people. (Note how in Bach's music how often the first person singular is used in the lyrics. Quite a contrast to the traditional view of Catholicism.) Luther's attacks on scholasticism had tremendous influence on those who later would view science as something less than god-like. At the end of his life, Luther directed a blast toward the Jews: not as severe as those directed toward the Popes, but a blast nevertheless. For what it's worth, however, Luther never advocated the policies that were carried out in Spain and some other parts of the Catholic world against Jews and Muslims. The stake was conspicuous by its absence in most of Protestant Europe. Ironically, the reforms undertaken in the Catholic Church after Luther's challenge probably gave it a second lease on life in southern Europe. At present, converts in Africa and Asia are flocking to Vatican's banner. Was Luther an unknowing catalyst for the industrial world as Weber and others argued? I don't know, but it's a testimony to the importance of the Reformation that the idea was even proposed. And somewhere along the way Luther, more than any single person, created a great language. As I noted previously, Luther is simply out of size. Castigate Luther to your heart's content, but realize that it's like shooting spit-balls at a battleship.

PS: Where did Len say he couldn't perform the SPA for religious reasons? In my liner notes to the SUMP the only thing mentioned is that Bernstein loved baroque music and was saddened that big orchestras like his were being displaced by Harnoncourt and company. Did anyone supply a quote that I missed?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 5, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Luther directed a blast toward the Jews: not as severe as those directed toward the Popes, but a blast nevertheless. For what it's worth, however, Luther never advocated the policies that were carried out in Spain and some other parts of the Catholic world against Jews and Muslims. >
Your lengthy articles on this subject lead me to fast scan them as they simply repeat exculpation. Frankly I don't care what your religious or mythological beliefs are.

The simple fact is that a religion that invented a word and a concept like deicide also created genocide. And the endless apologetics for Luther and now we are to be grateful that Luther did not advocate the stake!. Mille grazie! The endless Jews, Albigensians, heretics, and others burned by various Christians throughout the millennia are enough to simply cry. There is nothing inherently sad about the death of a God who by a act of kenosis decided to sacrifice himself to himself to absolve us from himself. It is all non-sense and you are entitled to write tomes on it. It is all wasted ink. The music of Bach will stand without all this mythology.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 5, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Let's see now. The issues are so clear that there is no reason to read something you may disagree with. (Of course, how would you know if you don't read it?) For what it's worth I am in no way sectarian. I simply scribble history for a living. We are trained to at least to attempt to understand worlds that are not ours. We do so because we believe the past is worth understanding on its own terms. There is an element of humility involved because historians realize that ultimately no one can understand the past any more than anyone understands the present. Only fools, pedants or megalomaniacs claim to see the past with complete clarity. Yet it is most generous for we simple minded apologists for two millennium of systematic evil to be given permission to listen to Bach. Secular humanism at its best, no doubt.

Mike wrote (February 5, 2005):
Bach had 'Zeal Against Popery' in his library. The title makes the modern reader shudder. I fear we might find the man a bigot and anti-semite by modern standards.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 5, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Dear Mr. Bergerud, I have seriously studied both the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Near Eastern background and the Greek N.T. and the development of Christianity and the related matters and read Christian theological journals all my life. I have even authored a few articles on these various subjects. I have also been a serious student of Ancient Greece and the Indo-European peoples. I simply find nothing very new to say on any of this on a music forum. It seems to me that this music forum becomes every day more of a Church where persons proclaim their faith and belief. It seems to me that such proclamations of faith and belief occur on no other music list. I simply have no interest in anyone's personal faith and/or belief in any system of theology.

I am not a bigot and I fully accept and respect your religious beliefs which to me are absurd.

But this is a forum for Bach's music and such endless discussion of what this or that Christian finds as his personal system of salvation and his system for burning others both in this life and in the next might be irrelevant. The denial of such activities is of course impossible, such activities as the burning of others both here and in the life to come.

Doug Cowling wrote (February 5, 2005):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I simply find nothing very new to say on any of this on a music forum. It seems to me that this music forum becomes every day more of a Church where persons proclaim their faith and belief. It seems to me that such proclamations of faith and belief occur on no other music list. I simply have no interest in anyone's personal faith and/or belief in any system of theology. >
I think that the discussion of the liturgical and theological background of Bach' music and his sources has been quite sober in this string, and there have been only a few postings about personal beliefs. I agree that this is not the forum for personal credos. However, the questions about Bach's relationship to his Lutheran tradition and German social situation are worth exploring. Art does not exist apart from history, and history will always ask hard questions.

I suggest that we leave this area of discussion for the moment and return to the cantatas at hand. I'm sure the questions will arise again as we start approaching Easter performances of the Passions and the inevitable discussion in the press of the relationship between Bach, the Passions and anti-Semitism.

Cara Peterson wrote (February 5, 2005):
The one with Bach and anti-semitism

Okay, sorry this email's so big, but I get all the Bach mails in a digest...and I don't feel like fixing this...anyhoo, I know this has been said many times before, but getting in an argument over whether Bach was anti-Semite or not [and exchanging information to prove a point, which is a skill I'm supposed to be learning in school] this haughtily is not necessary. I know this has not escalated to what it can be, but I've been on the list long enough to know what these arguments can do.

The most we can do at this point is agree that whether Bach's views were liberal or conservative according to the time, either way, his music is what we focus on [Yes, I do realize that his politically and spiritual beliefs obviously influence his music, but hell - this forum is about Cantatas, not whether Bach liked Jews or not].

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 5, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I agree with Doug that this is a good time for a cease fire. Perhaps Yoel can draw up acceptable guidelines for what type of history can come up for consideration on the list. (It wasn't yours truly that brought up the Goldhagen thesis.) Antiquity is obviously out. But the exchange has helped clarify some important matters for me. I don't know what my religious beliefs are, but have been assured that they are absurd whatever they may be. Naturally I will ponder deeply the opinion of state-of-the-art scholarship and allow it to guide my future intellectual and spiritual development.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 6, 2005):
[To Cara Peterson] You have said it very well indeed, Cara. I doubt that Bach himself was an anti-semite except in the sense that anti-semitism was in the air and part of the ambience. I agree that the list should be about bach's music which transcends his personal beliefs.

Thank you for an excellent summary of reality.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 6, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] There's an interesting article in Bach Notes #2 (Fall 2004) about public executions in Leipzig, and the way their ritual may have affected the SMP (BWV 244) and SJP (BWV 245). And, was Bach out there directing the music during the execution procession of the dead-man-walking?
http://www.americanbachsociety.org/bachnotes.html

Like Hubbard wrote (February 7, 2005):
Bach and anti-semitism [further clarifications]

I read the feedback to my post and it seems that I have been grossly misunderstood. My post was intended towards giving the persons keen of writing racist ("anti-racist", "progressive" in modern slang) articles in a Bach's music list an opportunity of meditation and self evaluation. I wanted make them experience themselves the amoral nature of reality, that guilt, once postulated, is always SHARED not FOCUSED upon a certain individual/group. Every act of aggression requires an aggressor and a WILLING victim, someone who valuates defeat upon terms intended to turn him into a winner, at least in his own eyes.

The least of my wishes was stirring up an orgy of brainless hatred and an army of appologists whose purpose is washing this away by making it look like "justice for the oppressed".

John Pike wrote (February 7, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] This topic is interesting but it is becoming increasingly not relevant to Bach (whose views on many of these issues we cannot really know). If we prolong this debate any longer, it is highly likely that sensitivities will be aroused and another flame war started.

 

Bach and anti-Semitism

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 5, 2007):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< Then there is the question of whether one should view the gospels as separate documents. I come down on the side of not doing so, assuming that the source of their inspiration is one and the same, i.e. I consider the Bible as ultimately one document. >
With the greatest of respect for your beliefs, Cara, I don't think that much of this discussion belongs on this list. In the past, the postings have been very subjective and tangential to Bach. With the approach of Easter and many performances of the Passions, I think we should exercise some restraint on this topic.

As we've discussed before, there are three areas of investigation:

1. The historical context of the scriptural writings and their attitudes to the questions of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism

2. The proximate theological background to the question in the Lutheran tradition, principally the writings of Martin Luther.

3. The immediate theological background to the creation of the litbrettos of the Passions, particularly the interaction between the fixed scirptural texts of the narratives and the theological commentaries of the poetic texts.

No. 1 is an extremely difficult scholarly area of investigation and really beyond our expertise. I would also say that it is tangential to the discussion of Bach.

No. 2 brings us closer to the works of Bach but is a subject which is difficult because of the social and political context of the 16th century. It is not sufficient to sumamrize Luther and apply it uncritically to Bach.

No.3 has a very narrow focus which could be investigated, but I am often uneasy about the broad, subjective statements which people make about the theological meaningof the cantatas. The Passions are much more controversial area, and I think we have to be very sensitive to the emotions which they raise. The historical method needs to be cool and disPassionate.

Please keep posting, Cara. I enjoy your comments.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 5, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< 3. The immediate theological background to the creation of the litbrettos of the Passions, particularly the interaction between the fixed scirptural texts of the narratives and the theological commentaries of the poetic texts. >
I regret that I have not been able to follow the thread, even this very small thread in which only a couple of persons have participated.

However I beg to disagree with the well-intended (as always) Doug.

It is very simple in my view.

(1) Paul originally wanted to make the new sect of Judaism universal. Thus he constantly spoke against "the law, kashrut, and shabbat" and summed up Judaism in those terms vs. his new religion which was one where there was no Jew and no Greek, no circumcision and no non-circumcision and so forth. So far OK.

(2) We have John's violently Judenhässig representation of the events portrayed in the synoptics in a totally different manner and indeed a totally different reality.

(3) Christianity is a separate religion in which the Jews have become "Deicides" and it is forgotten that Christ was a Jew and was circumcised and everything else. Of course there is the human Jesus and the "Word thing".

(4) Augustine declares the Jews as incarnated in Judas (a simple and obvious linguistic truism).

(5) Massacres and expulsions of Jews go on throughout all of Christian history, especially during Easter season.

(6) Luther resents that with his reforms the Jews don't recognize the truth and he persecutes.

(7) This all eventually leads to Hitler. The line is very clear. Through Stalin in too. A few Christians in every case and every time object to such events.

(8) There is this major difference between Handel and Bach. Handel was very comfortable and joyous with "Old Testament" and "Apocryphal" stories and with real live Jews. Handel seemed to live in a cosmopolitan world like also Rembrant. Bach's only references to Jews are as "Deicides".

There is no evidence that Bach ever had any good awareness of any Jew, either in real life or in his presentation of "Der (or is it Das) alte Bund" (not worth checking).

Bach of course is really not responsible for living in such a world vs. the world that Handel seemed to have lived in.

Alas, the last two days of beginning Purim with Esther and ending it with Judas Maccabeus were welcome reliefs from all of this Bach.

Finally, when Bach says in "Es ist vollbracht", "der Held aus Juda siegt mit macht", one might remind St. Ausgustine that Judas and Judah are one and the same.
Yoel who can't type.

And of course there is a single cantata where Bach speaks not so nice of Islam and of Catholicism as well, Pope and Turk, but such things are to be expected and are not on the level of "Deicide", the most insane charge ever invented.

I repeat, Bach lived in such a world and was employed by such a politico-socio-theological system.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (March 5, 2007):
Bach and anti-Semitism - a sort of meta-discussion

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< With the greatest of respect for your beliefs, Cara, I don't think that much of this discussion belongs on this list. In the past, the postings have been very subjective and tangential to Bach. With the approach of Easter and many performances of the Passions, I think we should exercise some restraint on this topic. >
Actually, if anyone were to reply (by way of rejoinder) to my comments, I had intended to suggest taking the discussion off-list anyway. And as far as what I stated about my own assumptions is concerned, I'm not trying to convince anyone. I just really dislike it myself when people make bald assertions about a given subject without either supporting them with facts or at least admitting plainly that they are making certain a priori assumptions, so I made those comments in order not to fall into the same error myself.

< As we've discussed before, there are three areas of investigation:
1. The historical context of the scriptural writings and their attitudes to the questions of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism
2. The proximate theological background to the question in the Lutheran tradition, principally the writings of
Martin Luther.
3. The immediate theological background to the creation of the litbrettos of the Passions, particularly the interaction between the fixed scirptural texts of the narratives and the theological commentaries of the poetic texts.
No. 1 is an extremely difficult scholarly area of investigation and really beyond our expertise. I would also say that it is tangential to the discussion of Bach. >
Well, it is relevant in that it in some way answers the question of whether the anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism which has undeniably cropped up at various times over the centuries in Christian circles (including the writings of Luther) is inherent in the gospel text, or whether it is a function of extratextual assumptions applied to that text. And there is the fact that the writings comprising what is commonly called the New Testament are some of the best documentation we have of the historical context, in that they do not just contain teaching, but also references to the surrounding historical and cultural milieu. But you are quite right, consideration of these matters is of limited value in talking specifically about Bach.

< No. 2 brings us closer to the works of Bach but is a subject which is difficult because of the social and political context of the 16th century. It is not sufficient to sumamrize Luther and apply it uncritically to Bach. >
Yes, doing that would make a lot of unwarranted assumptions. Although certainly it would be interesting to know what Bach's personal attitude towards these matters was. Unfortunately, it seems that there is not enough documentation to come to any conclusions, outside of the Passions themselves. Which is no doubt why this subject comes up every time anyone tries to discuss the Passions at any length, and why anytime anyone wants to discuss this subject, they end up having to have recourse to the Passions.

I think a lot of the problem with the SJP (BWV 245) in particular is a certain 'argument from silence' that people make - one which makes certain a priori assumptions of which the people in question are not always conscious, and to which they do not always admit. Or if they admit to their views, they are not always aware that these views are assumptions, that they are treating them as axioms. And then someone else comes along and has different assumptions that they treat as axiomatic, they're not conscious of what they're doing either...

The result is that people end up getting into arguments which are not about the matter at hand, but rather about them and their assumptions. The problem with any axiom is that it is, as it were, beyond proof (at least in the logical sense). And this is true regardless of what that axiom is, even if it is in conflict with someone else's axiom. I'm sure I often forgot that when I was younger. In other words, before we talk to someone else about their assumptions, we have to realize that we too are making assumptions - different ones perhaps, but nonetheless. I think where we get into trouble is where we fail to realize this and respect it.

I realize this may sound very relativistic. It isn't really. I do believe in absolute truth. But believing in absolute truth and claiming that one has a monopoly on that truth are two very different things. I think that if we start making such claims, we risk reducing the size of that truth to fit our human minds. And that is what 'world views' are - human-sized 'truths'. Either that, or we try to make ourselves larger than we actually are.

I am well aware that there are people on this list for whom twill not be pleasant listening. But I think that keeping these thoughts in mind is ultimately the only way in which we can maintain simultaneously respect for our own beliefs and respect for those of others. And I think that needs to be the goal, if we're going to discuss controversial issues in an edifying way. It is dangerous to expect others to respect one's own views, if one is not willing to accord that same respect to others. Which is why I have gone on at quite such length as I have about this matter.

< No.3 has a very narrow focus which could be investigated, but I am often uneasy about the broad, subjective statements which people make about the theological meanings of the cantatas. The Passions are much more controversial area, and I think we have to be very sensitive to the emotions which they raise. The historical method needs to be cool and disPassionate. >
;;) You may put your mind at rest here. You are speaking to a person who for the past 27 years has had to deal with these issues (for better or worse) at her own dinner table (literally or otherwise). Without going into further detail here, I am a Gentile raised since early childhood by a Jewish woman. The beliefs I now have are not ones I grew up with, but rather were a choice made when I was a teenager, that has evolved over time. Now I am a Quaker in all but the name (read: peace-minded person) who attends and serves as a musician at a Lutheran church.

< Please keep posting, Cara. I enjoy your comments. >
Thank you. I'm glad you have been edified ;;)

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< There is no evidence that Bach ever had any good awareness of any Jew, either in real life or in his presentation of "Der (or is it Das) alte Bund" (not worth checking). >
'Das ist der alte Bund', BWV 106, Actus Tragicus. If Bach never met a jew, how could he be anti-Semitic? In theory, perhaps, but certainly not in practice.

< Alas, the last two days of beginning Purim with Esther and ending it with Judas Maccabeus were welcome reliefs from all of this Bach. >
I am going to say it gently before someone says it less so. This site, and Bach listening, are voluntary. Take as long a break as you need for relief.

< I repeat, Bach lived in such a world and was employed by such a politico-socio-theological system. >
Well, you live in the culture which invades Iraq. I guess that makes you a war monger, no?

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 6, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Well, I agree that Yoel's views are simple but they deal with an issue that rewards empathy and subtlety. That is not a good fit. If one wishes to argue that Auschwitz would not have happened without Christianity, I don't know what to say. Imagining the West without Christianity is a little like describing what the world would be like without gravity. I think it is possible to say that the Church was and is responsible for its teachings and actions taken by others that could reasonably be assumed shaped by those teachings. So it is responsible to argue that Christian anti-Semitism made possible pogroms and all sorts of discrimination. It is irresponsible to go any further, especially as it obscures central truth when doing so.

The racialism that shaped Hitler and hence triggered the Holocaust was deeply secular and a consequence of attempts by 19th century thinkers to define race in "scientific" terms. Ideas peddled by everyone from Gobineau to Houston Chamberlain cast matters of ethnicity and religion into matters of racial categories with Northern Europeans put at the top of an insane racial pyramid. The related field of eugenics - fueled mightily by Darwin - only made things worse. Such ideas came just in time to provide Jim Crow with a gloss of academic approval in the USA and fit nicely with the ideas of Social Darwinism found throughout the West. (The textbook defended by Clarence Darrow in the Stokes trial informed the young reader that evolution led directly to the pinnacle of life - white people.) While it is true that the German Protestant churches were part of the "Gleichschaultung" that marked the core of the 3d Reich, the major perpetrators of the Holocaust were intensely anti-clerical. This was especially true of Himmler - Hitler appeared simply to despise Christianity for its weakness. SS leaders put all churches into their post-war cross hair, a time which would see the destruction of the faith of "sheep." As for comparing any pre-Nazi crimes against the Jews with the genuine article let me remind me that more people perished in the Nazi death camps on one productive day in late 1943 than were killed in every pogrom in the previous 2,000 years combined.

When Hitler began to put anti-Semitism into action in the Reich he was not opposed by Europe's Christians. He also was not opposed by Europe's communists. He wasn't opposed by Western Democracies. Hitler got some bad press in more civilized society but people were so paralyzed by fear of war that nobody was prepared to intervene in any way in German internal affairs. But there was another reason for this indifference. Nobody really understood that the Nuremburg Laws would lead to Auschwitz. This, I think it safe to say, was understood only by a minority of Germany's Jews until war broke out. Not understanding the malignant nature of the 3d Reich was a costly error - perhaps 15 million soldiers from allied countries died to destroy Hitler's empire.

So when describing the nightmare of the 1940's, it makes much more sense to blame Hitler's mother than 18th century Lutherans.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Imagining the West without Christianity is a little like describing what the world would be like without gravity. >
Exactly wrong! And that fundamental misunderstanding is how we waste so many words, better spent elsewhere.

Gravity is science.

Christ is religion.

Those are two different languages.

Aloha (that is one language), Ed Myskowski

Uri Golomb wrote (March 6, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Imagining the West without Christianity is a little like describing what the world would be like without gravity. >
and Ed Myskowski responded:
< Exactly wrong! And that fundamental misunderstanding is how we waste so many words, better spent elsewhere >
I understood Eric's point differently -- it has, in fact, nothing to do with whether Christianity is true (in any sense of the word) or not. He is simply stating that Christianity is so central to the history of the Western world that all aspects of that history would be different if Christianity wasn't there. Christianity is a major force in history -- and this is an empirical fact, regardless of whether you share the Christian creed or not. I don't -- I'm an agnostic Jew. But I would still concur that the West as we know it would be unimaginable without Christianity in its past (and, indeed, present): all apsects of western history would be unimaginably different (for better and/or worse) if Christianity had not become the main religion of the Roman Empire and, subsequently, of post-Roman Europe. By the same token, you could say that the history of the Middle East and Asia is inextricably linked with Islam, and cannot be imagined without it. (and neither religion would have come into existence without Judaism...) You don't have to believe in the religious tenets of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, in order to concur with these ideas.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 6, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<< Imagining the West without Christianity is a little like describing what the world would be like without gravity. >>
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Exactly wrong! And that fundamental misunderstanding is how we waste so many words, better spent elsewhere. >
Ed Occasionally I need to register disagreement with you.

It seems somewhat ironic to me that you should condemn discussion of the nature of and process of reaching conclusions (and the essence of forms of misunderstanding) as being OT for the list on the one hand and pinpoint what you believe to be a fundamental misunderstanding (above) on the other.

This list is populated by human beiand it follows, almost as night follows day, that it will contain a great many false consclusions and misunderstandings. People are like that. Attempts to 'understand' the nature of such 'misunderstandings' can only ultimately aid communication.

As to Eric's original point I think that Uri expressed it perfectly. Eric was (at least as I took it) simply making a clarifying (??) analogy whereby notions of gravity and Christianity both suffuse cultures and thinking to such a degree that they (the cultures) can only be imperfectly understood if these are deleted from the contexts.

This is not to suggest that myth, religion and scentific method are the same thing.

Rick Canyon wrote (March 6, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Christ is religion. >
Ed, it is my understanding that the use of "Christ" (as opposed to "Jesus") signifies the acceptance of Jesus as divine. WHen I gave geology programs, I was always careful to refer to "Jesus", eg "we are 100 generations removed from Jesus" I was US Gov issue, so it was important to make this distinction lest anyone in the audience think that the government was promoting a religion.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (March 6, 2007):
[To Canyon Rick] Well, it doesn't literally mean, in and of itself, that Jesus is divine. What it does mean is 'Messiah'. And some who believe Jesus is the Messiah believe he is divine, and some don't. That being said, if someone uses 'Christ' to refer to Jesus, it does imply that the person at very least believes that Jesus is the Messiah (unless they are unaware and think it's his surname or something). And yeah, I suppose speaking that way would amount to promoting a particular religious view...

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2007):
What goes up... [Was Bach and anti-Semitism]

Julian Mincham wrote:
< Ed Occasionally I need to register disagreement with you. >
OK, I suggest we agree to disagree.

To me, mixing myth (Christianity) with reproducible scientific observation (gravity) is a fundamental misunderstanding of what sustains cultures.

Whether or not Pluto is a planet is more comparable to whether Jesus, Allah, or Buddha (just to mention the biggies, no slight intended to others) is God's chosen spokesperson.

A culture which does not consciously recognize gravity may do OK, but not a culture which denies gravity (perhaps the Earth just sucks?). Plenty of sustainable cultures have done just fine without Jesus. At least until they faced his armies, but that is a different matter, I believe.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (March 6, 2007):
Cara Emily Thonton wrote:
< That being said, if someone uses 'Christ' to refer to Jesus, it does imply that the person at very least believes that Jesus is the Messiah (unless they are unaware and think it's his surname or something). And yeah, I suppose speaking that way would amount to promoting a particular religious view... >
In a literal sense you're perfectly right of course. However I think that in everyday use 'Christ' is very much the same as 'Jesus' (at least for a majority, in France). After all most people say 'Buddha' rather than Siddhartha Gautama, even if they do not adhere to Buddhism and therefore do not recognize SG as one having achieved the highest degree of awakening.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2007):
[To Canyon Rick] Close enough for government work! Gotcha.

I see your point, but I think most 'Christians', including Bach, would use Jesus and Christ more or less interchangeably, both Divine.

Indeed, I ended up in a minor dustup over whether 'Prince of Peace' had any specific significance, or is just another alternate name for the incarnation of God. I can personally bear witness to three score and six years of a culture defined by war (never more so than in the year 4,560,000,007, or '07 for short), so 'Prince of Peace' is something of a misnomer as far as I am concerned.

I have never had the pleasure of discussing the Grand Canyon with a strict creationist ('creation scientist' as distinct from 'theistic evolutionist', I believe is the proper language). I'll bet you have. I look forward to the opportunity someday, I think.

Rick Canyon wrote (March 6, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Close enough for government work! Gotcha.
I see your point, but I think most 'Christians', including Bach, would use Jesus and Christ more or less interchangeably, both Divine. >

True, they proly do. I just prefer to keep the two separate.

< I have never had the pleasure of discussing the Grand Canyon with a strict creationist ('creation scientist' as distinct from 'theistic evolutionist', I believe is the proper language). I'll bet you have. I look forward to the opportunity someday, I think. >
Actually, neither have I. I did get a comment once about how evident it was that Noah's Flood had created the canyon. (many non-creationists believe it was glaciers, however) One creationist also asked about a job, so I referred him to the Federal Civil Service System, Office of Personnel Management (in other words, I sent him to HELL).

Colleagues, however, were not so lucky. One young ranger was brought to tears when a creationist disrupted her program by asserting (loudly) that she would burn in hell for promoting such blasphemy. Nice people.

 

Anti-semitism in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ưAugust 8, 2007 ư11:05:23