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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 1: Mvts. 1-8

 

 

Discussions in the Week of June 6, 2004

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 6, 2004):
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 – Introduction

According to the planned ‘Order of Discussion’ for 2004, today, June 6, 2004, we have to start a 9-week discussion of Matthäus-Passion BWV 244. I have updated the right column of the Bach Cantatas Website – Home Page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/ to include a list of the scenes of Matthäus-Passion according to week of discussion. The topic for this week’s discussion is Scene I: Mvts. 1-8.

Last Friday I was lucky to attend a good performance of Matthäus-Passion at the Israel Festival Jerusalem. The conductor was Hermann Max with his Rheinische Kantorei (24 members) & Das Kleine Konzert (small HIP ensemble). Most of the soloists were members of the choir. This performance deserves special treatment and I hope to find some time to write a short review of it. Other members of the BCML have also attended the concert and they might want to share with us their impressions.

In the programme notes I found a good article about the Matthäus-Passion, which I find suitable as an introduction to the discussion of this magnificent work. It was written by Yonathan Bar Yoshafat.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion [and I am also hoping that the discussion would not deviate to non-relevant topics].

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
St. Matthew Passion ("Matthäus-Passion")
By: Yonathan Bar Yoshafat

St. Matthew Passion is a colossal religious composition. The story of Christ's agony and crucifixion is told through the most elaborate musical means of the greatest Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Jesus' life story is retold in the New Testament in four versions in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospels describe the birth of Jesus, his baptism by John the Baptist, his travels and preaching throughout ancient Israel, his miracle healings, and the last, tormented chapter of his life, called "the Passion".

In Matthew's gospel, this chapter starts with the ascent of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. In the evening, during the festive meal (the last supper) Jesus prophesies that one of his disciples will betray him. He blesses the bread and the wine ("This is my body...this is my blood"). After the meal, Jesus and his disciples return to Gethsemane where they pray. After being betrayed by Judas, one of his disciples, Jesus is arrested by the Sanhedrin guards and taken to trial. Since he refuses to deny the claims that he is the Messiah and the Son of God, Caiphas, the high priest, accuses him of blasphemy, which is punishable by death. Caiphas then hands him over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. At this point, Judas repents of his actions, gives back the money he received in payment for identifying Jesus, and commits suicide. But what was done cannot be undone. The next morning Jesus is brought before Pilate for questioning. He refuses to respond to the accusations against him, and when asked" Are you the King of the Jews?", replies "You have said so." Pilate is not convinced of Jesus' guilt; however the Sanhedrin is unwilling to grant him a pardon. According to Roman law proclaiming oneself king is insurrection, which is a capital crime, so Pilate sentences Jesus to death by crucifixion. Before handing him over to the soldiers, Pilate washes his hand, symbolically detaching himself from the deed, and says to the priests: "I am innocent of this man's blood. See to it yourselves". According to Matthew, the Jews reply: "His blood be on us and our offspring", This reply is seen to be at the origin of Christian anti-Semitism. The story of Jesus' physical and mental agony leading to his death on the cross now begins. Crucifixion was considered an especially cruel punishment, because many hours, even days, passed before the victim finally expired. Jesus dies nine hours after he is nailed to the cross, and an earthquake rocks the city when he gives up his spirit. Three days after his burial, Jesus is resurrected. He appears to his disciples and tells them to continue to preach his teachings. Forty days later he bids them farewell and ascends to heaven.

The paradox of a God being mortal is at the root of Christian belief. Jesus, not as may be expected from God, suffered, and feared death. His call to his father in heaven: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" demonstrates how he had to endure the trial of self sacrifice as a human being in order to become the innocent victim who atones for the sins of the world. The figure of Jesus is not just an incarnation of God on earth, but also a model for overcoming human difficulties, and submission through pain. His death and resurrection are like falling asleep and waking up, and Jesus' resurrection inspires the believers with the hope of their own resurrection at the time of redemption.

The story of the Passion is of central importance in Christian religious practice, from its beginnings to our day, especially at Easter time. The musical form of the Passion evolved over hundreds of years, until it reached a perfected form in Bach's works.

The principal role in the Passion is that of the storyteller, the Evangelist. In its early form, the Passion was read or sung by a single performer, who represented the Evangelist as well as the other participants in the story: Jesus, the disciples, Caiphas, Pontius Pilate, etc. From the 13th century onward, the Passion was presented in the form of a theatrical performance and the roles were divided between several participants who represented the different protagonists. In the 15th century, as polyphonic singing developed, the parts of the crowd were performed by a choir. In the 16th century, Martin Luther provoked a rift in Christianity. He founded the Protestant movement and reformed the dogma of the church. The influences of Lutheranism on music were diverse: prayer and singing were now in the language of the country and not only in Latin or Greek, and hymns were sung by the whole congregation. The chorales stressed the feelings of responsibility and love towards Christ by all members of the congregation. From the 16th century onward, chorales became part of the new Protestant version of the Passion. In the 17th century, contemporary poetic texts of an allegoric and sentimental nature were added, intended to express the believer's personal feelings. Therefore the form the Passion took before Bach's generation included three layers of text: chapters from the Gospel, the chorale and new religious poetry. The last two layers were implanted between sections of the New Testament. The new text was a commentary on and a prolongation of the original from both a collective and personal point of view. This form was called the "oratorio-passion", and was Bach's model in creating his Passions.

Bach wrote his first Passion, according to St. John, in 1724, one year after he had started his duties as cantor (the head of pedagogical and religious musical activity) at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Three years later, in 1727, his new Passion, according to St. Matthew, was performed for the first time. In Bach's version, only chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel were composed, without chapter 28, which describes the resurrection. In Protestant theology, contrary to that of the Catholics and Orthodox, the principle of self-sacrifice (the crucifixion) is more important than glory (resurrection). In addition to sections from the Gospel, Bach used short poems by Christian Friedrich Henrici as a libretto. Henrici, a poet also living in Leipzig, is better known by his pseudonym Picander. The protagonists of Picander's poems are abstract representations:
"the daughters of Zion" or the community of believers in the "Heavenly Jerusalem".
Bach chose the chorales from Luther's hymn book. This monumental composition seems to have been close to Bach's heart, as he took care to perform it several times in his lifetime (1729, 1736 and 1744), which was unusual at the time.

Bach's contract with his employers stipulated that his religious compositions "should not be too long...and not in an operatic style". In 1720, the Leipzig authorities had already closed down the city's opera house. It was feared that religious music, especially the oratorio-passion, would turn the church into a theatre, against the spirit of Protestantism. This fear was also reflected in Bach's contract. Bach seems to have respected their wishes, but remained faithful to his artistic principles. In the St. Matthew Passion, Bach actually exceeded the commonly accepted proportions of contemporary religious music (the work lasts three hours), but managed to give expression to the plot's dramatic content without making it an opera.

In this work, Bach makes use of seven genres of style and structure:
(1) recitativo secco (accompanied only by the organ);
(2) recitativo accompagnato (accompanied by the orchestra);
(3) motet (polyphonic choir);
(4) chorale;
(5) recitativo arioso (aria-Iike);
(6) aria
(7) concertant choir,

Bach applied these musical forms to the textual components in the following way:

I. The narrative from the Gospel:
- the parts of the Evangelist and the other protagonists are composed as recitatives in the "secco" manner;
- the part of Jesus is sung as recitativo accompagnato;
- the crowd sings in motet style;

II. The chorales:
As explained above, Bach himself chose chorales from Luther's collection and adapted them to the text. He also composed the exemplary harmonization for four voices.

III. Picander's poems:
- the parts of the soloist singers (in pairs or alone) are composed as recitativo arioso, followed by an aria. The arias are usually also joined by a solo instrument (flute, oboe, violin or others) which enriches the texture, the timbre and the particular character of each piece;
- three of the poems are concertant choral movements (the introduction, no. 27b and the final piece).

Another novelty is Bach's particularly large orchestra (by the standards of his time) for a religious composition. He does not in fact use all the instruments available at the time (there are no trumpets and drums, for example), but the variegated use of the orchestra he has at his disposal creates a tremendous effect at certain dramatic moments (especially in the large choral sections) and an intimate and transfigured effect in others. In some places, Bach also divides the orchestra and the choir into two symmetrical entities, in the Venetian manner, as a further enrichment of the sonority.

Due to this formal layout, Bach achieved the variety needed to maintain the listener's concentration during the course of such a long work. Some of the most exciting pieces are the arias to Picander's texts, which represent an abstract image of the believer's soul, and not concrete figures from the plot. Bach succeeds in expressing musically the intense emotional power inherent in the text and represents religious piety in a becoming and enlightened way, according to the prevailing attitude of his time. A prime example of this is the "Have Mercy" ("Erbarme dich") aria for alto, one of the Passion's best known arias. In the preceding recitative, Peter, one of Jesus' disciples, is charged by the crowd of belonging to Jesus' circle, and Peter, fearing the wrath of the crowd, denies all connection with Jesus, exactly as the latter had prophesied during the Passover meal. The aria immediately following expresses Peter's repentance and shame. Here Bach deviates from his own convention and goes straight into the aria without any further recitative to express the immediacy of repentance. The words of the following chorale ("Even though I deviated from your path, I came back to you") reinforce this procedure. According to Protestant thinking, Jesus welcomes the penitent, because God's grace is boundless.

Bach's work does not always keep to the divisions outlined earlier, and there are some interesting exceptions. For example, some recitatives of the Gospel are in arioso style, and some sections (recitatives and arias) are interrupted by the choir's comments. A moving example is the last recitative, before the final chorus ("Now God is put to rest"), during which all four soloists participate, singing one by one in ascending order representing the soul's departure from the body, interspersed with the choir's restrained but painful phrase "Good night, my Jesus".

The oratorio-passion has received many adaptations of high quality from the Baroque period to our day, but surprisingly none of these have reproduced the lasting success of Bach's two versions. The St. John, and especially the St. Matthew Passion, have been performed and recorded innumerable times. Despite their length, they are among Bach's most popular works. After Bach's death the interest in the St. Matthew Passion (as in most of his works) subsided, until it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, 102 years after its first performance. There is certainly some irony to the fact that it was a composer of Jewish origin who convinced the world to believe in Bach's greatness, through a work of such deeply Christian implications. At the same time, this work has such a forcefulness, a sincerity of expression and a richness of invention that places it beyond any specific religious belief. It towers among the peaks of human spirit, and entices the attentive listener to delve into it again and again. The German-Argentinean composer Mauricio Kagel said: "Not all musicians believe in God, but there is not one among them who does not believe in Bach".

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 7, 2004):
Re: the notes shared by Aryeh Oron on the performance of the SMP:

Yonathan Bar Yoshafat wrote:
>>Bach wrote his first Passion, according to St. John, in 1724, one year after he had started his duties as cantor (the head of pedagogical and religious musical activity) at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.<<
The lost Weimar Passion of 1717 p. 294 of Christoph Wolff’s “Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician” [Norton, 2000.] The Passion According to St. Mark (Picander’s libretto is dated 1731) is later than the SJP.

Re: minimal forces for the SMP:

For the important 1736 revision of the St. Matthew Passion to be performed in the St. Thomas Church, Bach split the entire ensemble into two vocal-instrumental (Choirs I & II, each with its own continuo group) groups that were distributed beyond their regular spaces to include the swallow’s nest organ and another choir loft where a third choir of sopranos with organ support also sang. This was “a decision that mobilized virtually all available musical resources at St. Thomas’s and must surely have resulted in a spectacular effect.” {pp. 297-8)

There is a fourth version [of the St. John Passion] – dating to 1749, the year before Bach’s death – that undoes most of the structural changes made since the first but requires larger forces than before.

These facts seem to point in a direction just the opposite of the minimalist emphasis upon OVPP/OPPP of recent years (since Rifkin’s call for this type of performance.)

Yonathan Bar Yoshafat also wrote:
>>After Bach's death the interest in the St. Matthew Passion (as in most of his works) subsided, until it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, 102 years after its first performance. There is certainly some irony to the fact that it was a composer of Jewish origin who convinced the world to believe in Bach's greatness, through a work of such deeply Christian implications.<<
Other shorter works by Bach were being performed by Zelter and his Sing-Akademie before Mendelssohn’s SMP performance, but nothing as extensive as the SMP. It is interesting that performing Händel’s ‘Messiah’ was not a problem for Zelter.

This remarkable accomplishment on Mendelssohn’s part was against great difficulties:

1) It was a public concert in a public concert hall and not in a church (not that the Lutheran churches in Berlin would have been more receptive – they also were not interested in performing Bach’s Passions – very few of Bach’s cantatas had appeared in print during this time.) Because the musical content (the length and contrapuntal writing,) the composition was considered too difficult for the general German audiences to ‘digest,’ the taste of these audiences not yet ready to understand and appreciate Bach’s genius fully. Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832), a fervent supporter and performer of Bach’s music with the Berlin Sing-Akademie, a civic organization, nevertheless attempted at first to dissuade Mendelssohn from attempting to perform the SMP. Zelter told Mendelssohn that performing the SMP would be an insurmountable task.

2) Gaspare Spontini (1774-1851) was Generalmusikdirektor of the court in Berlin at the time and attempted to shut down Mendelssohn’s performance of the SMP, but he (Spontini) was overruled by the crown prince: >>Meanwhile preparations for the centenary revival of the St Matthew Passion continued, and it was performed on 11 March to critical acclaim at the Singakademie, with Mendelssohn conducting from a piano; against the opposition of Spontini, a second performance was ordered by the Crown Prince for Bach's birthday (21 March).<< [R. Larry Todd – New Grove, Oxford University Press, 2004]

3) Soon after Mendelssohn’s accomplishment in getting the SMP performed repeatedly in short succession, the ice had been broken and other performances of the SMP in other German cities followed suit that same year and thereafter without difficulty.

4) Due to politics and Mendelssohn’s desire not to share the position with an inferior musician, he reluctantly turned down the position leading the Sing-Akademie after Zelter died.

John Pike wrote (June 7, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] According to an account of the time, reproduced in "The new Bach Reader", ed. Wolff, the work mendelssohn performed was heavily edited and did not include "most the arias".

Dale Gedcke wrote (June 7, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron & Thomas Braatz] Thanks to Aryeh Oron for his synopsis of the origin of J. S. Bach's St. Mathew's Passion and to Thomas Braatz for filling in the details of the revival of that composition after Bach's death. This is great information to read! Much more interesting than some of the off-topic discussions we have indulged in recently!

I offer this thanks for selfish reasons: to encourage those and other authors to provide more of this kind of information.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (June 7, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I guess I started the thread on BWV 244b just in time, eh?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (June 7, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] wrote:
Re: the notes shared by Aryeh Oron on the performance of the SMP:
Yonathan Bar Yoshafat wrote:
<< Bach wrote his first Passion, according to St. John, in 1724, one year after he had started his duties as cantor (the head of pedagogical and religious musical activity) at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.<<
Actually, this is not true. The first Passion Bach wrote was around 1712 in Weimar. It was a Passionspasticcio on the Markuspassion originally thought to have been written by Reinhard Keiser, now believed to have been written by Friedrich Nikolaus Bruhns, the brother of Nikolaus Bruhns. Then there is the (now lost) Passion setting written for the Good Friday performance in Gotha in 1717, out of which came (according to a source I saw recently) "O Mensch, bewein' dein' Suende gross'" (now the ending of Part I of the Matthaeuspassion), BWV 245a-c, the setting of "Christe, du Lamm Gottes" (now the concluding number in BWV 23), and BWV 283. So, in actuality, the 1724 version of the Johannespassion was the third Passion written by Bach.

John Pike wrote (June 7, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you, Aryeh. A most helpful introduction. I look forward to our discussions on what, for me at least, is one of the very greatest works of art in any medium.

I was puzzled by the suggestion that Bach did not include the resurrection because Lutherans did not believe that glory was as important as self-sacrifice. The latter statement may be true but to say that the resurrection is less important than the crucifixion for that reason is quite wrong theologically, and Bach would surely have felt so too, being well versed in scripture. In St Paul's letter to the Romans, I believe, he says that "if Christ were not raised from the dead, we (Christians) are to be pitied more than any men". Both the crucifixion and resurrection are central parts of Christian doctrine. They are images of being dying to sin and of being born again to a new life in Christ, respectively.

I suspect that the real reasons for Bach not including the resurrection were:
Tradition of passion music.
Good Friday itself is concentrating on the crucifixion
Watering down of dramatic impact
Easter was celebrated in a different service 3 days later with special music for that occasion.

Purely personal suspicions, without any evidence for those statements..


Sw Anandgyan wrote (June 7, 2004):
SMP I to VIII

Facing many resistances, I start to write about the SMP as to participate in the discussion in spite of my inexperience, lack of culture and propensity towards the superficial. I take comfort in knowing that those with little time for such ineptitude will erase this post just by seeing the author's name and that with practice I may improve or declared forfeit ...

I have listened to the first eight excerpts of the eleven renditions in my possession in a chronological order. I had never done a listening session basically to compare the same bits before and I was in for both some surprises and some fatigue. Hats off to the pros.

Doing abstraction of all the the noises and considering it an archival recording, the Mengelberg one is sumptuous in its chosen tempo, it resonates a lot to me.

Subsequent listening were basically about the effect it gave me, Richter I was a tad faster and though sounding grandiose, already felt less solemn. Klemperer was overly abundant with weight and maybe will reveal its majesty later on. Gönnenenwein indeed quite lighter and seemed to offer the right recipe as a modern approach.

Then it was time for the HIP recordings and Herreweghe I was immensely rich, fine and gave me a first hint at how really accentuating the beauty of the music may make feel like it became disconnected from the story; case in point, the Herreweghe II was so polished as to lack gravitas. Fasolis was more to my liking by sounding a tad rougher with a rhythm more to my liking. Brüggen surprised me with this blatant return to solemnity with its slowish tempo and once more, those period-instruments orchestra are superb if not all in the same bracket to my beginner's ears. The Suzuki, Harnoncourt III are polished rendering and though quite elegant, gave me an inclination to savour those earlier records that represent more of a story-telling than a mildly swinging oratorio. Granted I'm a bozo with an opinion, I was bewildered when I put on the McCreesh after all those non-OVPP, I knew I was at the other end of the spectrum initiated with Klemperer, there is a lot of delicacy yet I slightly
missed a substantial impact.

After this first day intending to participate, I shall mention my immense appreciation to Gönnenwein and Herreweghe I and before heading for cover, shyly thinking of ways to improve this presentation.

More Bach experts to the fore please !

Johan van Veen wrote (June 8, 2004):
[To John Pike] The factors you mention certainly played a role. But one has to understand the very special place the suffering and death of Jesus had in Lutheran theology, often referred to as 'theologia crucis', theology of the cross. The central question for Luther was: how do I get a merciful God? By reading the Bible he understood that it was Jesus' crucifixion and death which brings salvation. The resurrection is only the closing stage of the process. The passion of Jesus is so crucial in Luther's thinking that even in the Easter chorale 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' he continuously refers to the Passion.

And the aim of the performance of Passions was to make the congregation relive the suffering of Jesus in order to confront them once again with their own incapability to self-salvation.

It is relevant to refer to the interpretation of the closing chorus of the St Matthew Passion. The Dutch musicologist Albert Clement, who specialises in the theological aspects of Bach's music, says that this chorus isn't a lament on the death of Jesus. The 'sanfte Ruh' does not refer to the rest of Jesus, but to our rest in him. This is closely connected to the conception of the 'unio mystica', the unification of the soul with God.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 8, 2004):
John Pike wrote: < In St Paul's letter to the Romans, I believe, he says that "if Christ were not raised from the dead, we (Christians) are to be pitied more than any men". >
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we hae hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (I Corinthians 15:17-19)


Neil Halliday wrote (June 8, 2004):
BWV 244 :The SMP (movements 1-8)

It was Münchinger's recording that alerted me to the full grandeur of the opening movement - by this strange circumstance, which is that I was struck by the absence of sound from the right-hand speaker during the initial entry of the choir, in this recording.

Investigation of the score revealed why this was happening, and how many recordings largely hide the score's structure, and Bach's arrangement of the choral and instrumental forces.

The deployment of the forces is as follows:

1. Opening orchestral ritornello: Orch.1 and Orch.2 play the same material.

2. 1st choral section ("Come ye daughters help me weep") - Orch.1 and Choir 1 (group 1) only. Orch.2 and Choir 2 (group 2) are silent. Well into this section we get the 2nd choir and orchestra asking single word questions only ( group 1 "see the bridegroom" - group 2 "who?", group 1 "as a lamb" - group 2 " how?").

Above this we have the chorale sopranos (group 3) with " O guiltless lamb of God...slaughtered on the stem of the cross".

3. 2nd orchestral ritornello: groups 1 and 2 play the same material.

4. 2nd choral section: same as before, with group 2 (instruments and voices) making single note utterances only. ( group 1 "see the patience" - group 2 "what?". Above, group 3 sing "the eternal created patience ....how much you were despised".

5. 3rd orchestral ritornello: groups 1 and 2 play the same material.

6. 3rd choral section: the forces of groups one and two begin to be more equally employed, with striking antiphonal effects in the instrumental writing (with alternating groups of 3 notes), as well as in the vocal writing. (Group 1 "look!", group 2 "where, where, where?"; group 1 "on our guilt", group 2 "where, where, where?". Above, group 3 (soprano chorale) - "all sin have you carried....else must we despair".

7. Final section (climax - bar 72 on): Now for the first time the full forces (vocal and instrumental) of both groups begin to be employed more or less continously and equally. The emotional impact of the music is shattering. Choirs 1 and 2 begin, at different points, with "see Him out of love and concern, the wood of the cross Himself carrying". Above, group 3 sing "Have pity on us, O Jesus, O Jesus."

At last (bar 82 on), with the vocal and instrumental parts imitating and piling up on one another and reaching giddying heights - images of Himalayan peaks, or a sensation of flight, are easy to imagine at this point in the score - the text concludes with a return to the opening words -"Come ye daughters, help me weep...see the bridegroom as as lamb." (There is no soprano chorale in these final bars).

At present I am most impressed by Munchinger's recording of this 1st movement, of all the recordings I have: including Richter 1, Rilling 1, Berstein, Karajan, and Klemperer. While these all have excellent ritornellos, the large choirs tend to be diffuse and indistinct (except Rilling, which also has excellent separation of the two choirs). The Münchinger choir is listed as "Stuttgarter Hymnus Chorknaben". I don't know if this is an all male choir, but it brings considerable character and clarity to the score, and sounds to be about the right size.

Observations on the secco recitatives (up to movement 8): the most successful are those with strong organ chords punctuating the vocalist's line (Richter, Munchinger), the least successful are those with a single harpsichord chord with single cello note (Klemperer, Bernstein). The roster of singers on all these recordings is phenomenal. The accompanied recitatives delicious. Richter has the most amazing 5th and 7th movements, with incredibly clear, penetrating flute parts heard above the instrumental/vocal tumult.

(That's all from me for a while, I am going on holidays, but I hope I can re-join the discussion some time next month).

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 9, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote: "The Münchinger choir is listed as "Stuttgarter Hymnus
Chorknaben". I don't know if this is an all male choir,"
Can't you tell?! Boys and adult women sound very different!

Neil Halliday wrote (June 9, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Certain notes sound like a normal mixed choir, but I suppose if I had analysed the situation more carefully - the same lines are more obviously sung by boys at other points - I could have concluded the choir is in fact all male.

This choir is still going strong, after 100 years!
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Stuttgarter-Hymnus-Chorknaben.htm

Anyway, the achievement of this choir is very impressive, in terms of its abilty to clearly project the individual lines, in the double (or triple) massed-choir (not OVPP) format, of the SMP's opening chorus.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 9, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: << Can't you tell?! Boys and adult women sound very different! >>
Not always. I've been mistaken for a male alto before (and I am a female soprano!) - I had just altered the placement of my voice a bit to sing an alto aria...

Neil Halliday wrote: < Certain notes sound like a normal mixed choir, but I suppose if I had analysed the situation more carefully - the same lines are more obviously sung by boys at other points - I could have concluded the choir is in fact all male. >
Not to mention that with a name like 'Chorknaben' - 'Choirboys' - it would be difficult to imagine any female members...

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 9, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote: "Certain notes sound like a normal mixed choir, but I suppose if I had analysed the situation more carefully - the same lines are more obviously sung by boys at other points - I could have concluded the choir is in fact all male."
Fair enough!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 9, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: << Can't you tell?! Boys and adult women sound very different! >>
Cara Emily Thornton wrote: “ Not always. I've been mistaken for a male alto before (and I am a female soprano!) - I had just altered the placement of my voice a bit to sing an alto aria..."
Ah, but that doesn't mean you sound the same as a male alto, only that that listener couldn't tell the difference....!

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 9, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Well, as I recall, the lady who sings the solo alto part in Christopher Hogwood's 'Messiah' (Carolyn Watkinson) is virtually indistinguishable from a male alto. Obviously I can't tell for sure what the effect is when I sing from inside, but I do know one thing - when I do certain things with my voice, it at very least sounds A LOT less 'typically female' than when I am not doing them.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 9, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] We could argue about this forever, and I doubt that we should(!) but I don't think Carolyn Watkinson sounds remotely like a male alto!

Johan van Veen wrote (June 9, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Well, maybe she does to those listeners who only have heard male altos who sound like female ones.


Bradley Lehman wrote (June 9, 2004):
SMP tempo

<< CPE Bach tells us in his obituary of his father that Bach generally fast tempi, so choosing fast tempi today is highly legitimate. We will never have metronome markings, so we should just do what makes most musical sense, and at least be aware of the great man's habit. >>
< But how do we know what CPE Bach meant by "fast"? It might very well >be that JS's reaction to a Gardiner recording would be "Well, not that fast!" >
The most fundamental issue of tempo is: what level of the note-values gets the main beat? Tempo can't be decided at all until one knows the correct level of flow, and it's usually made quite clear by Bach's meter signature and the types of note-values used in the movement. "Fast" or "slow" or whatever is then relative to that.

McCreesh, Junghänel, and several other current specialists are especially good at discerning that; and Richter, Klemperer, et al were not (they simply went with 20th century traditions and didn't research the issue fully enough). The late William Malloch also had some important things to contribute, from his study of mechanical instruments (music boxes, barrel-organs, etc).

As I've mentioned before, an especially good scholarly (and extremely technical) book that explains these issues is George Houle's Meter in Music, 1600-1800: Performance, Perception, and Notation, where he collects more than 300 contemporary sources about meter/tempo and shows how and why they matter: a huge amount of work, very well presented.

The issue of strong and weak beats ("good" and "bad" notes, a very important Baroque concept tied to articulation, fingering, phrasing, bowing, bar lengths, and much more...) is also part of this, again coming out of the basic question of getting the right level of notes to have the main beat in the first place, and then everything trickling down from there into the smaller note-values. The natural rhythm and speed of speech are also part of it.

That's how we know what CPE, or anyone, meant by relative remarks about tempo, and how we know "what makes most musical sense": through a comprehensive look at the related issues, not merely guessing or going with intuitive taste (as the mid-20th-century conductors tended to do).

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 9, 2004):
>>McCreesh, Junghänel, and several other current specialists are especially good at discerning that; and Richter, Klemperer, et al were not (they simply went with 20th century traditions and didn't research the issue fully enough).<<
McCreesh, Junghänel, and HIP specialists et al are only as good as the theories upon which they have founded their beliefs regarding Bach’s performance practices. There are some aspects of these ‘beliefs’ that arebased upon erroneous or misguided assumptions that are still currently in vogue. The much smaller reduced forces employed by the HIP protagonists along with a ‘fractured’ playing style which reduces the length of phrases and places gaps (hiatuses) between them will, almost out of necessity, lead to faster tempi. The larger orchestral and vocal forces employed by Richter, Klemperer et al would, through its own nature, cause the tempi to be slower, hence grander in style.

>>The late William Malloch also had some important things to contribute, from his study of mechanical instruments (music boxes, barrel-organs, etc).<<
I have a sneaking suspicion that such mechanical instruments will always tend to be on the fast side of any ‘real’ tempo that was actually used. This may have something to do with the media used for these purposes: trying to get a lot of information on one roll/metal disc, etc.(the cost and labor of producing these being very valuable) leads toward trying to cram as much information on it as possible (increasing the spaces/rests between the notes as well as the length of the notes themselves would mean that even less music could be contained on the device.)

As long as the tune is recognizable, even in its faster-than-it-would-usually-be-performed version, the listener/owner would be satisfied with the results even if it was not being played at the ‘normal’ tempo.

Using these mechanical instruments from the 18th century to prove that the tempi used were identical to what was really occurring under Bach’s direction in Leipzig is the equivalent to using the engravings from Bach’s time to prove OVPP/OPPP.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 9, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: "The much smaller reduced forces employed by the HIP protagonists along with a ‘fractured’ playing style which reduces the length of phrases and places gaps (hiatuses) between them will, almost out of necessity, lead to faster tempi."
Not true!

"The larger orchestral and vocal forces employed by Richter, Klemperer et al would, through its own nature, cause the tempi to be slower, hence grander in style. "
Not true either.


John Pike wrote (June 9, 2004):
SMP

I have 4 recordings of this miraculous piece..Richter 1958, Gardiner, Harnoncourt 3, Herreweghe 1. I greatly enjoy them all. Different approaches, esp. HIP v non-HIP, of course, but no less satisfying for all that, to my mind. They all demonstrate great sensitivity and a very high level of all-round musicianship. More comments later when I find time.


Bradley Lehman wrote (June 15, 2004):
SMP opening chorus

Douglas Cowling wrote: < Is there any marking in the parts or in the full score which indicates doubling on the organ? >
Yes, that soprano cantus firmus is doubled.


Arjen van Gijssel wrote (June 23, 2004):
MP aria Blute nur

Here's a puzzle: in the aria Blute nur die liebes Herz, who's heart is actually bleeding? And who is the singer? Is it Mary? Is it the mother of Judas? Is it Jesus' heart which is bleading? Who is the Pfleger in "droht den Pfleger zu .."? Is it Jesus? These are still unsolved questions to me, which couldn't be settled among the musicians I spoke about it.

John Reese wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] I would say it was Jesus' heart, because one of his beloved disciples had become a "serpent".

John Pike wrote (June 23, 2004):
[To John Reese] I agree that this is the main meaning, but I wonder if it is also intended to serve as a commentary on the emotional, heart-broken reaction that members of the congregation/audience should have to this event and to remind them that we all betray Christ; we all have an element of the "Judas" in us.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 23, 2004):
Arjen van Gijssel writes: < Here's a puzzle: in the aria Blute nur die liebes Herz, who's heart is actually bleeding? And who is the singer? Is it Mary? Is it the mother of Judas? Is it Jesus' heart which is bleading? Who is the Pfleger in "droht den Pfleger zu .."? Is it Jesus? These are still unsolved questions to me, which couldn't be settled among the musicians I spoke about it. >
'Herz' definitely refers to Jesus: the whole aria is directed to him, as the next lines show:
"ein Kind (=Judas), das du (=Jesus) erzogen (...) droht den Pfleger zu ermorden".

This aria comes directly after the passage which tells that Judas accepts money and promises to betray Jesus.

In the arias in SMP it is always the individual believer who is speaking. Bach avoids a connection between the aria and a specific character (unlike many contemporaries in their Passions).

'Pfleger' means, as you will know, 'caretaker'. This has to be interpreted here as 'father', 'parent' (=Jesus). This can be concluded from the passage "ein *Kind*, das du *erzogen*." In his comment on SMP Emil Platen sees a connection with Jesus' parabel of the Prodigal Son. In this respect he refers to the chorale "Erkenne mich, mein Hüter" (no 15): "Dein Mund hat mich gelabet, mit Milch und süsser Kost".

John Reese writes: < I would say it was Jesus' heart, because one of his beloved disciples had become a "serpent". >
Yes, I am wondering if the expression "harbour a nest of vipours in one's bosom" (in Dutch: een slang aan zijn borst koesteren) finds its origin in this part of the gospel.

John Pike writes: >I agree that this is the main meaning, but I wonder if it is also intended to serve as a commentary on the >emotional, heart-broken reaction that members of the congregation/audience should have to this event and to remind them that we all betray Christ; we all have an element of the "Judas" in us.<
I believe the congregation always is expected to identify with both arias and chorales. So, whereas in the arias the individual believer is speaking, the congregation certainly is supposed to identify with the words he is singing.


Matthäus-Passion BWV 244: Details
Recordings: Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | BWV 244a | BWV 244b
Systemetic Discussions:
Part 1: Mvts. 1-8 | Part 2: Mvts. 9-20 | Part 3: Mvts. 21-29 | Part 4: Mvts. 30-40 | Part 5: Mvts. 41-50 | Part 6: Mvts. 51-57 | Part 7: Mvts. 58-63b | Part 8: Mvts. 63c-68 | Part 9: Role of the Evangelist
Individual Recordings:
BWV 244 - Bernstein | BWV 244 - Brüggen | BWV 244 – Cleobury | BWV 244 - Fasolis | BWV 244 - Furtwängler | BWV 244 - Gardiner | BWV 244 - Gönnenwein | BWV 244 - Goodwin | BWV 244 – Guttenberg | BWV 244 - Harnoncourt | BWV 244 - Herreweghe | BWV 244 - Karajan | BWV 244 - Klemperer | BWV 244 - Kuijken | BWV 244 - Lehmann | BWV 244 - Leonhardt | BWV 244 - Leusink | BWV 244 - Max | BWV 244 - McCreesh | BWV 244 - Mengelberg | BWV 244 - Münchinger | BWV 244 - Ozawa | BWV 244 – Ramin | BWV 244 - Richter | BWV 244 – Rilling | BWV 244 - Scherchen | BWV 244 - Solti | BWV 244 - Spering | BWV 244 - Suzuki | BWV 244 - Veldhoven | BWV 244 – Walter | BWV 244 - Wöldike
Articles:
Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 [by Teri Noel Towe] | Two Easter St. Matthew Passions (Plus One) [by Uri Golomb] | St. Matthew Passion from Harnoncourt [by Donald Satz] | The Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244 [By Joshua Rifkin]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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Last update: ýJuly 3, 2004 ý19:18:53