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Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 5: Mvts. 41-50

 

 

Discussions in the Week of July 4, 2004

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 10, 2004):
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 5: Mvts. 41-50 - Introduction

According to the planned 'Order of Discussion' for 2004, the topic for this week's discussion (July 4, 2004) is Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Scene 5: Mvts. 41-50. The short notes below are based on W. Murray Young book's 'The Sacred Dramas of J.S. Bach' (McFarland & Company, 1994).

The main attractions of this part (except for the recitatives and the chorales) are:

Mvt. 42 [51] Aria [Bass]: "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!"
The actor for this da-capo aria must be one of the disciples who has witnessed Judas' remorse, and who is now addressing the high priests. Note the step motif in the rhythm, which seems to produce a march tempo, thus painting a tone picture of marching Jesus away.

Mvt. 49 [58] Aria [Soprano]: "Aus Liebe"
No organ is used, so the flute and the oboe da caccia provide the melody for the grief motif of this da-capo aria. Yet a motif of ethereal peace predominates.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Uri Golomb wrote (July 11, 2004):
< The main attractions of this part (except for the recitatives and the chorales) are:
Mvt. 42 [51] Aria [Bass]: "Gebt mir meinen Jesum Wieder"
The actor for this da-capo aria must be one of the disciples who has witnessed Judas' remorse, and who is now addressing the high priests. >
Which makes the aria somewhat unusual (though not unique) within the Passion: most aria texts are from the point of view of a "present" day believer, who reacts to the story -- often in highly emotional, personalised terms -- but knows its ultimate meaning and does not seek to change its course.

< Note the step motif in the rhythm, which seems to produce a march tempo, thus painting a tone picture of marching Jesus away. >
I am more convinced by Schweitzer's analysis of the violin's word-painting: "[Bach] first of all writes a rapid ascending figure that suggests teh etnry of Judas and the motion of the hand with which he throws away teh money, and then the rolling and clinking of the silver on the stone floor of the temple".

< Mvt. 49 [58] Aria [Soprano]: "Aus Liebe"
No organ is used, so the flute and the oboe da caccia provide the melody for the grief motif of this da-capo aria. Yet a motif of ethereal peace predominates. >
More accurately: the flute provides the melody, the two oboe da caccias provide the accompaniment. The aria's delicate scoring and its expression (which could perhaps be described as bittersweet pain?) serves, among other things, as a sharp contrast to the repeated "Lass ihn kreuzig" cries from the crowd, which come both before and after it.

Uri Golomb wrote (July 11, 2004):
A bit of self-correction for my prevoius message. I wrote, about "Aus Liebe": "the flute provides the melody, the two oboe da caccias provide the accompaniment". This might be true as a generalisation; but Bach is rarely content with casting any role as pure accompaniment; so the oboes do depart, in several places, from their accompanmiental figurations and contribute a more independent melodic content.

John Pike wrote (July 12, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] According to the cantatas website, no. 42 is actually "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!". I agree that this and No. 49 "Aus Liebe" are the highlights of this section. I am also very fond of the recitative No. 48 "Er hat uns allen wohlgetan" with the beautiful melody in the last line "Sonst hat mein Jesus nichts getan." In fact, IMO, very often in the SMP, the recitatives are very remarkable and of as much interest as the arias that follow.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 12, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote: < Which makes the aria somewhat unusual (though not unique) within the Passion: most aria texts are from the point of view of a "present" day believer, who reacts to the story -- often in highly emotional, personalised terms -- but knows its ultimate meaning and does not seek to change its course. >
This circumstance makes it a little doubtful whether it is really one of the characters - Judas in this case - who is speaking here.

Apart from the fact that Bach in his Passions - unlike most of his contemporaries - never gives an aria to a character in the Passion I can see two arguments against the view that Judas is speaking here.
1) In the B section Judas is referred to as "der verlorne Sohn". Isn't it a little strange that Judas is referring to himself in the third person?
2) Judas - as all characters in the Passion - is in Choir I, but the aria is given to the bass in Choir II. It wouldn't surprise me if Bach has done so deliberately to prevent any association between the aria and Judas.

Uri Golomb wrote (July 13, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < This circumstance makes it a little doubtful whether it is really one of the characters - Judas in this case - who is speaking here. >
I never claimed it was Judas; and in fact, I shouldn't have attributed that claim to myself at all -- my apologies for that. Though I didn't realise it at the time, I was actually repeating a claim I encountered in Spitta's analysis of the St. Matthew Passion. So, to redress my failure to make a proper citation, here is Spitta's own text (Johann Sebstain Bach, vol. II, pp. 558-559):

"A critical note is, however, demanded by the bass aria 'Give, O give me back my Lord.' It comes in after Judas has restored the 'price of blood' to the Chief Priests and testified that Jesus was innocent, and the words express the desire that Jesus should be set free, since even a Judas must acknowledge His innocence. Now, all the other madrigal texts express sentiments and reflections which, it is true, are connected with certain crises of the history of the Passion, but still contain permanent truths of Christianity. This one alone is not the utterance of a member of the Christian communion -- who has not lost Christ through His captivity and death but who, on the contrary, ahs not till now truly found Him -- it is that of a person who has stood by during the events recorded; a disciple perhaps or some other follower of Jesus. The influence of the dramatised oratorio [by this I assume Spitta is referring to libretti like the Brockes Passion] is here perceptible, and not quite satisfactory. The hearer is obliged to change his point of view; in the other arias it is based on the general facts and bearing of the work of redemption; here, on the contrary, it is limited to the feeling aroused by the immediate incident."

Of course, just because Spitta says so, doesn't make it true -- but I think there is some pertinence in his analysis. Actually, you could arguably use some of the same words (especially "the point of view [....] is limited to the feeling aroused by the immediate incident.") to the duet-and-chorus "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen/Sind Blitzen, sind Donner" towards the end of Part One (no. 27). In fact, Jesus' words a bit later (when he states that he could have asked his father to send angels to defend him -- but then how would the scriptures be fulfilled?) could be seen as an answer to the chorus's question in "Sind Biltzen, sind Donner" (which asks why the forces of nature are silent, and do not punish the perptrators). John Butt has said (in a lecture -- I do not have a published source for this) that the vehement anger in no. 27 portrays a natural reaction from the believers as they hear and re-live the story -- but a reaction which ultimately needs to be purged in favour of the more appropriate response: the recognition that it is humanity's (and Christianity's) own sins that condemned Christ. Ultimately, this realisation is the message of Bach's Passion -- but he allows temporary expression of natural anger, and of the understandable if ultimately misguided attepmt to change the course of the story (the choir cries "Bind him not" -- though, if Jesus were to be released, he wouldn't have fulfilled his mission). I hope I am not distorting his message, which, as I said, relies on my recollection of oof his lectures. Anyway, perhaps "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder" fills a similar role.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 17, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Two performances of the bass aria 'Gebt mir meinem Jesum' that I find somewhat rushed are Rilling/Huttenlocher, and McCreesh - you can hear a sample of this latter recording at www.amazon.de

Most enjoyable are DFD/Richter and Berry/Karajan.

I'm having difficulty with the translation of the text of this aria.

Starting with a literal translation:

"Give me my Jesus again!
See, the money, the murder-reward,
Throw you the lost son
To the feet down."

Possible meaning:

The spokesman for the observers of the passion (ie, us) is urging 'us' to throw the 30 pieces of silver under Judas' feet.

It seems this text has presented some difficulty, judging from the various other interpretations, eg, that Judas is himself speaking.

Both McCreesh and Karajan give very moving, if different performances of the 'Aus liebe' soprano aria (the former with a more 'detached' style of articulation of the oboe parts).

I agree with John that the accompanied recitatives that immediately precede the associated arias are very attractive. (They almost sound like arias themselves).

However, I note that by this stage of the Passion, I am usually becoming tired of the secco-style narrative recitatives, especially when listening to multiple recordings in succession. Karajan (like most I suppose) has quiet, short, accompanying organ chords that become tedious. The CD remote comes in handy.

And listening to the McCreesh samples, the early secco recitatives at the beginning of the Passion are likewise boring, but he does bring more drama to to some of the 'seccos' later on, with a a variety of registrations on a larger (ie not a chamber) organ.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 17, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< The bass aria 'Gebt mir meinem Jesum'
I'm having difficulty with the translation of the text of this aria.
Starting with a literal translation:

"Give me my Jesus again!
See, the money, the murder-reward,
Throw you the lost son
To the feet down." >
Why do you translate the third line as an imperative?
"Wirft" is present tense, and the subject of the sentence is "der verlorne Sohn", the lost son = Judas.
A more correct translation would be:
"See, the lost son throws the money, the murder-reward, to your (the priests') feet down".

< Possible meaning:
The spokesman for the observers of the passion (ie, us) is urging 'us' to throw the 30 pieces of silver under Judas' feet.
It seems this text has presented some difficulty, judging from the various other interpretations, eg, that Judas is himself speaking. >
Yes, there is some difficulty to determine who is actually speaking in this aria, but your interpretation seems hardly tenable. Nobody is urging anything (not in the B section, that is). We have here a *description* of what is actually happening: the lost son (Judas) throws the 30 pieces of silver under the feet of 'euch' (you, plural) = the priests in the temple. The 'speaker' asks the priests to give Jesus back, since Jesus was turned in to them by Judas.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 17, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: <A more correct translation would be:
"See, the lost son throws the money, the murder-reward, to your (the priests') feet down".>
Thank you.

"Gebt" and "Seht" are imperative, but "Wirft' is not!

So we have, literally (original order of words):
".... See the money, the murder-reward (object), throws (to) you (dative, plural) the lost son (Judas, subject), at the (ie, the priests', as you say) feet down."

It would have been easier if "euch" was in front of "Fussen"....:-)

BTW, one instance in the Passion where the "unaccompanied" (short chords) method works very well, occurs when the evangelist sings (of Peter) that "he went outside, and wept bitterly" (immediately before the "Erbarme dich" aria). It's a very moving moment (followed as it is, by the sublime aria) in most recordings I have, with the tenors in different recordings bringing as much (quiet) expression as they can, to the words.

Otherwise, I think there is a strong case for much more imagination and variety, in the continuo realisation of the secco (narrative) recitatives, than is usually heard. This most sublime of compositions ought not be marred by any 'tediousness' during its entire length.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 18, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote:
<A more correct translation would be:"See, the lost son throws the money, the murder-reward, to your (the priests') feet down".>
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>Thank you.
"Gebt" and "Seht" are imperative, but "Wirft' is not!
So we have, literally (original order of words):
".... See the money, the murder-reward (object),throws (to) you (dative, plural) the lost son (Judas, subject),at the (ie, the priests', as you say) feet down."
It would have been easier if "euch" was in front of "Fussen"....:-)<<

“Fencing and Rolling Silver Pieces”

Aria Mvt. 42 [Violin solo, strings and basso continuo of the Chorus II group with bass voice solo] in the key of G in 4/4 time; musical form: a ‘free’ da-capo form]

Text:

“Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!
Seht, das Geld, den Mörderlohn,
Wirft euch der verlorne Sohn
Zu den Füßen nieder!
Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!“

What’s wrong with this aria from the SMP? Serious Bach scholars have commented on this aria and have stated that it is one of the most problematical arias among all the musical forms of this Passion. It assumes a unique position because of the difficulties it presents in trying to understand it musically, philologically, theologically and dramatically.

The Textual Aspects:

My translation:

„Give me back my Jesus once again!
[Just] Look! He [the lost son, Judas]

Has thrown down before your [the high priests who had accepted the money] feet the money, which is being used to commit a murder [killing an innocent Jesus as if he were a murderer] Do return Jesus to me! [I want him back again]”

Some grammatical items:

wirft euch der verlorne Sohn” = “Sohn” : subject of this sentence; “wirft” : present tense form of „werfen = to throw“ can be translated into English as a 3rd person singular present perfect tense form even though it appears as a present tense form “he throws/he is throwing;” “euch” = “to/for you” : dative plural pronoun implying the prepositions “in the direction of” or a possible ethical dative “for whose benefit is something being accomplished.” Does the “euch” refer to the High Priests, as indicated in the Gospel text, or can this have a far-fetched expanded interpretation: “to/for you (the listeners, all Christians, all humanity?) The German does not exclude this possibility, only a close, narrow interpretation based upon the actual Gospel text would. However, should we consider this aria part of the narrative or is it, as in most other cases, a more general reflection where the broader interpretation of plural dative ‘you,’ not necessarily addressed to the High Priests, would be in order? [It has been prophesized that this event would happen – even this specific deed, the giving and throwing back of silver coins is being done ‘for your sake’ so that ‘all will be fulfilled’ as promised.]

With these obvious levels of action taking place in the same Passion music, we certainly need to distinguish between the historical narrative of the St. Matthew Gospel and the dramatic performance objectives of Bach’s Passion which resemble also the sermons that were delivered in Bach’s churches in his time.

Using pp. 175-181, the section entitled “Das Ende des Judas” from Emil Platen’s book “Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Matthäus-Passion” [Bärenreiter, 1991, revised edition 1997], a reader will quickly become aware of the struggle that many German commentators have had with this text (and they did not even have to worry about trying to translate it into English!.) These are Bach scholars and even theologians whose acquaintance with the German language is profound: highly educated, native speakers of the language. Most of the information that follows is found in Platen’s book and will help the listener understand bettthe complexity of this seemingly simple, joyful aria.

Where did Henrici [the librettist] get this text? Did he just dream up this text while trying to be imaginatively creative one day? No! Elke Axmacher, in her article “Ein Quellenfund zum Text der Matthäus-Passion” contained in the BJ 64, 1978, pp. 181 ff., discovered that Henrici lifted the first sentence of the aria “Gebt mir [nun] meinen [Herrn] Jesum wieder” from a collection of Passion-tide sermons by Heinrch Müller. The full context is “Er leget die dreyßig Silberlinge dar / wirfft sie den Hohenpriestern vor die Füße und will sagen: Da habt ihr euer Geld / gebt mir nun meinen Herrn wieder.“ [„He presents the 30 silver coins and throws them down before the feet of the High Priests and wants to say to them by doing this „There’s your money. Now give me my Lord/Master back again.”]

The problem in Henrici’s aria text is the shifting perspective from 1st person dative singular “mir” [“to me”] to the 3rd person singular present [historical present] “der Sohn wirft” [the son throws/has thrown.] The imperative forms “Gebt” [“give”] and “Seht” [“look/see”] become ambiguous because of the shifting perspective. Although directed toward the High Priests as a ‘you’ – command, we do not know if the command is intended to be understood as coming from a single individual, the ‘mir-’form, or if we should consider these commands to be spoken or understood to be expressed by all members of the congregation, the listeners, Christianity and/or Mankind at large as they identify with the soloist who is expressing these words.

There is the possibility, although very atypical for Henrici, that a rhetorical, stylistic device of ‘distancing oneself from the subject matter’ is being employed here: the person speaking, the subject, begins to treat himself/herself as an object. A possible model for its use in this context is the fact that Jesus, in the Gospel, repeatedly speaks of himself as “des Menschen Sohn” [“the Son of Man.”] The positioning of this ‘Judas-Aria’ would, however, only really make sense if it had preceded the report of his suicide; that is, it would have to follow immediately the words “Und er warf die Silberlinge in den Tempel” [“and he threw the silver coins into the temple.”] It was Henrici who inserted the section with Pontifex I & II where they consider what to do with the money before the aria, thus placing an emphasis upon interpretation of the silver coins as “Blutgeld” [“blood money”] as seen by the High Priests, but as “Mörderlohn” [“reward money for committing murder”] as interpreted by Christian believers.

Another important point in the text which Bach illustrates musically as well is the fact that the Gospel narrative juxtaposes two different types of sinful acts that everyone can identify with: those committed by both Peter and Judas. Peter’s denial and subsequent strong feelings of repentance stand in stark contrast to Judas’ betrayal accompanied by a strong feeling of remorse.

There has been quite a variety of exegetical interpretations of this aria by Bach scholars, running the gamut from one extreme to another, either ignoring it entirely or creating wildly imaginative speculations as to Bach’s intentions here. Philipp Spitta [Vol. II, p. 389] speaks about it as follows [a rather loose translation follows]:

>>There is no other work by Bach, with perhaps the exception of the Christmas Oratorio, where Bach has presented such a assemblage of beautiful arias of various types as in the SMP. His melodies here are easily comprehensible and persuasive for almost every listener. If, on occasion, an aria did not flow as fully with melody as it normally would, one such contrary example can be found in the tenor aria “Geduld,” then this is due to the nature of the text. The bass aria, “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder,” however forces me to express a critical opinion at this point. The aria is sung right after Judas had returned the money he was paid for betraying Jesus after he had recognized that Jesus was innocent. The text of the aria expresses the request to release Jesus, since even Judas had been forced to recognize Jesus’ innocence. All the rest of the madrigal texts of the SMP contain feelings and contemplations/meditations, which, although they relate to or take as their springboard certain moments of the Passion story, always contain eternal Christian truths. Only in this aria it is not any particular member of the Christian congregation or listener, who would speak this way, but rather one or other of the close disciples who had experienced Jesus’ betrayal personally, knowing who had done this and what the results of this action were. The influence of the dramatic elements in an oratorio appears here in a rather questionable garb. Here the listener is forced to change his/her vantage point to that of a ‘foreign’ feeling tied to and limited to a singular event, but in all the other arias there is a more generalized contemplation of the significance of deed of salvation for all mankind.<<

Some commentators, in attempting to resolve the contradictions within the text of the aria have even attempted to attribute this aria to Peter’s thoughts and actions. The most bizarre interpretation which involved an extensive explanation is that of Alfred Heuss [“Johann Sebastian Bachs Matthäuspassion” Leipzig, 1909 – reprinted in 1982], according to whom we have before us ‘a courageous disciple’ who wishes to force the return of Jesus by appearing with a challenging expression/attitude that implies the willingness to make use of physically forceful means to attain his end. For Heuss this aria is a ‘duel scene’ with momentary exhibitions of warlike preparations and violent reactions. While referring in his discussion to “Don Giovanni” among other things, Heuss describes the performance of the aria as follows: “The violinist, who played this part for Bach’s performances, was certainly a student who was quite adept at fencing and for whom this aria gave an opportunity to display his skill at fencing on the violin as well.” [Listen for the sweeping 32-nd notes!]

Musical Interpretations

The latter example already led into the interpretations of Bach’s possible intentions with this aria. More seriously, however, Platen and Eric Chafe point out the ‘mirror-imaging’ that takes place musically to underline the contrast between episodes with Peter and Judas outlined above in the text as it emanates from the biblical narrative.

To a certain degree, the sections that treat the secondary figures/characters Peter and Judas [mvts. 38a – 42 and 41a – 43,1] are mirror images of each other with a short turba section surrounded by ‘dramatized’ recitatives in each one. [Specifically Platen enumerates the sections as follows: Peter=38a-38c, 39 + 40, 41a-41c, 42; Judas=41a-41c, Pontifex I,II, 42, 42,1.]

Platen compares and illustrates the types of intervals and harmonies used in both sections to show the similarities which Bach intentionally makes clear through his music as he ‘balances out’ both sections. This involves musical examples which I can not display here.

Both disciples have betrayed Jesus, the actions of both had been previously predicted to happen, and both are sorry for what they have done, but while Peter finds forgiveness (this is confirmed by the appearance of the chorale, mvt. 40), Judas, whose sinful actions are much weightier, is ‘thrown down’ and given no words of comfort (there is no comforting chorale which follows at the end of Judas’ episode.)

Eric Chafe in “Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach” [U. of California Press, 1991] p. 176 ff. concentrates mainly on the notion of movement from key to key [his anabasis/catabasis theory] and comes to the following observations:

>>The preceding scene, narrating Peter’s denial and repentance and Judas’s remorse and suicide, is in sharps. The narrative of Peter’s denial and repentance had moved from the flats of the preceding scene to A major, culminating with a chorale, just as it does at the close of Part One in the SJP. Bach then reverses the modulatory direction for Judas’s story. “Was gehet uns das an” is in E and “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder” is not a truly meditative aria, the necessary theological perspective is lacking. Although the G major tonality and 1st mvt. concerto style of “Gebt mir” may seem optimistic, especially after the deeply felt expression of repentance in “Erbarme dich,” the affect intended was undoubtedly a deliberate shallowness, a superficial brightness, like the traditional interpretation of the violin roulades as the rolling silver pieces. “Gebt mir” is another of those mvts., like “So ist mein Jesus,” in which faulty meditation is introduced. It attempts to recreate the narrative dramatically without, as it appears, a subsequent mvt. to restore the theological perspective. Following the aria Bach turned to flats for the subsequent narrative of the buying of the Potter’s Field with the blood money, beginning with the word “Blutacker.” He then cadenced in C minor for the end of the scene proper (“als mir der Herr befohlen hat.”)<<

Footnote on p. 412: >>It may be noted that the turn downward from Judas’s plotting to the prediction of his betrayal is paralleled in the Peter/Judas scene by the move to flats for the buying of the Potter’s Field that ultimately leads to C minor. Besides the two arias of the Peter/Judas scene the only aria of the Passion lacking a prefatory arioso is “Blute nur, du liebes Herz,” undoubtedly because of its association with Judas.<<

p. 421: >>Many performances of “Erbarm es, Gott” pass over this great tonal event in favor of emphasizing the dotted rhythm that supposedly represents the scourging. This kind of performance is testimony to our loss of the sense of tonal allegory along with the religious as opposed to purely dramatic motivation for such outstanding musical events. In fact, the dotted rhythm itself is transformed at the end of this mvt., so that no hint of aggrewwive character is retained when it reappears in the aria that follows, “Können Tränen.” Dotted rhythms remain a conspicuous presence throughout the next aria, “Komm, süßes Kreuz,” where they combine with the viola da gamba sound and the allemande style to suggest something of a French character after the trial. This detail was quite possibly intended as a counterpart to the pre-trial intensity of the Italian concerto style in “Erbarme dich” and “Geb mir meinen Jesum wieder,” a stilling of “Gewissensangst” [“pangs of conscience, anxiety.”]<<

Footnote: “Bach’s early planning of the SMP might have included the idea of a French/Italian juxtaposition of arias in flats and sharps similar to that between the Italian Concerto (F major) and the French Overture (B minor) from ‘Clavierübung II.” Because in Agricola’s incomplete score of the Passion only the arias “Erbarme dich,” “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder,” and “Komm, süßes Kreuz” appear, attention is drawn to their instrumental characters and national style models, suggesting that some relationship lies behind their selection. The trial is, in fact, framed by two scenes – one in sharps, the other in flats – each of which contains two arias: “Erbarme dich” and “Gebt mir” are Italian-style concerto mvts. and “Können Tränen” and “Komm, süßes Kreuz” both exhibit prominent dotted rhythms.

Alfred Dürr, in the NBA KB II/5 p. 112, points to numerous details that reveal this aria to have a musical form that is the most problematical of all the forms used in the Passion, but more importantly, it appears from the evidence given that the music and the text were originally independent of each other, thus implying a parody for which the original composition is missing. Dürr comments specifically that the aria lacks the typical contrasting B-section and that the text is already completely presented within ms. 13-27. What follows are only text repetitions whereby it is noteworthy that the musical correspondences of ms. 39ff. and 49ff. are given different texts. [Simply compare this aria with a similar one by Bach: BWV 121/4 , a beautiful, joyful, highly melodic and rhythmic bass aria with strings and bc accompaniment (C Major). It also has jumping intervals, a concerto-like sound and structure with a da capo repeat of the 1st section (the normal ABA structure.) Like the “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder” it also begins with a single sentence that is repeated in the da capo section: “Johannis freudenvolles Springen / Erkannte dich, mein Jesu, schon.” (“The joyful jumping of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb already recognized you, my Jesus”) Here the music fits the text like a glove in Bach’s inimitable manner. This is not true if you listen to and study the corrupted form of the Passion aria carefully. It is not the case that Bach had to adhere strictly to the da capo aria form without trying out certain innovations from time to time. The music is great and Bach most certainly was aware of this, but its ‘fit’ with the text and the purpose it is supposed to serve within the Passion are rather questionable in the least.]

To conclude this discussion, here is a final paraphrase of Platen’s conclusion:

Putting aside the questions that have been raised about the aria’s origin and the proper interpretation of the text, what can be stated about this aria since it has assumed a position as an authentic part of the SMP despite all the qualifications that have been expressed? Its dramatic significance derives from its reiteration of musical elements in the Peter-aria whereby it seeks to create by comparison a clearer profile/characterization of these counterparts (Peter & Judas) among the disciples. Both arias have the same orchestration (solo violin & string orchestra), but with their basic ‘affects’ being diametrically opposed to each other: the alto aria expresses strongly the tears of regret, for which the corresponding key of B-minor, the emphatic motifs and the general character of the mvt. is similar to the siciliano middle mvt. of the keyboard concerto in E-Major, BWV 1053. On the other hand, the bass aria, in contrast, should be interpreted more as ‘hopeless despair.’ This can
be explained/illustrated by the motor-like unrest created by the violin arpeggios, the hectic explosions of 32nd-note, scale-like runs, the continual change of direction in the melodic elements and the repeated instances where the solo violin part breaks off suddenly (ms. 19, 25, 35, 46, and 51.)

The aria also takes on a special position within the drama of the Passion: it has no function as a concluding, dividing element between scenes, since, after its appearance, there still appear the reports about the purchase of the “Blutacker” [“Blood-acre” = ‘Potter’s Field’] and Jeremiah’s prophecy. At that point in the biblical narrative there is a gap, a change of scene, which Bach does not really acknowledge in the composition of the recitative. It would make a lot of sense, however to have a slight pause at this point [ms. 16 of mvt. 43] in the Passion before beginning the next measure sung by the evangelist.

Summary thoughts (mainly questions):

Did Bach really, on purpose, mutilate this aria or allow it to appear in this adulterated form because it was to demonstrate on a musical level what this section on Judas’ behavior was all about? Bach cut the ‘da capo’ section radically. Is this a musical pun illustrating that Judas lost his ‘head’ by hanging himself? Is this happy, Italian-concerto-like mvt. to be construed as a ‘superficially happy’ meditation that forces others to defend themselves from the aggressive motions that this music causes? Is the attempt to intervene to halt Jesus’ sufferings a highly questionable (‘faulty’) form of meditation (as one expressly condemned by Luther in “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion” as Eric Chafe indicates?) Is this the reason why this aria appears in the guise of being very appealing to the ear and engaging to the point of promoting active participation by the audience, but that this guise, under closer observation, reveals the many faults that are contained within, faults which
should remind a listener or member of the congregation that all is not as it may seem on the surface? Did Bach really have to struggle to make this aria fit the teand hope that not too many listeners would notice this (bearing in mind that they did not follow along with a score in hand, nor were they able to hear this aria more than just a few times over the course of a few decades)? Did Bach create “a deliberate shallowness” and “a superficial brightness” as Chafe contends or was the text entirely at fault here as indicated by Spitta?

These, and many other questions, are being left to reader of these lines to ponder and possibly also provide some additional insights to what really is going on here in this aria.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 18, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for your interesting contribution concerning 'Gebt mir'.

I have subsequently adopted this interpretation of the aria:

The vocalist represents an observer of the Passion in present time - an obsever who may be any one of us - who enters into the scene at this point in the SMP's narrative in his mind's eye - a scene that occured two thousand years ago; and demands of the priests - who have just now received back their "blood" money (thrown at their feet by a despairing Judas, recently deceased), that they in return give back his (the vocalist's, and hence our) Jesus.

This makes sense, musically: the vocalist is imagining the exhiliration, joy, and confidence of being able to rightly demand of the priests that they give back Jesus - because at this point of time in the narrative, they have their money, and Jesus is still alive.

For those who notice the wistful element lurking in the otherwise exhilirating and joyful music, in the form of the 'cycle of fifths' modulations, and other harmonies, occurring in those striking wide-interval solo violin figures, we can take this as expressing the regret of the vocalist, who is aware that he cannot in reality ever become an actor in that momentous scene that occurred so long ago; or perhaps the urgency of the (imagined) negotiations with the priests is expressed through a 'nervous edge' that exists in the music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 19, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] That’s an interesting way of interpreting this aria and certainly is based upon an accurate knowledge of the text and the music. An interpretation such as yours is certainly better than avoiding the problematical issues completely and simply performing/listening to this aria as one of Bach’s ‘great’ arias and leaving it as that without any thought about its origin and possible purpose.

Here are some other interpretations and expansions on what has already been presented:

From Schweitzer’s “J. S. Bach” 2-vol. reprint by Dover (translation by Ernest Newman) volume II, p. 5-6:

>>…for one had only to read through 5 or 6 volumes of the cantatas to be struck, more than happens in the case of any other music, by certain recurring singularities, inner affinities, variants of the same theme, and some inexplicable bizarreries. What an enigma is offered us by the themes of the SMP alone! Think of the joyous writing in Judah’s air of contrition, “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder” (“Give me my dear Lord beloved”)…in short of all the things that surprise the musician the more he studies the work, that become, to his sorrow, more and more inexplicable to him, and which he does not know how to perform, for the meaning of them is unknown to him, until he guesses that this music is not self-existent, but has sprung from some strong external force, that will not obey the laws of harmonious thematic structure.<<

Vol II, p. 227:

>>The aria “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder“ (“Give me back my Lord beloved”) affords us almost the best proof of how bent Bach is on reproducing in his music whatever the eye sees and the ear hears. The joyous music (G major) has apparently nothing to do with the reflections upon Judas’ betrayal. Bach, however, has really derived it from his text. He fastens on the words: “Seht das Geld, den Mörderlohn, wirft euch der verlorne Sohn zu den Füßen nieder!“ („Lo, the price for murder paid, now in guilty tribute laid“.) In accordance with this he first of all writes a rapid ascending figure that suggests the entry of Judas and the motion of the hand with which he throws away the money, and then the rolling and clinking of the silver on the stone floor of the temple. Thus this theme also is a bipartite one. In estimating the first motive we must not forget that in the aria “Kein’ Frucht das Weizenkörnlein bringt, es fall denn in die Erde” (“The wheat brings forth no fruit, let it fall then to the earth”) in the cantata “Ach lieben Christen seid getrost (BWV 114), Bach represents the motion of the sower’s arm. In performance Bach’s own phrasing should be noted and the music accented in accordance with it. When once the meaning of the music has been grasped, performers will not attempt to give the orchestral accompaniment an elegiac tinge by playing it tenderly and sentimentally; they will play it with the freshness and naturalness that belong to it, bringing out the ‘staccati’ and the intermediary scale passages.<<

Vol. II, p. 389

>>Other movements in which the transition from ‘legato’ to ‘staccato’ can be studied are the arias “Blute nur, du liebes Herz” and “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder,” in the SMP.<<

Vol. II, p. 399

>>For the first period of the theme of the aria “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder” we should disregard the 4/4 metre, and accent thus – [example given]. The second period should be played on analogous lines. Bach’s desire to have the second and fourth beats accented throughout is clearly shown by his ties, and by the way in which he makes the other instruments accompany the solo violin.<<

Aryeh may already have given this (I have not checked back in the messages to find out):

W. Murray Young in “The Sacred Dramas of J. S. Bach” [McFarland, 1994] p. 58

>>The actor for this da capo aria must be one of the disciples who has witnessed Judas’s remorse, and who is now addressing the high priests. Note the step motif in the rhythm which seems to produce a march tempo, thus painting a tone picture of marching Jesus away.<<

Once again Alfred Dürr from his comments in the NBA KB II/5 p. 112:

This is included under the section “On the Questions Regarding Possible Parodies”:

>>As already explained in the section giving observations on the matter of text, it can not be determined with absolute certainty whether mvts. 5, 8, 13, 20, 23, 39, 49, 57, 65, and 68, which also appear in the “Köthener Trauermusik,” are originals or parodies. The same is true for those arias and choruses not appearing in the ‘Trauermusik,’ which (those arias and choruses just referred to) also do not have to be of necessity compositions which originated with or are based upon the text of the SMP. Involved in this group are mvts. 1, 27, 30, 35, 42, 52, and 60, out of which group possibly mvts. 1, 27, and 30 can be excluded since these are movements where it is highly unlikely that they could be used elsewhere with a different text underlay. The situation is quite different with mvts. 35 (“Geduld,”) 42 (“Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder,”) and 52 (“Können Tränen meiner Wangen.“) Just as little as one might be able to prove that they are real parodies, likewise can any counterevidence be given which would prove that they are truly original compositions connected for the first time with Picander’s SMP text. In particular, mvt. 42 [“Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder”] even seems to offer some more concrete indications that this music already existed in a previous form. The first thing that can be noticed is that the aria lacks a relatively contrasting B-section and that the entire text is already presented within ms. 13-27. The following vocal sections only contain repetitions of this text, during which it becomes obvious that the musical correspondences beginning with ms. 37 ff. and 49 ff. have varying text underlays. In addition, one should note the differences in the text underlays (ms. 15-16, 42-44, 46-48) between the early and late versions of the SMP. From this it becomes clear that Bach was not at all satisfied with the placement of the text [“he had not yet found an optimal solution for text placement.”] Even ithe late version of the SMP, you can still find passages such as the one from ms. 42-48: “gebt mir meinen Jesum, meinen Jesum, gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder, meinen Jesum gebt mir wieder” [I think Mattheson would have soundly chastised Bach for this type of word placement – if I can find the Mattheson passage, I will pass it on.] All these things and more arouse doubts about this music belonging with this text [that the music was composed specifically for this text.] An objective observer will also begin to doubt whether Bach has sufficiently fulfilled the requirements demanded by Baroque compositional method books which spell out the proper relationships between words and music. Even if the solo violin might awaken in some listeners the sounds of the silver coins rolling along the floor of the temple, the general statement of the thematic material with its clear cadences nevertheless gives the rather apparent impression of an affirmative expression, and certainly not that of despair, so that it becomes quite difficult to imagine this as a picture (musical imagination) that is supposed to illustrate and point out a regretful Judas who is demanding the return of Jesus who has been condemned to death.

It is also possible that such mvts. as those used in the ‘Trauermusik’ may be of an even earlier origin – mvt. 65 could possibly belong to this group of parodies of parodies, which in Bach’s oeuvre is not at all a rarity as one might think.

John Pike wrote (July 19, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I think the "speaker" here is any disciple/follower of Jesus...he is representative of anyone observing the drama....the spokesperson on behalf of the faithful congregation. By using this wording, Bach throws the observer right into the heart of the drama, witnessing first hand the unfolding events.


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 20, 2004 ý08:01:46