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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

Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 6: Mvts. 51-57



Discussions in the Week of July 11, 2004

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 17, 2004):
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 6: Mvts. 51-57 - Introduction

According to the planned ‘Order of Discussion’ for 2004, the topic for this week’s discussion (July 11, 2004) is Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Scene 6: Mvts. 51-57. 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 are:

Mvt. 51-52 [60-61] Recitative & Aria [Alt]: “Erbarm es Gott!” & “Können Tränen meiner Wangen
Recitative: There is a motif of falling in the rhythm to represent the blows of the surge, which Bach continues into her following aria. Since this alto is from Chorus 2, the Believers, we can assume that she is one of the faithful band who followed Jesus during his ordeal.
Aria: Despite the sustained pathos evoked by the grief motif throughout this aria, the Siciliano rhythm lends an atmosphere of beauty to this sadness.

Mvt. 54 [63] Chorale: “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
This is the 4th time the ‘Passion Chorale’ tune has been heard in the play as its leitmotif, about two centuries before Richard Wagner used the leitmotif to similar effect in his operas. Now the trial scene closes with verses 1 & 2 of Paul Gerhardt hymn “O Sacred head now wounded”.

Mvt. 56-57 [65-66] Recitative & Aria [Bass] “Ja freilich will in uns das Fleisch und Blut” & “Komm, süßes Kreuz, so will ich sagen
Recitative: The flutes describe a stumbling step to indicate Simon’s stumbling movement along the road to Calvary. The actor here and in the following aria is Simeon of Cyrene, but it seems that his words represent the feelings of all spectators of this drama, either in the crowd on in the present congregation.
Aria: The viola da gamba gives this da-capo movement a peculiar grief motif throughout. It is like a prayer to the Lord, asking for His help to sustain us as we bear our own cross. This aria and the preceding recitative seem like miniature sermons on the imitation of Christ in His suffering.

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

Neil Halliday wrote (July 20, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] The recitative that opens this section is very effective: at a pictorial level, as Young suggests in his book, the "motif of falling" represents the blows of the scourging; and at a metaphorical level, the incessant dotted rhythm might be said to express the hardness of Jesus' tormentors' hearts, which is referred to in the text. (Of course, Bach is capable of making such a figure express pratically anything, but it is very effective in this context).

Another striking simile (and the SMP's text is full of these, of course) is the comparison of accusers' hearts with the hardness of "a matyr's pillar". (BTW, the booklet with Klemperer's recording has an excellent, near literal translation of the text; some of the other translations I have seen, are useless as far as an accurate rendition of the text is concerned).

The following aria "If the tears on my cheeks can achieve nothing", presents the striking image of a faithful follower (any of us, as usual) offering up his/her heart as a sacrificial cup to receive the blood gently flowing from Jesus' wounds.

The orchestration of this aria is relatively austere (unison strings and continuo), and so, to an extent, the success of the aria depends on the characteristics of the singer; for this reason I enjoy McCreesh's version with alto Susan Bickly - despite the "pointed" HIP articulation of the orchestra - more than the versions from Richter/Toepper and Munchinger Hoeffgen, both of which singers have strident, distracting vibratos. Bickly's albeit light voice has a fresh boyish charm which matches the orchestra, allowing the emotion of the aria to be experienced without distraction (by intrusive vocal vibrato).

Klemperer and Karajan are fortunate to be graced with Christa Ludwig, who magically makes the length their over 9 minute long versions a non-issue, especially with Klemperer, whose orchestration at the start before her entrance, is somewhat ponderous.

In the next narrative section, McCreesh's large church organ plays dramatic, loud chords at the words "And they spat on him"; this is reminiscent of the way Richter treated the organ in his secco recitatives, and is much more effective than the quiet little chords we hear from most conductors (eg Munchinger), at this point in the narrative.

The Passion Chorale strikingly contrasts Jesus' present (at this point in the narrative) lowly and pitiful condition with the Being who will in due course come to judge the entire world.

The accompanied recitative and aria which conclude this section (according to Aryeh's design) are reflections and comments on the Cross as a symbol of salvation: recit."Gladly is the flesh compelled to the Cross (but) the more it benefits our souls, the more bitter is the experience" and aria "Come sweet Cross...if my pain is too heavy, Jesus will help me carry it".

I personally think those musical interpretations which seek to emphasize the pain, with an 'ugly' or 'unlistenable' presentation of this aria (as was discussed some time ago on this board, are misguided. This is another instance, IMO, (along with 'Gebt mir') where Bach takes the opportunity to offer some 'relief' to the listener from the unrelenting grimness of the story as it progresses -in this instance, emphasizing the 'sweetness' of the Cross and its promise of eternal salvation.

(With the 'Gebt mir' aria, IMO, Bach's purpose is to remind the listener that despite the grief of the unfolding story, eternal joy is an unshakable constant).

In any case, Richter/DFD especially, Karajan/Berry and Munchinger/Krause give marvelously relaxing, flowing and expansive performances of this aria. In particular, DFD (in 1959) is sublime, and Richter's v.d.gamba is sweetly timbred; this is where Klemperer's recording fails to please, in that the gamba has an unattractive, dark timbre, and the continually detached notes make for a somewhat plodding reading of the score.

McCreesh also has a very pleasing molto adagio reading (proving he is capable of a slow tempo!) with a sensitive treatment of the v.d.gamba, and fine singing from a large-voiced - is it Harvey or Loges?

John Pike wrote (July 20, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I have been thinking about some of the comments made about the aria "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!" and the joyous nature of the music. I was reminded of an aria for discussion next week:
"Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand,
Uns zu fassen, ausgespannt,
Kommt! - Wohin? - in Jesu Armen

I used to think as a child that there was something inappropriate about the almost jocular rhythms and melody in this aria as well (actually one of my favourites in the Passion), just as I wondered about why we call it "Good" Friday in England. For the believer, the idea of being in Jesus' bosom is a joyous one, and the thought of his one time perfect sacrifice for the redemption of sins is also a cause for celebration, even as he is actually hanging there in agony on the cross. Maybe the "joyous" music in "Gebt mir" is anticipating actually having Jesus back at the resurrection and at the end time when the believer can, indeed, be with him once again or, in the congregation's case, for the first time...that is truly something for the believer to look forward to with the very greatest joy.

When the former Archbishop of Westminster, Dardinal Basil Hume was diagnosed as suffering from terminal cancer, most of his friends expressed their sadness, but the comment that moved him the most was a friend who remarked "Oh, Good, you'll be going to meet Jesus".

In Bach's time, when premature death was such a common occurrence, and one all too familiar to Bach himself from earliest childhood, the thought of the deceased going to be with Jesus can have been the only consolation.

Jeremy Martin wrote (July 20, 2004):
[To John Pike] I would say the Joy one hears in "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!" makperfect sense.

Judas cries "Give me my Jesus back!" in that time he was seeing all that Jesus was. The Love, the Glory, The Messiah and he could not stop the full force of what he was seeing and he cries out in the midst of this overflowing revelation that he betrayed a innocent man -- Jesus. His mind fills with flashbacks of Jesus and all His love and he cries "Give me my Jesus back!" He could not face the fact that he was the cause for his death so he hangs himself. When sin and holiness meet there is a conflict and this revelation was to much for Judas. The Joy we hear is what Judas is seeing in Jesus who he betrayed. In measures 7-12 it's as if Judas' cry is being shaped by the seieng of this truth the way the violin plays reminds me of one crying and shaking. Bach was the master of putting expressed emotions into musical form.

Can you imagine sending the Joy in this song to the Cross? Judas couldn't deal with it.

SMP 1736 score

John Pike wrote (July 20, 2004):
Clarification for David about the score of the SMP. This is taken from the Joshua Rifkin article on the BC web site:
"The 1736 autograph of the St. Matthew Passion is one of the most beautiful manuscripts that any composer has left us. As the noted Bach scholar Alfred Dürr has pointed out, the visual perfection of this score testifies to Bach's awareness of the special position held by the Passion among his works."

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 20, 2004):
[To John Pike] This is certainly an overstatement on Rifkin's part, just as there are generalizations about Bach's use of red ink only for the words actually quoted from the Bible. Alfred Dürr, on pp. 24-25 of NBA KB II/5 indicates such things as:

1) the black ink generally has turned dark brown

2) the red ink is not used for the turba choir texts

3) the chorale melody for the 1st mvt. is in red ink

4) the text indication marking for mvt. 15 and the reference pointing to mvt. 17 are red

5) a parenthesis after the word "Barrabam" in mvt. 45a ms. 30b is in red

6) the use of tablature to make clear an unclear reading of the score

7) erasures needed to make clear the musical notes (often the use of a rastral causes extra ink spots to occur (these could be mistaken for notes)

8) ink spots not erased because they do not affect the reading of the score

9) corrections on this 'visually perfect score' made by Bach number over 600! all them enumerated in detail in the NBA KB (This does not include corrections and additions made to the score which were not made by Bach personally (some remain doubtful, others were markings made by the copyists, etc.)

On the surface this is a relatively clean copy of the score where Bach is copying from an earlier score.

"Visual perfection" is certainly an exaggerated term. Perhaps we can say that Bach was somewhat more careful than usual with the SMP, based upon the concern he showed with making all the additional corrections and undertaking personally a subsequent restoration of the score (it seems the original size of the sheets had to be cut down - the reason for this is not known. Perhaps there was considerable wear and tear to the edges even during Bach's lifetime?)

John Pike wrote (July 21, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] This may all be true but the point I particularly wanted to make is that the score does indeed date from 1736 and not 1742 as David has suggested. David said that (quoting from the notes to the Rilling recording) the score was from 1742 and that only the parts for the 1736 performance remain. Which year do the extant parts date from? What material from 1742 still remains?

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 21, 2004):
[To John Pike] If your goal was to correct the date, why include rather questionable information about the physical 'visually perfect' state of the autograph from 1736?

According to Alfred Dürr (NBA KB II/5 pp. 115-116), the autograph score of the later, 2-choirs, 2-orchestras version of the SMP was completed "mit größter Wahrscheinlichkeit" ["with the greatest probability"] in 1736. Based upon Bach's own recutting (cutting off the frayed/worn edges of this score), scholars like Dürr assume that this score suffered from wear and use during the remainder of Bach's lifetime. Perhaps some of the 600+ corrections that Bach made to the score derive from later performances.

One such late performance in 1742 presented Bach with an entirely new set of performance problems necessitating, among other things, the creation of some new parts: B2, 36, and 40:

B2 = an additional "Soprano in Ripieno" part (an exact copy by copyist 7 of the "Soprano in Ripieno" that Bach himself had copied out for the 1736 performance.

B36 = "Viola da Gamba" part copied by Bach in 1742 (a replacement of the earlier lute part) This was changed musically as well and reflects greater elaboration of the embellishments as well as a more careful, more exact stipulation of the rhythmic structure of these ornaments. [This shows Bach stemming the tide of rubato-like laxness that some performers were probably trying to use in his performances.]

B40 = "Continuo pro Cembalo Chori 2di" completed mainly by copyist 7.

Dürr, in his summary preface to NBA II/5 score, points to the "work-in-progress" aspect of the SMP which Dürr calls "Reihe beträchtlicher Varianten, die teils durch Bachs unermüdliche Weiterarbeit am Werk selbst, teils durch aufführungspraktische Bedingungen einer in die 1740er Jahre zu datierenden Wiederaufführung dieser wohl 1736 entstandenen Werkfassung verursacht sind." ["a series of a considerable {number of} variants, caused in part by Bach's untiring, continuing work on the score itself, in part by conditions caused by {changing} performance practice considerations between a repeat performance that can be dated to the 1740s and those which existed in 1736 when Bach probably/most likely created this {2-choir, 2-orchestra) version of the SMP score."]

The Rilling's notes may refer to 'score' here as a very loose term representing "Werkfassung" ["version."] Certainly this type of careless reference should be avoided just as the one which quotes Rifkin quoting Dürr on the 'visual perfection' of Bach's SMP autograph from 1736, a quote which has the unwanted effect of creating doubts about the credibility of each source.

John Pike wrote (July 21, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you. That seems perfectly clear. I suspect Rifkin was referring to the fact that the score is a beautiful thing to look at, notwithstanding errors/changes etc. I think he is certainly right that the nature of the score shows the high importance Bach attached to the work, out of his vast output.

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
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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