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Early Performances of Bach’s SMP

1748-1759, Germany, Naumburg
In Naumburg, Johann Christoph Altnickol (1720-1759) presumably conducted an early version of the St. Matthew Passion BWV 244b sometime between July 30, 1748 and 1759.

1776, Germany, Leipzig
In March of 1776, Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798) [studied at the University of Leipzig, later became court organist in Bonn in 1782{connection to Beethoven as his teacher who gave him a copy of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier which the eleven-year-old Beethoven could play completely}] wrote to the poet Schubart: “Next Sunday a passion by Bach will be performed in the main church [of Leipzig].”

1780s, Germany, Leipzig
Johann Friedrich Rochlitz (1769-1842) claims to have participated in performances of three (different?) passions by Bach under the direction of the Thomaskantor Johann Friedrich Doles (1715-1797) who held this post from 1755-1789. [In both of these reports it is not clear that Bach’s SMP was among the Bach passions performed, but the possibility that it was cannot be excluded.]
Farlau's SMP copy (c.1756) was one of three presumed Bach Passions performed in Leipzig by Kantor Friedrich Doles, as recalled later by student Johann Friedrich Rochlitz. The other two "Bach" Passions in Doles' possession were copies of the apocryphal St. Luke Passion, BWV 246, and the Passion oratorio, "Jesu, deine Passion," later attributed to Weimar capellmeister Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735-1792).
[Andreas Glöckner in the NBA KB II/5b, p. 25, states:

“It is most likely that the Farlau copy (Frühfassung) of Bach’s SMP (BWV 244b) was already in possession of Johann Philipp Kirnberger [who had been residing in Berlin since 1758 until his death in 1783] and was not available in Leipzig for a performance [under Doles]. The obvious assumption that Doles had already performed Bach’s passions before 1779 is not really contradicted by this fact alone. Johann Friedrich Doles was officially installed as the Cantor at St. Thomas on Janurary, 1756. Farlau began his studies at Jena University the same year. Based upon this background, it is conceivable that Farlau prepared his copy of the SMP Frühfassung while still in Naumburg and possibly was even commissioned by Doles to do this in preparation of the passion music for Good Friday, 1756. In any case, it was Doles’ intention provide his own large-scale passion music on Good Friday, 1756. For this purpose he had requested a copy of suitable poetry commissioned from Freiherr von Cornegk. Unfortunately Doles had to abandon this project because the libretto could not be supplied in time. We do not know whether this plan was nevertheless carried out subsequently in Doles’ later years.
What can be documented is that Doles had in his possession two passions which had been wrongly ascribed to Johann Sebastian Bach: the score of the apocryphal St. Luke Passion (BWV 246) and the set of parts for the Passion Oratorio Jesu, deine Passion which had been copied by the subsequent Weimar Capellmeister, Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735-1792). The Leipzig publisher, Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf, had a score made from these parts because he was unable to obtain from Bach’s Leipzig heirs a copy of the score (P 1017). Possibly these heirs still had in their possession a score of Bach’s SMP, possibly even the autograph Frühfassung, which may have been available for the Altnickol student, Farlau, as his source. It should also not be forgotten just how many cantor widows found it necessary to rent out or sell musical manuscripts in order to provide for the main part of their existence.”]

1773-1789 (performances during Holy Week, Germany, Hamburg
1777, Germany, Hamburg
1781, Germany, Hamburg
1785, Germany, Hamburg
1789, Germany, Hamburg

C.P.E. Bach performed a Pastiche/Pasticcio Passion According to St. Matthew which included some of the following mvts. from J. S. Bach’s SMP along with his own compositions and those of other composers. The contents varied from performance to performance, but the following mvts. from J. S. Bach’s SMP were included at one time or another during Holy Week in the years listed above.
“O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß”
“Befiehl du deine Wege”
“Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden”
Choral mvts.
Chorus: “Wahrlich, du bist auch einer von denen”
Chorus: “Laß ihn kreuzigen”
Chorus: “Gegrüßet seist du, Jüdenkönig”
Chorus: “Der du den Tempel Gottes zerbrichst”
Chorus: “Andern hat er geholfen”
Chorus: “Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen”
Chorus: “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder”
*see footnote at the end (an excerpt from Ulrich Leisinger’s article on C.P.E. Bach in the Grove Music Online)

1829, March 11, Germany, Berlin
The circumstances and details surrounding this monumental rebirth of Bach’s SMP (with a number of changes to the original score) have been covered elsewhere on the BCW. The key figures involved were Felix Mendelssohn, his friend Eduard Devrient and Karl Friedrich Zelter who led the Berlin Sing-Akademie where other sacred works by Bach were being performed in a secular setting. This public concert was in competition with other concerts with stiff competition coming from Paganini’s first concert appearance in Berlin on the same date. Fortunately with help from Adolph Bernhard Marx, who was the editor of the Berlin Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung and who published a glowing report several weeks earlier in this newspaper stating: “An important and fortunate occasion awaits the musical world, particularly Berlin: during the first days of March Mr. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy will conduct for the first time in almost one hundred years Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passion Music According to the Evangelist Matthew. This largest and most sacred composition by the great composer will be brought back to life from its long seclusion and be a great celebration of religion and musical art.” With this the expectations of the educated class of citizens had been sufficiently aroused. Among the illustrious guests at Mendelssohn’s first performance of the SMP were King Friedrich Wilhelm III and his entourage as well as the educated elite of Berlin like Droysen, Hegel, Heine, Schleiermacher and Rahel Varnhagen. In consideration of the audience who would not be accustomed to listening to a concert which was longer than usual, the SMP was cut to make it last half as long as the full version would. Of the 23 contemplative solo inserts, only 16 were kept and the chorales were reduced from 15 to only 6. The total number of singers in the choir was about 150 to which 7 soloists were added for the solo parts.
Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen, in his report to the Sing-Akademie, stated: “The concert was successful, the effect upon the listeners profound, and the cash proceeds significant.” The latter were donated entirely to a charity for neglected children.
In Berlin, Mendelssohn conducted the first two performances of the SMP and Zelter was responsible for the third. The second performance was on March 21 (Bach’s birthday).

May 2, 1829, Germany, Frankfurt am Main
Johann Nepomuk Schelble, with the Cecilia Singing Society which he had founded in 1818, performed Bach’s SMP on this , not long after Mendelssohn’s first performance in Berlin.

1830, Germany, Breslau
Johann Theodor Mosewius conducted the SMP and also gave performances of several cantatas during this year.

1831, Germany, Stettin
Carl Loewe conducted the SMP in Stettin.

1832, Germany, Königsberg
Karl Heinrich Sämann conducted the SMP in Königsberg.

1832, Germany, Kassel
Louis Spohr gave the first performance of Bach’s SMP in Kassel on October 20, 1832 without orchestra and on April 5, 1833 with orchestra.

1833, Germany, Dresden
Francesco Morlacchi, using10 Singer-Soloists, a 220-member chorus and 112 instrumentalists (the wind players were doubled and there were 86 string players), conducted, for the first time in Dresden, a performance of Bach’s SMP.

1834, Germany, Hannover
H. Enckhausen conducted the Singakademie of Hannover in a performance of Bach’s SMP.

1837, England, Birmingham
Portions of Bach’s SMP were performed here.

1841, Germany, Leipzig
Mendelssohn gives a performance of Bach’s SMP in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Clara Schumann-Wieck has the following entry in her family diary regarding this performance: “As a way of erecting a monument to Bach, Mendelssohn gave a performance of Bach’s ‘Passions-Musik’ [the SMP is obviously implied here] just as he had already done just a year ago [here the reference is to an organ recital of Bach’s music which Mendelssohn had given for the same purpose]. We [Robert Schumann and Clara] had bad seats and could barely hear the music. This is the reason why we left after the first part. I derived a lot more pleasure from it when I heard it for the first time in Berlin. This was probably due to the better acoustic environment of the concert hall in Berlin, a place ideally suited for such music; while the same was not true for the Thomaskirche because the ceiling is much too high.”
[Although there were renovations of the Thomaskirche after Bach’s death in the second half of the 18th century {the main organ had been moved away from the position it had had during Bach’s tenure}, the greatest expansion of the interior, particularly the west end and both sides of the church, took place from 1885-1888. What is not clear from Clara Schumann-Wieck’s report is the location of the performers. Was there an expectation that the performers should be seen as well as heard as in a regular concert hall? Certainly the number of performers involved would have been comparable to the number used in the Berlin performances, so why had the volume of sound produced by a large choir and orchestra suffered so considerably.]

1846, Germany, Tübingen
Friedrich Silcher, founder and conductor of the Tübingen Oratorio Society, performed portions of Bach’s SMP in 1846.

April 6, 1854, England, London
William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875), who had founded The Bach Society on October 27, 1849, conducted the first complete performance of Bach’s SMP with this group in England on April 6, 1854 (and frequently thereafter). [There is no consensus among the various music dictionaries on this point. The Oxford Dictionary of Music claims, for instance, that the 1854 performance was incomplete and that the first complete SMP performance in England was conducted by Barnby in 1870.]

1862, Germany, Hamburg
Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke conducted the Singakademie in the first complete performance of Bach’s SMP.

1865, Switzerland, Basel
Ernst Reiter (1814-1875) conducted the first performance in Basel ((the first in Switzerland?) of Bach’s SMP.

before 1868, Germany, Leipzig
Moritz Hauptmann (1792-1868) began performing the Bach’s SMP in some of the Leipzig churches. He still made compositional changes in the recitatives, added or changed the instrumentation for the arias (a wind quartet replaced the viola da gamba part), and used a piano instead of organ accompaniment for the recitatives.

1868, France, Paris
Jule Etienne Pasdeloup (1819-1887) shared the directorship of the Paris Orphéon with Bazin. In 1868 he founded the Société des Oratorios, which gave the first Paris performance of the first part of Bach’s SMP at the Panthéon.

1875, Russia, St. Petersburg
As the director of the Free School of Music in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov (1844-1908) included in his first program recital on March 25 and April 6, 1875 works by Palestrina, Allegri, Händel, Bach and Haydn. Two arias from Bach’s SMP (“Können Tränen meiner Wangen” and “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” were performed for the first time in Russia.

1878, USA, Cincinnati, Ohio
In 1878 Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) conducted the first complete North American performance of Bach’s SMP in the Cincinnati Music Hall as part of the Biennial Cincinnati May Festival in Ohio, USA.

1890, Germany, Danzig
The first performance of Bach’s SMP in Danzig took place in 1890.

1890, Sweden, Stockholm
Johann Andreas Hallén conducted the first performance in Sweden of Bach’s SMP.

1911, Italy, Milan
Volkmar Andreae conducted the first performance of Bach’s SMP in Milan in 1911; in 1929 there was a performance in La Scala.

1926, USA, Detroit, Michigan
Ossip Solomonovitch Gabrilowitsch conducted the first performance in Detroit, Michigan of Bach’s SMP in 1926.

Footnote on C.P.E. Bach:
>>With the exception of the Magnificat of 1749 and the Easter cantata Gott hat den Herrn auferweckt (1756; the text, by the Berlin court preacher Leonhard Cochius, was set at the same time by Telemann, tvwv1:615), [C.P.E.] Bach’s sacred vocal works date from his Hamburg period. Most of them were composed for particular functions; [C.P.E.] Bach did not expect them to be widely distributed and in general he restricted his efforts on their preparation to what was essential. The Passions provide an illuminating example: according to Miesner, the six St Matthew Passions (most of which perished in World War II) all employed the same biblical framework. [C.P.E.] Bach composed the recitatives himself, but he usually used the turba choruses from his father’s St Matthew Passion. This framework was repeated unchanged every four years, with new arias, choruses and chorales for which [C.P.E.] Bach again often resorted to works by other composers. Similarly, the St John Passions are based on Telemann’s printed Passion music for 1745 (Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld, tvhwv5:30) and the St Mark Passions on a work by G.A. Homilius. The model for the St Luke Passions is not known. The Passions are thus pasticcios made up of a biblical framework, [C.P.E.] Bach’s own inserted movements (particularly arias and choruses, and in the 1770s and 80s hymns) and music by other composers. In this way he satisfied the constant demand for new Passion music without having to compose a new work himself each year.
Most of[C.P.E.] Bach’s occasional works are, however, original creations, particularly those for inaugurations of the cleand the oratorios and serenatas he wrote for the ‘civic captains’ of Hamburg in 1780 and 1783 (the commission for 1788 came too late for him to meet it). His prime models were G.A. Homilius and Georg Benda. A certain development of the repertory in the inaugural music can be traced: the 1780s saw many repeat performances of older works and on occasion, at the request of the pastors, [C.P.E.] Bach even resorted to works in his library by Telemann. He distinguished meticulously between the price for composing a piece and that for simply performing or arranging one. The paucity of contrapuntal movements in his Hamburg church music is striking. An exception is the Heilig for double choir (composed in 1776), with its magnificent double fugue, ‘Herr, es ist dir keiner gleich’, which became an established part of the Michaelmas music and other festive music performed in Hamburg, and came to be regarded as one of the most important sacred vocal works of its time after its publication in 1779. [C.P.E.] Bach ascribed particular importance to his oratorios. The score of Die Israeliten in der Wüste, composed for the consecration of the Lazarethkirche in 1769, was printed in 1775. Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu, probably written in 1774 and revised 1778 at the latest, was offered for subscription in 1784 but did not appear in print until 1787. The third oratorio, the Passion cantata h776 (w233) derived from the composer’s first St Matthew Passion, was not printed but was nevertheless widely distributed: performances were given during the 18th century in Copenhagen, Berlin, Göttingen, Schwerin and Breslau, as well as in smaller places such as Halberstadt and Colditz. Bach himself owned two copies of the score, one of which he would lend to friends so that they could copy it. Because of the nature of the text, the distribution of the Passion cantata remained limited to Protestant Germany, but Die Auferstehung and Die Israeliten also reached Catholic parts of southern Germany and were occasionally even performed outside the German-language area (in England and Italy). Die Israeliten in particular maintained its place in the repertory as a concert oratorio until well into the 19th century.
From the article on C.P.E. Bach by Ulrich Leisinger in the Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2009.


Prepared by Thomas Braatz (April 19-21, 2009)

Thanks to contributors: William Hoffman (April 20, 2009)

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 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | 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 - L. Bernstein | BWV 244 - F. Brüggen | BWV 244 - J. Butt | BWV 244 - S. Cleobury | BWV 244 - J. Daus | BWV 244 - D. Fasolis | BWV 244 - W. Furtwängler | BWV 244 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 244 - W. Gönnenwein | BWV 244 - P. Goodwin | BWV 244 - E.z. Guttenberg | BWV 244 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 244 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 244 - R. Jacques | BWV 244 - H.v. Karajan | BWV 244 - O. Klemperer | BWV 244 - T. Koopman | BWV 244 - S. Koussevitzky | BWV 244 - S. Kuijken | BWV 244 - F. Lehmann | BWV 244 - G. Leonhardt | BWV 244 - P.J. Leusink | BWV 244 - E.&R. Mauersberger | BWV 244 - H. Max | BWV 244 - P. McCreesh | BWV 244 - W. Mengelberg | BWV 244 - K. Münchinger | BWV 244 - R. Norrington | BWV 244 - G. Oberfrank | BWV 244 - S. Ozawa | BWV 244 - A. Parrott | BWV 244 - G. Ramin | BWV 244 - K. Richter | BWV 244 - H. Rilling | BWV 244 - H.J. Rotzsch | BWV 244 - H. Scherchen | BWV 244 - G. Solti | BWV 244 - C. Spering | BWV 244 - M. Suzuki | BWV 244 - J.v. Veldhoven | BWV 244 - B. Walter | BWV 244 - F. Werner | BWV 244 - M. Wöldike
Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 [T.N. Towe] | Two Easter St. Matthew Passions (Plus One) [U. Golomb] | St. Matthew Passion from Harnoncourt [D. Satz] | The Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244 [J. Rifkin] | The Relationship between BWV 244a (Trauermusik) and BWV 244b (SMP Frühfassung) [T. Braatz] | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Early History (A Selective, Annotated Bibliography) [W. Hoffman] | Spiritual Sources of Bach's St. Matthew Passion [W. Hoffman] | Bach and the "Great Passion" [D.G. Lebut Jr.] | The Genesis of Bach's `Great Passion': 1724-29 [W. Hoffman] | Early Performances of Bach's SMP [T. Braatz]

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Last update: ýNovember 4, 2011 ý22:40:05