Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 7: Mvts. 58-63b
Discussions in the Week of July 18, 2004
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 24, 2004):
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 7: Mvts. 58-63b - Introduction
According to the planned 'Order of Discussion' for 2004, the topic for this week's discussion (July 18, 2004) is Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Scene 7: Mvts. 58-63b [67-73]. The short notes below are based on W. Murray Young book's 'The Sacred Dramas of J.S. Bach' (McFarland & Company, 1994).
The high points of this part are:
Mvt. 60  Aria [Alto & Choir]: "Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand"
This is a two-dimensional movement (dialogue), where the Daughter of Zion (Alto 2) conversed with the Believers (Chorus 2). Again, as in Mvt. 1, the soloist answers the Believers' question 'Where' In the melody, there is a motif of movement as the dying Redeemer stretches out His hand to draw all men to Him on His Cross. This rising motif of felicity comes as welcome relief from her previous movement.
Mvts. 61a-61e 
The Death scene with Jesus' cry: 'Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?'
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
John Pike wrote (July 26, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I agree that these are the highlights of this section, especially No. 60, "Sehet, Jesus hat die hand" which is one of my favourite arias in the whole work. I also particularly like No 59 "Ach Golgotha" and the Chorale No 63b "Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen", which has been described as a masterpiece in miniature.
Neil Halliday wrote (July 29, 2004):
The emotional roller-coaster continues, as the Passion nears its conclusion. Richter (1959), Klemperer, and Karajan all give performances of the highest quality. (I don't have the complete Rilling, and I will leave it to others to comment on Herreweghe and other HIP recordings.)
After another long secco recitative (tedious as always, from a musical standpoint) we come to the powerful double-ensemble chorus: "You who breaks the temple, and builds it in three days..."
Munchinger is most striking here, with his recording's marked stereophonic separation of the two ensembles bringing out the exciting antiphonal effects written into the score. This concludes with Bach very effectively drawing attention to the words of the mob ("for he has said"): "I am the Son of God", by writing all the vocal and instrumental parts in unison.
After a short secco recitative ( the short recitatives being interesting for their contrast with the other musical forms that follow one-another in quick succession in this part of the Passion), the accompanied recitative "Ah, Golgotha..." follows, with its deceptive placidness and effective modulations in the harmonies of the oboe parts portraying the text's contrasts; of the "Saviour of the world" as a "curse on the Cross" and "innocence must here with guilt die".
In the following aria "Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand", all three recordings have spacious, relaxing performances (which also capture the underlying sadness of the movement.)
Again we have contrasting images; Jesus's arms outstretched on the Cross becomes a metaphor for him reaching out to all mankind. The pizzicato in the continuo is charming, as are the oboe da caccia parts. "Live, die, rest (in his arms), you forsaken chickens you." This is another beautiful aria set as a moment of relief and tenderness, within the drama of the terrible story as it unfolds.
Jesus' despairing cry follows in the next section: "Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen". The quick succession of musical forms following (secco and accompanied recitative, chorus and chorale) hightens the drama, and the sense of the impending conclusion of the Passion.
Bach brilliantly follows the moment of Jesus' death with the chorale "When I shall depart..", which is given very moving expressions of quiet acceptance of death, in all three recordings noted above.
Next is a startling piece of imagery, baroque style, representing the tearing of the temple's curtains and other related dramatic events, portrayed by vivid demisemiquaver figures in the continuo.
A moment of sheer magic follows with the short chorus "Truly, this was the son of God". Arresting in its beauty, this chorus is most sensitively performed by Richter, who begins 'piano', follows with a crescendo, then finally diminuendo, ending as quietly as he began.
Uri Golomb wrote (July 29, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:< After another long secco recitative (tedious as always, from a musical standpoint) >
I suppose we'll get around to it when the discussion comes to focus on the role of the Evangelist next week; but I must take issue with this dismissal of the recitatives as "tedious". There is a fluency to Bach's recitative, constant continuity and elasticity allows for flexible transitions - gradual or sudden, as needed - between tonalities, speeds and affects; between smooth, stepwise writing, lyrical melodic phrases, and harsh, angular writing. Part of the success depends on the singers (and players), but the best -- or even "merely" very good -- performers can and do reveal the dramatic life of Bach's recitative writing.
< In the following aria "Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand", all three recordings have spacious, relaxing performances (which also capture the underlying sadness of the movement.) >
I am not sure this aria is necessarily "sad". I hear it as emotionall ambiguous.Certainly in faster performances -- which some members will doubtless condemn as too fast -- it acquires a degree of eager, urgent gladness -- tinged, however, by the sometimes strident harmonies -- which is entirely appropriate to text and music alike. In several recording recordings, the aria is rendered with a sense of palpable, urgent dialogue between singer and chorus, an active call for the believers to come to Golgatha and accept Jesus's embrace. Nor does the faster tempo prevent performers from paying close attention to detail, underlining, for instance, the subtle word-paintings that differentiate "live", "die" and "rest". The most extreme example of this approach is perhaps in Harnoncourt's recent recording (with Bernarda Fink). Many listeners will find it excessively fast, and will be disturbed by the flexible pulse, with several cases of stop-and-go; the performance might be criticised as breathless. However, breathless excitement seems to me an appropriate affect for this aria. The performance does sound better if you listen to it within Harnoncourt's recording as a whole, instead of just the recitative-and-aria on their own; but then, the aria itself sounds best when heard within the original sequence. For those who find Harnoncourt's approach too extreme, a more moderate version of the same Affect -- in slighlty slower, and definitely steadier tempo -- can be found in the performances by Scholl/Herreweghe, Kozena/McCreesh and Blaze/Suzuki. In all these, the aria emerges, not as a relief from the drama, but as an integral part of it.
Juozas Rimas wrote (July 29, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I tend to disagree here: the less means are offered by the music for expression, the more it depends on the performer. Most of contemporary "serious" music, especially for solo instruments, has this quality: it requires real talents to be at least listenable. Bach's secco recitatives are boring without a really good singer. He or she can make something from seemingly nothing. I once listened specially several times to the recitatives from the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) with Herreweghe: those short pieces seemed just transitory in the previous versions I've heard, but with Pregardien singing I enjoyed them. And I suspect this was more of a merit of the performer than of the composer: it was pleasant just to hear the singer use his voice.
As far as the recitative in question ("Und da sie an die Stätte kamen...") is concerned, having listened to the renditions by Pregardien, Schreier and Equiluz, I don't think Neil was wrong by dubbing it "tedious from a musical standpoint", because it is so. In what way does it differ from dozof secco recitatives scattered throughout the cantatas?
IMO it can be heard when Bach "meant it", paid special attention when writing a recitative: it features either interesting instrumental accompaniment (not just the predictable soporific touches on the organ), or at least part of it sung (as in "Und
alsbald krähete der Hahn..." - 38c from SMP), or the whole recitative
Charlie Richards wrote (July 30, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I agree wholeheartedly, and was about to say the same thing myself (although I don't think I could have expressed myself as eloquently as Uri). When performed by an expressive evangelist who is in tune with the text and its meaning (Peter Schreier comes to mind), the secco recititives in the passions can be among the most beautiful and moving movements in these works.
John Pike wrote (July 30, 2004):
[To Charlie Richards] I also agree entirely.
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]