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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

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

General Discussions - Part 12

Continue from Part 11

Andras Schiff discusses SMP and 'Sein Blut komme über uns unsere Kinder'

Ralph Johansen wrote (October 7, 2006):
Sometime in the past months there was a brief discussion of this topic. I have just run across this interview (possibly his observations have unknown to me already been brought up here) and, although out of season -- is what Schiff says here ever out of season?

Andras Schiff from an interview reprinted from the Winter 2001-Spring 2002 issue of FIDELIO Magazine: http://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_02-06/wint_spring_02.html

Fidelio: Back again to the /St. Matthew Passion./ Your thoughts about it make a very strong impression; to which, one could add as a sort of footnote: The part "Sein Blut komme über uns unsere Kinder" ["His blood be on us and our children"] is today often used to justify calling Bach an "anti-Semite."

Schiff: For God's sake, of course Bach is not that! Really, I am one-thousand percent Jewish! Of course, I know the reproaches: I have often had problems with many of my Jewish friends, who at first refused to go to such a Bach concert. When, in spite of this, they have come anyway, they were grateful. I'm of the opinion that there is not a trace of ant-Semitism in Bach.

All the "active participants" in this piece—even more so in the Gospel of John, as in the entire New Testament— were after all Jews. I believe Jews must learn that there exists another worldview than theirs. Reality isn't "it's the world against us," but rather, the fact that there are /human beings/ who get along /with one another,/ and do not act against one another. This is a question of fellow human beings, and thus of relations among human beings. The people—how easily the people are influenced! It has nothing primarily to do with Jews, Christians, Romans, etc. It is about the /mass/ of the people, who, being so easily influenced, can, indeed, be manipulated.

Besides, how Bach portrays characters like Pilate and Judas is very important. In the /St. Matthew Passion,/ for example, Bach has genuine comprehension of Judas, he is incredibly human. So much so, that he
conveys this comprehension of, and pity for, Judas, to the listener, too.

Then the passage, where the Scribes say: "Was gehet uns das an?" ["What is it to us?"]—it is so incredibly real; because, it happens now, everyday, on the street; when we observe or look away. It's an awful mess: "What is it to us?" People kill and get killed; it's war, but nothing troubles us. That's why Bach's music is so important! For heaven's sake! Bach is not anti-Semitic. No, I'm against such an opinion.

Fidelio: Lessing, in his /Nathan,/ has portrayed it so beautifully, in the Parable of the Rings, where he develops that the greatness of the three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, exists in that they worship /the same God/ and stand for the idea that each person is in God's image; also, endowed with reason, and can think creatively. To that extent, these religions are universal. In the Parable of the Rings, Lessing shows this in a poetically beautiful way. And it's also the creed of the Schiller Institute—man, /each man,/ in the likeness of God. On this basis, every culture manifests a reflection of it. In fact, no culture could have developed, if the form of image of man which predominates, didn't reflect this creative gift—this likeness of mankind to God. On that account, no culture can say: "We are the sole culture." Instead, one must seek after what is primary: What joins all cultures to one another? It is, so to speak, the highest common principle!

Schiff: Absolutely!

Fidelio: Exactly this interests us in music. You are right, one is able to learn very much from the other art forms, but in the realm of music—if you wish to express it religiously—with really great music, be it Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert or Schumann, etc., we humans are nearest to God.

Schiff: Yes, I sense that very much also; but, unfortunately, not all people have an antenna for this. The reference to "the Almighty" is always there. One needs only to discover it. For this, one has to educate, or invite a person. Today, unfortunately, the opinion often prevails, that Classical music is for the elite; many, sometimes even whole groups of people feel themselves excluded. They are not excluded, but heartily welcome! Of all things, I find it most wrong when nowadays one "dilutes" Classical music to make it more intelligible, or more popular. Music has to be performed on the highest level, and one hopes that people come and listen; and I believe that it's not that few people. Compared to Pop culture, proportionally, there are naturally fewer, but it has always been like that. Yet, this proportion, compared to the time of Bach or Mozart, has grown tremendously, in my opinion.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 7, 2006):
Ralph Johansen wrote:
< Schiff: For God's sake, of course Bach is not that! Really, I am one-thousand percent Jewish! Of course, I know the reproaches: I have often had problems with many of my Jewish friends, who at first refused to go to such a Bach concert. When, in spite of this, they have come anyway, they were grateful. I'm of the opinion that there is not a trace of ant-Semitism in Bach. >
With all deference to Schiff's effort to "rescue" Bach from a charge of anti-Semitism and assert the universal timelessness of the music, we simply do not know Bach's attitudes to Jews and Judaism.

The conflict between early Christianity and early rabbinic Judaism, which is preserved in the late 1st century documents called the gospels, is not Bach's literary creation: the gospels are the documents of the institution which he served, the reformed church. That Bach conformed to the practice of the Lutheran tradition indicates that he had no theological objections to the traditional claims of Christianity in the debate between the the two sister religions.

However, when we look at the poetic texts which are Bach's addition to the prescribed liturgical texts, we see quite clearly that the composer does not primarily see the Passion struggle in terms of Church and Synagogue but in terms of an allegory of the individual soul in its acceptance of Christ. This is in sharp contrast to other Baroque literary creations such as the Oberammergau Passion Play which began in the 17th century and presents a highly-polarized "us vs. them" attitude. I doubt that Bach's Passions ever inflamed a pogrom.

As to Bach's attitudes to the civil and social position of Jews, we simply do not know the particulars. The 18th century saw the beginning of major movements to reduce the social and legal penalties of Jewish citizens. We do not know if Bach had any sympathy for these early human rights movements. Did Bach have any everyday encounters with the Jews of Leipzig? Has anyone done any research on the Jewish community in Bach's Leipzig?

The questions are very complex and we do the historical Bach no service by trying to remove him from a historical context which we may find distasteful. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves: we can't understand his greatness without accepting the whole historical perspective. Bach may very well have accepted the conventional social prejudices of his time.

Tom Hens wrote (October 8, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< With all deference to Schiff's effort to "rescue" Bach from a charge of anti-Semitism and assert the universal timelessness of the music, we simply do not know Bach's attitudes to Jews and Judaism. >
Or his attitude to lots of other things. When discussing things like this, people with strongly held convictions about a particular subject often automatically assume that everyone must hold convictions about that subject. Religious people tend to assume everyone must have religious convictions. Politically minded people tend to assume everyone must have political convictions. That their particular subject of interest might not be
terribly interesting to many people doesn't seem to occur to them.

<snip> < However, when we look at the poetic texts which are Bach's addition to the prescribed liturgical texts, >
It's not as if he had a free hand in choosing those additional texts, and we can't assume they reflect his personal views any more than we can assume that the prescribed liturgical texts do so.

< As to Bach's attitudes to the civil and social position of Jews, we simply do not know the particulars. The 18th century saw the beginning of major movements to reduce the social and legal penalties of Jewish citizens. We do not know if Bach had any sympathy for these early human rights movements. Did Bach have any everyday encounters with the Jews of Leipzig? Has anyone done any research on the Jewish community in Bach's Leipzig? >
I doubt there were any Jews in Leipzig at all. Jews were banned from living in most German cities until well after Bach's death, and then only allowed in under strict limitations. A quick google turns up: "This past June [1997] the city of Leipzig, Germany, commemorated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city's Jewish community - a community that was effectively destroyed during World War II." That puts the founding of a Leipzig Jewish community in 1847. It's quite possible Bach never saw, let alone met, a single Jew.

< Bach may very well have accepted the conventional social prejudices of his time. >
And quite possibly never gave them much thought to begin with. After all, if there aren't any Jews around, any prejudice against "the Jews" as mentioned in the gospels becomes pretty academic. Sort of like the prejudice against the Samaritans displayed by Jesus. (The example comes to mind because a British TV comedy show, "That Mitchell and Webb Look", did a very funny sketch about that this week. Jesus tries to tell his audience the parable of the Good Samaritan, but the only thing that happens is that the audience gets terribly offended by his bigoted views about Samaritans in general.)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 8, 2006):
"The Jews won't come because it is a Christian story; the women won't come because it is a virtuous one".
This wonderful quote from Handel about his rather unsuccessful Theodora (his favorite oratorio) manifests a human being who inter alia knew both en masse and personally Jews.

All we can say about Mr. Bach is that he knew of Jews in the Christian tradition, a tradition that goes back at least to St. Augustine whose quote about Judas being the paradigmatic Jew but Peter being the paradigmatic Christian, is one of the most precious quotes of history.

It is of course very common for persons who have never met a Jew in their lives, as claimed here about Mr. Bach, to have imbibed the bigotry with their culture/religion.

I once, a long time ago, met an Amishman who had never run into a Jew in his life. He assured me that I could not be a Jew because he had seen me spit and Jews cannot spit because God took that ability away from them when they spat upon Jesus on the cross.

It is likely, absent other evidence, that Bach was infected with such crap.Schiff has a problem in my perception.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 8, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< It is likely, absent other evidence, that Bach was infected with such crap. Schiff has a problem in my perception. >
A request, Yoel. This is a subject of extreme sensitivity which calls for us to keep the discussion cool and objective. I agree with you about Schiff and about the "crap", but we need to be rigorous in our historical examination and avoid impressionistic comments. We serve history better.

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 8, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I once, a long time ago, met an Amishman who had never run into a Jew in his life. He assured me that I could not be a Jew because he had seen me spit and Jews cannot spit because God took that ability away from them when they spat upon Jesus on the cross.
It is likely, absent other evidence, that Bach was infected with such crap. >

I have a problem with this latter sentence. The fact that 'your' amishman's head was full of crap is undeniable; your inference that Bach's head was infected with the same crap is unwarranted.

When you begin your sentence by 'It is likeky, absent other evidence'... to justify a very severe accusation against J S Bach, you negate the most elementary rights of the defense. It takes positive evidence to condemn someone.

Speaking for myself, I have every reason to think that Bach's head was full of pretty good stuff; I have no evidence to the contrary. Accusing him of being an antisemite because he lived in such place in such time shows a rather prejudiced attitude. That type of reasoning has sometimes lead people in bad directions...

Let's put it a different way: if Bach were alive today, he would be entitled to sue you for such a statement, and he would probably win. Now of course he's been long dead, so legally you're perfectly safe.

< Schiff has a problem in my perception. >
Not in mine, I like very much what he wrote about this question.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 8, 2006):
Alain Bruguieres wrote:
<< Schiff has a problem in my perception. >>
< Not in mine, I like very much what he wrote about this question. >
Reply:

I agree with Alain's sentiments. Doug Cowling's historical comments are precise, correct, and welcome. But isn't Schiff on safe ground to state that there is no evidence in SMP for anti-Semitism on Bach's part? I find his defense of Bach's attitude, as evidenced in SMP, carefully stated and accurate.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 8, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< It is likely, absent other evidence, that Bach was infected with such crap. >
I find this offensive on four counts

1 if this were to assumed to be the case about my own views in a situation where confirming evidence did not exist, it would be extremely offensive if not libellous

2 That it should be written by someone long since dead and unable to answer is is also unacceptable

3 Some of the clues to Bach's character comes through his music which is suffused with an all embracing humanity and optimism which would not seem to sit well with bigotry and prejudice. Accepting that we just don't know all the facts I for one am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on this basis.

4 I do not think it appropriate to use a semi-public list of this sort for the expression of baseless prejudicial views.

Bearing in mind the list rules I am not presuming to tell other what to do but expressing what I personally find offensive. My actions will be to delete emails from this address in the future without reading them.

Personally I find that Schiff's views demand the same respect as his performances; whether one agrees with or likes either is a different matter. The views are at least liberal and reasonable. Thanks to the member who put them on list.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 8, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< 2 That it should be written by someone long since dead and unable to answer is is also unacceptable
3 Some of the clues to Bach's character comes through his music which is suffused with an all embracing humanity and optimism which would not seem to sit well with bigotry and prejudice. Accepting that we just don't know all the facts I for one am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on this basis. >
I agree that documentary evidence about Bach's political and social beliefs is lacking but it is not necessarily incorrect to postulate what a historical figure believed. Bach was a conforming 18th century Lutheran with no evidence of radical ideas. It is quite conceivable that he held the conventional and usually benign anti-Semitism of other men and women of his period.

I also agree that his music has "an all-embracing humanity and optimism" -- Bach has been my friend and given me hope all my life. Where I can;t agree is that if Bach is a good composer he is therefa good man. Last week I went to 15 hours of the Ring Cycle and found the music full of humanity and optimism -- it made me cry at the end. But I would never for a second concede that Wagner was a good man! The documents demonstrate otherwise.

We will never know what Bach believed but we cannot abuse the greatness of his music by suggesting that it allows us to takes him out of his historical conditioning and exempt him from the convenmtional attitudes and prejudices which he probably held.

Alas, beauty is not a moral category.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 8, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I agree that documentary evidence about Bach's political and social beliefs is lacking but it is not necessarily incorrect to postulate what a historical figure believed. >
JM Agreed, But it does depend how it is done. The postulation of accepted conventional belief is one thing. The assumption of prejudice or bigotry without evidence is another.

< Bach was a conforming 18th century Lutheran with no evidence of radical ideas. It is quite conceivable that he held the conventional and usually benign anti-Semitism of other men and women of his period. >
JM Agreed see above

< I also agree that his music has "an all-embracing humanity and optimism" -- Bach has been my friend and given me hope all my life. Where I can't agree is that if Bach is a good composer he is therefore a good man. >
JM You can't really agree or disagree with me as this is not what I said. My point was that in the absence of external evidence I was prepared to give him the benefit of the (considerable) doubt on this particular issue. This does not assert that I think him to be a good (or for that matter a bad) man

< Last week I went to 15 hours of the Ring Cycle and found the music full of humanity and optimism -- it made me cry at the end. But I would never for a second concede that Wagner was a good man! The documents demonstrate otherwise. >
JM Exactly The documents are there and undeniable in the case of Wagner and that is an important difference. They are not there in the case of Bach. I am not sure why you find my giving Bach the benefit of doubt on this particular issue because of my experience of his music experience controversial.

Come the documents many of us may have to adopt different views.

< We will never know what Bach believed but we cannot abuse the greatness ofhis music by suggesting that it allows us to takes him out of his historicalconditioning and exempt him from the convenmtional attitudes and prejudiceswhich he probably held. >
JM I would take exception to this statement if, indeed it I thought it arose from an assumption that I had made some such assertion. I said nothing (that I can find in re-reading the email) to 'abuse the greatness of his music.'
There are too many issues implied here to deal with in this one email but for starters

* assuming the best rather than the worst in the absence of corroboration does not abuse the mans' art.

* I do not want to take historical figures out of context or attribute contemporary attitudes or prejudices to them. Ironically, just the opposite, as my reaction to the original email (from which these issues arise and which did
appear to do precisely this) evidences.

* in a sense nothing abuses a great composer's achievements except ignorance. The art stands for all who wish to or are able and willing to receive it. Discussions and hypotheses about their characters is perfectly acceptable--but I think it the more valuable if it is balanced and informed.

< Alas, beauty is not a moral category. >
JM Nice to end on a point of agreement. But then, I never believed or asserted that it was!

Ralph Johansen wrote (October 9, 2006):
Andras Schiff discusses SMP--further discussion..

Julian Mincham wrote
< Bach was a conforming 18th century Lutheran with no evidence of radical ideas. It is quite conceivable that he held the conventional and usually benign anti-Semitism of other men and women of his period. >
I found a historical account of the economic background of anti-semitism to be helpful to me. I think it might be helpful here, as a reminder or as an explanation to those who are unaware of this context. I think it is important, since Christian scripture certainly does reflect the prevailing views at the time of their development and they persist up until the present. Bach, of course, as an unquestioning believer from all that I have seen, was part of that social milieu and his having set these texts tends to implicate him even more.

I recite from memory, therefore hesitantly and subject to correction, and without knowing of readily accessed internet materials on this.

My recollection is that, since usury was proscribed in Christian doctrine (Christ up-ending the moneychangers in the temple, etc.) the task of money changing and lending was somehow left to the Jews, a cohesive and apparently unassimilating culture in Europe. This went along with the necessary fluidity of very early mercantilism and later of nascent capitalism, again constrained by Christian proscription. As I recall, the Jews were also barred from owning property, or becoming self-sufficient through the mechanisms of the feudal system. So with other avenues closed some few became bankers and ultimately very wealthy citizens. My impression is that somewhat the same type of singling-out and opprobrium fell on many other rather cohesive ethnic groups foreclosed to routes within a dominant culture. I think of the Chinese in Southeast Asia and the Indians in East Africa -- as examples of a subculture often tagged unfairly for reasons not of their doing (Christ: "...for they know not what they do..." none of us, that is).

There's more, surely. My point is that, viewing the development and perdurance of prejudice through a historical lens, and particularly through a perspective that illuminates how economic survival and development managed to shape human relationships, gets rid of an awful lot of unthinking prejudice.

I opened the can (or Schiff did). Now we get some more or less helpful views of the contents -- and maybe Bach will rest easier for it. If we applied the same to the present-day in many other areas, including the middle east (no, not here, not on this distended thread), that might be even more helpful.

Incidentally, if this comes to your mailbox stair-cased, as it comes back to me in the digest, I don't know the cure. I assemble messages using mozilla thunderbird, an otherwise very good program.

Tom Hens wrote (October 9, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Bach was a conforming 18th century Lutheran with no evidence of radical ideas. It is quite conceivable that he held the conventional and usually benign anti-Semitism of other men and women of his period. >
"Benign anti-Semitism". Now there's a puzzler. In the hope of clarifying things, I looked up "benign" in my desk dictionary, and tried the synomyms it gives for "benign":

Gentle anti-Semitism.
Mild anti-Semitism.
Kindly anti-Semitism.
Fortunate anti-Semitism.
Salutary anti-Semitism.
Favourable anti-Semitism.
Non-malignant anti-Semitism.

Which one of these do you mean?

Tom Hens wrote (October 9, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Agreed, But it does depend how it is done. The postulation of accepted conventional belief is one thing. The assumption of prejudice or bigotry without evidence is another. >
This is what is called a false dichotomy. Accepted conventional belief, especially of the religious kind, tends to include a lot of prejudice and bigotry.

Sephen Benson wrote (October 9, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< "Benign anti-Semitism". Now there's a puzzler. >
That one sort of jumped out at me, as well. Even if this was meant in a relative sense -- sort of passive as opposed to active, I guess -- I find it to be particularly incongruous, if not downright offensive.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Tom Hens] Puzzler. You mean oxymoron perhaps??? Have to admit I like Tom's line of questioning here though :> I myself prefer to give Bach the benefit of the doubt, in the absence of any historical evidence that he, for example, made anti-Semitic statements in his non-musiwritings, letters, etc. Which I haven't seen anyone produce thus far.

God bless us all,

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Tom Hens] I intended the conventional anti-Semitism of someone who had never met a Jewish person, much less had abused individuals or supported anti-jewish laws or seen a pogrom. The kind of person who made conventional jokes about supposed Jewish usury, who was moved each Good Friday by the Passion narratives, who was content with his closed society and didn't see any necessity to accommodate pluralism with "outsiders" such as Catholics, Jews or Muslims. It was a social attitude which was not motivated by anger or hatred, but by political and moral passivity. It's an attitude which is still very much alive among "nice" people.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 9, 2006):
Ralph Johansen wrote:
< Bach, of course, as an unquestioning believer from all that I have seen, was part of that social milieu and his having set these texts tends to implicate him even more. >
Reply:

This would be helpful, but for a few minor uncertainties:
(1) unquestioning believer
(2) all that I have seen
(3) that social milieu
(4) his having set these texts
(5) implicate him even more

Schiff was quite eloquent, let it be.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 9, 2006):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< I myself prefer to give Bach the benefit of the doubt, in the absence of any historical evidence that he, for example, made anti-Semitic statements in his non-musical writings, letters, etc. >
Reply:

Benefit of the doubt? The doubt is all on the other side. The music is spiritually sublime. The texts emphasize that salvation is at the discretion of the Saviour. How could anyone find this anti-Semitic (or anti-anything)? Anti-rational, perhaps, but that is a different question, for another list.

We are at the mercy of the imponderables, in any case. God bless us all, indeed.

Santu de Silva wrote (October 9, 2006):
Doug Cowling refers to a rather common attitude, which he describes as:
"... [a person who] made conventional jokes about supposed Jewish usury, who was moved each Good Friday by the Passion narratives, who was content with his closed society and didn't see any necessity to accommodate pluralism with "outsiders" such as Catholics, Jews or Muslims. It was a social attitude which was not motivated by anger or hatred, but by political and moral passivity."
Passive anti-Semitism is probably a more accurate term?

Arch, wishing he hadn't gotten into this messy discussion...

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva]
Reply:

Yes, wishing the same, but we are in it this far. I do not consider <conventional jokes> passive in the least. Unless you are a good friend who wants to tell me a new Polish joke (are there any new ones?). Off list, please.

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Stephen Benson] Well, there is in fact of the kind of early Enlightenment or even Luther-style anti-Semitism and it's 19th and 20th century mutation. I don't really think this is the place to get into the details but suffice it to say that Luther plead for Jews to convert to Christianity and remove their sin even at the end of his life when his anti-Jewish writings were at their worst. (Even Catholics and other heathens had a chance of salvation if they changed their wicked ways. The picture was precisely the reverse if sitting in Rome or Baghdad.) By the mid-19th century, thanks to an ugly combination of historicism, twisted Darwinism (biological and social), eugenics and malignant anthropology the idea of racial hierarchy was spread and largely accepted throughout the Western world. Throw in some gutter politics and you've got a foul brew indeed. I'm not really sure someone of Bach's era would have understood the idea of "race" as it was taught circa 1900. In practice, the difference was immense. If a Jew was a member of a race, not a religion or culture, religion conviction meant nothing. "Assimilated" Jews, even if Christian converts, of the 19th century were considered Jewish to the core by someone spouting the new racialism and ideas of racial hierarchy.

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 9, 2006):
OT Andras Schiff discusses SMP and 'SeinBlutkomme über uns ...

[To Eric Bergerud] Indeed the term 'antisemite' is very misleading: the pre-19th century attitude Eric describes would be best described as 'anti-judaism'. The new racialist attitude requires a different term. Anti-semitism is really a very bad term, since the jews are not, by far, the only semites. One ends up with such nonsense as 'arab antisemitism'. I wonder how such a misnomer could ever become the standard terminology. Probably an europeocentric term coined in a time when the jews were about the only europeans with semitic origins.

Now we are discussing two different questions:

(1) whether the average 18th century german was prejudiced against the jews (however you call that form of prejudice);

(2) whether Bach was involved in that kind of prejudice.

I don't think this is really the place to discuss (1), let me just observe that in most human societies prejudice against people who are different do exist, to a variable extent. However certain societies manage to protect minorities; others persecute them.An objective way of approaching the question would be: were jews persecuted in 18th germany? I'm not a specialist of 18th century germany, however I believe this was one of the places in europe where religious tolerance was at the highest. If I'm wrong, I'm ready to stand corrected. (By the way it has also been suggested that Bach had never met a jew in his entire life; is this at all plausible?).

(2) We have no evidence to assert that Bach was involved in prejudice against the jews, or to what degree, or whether he was rather more or less involved in it that the average german. (By the way, what performance on this account do we expect of him? Not more than average? Less than average? Much less than average? Even less than us, the space-time recordpersons of virtue?)

Generally speaking - in my opinion - applying statistical induction to charge any individual with the faulty opinions ascribed to the majority of his community amounts to indulging in a mode of thinking conducive to racialism, hence immediate my reaction to Joel's mail.Now in the special case of Bach, this is even more wrong. Bach was in no way an 'average german'. He was an orphan. Perhaps, in the absence of strict parental guidance he had a chance of developping an original system of though. It may well be that the authority of an elder brother was less towering than that of a father. In any case his approach to music, at least, show a very original and independent mind. As far as religion is concerned, matters are not so clear to me as some suggest. He was a mainstream lutheran, ok. To what extent was he rigid in his religious attitude? While not a pietist, he seems to have incorporated pietist ideas in some of his most intimate, personal cantatas. Seems to me that for him sensitivity had a priority over rigid orthodoxy. The only work of Bach I can think of which may shed light on his personal opinions is the coffee cantata, and there at least we are spared the sexism evinced by Haendel in the quotation Joel seems to find so meritorious.

Ralph Johansen wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Ed myskowski] I would like not to be misunderstood. I should have said "tends to implicate him even more in the eyes of many." I do not have any opinion as to Bach's prejudices or lack thereof. I was simply stating,in too ambiguous a way I now see, that for the reasons Ed quotes above many could and do attribute to Bach feelings or beliefs which we have no real evidence for.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 9, 2006):
OT Andras Schiff discusses SMP an d 'SeinBlutkomme über uns ...

Alain Bruguieres wrote:
< He was an orphan. Perhaps, in the absence of strict parental guidance he had a chance of developping an original system of though. It may well be that the authority of an elder brother was less towering than that of a father. In any case his approach to music, at least, show a very original and independent mind. As faras religion is concerned, matters are not so clear to me as some suggest. He was a mainstream lutheran, ok. To what extent was he rigid in his religious attitude? While not a pietist, he seems to have incorporated pietist ideas in some of his most intimate, personal cantatas. Seems to me that for him sensitivity had a priority over rigid orthodoxy. >
I still think that this is a misguided line of reasoning. We love and admire the music of Bach and that makes us want to love and admire the man. It's not fair to the historical Bach to ransack his art for biographical clues to make him into a sensitive, smiling 21st man of liberal political and social beliefs who loved dogs and children. We simply don't know.

I'm not trying to demonize Bach, but rather to let him stay in the 18th century. In the absence of particular documents, it is justifiable to examine the social and political environment in which he lived.

For instance, I was very surprised when I read the recent scholarship which demonstrates that Bach was the candidate of a court party in the Leipzig council which had aligned itself with absolutism in Saxony and a suppression of the proto-democratic forces of the middle-class estates. I suddenly wondered if Bach, far from being a simple, universalist man of the people, was aligned with precisely the anti-democratic forces which would bring on the Revolution in France forty years after his death.

Was he an ambitious careerist whose goal was a court position in Dresden where he would no longer be beholden to the deliberations of an elected council?

That's not an attractive portrait, but it has historical plausibility. And I will still love Bach's music.

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Let him stay in the 18th century indeed and we might also allow him the kind of latitude in behavior we take for granted. So what if he wanted a court position in Dresden? Let's not forget that "Greed is Good" - Gordon Gecko said that but so did Adam Smith and the sentiment is echoed by every human who is lured to a new job by a higher salary or a more convivial work environment. As for being in the court party this could mean almost anything unless we understood the parameters of political debate taking place in Leipzig. Very few figures in the European Enlightenment were democrats in the modern sense - on that subject the Anglo-Saxon world stood apart in some ways. Who knows - maybe Bach wanted an Enlightened Despot (Voltaire spent years looking for one) who would remake society organically with the advice of philosopher kings. (I'm not joking here.) Maybe he was a political conservative and if he did have Pietist leanings he might well have looked at the bourgeoises as being a force of spiritual and political disruption: many viewed the Enlightenment not as "progress" but as an anti-clerical tool of Satan. (Many good historians today like Simon Schama have much more sympathy with royalists of 1789 than the revolutionaries - gents like Robespierre did create a template that caused incredible misery in the 20th century.) Maybe he was a Czarist. (Now I'm joking.) It would really be nice to know what he and the students from Leipzig talked about when drinking beer. Yet unless we discover something new, however, it does look as though Bach was a perfectly respectable man of his age. Others have done worse. And if some types of art have incited the baser human passions, I don't think Bach's did. It's hard to march to Actus Tragicus (BWV 106).

Chris Rowson wrote (October 9, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< ...
For instance, I was very surprised when I read the recent scholarship which demonstrates that Bach was the candidate of a court party in the
Leipzig council which had aligned itself with absolutism in Saxony and a suppression of the proto-democratic forces of the middle-class estates. I suddenly wondered if Bach, far from being a simple, universalist man of the people, was aligned with precisely the anti-democratic forces which would bring on the Revolution in France forty years after his death.
Was he an ambitious careerist whose goal was a court position in
Dresden where he would no longer be beholden to the deliberations of an elected council?
That's not an attractive portrait, but it has historical plausibility. And I will still love Bach's music. >
Comment:

That would surprise me too. Since I moved to Dresden a few years ago I have learned something of the local history: August the Strong, who was Elector of Saxony from 1694 to 1733, was essentially a benevolent and capable ruler who did much for this city and its people. He was respected and loved by the people, and a significant degree of this has survived even to the present day.

I can´t give a corresponding "from the ground" view for Leipzig, but I have not heard that it was much different. We know that Leipzig commissioned the usual cantatas of praise from Bach for certain occasions, and the events concerning BWV198 evidence affection for August´s wife.

As far as Bach fancying a job in Dresden is concerned, I think any good musician of the time would have been attracted by the idea - the musicians were well treated and very well paid - but Bach was never going to get the Capellmeister job and I can´t see him taking anything less. (Except Court Composer, as a side job.)

But in a full-time job, he would have been beholden to the court. That wasn´t easy to avoid.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 9, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Yet unless we discover something new, however, it does look as though Bach was a perfectly respectable man of his age. >
Others have done worse.
Of course it is natural to feel that we would want to like a man who has brought so much pleasure and insight into the human condition to others--but experience has shown with many great artists that this is not enough.

However, what little we do seem to know of his character tends to be appealing rather than repellent. He seems to have had 2 happy marriages. His children (as much as can be determined) seemed to have respected him and his students, some of whom he took into his own household, similarly. He was pugnacious when he felt himself to be in the right and tended to over react when he felt his support was needed. Above all he gave fools short thrift and fought hard against those who did not appear to understand his art or requirements but who had authority over him.---which academic has not had this sort of experience time and again? His reaction to mindless and at times insenitive authority is extremely appealing to me.

Above all he set high standards, worked extremely hard and was a good
teacher and a consummate professional.

I think all this is pretty clear from what has come down to us from different sources and does not require undue speculation.

I repeat, what evidence we have tends to be in his favour and that's why I prefer to give him the benefit of doubts. And none of the above is deduced from emotional reactions to the guy's music.

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] I believe that you misunderstood me. For one thing I do admire Bach for his works and the wonderful intellectual and artistic qualities it shows. I do not need to admire him for any other reasons. Still I think that the reasons I have to admire him are enough to force respect; and a most elementary form of respect (due to any human person, even devoid of any outstanding qualities) would be not to speculate about hypothetical ethical shortcomings on more than dubious bases.

Moreover, I do not think that being a 'smiling 21st man of liberal political and social beliefs' is the only way of beinga decent person. I would rather suspect that there are no more decent peoparound (in percentage) than there were then.It seems difficult to deny that Bach was sensitive and loved children, though. As for dogs I don't know. If I were to learn that Bach used to eat a frog - sorry, beat a dog once in a while I think I would still listen to his works, but in any case I prefer cats.

I perfectly agree with you that Bach was a man of the 18th century. Maybe he had silly ideas. If so, unlike others, he was clever enough not hand them down to posterity. Yet he was in no way a standard person; he was endowed with an exceptional mind; isn't it presomptuous to speculate on what may have gone on in this mind in the absence of evidence?

I might add that perhaps Bach, a precursor of Trotskiism, joined the court party precisely to hasten the French Revolution (and here I'm joking)...

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (October 9, 2006):
[To Alain Bruguières] To say the truth, it seems to me that, the overwhelming priority of JSB, was not religion, orthodoxy or sensivity but music.

Chris Kern wrote (October 10, 2006):
Judas in the SMP

In the article posted about anti-semitism, I found the following interesting:
< Besides, how Bach portrays characters like Pilate and Judas is very important. In the /St. Matthew Passion,/ for example, Bach has genuine comprehension of Judas, he is incredibly human. So much so, that he conveys this comprehension of, and pity for, Judas, to the listener, too. >
I personally do not see the justification in the text or the music for this idea. Surely no proof can be taken from the text of the recitatives because those are just straight from the Gospel and Bach was not free to cut or add anything in that. I think it would be pretty tenuous to hang this idea on the music of the recitatives (and you have places like the diminished chord in on "Judas Iscariot" in the second recitative -- with a similar effect being used in the first recitative of the SJP).

The arias (and other intermediate pieces), in particular, are not very kind to Judas. "Blute Nur" says that Judas has become a snake. "Sind Blitze" contains the words "Open your fiery abyss, o Hell! Demolish, ruin, devour, dash to bits in sudden wrath the false betrayer, the murderous blood!" "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder" calls him the "lost son". As far as I know there are no other references to Judas in the SMP.

Given that, how can it be claimed that the SMP's Judas is "incredibly human" due to Bach's "comprehension" and "pity"? If you find Judas sympathetic in the Gospel account that's certainly a defensible position, but Bach has nothing to do with that. If Bach truly had some unusual level of comprehension and pity for Judas, "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder" (or at least that position in the work) would have been a very good place to display it.

(The same argument applies to Pilate -- none of the arias or other set pieces mention Pilate at all, so the portrayal of him is just the Gospel portrayal, for better or for worse. Incidentally, this is the same opinion I have of the charges that the SJP or SMP are anti-semitic. If they are so, it is an inherent property of the Gospel accounts themselves, which Bach was not free to change.)

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (October 10, 2006):
[To Jean-Pierre Grivois] Well, we could think that - I mean, given how much he composed, in how many years - although in principle there is apparently documentary evidence that before the man sat down to compose, there is one thing he thought of first, and that he considered it to be the only important thing (if we take this documentary evidence literally, and assume it was not just an empty formula). Others may correct me if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that every manuscript of Bach's has the following at the top: either S.D.G. or the full form: Soli Deo Gloria. So, Solely to God be the Glory.

Stephen Benson wrote (October 10, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< "Benign anti-Semitism". Now there's a puzzler. >
That one sort of jumped out at me, as well. Even if this was meant in a relative sense -- sort of passive as opposed to active, I guess -- I find it to be particularly incongruous, if not downright offensive.

Tom Dent wrote (October 10, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< It's quite possible Bach never saw, let alone met, a single Jew. >
.... Quite extraordinarily unlikely, given that Bach did actually spend some of his life outside Leipzig city limits. Unless, perhaps, someone can prove that the huge Jewish population of the German-speaking countries suddenly popped into existence some time later. The idea that you could walk from Arnstadt to Luebeck and back and not set eyes on a single Jew is laughably unrealistic and I don't know why anyone would entertain it.

Tom Hens wrote (October 11, 2006):
Tom Dent wrote:
< ... Quite extraordinarily unlikely, given that Bach did actually spend some of his life outside Leipzig city limits. >
He spent all his life in Saxony. The Jewish Encyclopdia, at: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=292&letter=S
is quite informative about the conditions of Jews in Saxony. It's worth a read. I think many people don't fully realize the extent of legally enshrined Christian anti-semitism that prevailed in large parts of Europe until well into the ninenteenth century.

Because they're more succinct about this complex topic, I'll quote from another site: http://www.friendsofdresden.org/SYN-hist.htm:

"In addition -- as in other parts of the Holy Roman Empire -- living conditions and means for making a living were ever more restricted for Jews until, in the sixteenth century, they were altogether prohibited from living
in Dresden and other cities of Saxony. Only with the ascent to the throne of Duke Friedrich August ii [in 1733, TH], was permission granted to a few select families to reside in Dresden and Leipzig." If people live somewhere, they also have to be buried somewhere. The first Jewish cemetery in all of Saxony was only established in 1751, in Dresden. It took almost a century after that for the first synagogue to open there.

< Unless, perhaps, someone can prove that the huge Jewish population of the German-speaking countries suddenly popped into existence some time later. >
I suppose it depends on what you mean by "huge". I seem to remember, but I prepare to stand corrected if my memory fails me, that around the time Hitler came to power, the Jewish population of Germany was estimated at something like 2 to 3 %. But the Jewish population has never been evenly spread across "the German-speaking countries" which all had different regimes, and not even within individual countries. The Jews that were around in the eighteenth century in the Holy Roman Empire lived in strictly enforced geographical and cultural isolation.

< The idea that you could walk from Arnstadt to Luebeck and back and not set eyes on a single Jew is laughably unrealistic >
Given the prohibition on Jews living in any Saxon city until 1733, the punitive taxes on the few that were allowed to live within Saxony, and the restrictions on foreign Jews travelling through the country (although those had been relaxed somewhat by Bach's time), I'll reiterate my earlier statement that it's quite possible that Bach never had a real, face-to-face encounter with a Jew, and quite likely that any contact he might have had with them amounted to nothing more than just seeing a few of them in the street.

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 11, 2006):
[To Tom Hens] I suspect that Mr. Hens is correct in the main. The prohibition ordnances were not air tight but they would have prevented the development of a "community." And Germany was not the center of European Judiasm in Bach's time - that would have been Poland and Russia, in the later's case especially after the first partition of Poland. (I'm talking demographics, not cultural affairs. Therone might have looked at places like Amsterdam, Italy or even England after Cromwell where the descendents of Sephardic Jews of Spain found residence. And it's important to remember that the distinction between Germany and Poland was blurred for centuries. So Ashkenazim, Jews following the "German rite" did mean these were "German Jews." Ditto for Christians. Early Hohenzollern monarchs spoke Polish.) It's likely I suppose that anyone that moved around at all would have come into contact with Jewish merchants etc particularly as Berlin was a center of Jewish life in Germany in Bach's time. (Be hard to accuse Frederick of being anti-Semitic. He might have been anti-human, but appeared to be a genuine equalitarian in his scorn of lesser beings.) As I understand it, Jewish traders were very prominent in military supply - always a growth industry (especially in Prussia). But garrisons tended to be on the periphery or outside of cities proper so they could drill and to keep soldiers out of the hair of civilians.

Would Bach have run into a Jewish convert at the University of Leipzig. I suppose it's possible. But the history of Jews and Christians in Europe until the French Revolution (give or take a generation) was one of mutually agreed upon separation. Whether this separation would have declined greatly had Christian world accepted multi-cultural societies (something almost unknown across the world after the fall of Rome) we can never know. If anything, the early 18th century was a time of increasingly strife between Christians and Jews and ironically between various Jewish schools of thought. But one wonders if Bach had friends at any kind with anyone that was not a German. Bach was certainly well educated for his time, but cosmopolitans were extremely rare in the pre-industrial age. He didn't speak French. He didn't study in Italy. He never left Germany. His life was not, for instance, like that of Erasmus or even Handel. Bach's art was certainly informed, but it was anchored firmly to a time and place. Perhaps a degree of provincialism actually helped.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (October 11, 2006):
[To Tom Dent[ Mr. Hens seems to have some strange ideas and that is nothing new. For someone who is so offended by the mention of Hitler and the Nazi treatment of Jews---this statement "It's quite possible Bach never saw, let alone met, a single Jew" is very offensive. How dare he.

There were Jews in everytown Bach ever went to. If you needed money --that is who you went to get it ---in most cases because Jews were limited by the bigots of Germany of that time in what they could and could not do, where they could live and not live. Banking was one of the few professions opened to them.

Tom Hens wrote (October 19, 2006):
Ludwig wrote:
< Mr. Hens seems to have some strange ideas and that is nothing new. >
Well, coming from someone who thinks that the German title of the WTC is "Das Vertiefung gemilderte Klavier", and who thinks that the use of English in Belgium has been outlawed by the French Ministry of Culture, I suppose I'll have to take that as a compliment.

<snip>
< There were Jews in everytown Bach ever went to. >
I've often wondered: do you ever actually bother to read the messages you respond to, or do you simply not understand them? If there were Jews in every town in Saxony, you must have come across historical sources for this that the eminent scholars who put together the Jewish Encyclopedia (c. 1900) weren't aware of. I gave the URL for that in an earlier message. Could you perhaps explain what those sources are?

Incidentally, completely OT, and unrelated to "ludwig"'s insanity, that Jewish Encyclopedia, which I only stumbled across googling for information about Jews in Saxony in the first half of the 18th century, proved quite interesting to me. Even though I live in a city, Antwerp, which has one of the largest ultra-orthodox Jewish communities outside Israel, I've never known much about how that got established (to quote from a website: "Antwerp is sometimes regarded as the last shtetl in Europe"). I was proud to learn from their article about Antwerp that the burghers of the city have a long-standing tradition of resisting, actively and passively, the anti-semitic laws that the Christian authorities wanted to impose on them, for as long as the existence of that Jewish community has been documented. It's quite remarkable that not one of the many attempts, by outsiders, to drive the Jews from Antwerp ever seems to have succeeded, thanks to persistent sabotage by the local authorities. Of course, we now know that not even the Nazis in WW2 managed to do it, and unlike in the neighbouring occupied countries, the Netherlands and France, the majority of Belgian Jews were saved from the Holocaust -- but the people who were putting together this Encyclopedia around 1900 didn't know about any of that stuff yet.

Tom Hens wrote (October 19, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<big big snip>
< But the history of Jews and Christians in Europe until the French Revolution (give or take a generation) was one of mutually agreed upon separation. >

That's almost worse than "benign anti-semitism". "Mutually agreed upon separation". Just when and where did "the Jews", collectively, agree to, say, being banned from living in cities, or from taking up certain occupations, or having to pay exorbitant taxes just for the privilege of being Jewish, as they were in Bach's time in Saxony?

<snip>
< He didn't speak French. >

I can't come up with a reference off the top of my head (I think it's mentioned in Wolff's book somewhere), but I seem to remember Bach knew at least enough French to read publications on music. He wasn't some uneducated lout, and at the time, anyone with any kind of education would be expected to have at least some knowledge of French.

 

Continue on Part 13

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | 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 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | 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 - R. Chailly | 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 - S. Rattlr | 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
Articles:
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]

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: ýAugust 13, 2007 ý14:30:23