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Johannes-Passsion BWV 245
General Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Discussions in the Weeks of April 4+11, 2010

Paul Johnson wrote (March 31, 2010):
St. John Passion

Sorry for any premature discussion of the St. John Passion (I know the list is moving on to discuss this next), but I am considering buying a copy of Harnoncourt's second Teldec recording and wondered what contemporary opinion on this was?

I have to say, my desert island disc is Harnoncourt's last St. Matthew, so I am not too worried about buying this record. But I have other outstanding recordings of the St. John, and so am hesitant about acquiring any new discs.

Is this a 'must'?

Thanks,

John Lewis wrote (March 31, 2010):
As my first post to BCW I couldn't resist posting the following, the first paragraph of the booklet to the single disc excerpts from the Passion conducted by Britten in 1972 (450 010-2).

"Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a huge amount of choral music. Much of it, though well written, is of varying quality, well-constructed and workmanlike rather than music of genius. Many of the motets and cantatas, for instance, conceived and penned "to order" during Bach's time as organist at St Thomas's, Leipzig, could not be considered to be of the first rank".

The note is attributed to one Martin Furber. I really do wonder whether the writer had actually heard any of the cantatas!

Just to say how much I am valuing the BCW as an aid in my two or three year quest to get to know all the cantatas.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2010):
John Lewis wrote:
< Many of the motets and cantatas, for instance, conceived and penned "to order" during Bach's time as organist at St Thomas's, Leipzig, could not be considered to be of the first rank". >
This is the Romantic view that great music be untrammeled by worldly considerations and be an act of heroic will by the composer and exist in a sphere of aesthetic purity.

As if the Passions were not "penned to order".

Pfui!

John Lewis wrote (March 31, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] Quite so. Ultimately how much art has ever been produced without some worldly need or consideration.

Personally I never cease to be amazed by the quality of the Cantatas as I get to know each one .

Martin Diers wrote (March 31, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] Hear, hear!

What I find interesting about this topic is the parallel between the Lutheran practice of preaching on pericopes (a set series of texts that are prescribed throughout the church year, vs. "free text" preaching which is more common in the evangelical / reformed churches), and Bach's being bound to a set text or subject matter as defined by his call or contract. No one accused Lutheran preachers of preaching inferior sermons because they were "bound" to use a specific text.

I am reminded of the best advice I was ever given in my creative work: "Work whether you feel like it or not. Looking back, you may well find that some of your best output is that which you did when you didn't feel like working."

William Hoffman wrote (April 2, 2010):
St. John Passion Intro

Introduction

Bach's first oratorio Passion, the Passion According to St. John, BWV 245, was first presented on Good Friday, April 7, 1724, during the Vesper Services at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Bach's first full liturgical oratorio Passion setting was the main event during the service. The Vespers also included hymns and a sermon, probably delivered by Pastor Christian Weiss Sr., in between the two parts of the service. Detailed basic information can be found at BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV245.htm

Various topics on the St. John Passion (SJP) are explored in the coming two weeks' BCW discussion. Here are two new articles:

"Literary Origins of Bach's St. John Passion: 1704-1717"
By William Hoffman (March 2010)

Contents

Introduction
Music
Biblical Text
Dramatic Elements
Essential Literary Source
Lyrical Movements
John's Gospel and Anti-Judaism
Liturgical Oratorio Passion
Reinhard Keiser's Influence
Brockes Passion
Brockes Passion Oratorio Settings
Other Poetic Passion Oratorios
Liturgical Oratorio Passions
Postel St. John Passion
Mattheson St. John Passion
Postel St. John Passion Lyrical Movements
Literary Influences
Musical Influences of Postel (Serauky)
Sources of Other Lyrical Movements
Selectively Bibliography
Recordings

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SJP-Hoffman-1.htm

"Bach's Passion Pursuit"
By William Hoffman (March 2010)

Contents

Introduction
Bach's "First" Passion (1711-14)
Bach's Weimar-Gotha Passion (1717)
Theme of Weeping
Preparation for the John Passion
Bach's Leipzig Probe
Composition, Characteristics of Bach's SJP
Various Versions
Narrative Unity of Structure, Theme, Text
Internal Parody
St. John Passion Chorales
Chorale Usages in Passions

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SJP-Hoffman-2.htm

Here is a summary of the first article, "Literary Origins of Bach's St. John Passion: 1704-1717."

Bach was required to present Passions annually on Good Friday at Vesper services alternating between Leipzig's two principal churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. As the first of Bach's three oratorio Passions, the SJP was a model for his future oratorio presentations of Passions as well as for the major feast day oratorios as part of his Christological Cycle of major works. At the same time, Bach's three surviving oratorio Passions constitute one large, interwoven tapestry shot through with strands from other composers. These are explored in the two BCW articles.

Dramatic music was the lynch-pin of Bach's creative Passion endeavors. While preserving the biblical text, Bach amplified it dramatically, especially in the SJP. He deliberately imported two passages from Matthew's synoptic account of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ: Peter weeping bitterly while Jesus is tried, after realizing his prophetic denials and betrayal, and at Jesus' death, the rending of the veil of the Jerusalem Temple, the earthquake, and the opening of graves, transforming Jesus of Nazareth into Christ crucified.

To this end, Bach composed two great choruses to frame the SJP and seven arias with two accompanying ariosi to reflect on the major events in the disciple John's unique account of Jesus' confrontation with and submission to profane authority. The seven crucial actions are: Jesus led to the High Priest Annas, Peter following, Jesus' scourging, Pilate seeking to release Jesus, Jesus led to Golgatha, Jesus' final proclamation, "It is finished," and the earthquake. Bach creates three types of contemplative dialogues. Besides the coupling of arioso and aria in two places for personal reflection and commentary, Bach composes two arias with chorales (one interspersed and one as a canto obbligato), as well as one aria with chorus interjections. These three dialogues are used extensively in his St. Matthew Passion, BWV 245.

The essential literary sources were twenty years in the making. Bach's encounter with the emerging oratorio German Passion forms began in Northern Germany, 1702-06. The highly-dramatic and pietistic poetic Passion Oratorio is exemplified in the Brockes Passion. While, it contains elements of anti-Judaism reflective of John's Gospel, Bach eschewed them in his treatment rooted in Lutheran teaching and bolstered with a panoply of congregational chorale hymns.

The major dramatic influences on Bach's SJP were the Brockes Passion and the poetry of Christian Henrich Postel. The most significant developments came from the composer and Hamburg Opera director Reinhard Keiser inthe first 10 years. Bach learned much as he witnessed first-hand the eventual dominance of the Brockes Passion influence in the coming decade and its continuing effect - and affect - in the coming decades as the profane Passion Oratorio form was leavened with more sacred hymns and poetry.

Here is a summary of the second article, "Bach's Passion Pursuit."

Bach's Passion pursuit actively began in Weimar with his initial presentation of the "Keiser" Hamburg St. Mark Passion, around 1711-14. Bach's endeavors may have had little to do with the Weimar court, except for the composition of a now-lost Funeral Cantata for Prince Johann Ernst in 1716. Bach may have presented the "Keiser" Passion at the Weißenfels Court, had a Passion contact involving cousin Johann Ludwig Bach at the Meiningen Court, and did compose his first Passion for the Gotha Court in 1717. Nine movements survive from this original poetic Passion: the framing opening and closing chorale choruses, four arias, an arioso, and two plain chorales. The two choruses and three arias were inserted into the 1725 SJP second version.

The disposition of these Gotha Passion movements involves the opening chorale chorus, "O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß," to close Part 1 of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), in 1736; the closing chorus, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes," closing Cantata BWV 23 for Quinquagesima Sunday; and the aria-arioso combinations, both beginning "Erbarme dich" (Have mercy), and the chorale "Bin ich gleich," eventually closing Cantata BWV 55 for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity.

The three movements now in Cantata 55 were probably located in Bach's Gotha Passion at the place where Peter weeps. The theme of weeping is found in German Passion poetry and in all three Bach original oratorio Passions of John, Matthew, and Mark. The image of the sacrificial lamb also is found throughout Bach's Passions.

Although Bach composed no sacred music in Köthen, he collaborate with the poet Menantes, who had written the first extant Passion Oratorio libretto in 1704 in Hamburg, to present congratulatory serenades for the Köthen court. Bach also visited Hamburg in 1719 and encountered the Passion-enthusiast Johann Mattheson.

Bach's Leipzig probe in early 1723 involved three composers with strong Passion credentials - Fasch, Telemann, and Graupner - who considered the Cantor's post but decided to remain where they were.

Established in Leipzig in June 1723, Bach began putting together the movement plan and the dramatic libretto for his St. John Passion. The original libretto appears to have been a collaboration between Bach, who had significant Passion literary resources, and someone with literary and theological abilities, probably university educated.

Bach's SJP focuses on the long confrontation scene, called "Herzstücke," between Jesus and his antagonists. Comprising one-third of John's Passion account in Chapters 18 and 19, it includes a palindrome or mirror structure, called "chiastic" or cross-like, as well as corresponding dramatic crowd choruses using similar musical motif and internal text parody.

Bach's use of congregational chorales plays a central role in the SJP. Besides the 11 four-part chorales interspersed throughout at places of repose, the two-hour-long Passion had two arias with chorale commentary, and in the1725 version, the two chorale choruses. Bach utilizes both traditional Passion and non-Passion chorales, many of which also are found in the Matthew and Mark Passions, as well, increasingly, as in the Passions of other composers.
____________

Next week, I'll produce an article on framework, levels and themes in Bach's SJP. This will include the five parts or stages of the Passion, key schemes and tonal allegory, the Christus Victor Lutheran theological theme, Doug Cowling's four-fold allegory, and the great parabolic movement of descent and ascent (and the related tonal movement of catabasis and anabasis), as well as the Pauline and Lukan theme of kenosis, or emptying oneself. If there is time, I will present some ideas from John Butt's new book, "Bach's Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions."

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Dramatic music was the lynch-pin of Bach's creative Passion endeavors. >
I just grabbed a quick fragment, to say thanks to Will for all his contributions to BCML, especially always striving for accuracy in sources.

A sense of humor is welcome from my perspective, as well. Lutheran humor, I believe? So much the better.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Bach's first oratorio Passion, the Passion According to St. John, BWV 245, was first presented on Good Friday, April 7, 1724, during the Vesper Services at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. >
I hope to attend an abbreviated version later today (Friday). I will do my best to provide appropriate musical reports, re performance and abbreviations.

My spouse loves to quote her father, re Good Friday: <Good for who?>

I have lost track of the calculations: closest Friday to Passover, or is it more mooney than that?

Full disclosure, personal report: My son was born April 4, which coincides with Easter this year. The anniversary of MLK assassination, as well. Celebrate with me, friends.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 2, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] A sense of humor is welcome from my perspective, as well. Lutheran humor, I believe? So much the better

A well known Spike Milligan comment was--German sense of humour is no laughing matter. Sums up the xenophobic Brit attitude i guess.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 3, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SJP-Hoffman-2.htm
< Here is a summary of the first article, "Literary Origins of Bach's St. John Passion: 1704-1717." >
Thanks so much for this exhaustive review of the literary and musical backgrounds of the SJP. This is the first time that I've systematically taken the opportunity to consider the history. The Gotha Passionmaterial is fascinating

In your article, you make the assertion:

"The genesis of Bach¹s St. John Passion took less than a year, with the actual composition of the 40 movements occurring during the six weeks of Lent."

I don't want to ignite the Flammenkrieg that erupted a while back, but would you discuss the documentary evidence that the compositional period was restricted to Lent when there were no cantata obligations? I'm not convinced that we have to ascribe such Rossini-like haste to Bach. I find it more credible that Bach's compositional process paralleled the literary development. In fact, I think it more credible that his musical ideas were determinative in the shape of the libretto.

Peter Smaill wrote (April 3, 2010):
St. John Passion Structure

[To William Hoffman] Thank you William for an excellent collation and summation from many sources of the formative evidence for the evolution of the SJP.

In 2005 at the centenary conference at Princeton in honour of the late Arthue Mendel (1905-1979), William Scheide gave a fascinating talk as to the numerical meaning of the sections of the work. In his view Part I has 14 (numerologically BACH), and the second, treating the aria and chorale No. 32 ("Mein Teurer heiland") / ("der du wahrest Tot") as two entities, PartII has 27; numerological "J S ".

This analysis, because of the need to manipulate the normally accepted computation of the sections, had not played a major part in Bach scholarship , unlike the "Herzestuck" chiastic disposition of the work developed by Smend. However, since decting that the apocryphal St Luke Passion has three movements, including the most important aria, the Tenor's n. 77 "Lasst mich ihn nur noch einmal kussen", with 41 bars, I'm beginnning to think that it could have more weight in the overall thesis that Bach has a personal relationship to the Passion music.

Or is it all just coincidence?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 3, 2010):
St. John Passion - Numerology

Peter Smaill wrote:
< I'm beginnning to think that it could have more weight in the overall thesis that Bach has a personal relationship to the Passion music. >
Although I recognize that it is an important dimension of Bach's music, numerology has little intellectual or emotional appeal to me. I was intrigued when you spoke of the numbers revealing a "personal relationship" with the Passion music. That would bring the numbers into a similar position as the chorales in which the listener identifies with the narrative through faith and emotion.

I hate to admit it but numerological expositions bore me to tears. Has this "personal relationship" dimension been discussed by scholars?

William Hoffman wrote (April 3, 2010):
Douglas Cowing writes:
< I hate to admit it but numerological expositions bore me to tears. Has this "personal relationship" dimension been discussed by scholars? >
William Hoffman replies:
I think the discussion has been going on for centuries, among scholars and amateurs. Ref. John Butt's new book, "Bach's Dialogue With Modernity," especially Bach and Leibnitz and particularly nominalism. It's like the discussion on the Four-Fold Allegory and Bach's compositional process. It can be an historical key to a better understanding of the complexities and varied perspectives on JSB. One man's boredom is another's provocation. One man's floatsam and jetsam is another's treasure.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 3, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Although I recognize that it is an important dimension of Bach's music, numerology has little intellectual or emotional appeal to me. >
Yep, it's contrived much like the "Bible Code" is contrived. The "Bach Code" is just another permutation of that. Fool around with numbers long enough, you can get them to say anything you think you want them to say.

Happy Holidays,

Peter Smaill wrote (April 3, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Yep, it's contrived much like the "Bible Code" is contrived. The "Bach Code" is just another permutation of that. Fool around with numbers long enough, you can get them to say anything you think you want them to say >
Yes indeed there have been many who take that latter line, which is why the question of whether any particular observation has a prescribed meaning has often to be left open.

Statistically however the number of observations made in Bach, and the abundant evidence of numerology as a feature of the late Renaissance and Baroque , indicate very strongly that there is an undercurrent of numerology and certainly a use of proportion in structure. The scholars Hirsch and Tatlow, though the latter is often sceptical of many of the claims, cannot easily be disregarded for that reason. Nor is there a "Bach Code" as such, the use of these symbolic devices applies to many individuals and poetical works, not just Bach and his music.

No one doubts that the final Contrapunctus in the Kd F represents BACH (actually originally contrived by Johann Nicholaus Bach), so why consider that there may not be other instances of self-referentiality? My own position was that of deep scepticism when first reading of symbolism in Bach and thus I sympathise that on a musical level, the ear cannot connect to what may be at work. Over the years the fact that great scholars such as Smend and Scheide also find striking patterns, sometimes mistakenly but often not, leaves this aspect of Bach open to further observation.

But the music qua music, why yes, that always comes first.

Happy Easter!

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 3, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Yes indeed there have been many who take that latter line, which is why the question of whether any particular observation has a prescribed meaning has often to be left open.
Statistically however the number of observations made in Bach, and the abundant evidence of numerology as a feature of the late Renaissance and Baroque , indicate very strongly that there is an undercurrent of numerology and certainly a use of proportion in structure. The scholars Hirsch and Tatlow, though the latter is often sceptical of many of the claims, cannot easily be disregarded for that reason. Nor is there a "Bach Code" as such, the use of these symbolic devices applies to many individuals and poetical works, not just Bach and his music. >
THAT I agree with. Philip Pickett's writing about the Brandenburgs and numbers is fantastic stuff, truly! But doing crazy things with the passions to see if they spell out Bach's name is just over the top. There are signs the St. John's passion was written with quite a bit of haste, given the amount of later revisions, so was Bach keeping track of all these numbers while trying to meet an important deadline?

Thanks and have a nice holiday!

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 4, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Or is it [Bach and numerology] all just coincidence? >
There is a great deal of turf between all just coincidence and some of the wilder speculations. Certainly the interpretation of 14 and 41 as self-referential is appealing, with the added charm of the transposition.

OTOH, I think the point noted by KPClow, re the ongoing revisions to SJP, and reuse of material in other contexts, make some of the more intricate counts suspect, at the very least.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 4, 2010):
< Yep, it's contrived much like the "Bible Code" is contrived. The "Bach Code" is just another permutation of that. Fool around with numbers long enough, you can get them to say anything you think you want them to say. >
It's very easy just to dismiss theories of this kind and it's often done on rather spurious grounds. What we do know is that Bach had an interest in numbers , that he used aspects of his own name in his music and that certain other associations are perfectly obvious e.g. references to the Trinity by a whole series of usages of the number 3----e.g. 9/8 time, nos of sections, repetitions of various phrases etc. What we don't know, bcause he didn't tell us, is how deeply Bach went into or made use of such associations as a part of his creative processes.

Two of the 'arguments' of dismissal used in this list I would challenge strongly. The first is that such references are of no interest or are unimportant because you can't hear them. I wonder if people who say this are confident that they can hear and follow accurately all the permutations of tone rows in the serial music of the C 20. Music is what it is and there are many examples where the most astute listener cannot hear everything that is going on but then, why he should he?. Bach's congregations, who heard the music once perhaps in five years and lacked access to the scores we have today would hacv noticed much less than we are able to do nowadays.

The second 'argument' is that Bach was so busy writing the stuff, why would he give himself the extra hassles of making these abstruse number associations. This is, I would suggest, to put the cart before the horse and to to misunderstand the fact that he almost certainly made use of such associations as a stimulous to his imagination e.g. it was probably his way, or one of them, of getting the creative juices flowing, a private matter for himself (or possibly also for the attention of God) and of little or no concern to his listeners. In the same way his construction of many of the cantata's main themes from images taken from the text were probably not intended to be recognised by all and sundry; they were a stimulus to his imagination.

Obviousit is possible to take numeralogical associations to a point of absurdity. This is not a reason for dismissing them entirely

Neil Halliday wrote (April 4, 2010):
Video of Suzuki's St. John

For those who may have missed this when I posted it a couple of weeks back:

'Bach St.John Passion Suzuki' on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ0Vgb99tsQ&NR=1

Stunning! The entire work (in twelve sections)!

Including subtitles in English!

The sustained drama of the opening chorus is electrifying, as usual in good performances. The ensemble, including 16 vocalists and soloists, looks great! The murmuring, ominous, upper strings are heard throughout, not always the case in period performances.

In the final chorus, Suzuki has somes marvellous, expressive touches, eg, highlighting the flutes while quietening the violins in the last few bars of the ritornello, and contrasting dynamics on the repetitions of "Ruht wohl".

One thing I hadn't noticed before, just before the da capo in 'Ruht wohl', the vocal basses and continuo drop out (except for two separated bars of continuo) highlighting the upper voices and instruments to the words "the grave contains no further want, opens heaven for me, and closes hell"; and the entire upper ensemble (minus basses and continuo) comes to rest on the same unison Eb (Eb on
the bottom line of the treble clef).

Briefly, in other movements:

'Zerfliesse' is stunning.

The turbae choruses are amazingly accurate and dramatic.

All vocal soloists are exceptionally pleasing.

[My only personal dislikes: "Erwäge" faster than ideal, with understated upper strings; likewise "Mein teurer Heiland" is too fast.]


(Each of the 12 sections is automatically displayed in succession. I hope you have reasonably fast broadband!)

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 4, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] I find Julians nicely stated points satisfying, in particular:

JM:
< Bach's congregations, who heard the music once perhaps in five years and lacked access to the scores we have today would have noticed much less than we are able to do nowadays. >
EM:
In addition, mathematical considerations which support the overall architecture of a work may contribute to the afffekt of the music without necessarily being conciously analyzed or even perceived by the listener.

JM:
< it was probably his way, or one of them, of getting the creative juices flowing, a private matter for himself (or possibly also for the attention of God) and of little or no concern to his listeners. >
EM:
Again, to the extent that the numerology effect is to overall architecture, it may contribute to the listeners perception, without being of direct or analytic concern.

JM:
< Obviously it is possible to take numeralogical associations to a point of absurdity. This is not a reason for dismissing them entirely >
EM:
Alas, overextending does make it rather easy to discredit the entire process, by way of pointing out spurious examples. For those who would like to demonstrate the validity of numerology analysis, better to err on the side of caution?

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 4, 2010):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< [...]
In 2005 at the centenary conference at Princeton in honour of the late Arthue Mendel (1905-1979), William Scheide gave a fascinating talk as to the numerical meaning of the sections of the work. In his view Part I has 14 (numerologically BACH), and the second, treating the aria and chorale No. 32 ("Mein Teurer heiland") / ("der du wahrest Tot") as two entities, Part II has 27; numerological "J S ". >
What I find most surprising in numerological analyses is not that Bach would incorporate numeric patterns in his music, but that he would systematically use numerology to write his own name, particularly in something as "sacred" as the Passions.

Some teenagers would write or paint their (nick)name on any wall or other support they encounter, but this often expresses their need to be recognised as an individual (also in their own eyes).

I can hardly imagine this kind of motivation in Bach's creations. We know that he wrote "soli deo gloria" on some scores. Would numerology prove that he actually had a double language when writing with numbers?

Elrock wrote (April 4, 2010):
St John Recording by Frans Brüggen

I have been listening to the St John Passion conducted by Frans Br&#252;ggen and I must say that the approach in the opening chorus is very pleasing in my opinion. The first time through, rather than an explosive "Herr, Herr, Herr", the tension pulls back almost into a sorrowful plea of help from the chorus by being restrained and gentle. The second time through is when the strength is displayed. The balance of the flutes is interesting too, where they seem more "twisty" than straight lines (if that makes sense). I am going to continue to listen to the rest of the recording, but this opening chorus always astounds me.

(I also really enjoy this opening chorus by Gardiner, for different reasons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb1tBrGSFFU)

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 4, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< What I find most surprising in numerological analyses is not that Bach would incorporate numeric patterns in his music, but that he would systematically use numerology to write his own name, particularly in something as "sacred" as the Passions. >
But this is analogous to the B-A-C-H notation pattern, which I believe was in fact a family tradition handed down to Bach (I did not confirm the source for that, at the moment).

This is associated with the cross in SMP (BWV 244) 1736 score (again, I did not confirm at the moment).

Additional analyis by some, then associates any pattern of adjacent falling minor seconds with the cross.

By extension, any four-note pattern can be construed as a cross (unless all four notes are the same, making a line).

Where to draw the line (heh) on this analysis?

Elrock wrote (April 4, 2010):
[To Neil Halliday, regarding Video of Suzuki's St. John] Neil, thanks for the links. Suzuki is amazingly consistant in high quality and interpretation and this version of the St John is no exception. I did notice that in the opening chorus the chorus and the orchestra have differences in music than the "standard" version that we normally hear (is that the version from 1745?). You can hear the difference, especially in the sopranos and bass' right before they sing "Show us by thy passion" (right after the first "even in times of deepest lowliness" part). Do you know what version this is?

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 4, 2010):
I previously responded to Therese:
< But this is analogous to the B-A-C-H notation pattern, which I believe was in fact a family >tradition handed down to Bach (I did not confirm the source for that, at the moment). >
Despite the fact that I believe I saw it in passing within the past few days, I am unable to quickly recover the reference. Hold that thought.

< This is associated with the cross in SMP (BWV 244) 1736 score (again, I did not confirm at the moment). >
I conflated some prior discussion from BCW. The SMP (BWV 244) instance is in fact <a transposition and inversion> of the BACH motif. In BMM, the placement of x marks in the score has also been interpreted as supportive of association of BACH-like motifs with the cross. The attribution of these x marks to Bach himself is now questioned by NBA (via recent Thomas Braatz post).

Perhaps the most scholarly creditable (and mercifully concise!) comment is from Geck (J.S. Bach: Life and Work, p.629, re Art of Fugue):

<The extant sections have a fugue that offers nothing remarkable, but is unique in its signature B-A-C-H, which appears here, completely undisguised, for the first and last time in all of Bach's work.>

This is in fact much more supportive of the points made by Therese than I suggested in my earlier post.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 5, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>But this is analogous to the B-A-C-H notation pattern, which I believe win fact a family >tradition handed down to Bach (I did not confirm the source for that, at the moment). <<
< Despite the fact that I believe I saw it in passing within the past few days, I am unable to >quickly recover the reference. Hold that thought. >

Although not the reference I recalled, it is confirmed by Wolff, in Grove (p. 39 of old paperback edition of New Grove Bach Family, from my shelf):

<Also according to Johann Sebastian, correcting a reference in J.G Walthers Musicalisches Lexicon (1732), it was Johann Nicolaus [Bach] who discovered that <the letters BACH are melodic in their arrangement> (see Bach-Dokumente ii, no. 323). He [J.N.] died in Jena on 4 November 1753.> (end quote)

I am guessing that someone who wrote some liner-notes that I read recently also had read that source. I do not see that Wolff mentioned it in J.S. Bach: The Learned Musician, but perhaps it is there without indexing.

Note especially:

(1) Bach (J.S.) is correcting an error in a contemporary, oft-cited source, which may carry through an error in contadictory citations.

(2) There is no guarantee that Bach is not being disingenuous, for whatever reason. How many times have I said <I got it from my Uncle Stanley>, in an attempt to excuse some bad habit or other?

(3) The date in question predates the Art of Fugue (cited by Geck as first undisguised instance) by nearly two decades.

(4) If you are looking for a cross you are likely to find one. I had a nice bottle of wine for Easter dinner with an attractive Y (Yorkville, CA) on the label. I could easily place four musical notes in the design and see a circulatio of sorts, especially on Easter evening.

See also archived BCW discussion, re BWV 62, ten skewered shrimp (two skewers) arranged on the plate in the form of an oblong cross. An enjoyable and amusing (to me, anyway) exchange, from a few years ago. Geck pays special attention, with appropriate balance of respect and skepticism, to numerology (gematria) in Bach studies. I guess I will have to read the book, before any further comments. Sample entries:
p. 352, citing Schering from 1925, Bach gives special significance to the number ten.
p. 672, there are alternate gemiatric number-letter equivalencies in the literature, contemporary with Bach.

To reitereate: I find Bach = 14, J.S. Bach =41, to be cute, at the very least. Hard for me to imagine that Bach did not feel the same.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 5, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< What I find most surprising in numerological analyses is not that Bach would incorporate numeric patterns in his music, but that he would systematically use numerology to write his own name, particularly in something as "sacred" as the Passions. >
That's interesting as the only numerological event that intrigues me is the Passions. If Bach did "sign his name" in numbers, it may be his personal way of saying, "I, J.S.Bach, identify myself personally with the believers in the chorales who bring the Passion of Christ into their lives." That gives the hermenutic of the Passions another allegorical layer which is much more significant than mere number games.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 5, 2010):
Elrock wrote:
>You can hear the difference, especially in the sopranos and bass' right before they sing "Show us by thy passion" (right after the first "even in times of deepest lowliness" part). Do you know what version this is?<
Thanks for pointing this out. I would say Gardiner has the final version (agreeing with my Eulenberg score) - the soprano part with the dotted rhythm on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th notes of that bar (and some other places, as you say) sounds more animated and impressive than the score followed at that point by Suzuki.

Gardiner has some extra-expressive moments, such as a strong dynamic contrast between "even in the greatest lowliness" (piano) and "is exalted" (forte). Bach adds to the sudden increase in power here, with all the continuo instruments coming together in unison so we now have the violone also thudding along with the repeated 1/8th notes of the cellos and bassoons (cellos and bassoons plural, according to my score). [Normally the violone is pulsing below, at a quarter of the pace of the cellos and bassoons, which creates a marvellous effect in itself - as if the entire ensemble is breathing deeply.

Guido de Winne wrote (April 5, 2010):
[To Martin Diers] Hartelijk dank. Very fine music.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 5, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< That's interesting as the only numerological event that intrigues me is the Passions. If Bach did "sign his name" in numbers, it may be his personal way of saying, "I, J.S.Bach, identify myself personally with the believers in the chorales who bring the Passion of Christ into their lives." That gives the hermenutic of the Passions another allegorical layer which is much more significant than mere number games. >
Indeed, your interpretation regarding Passions makes sense (to me at least).

"Number games" may indeed be more relevant when "playing" with notes and keys ("Art of Fugue").

Peter Smaill wrote (April 5, 2010):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] While we are at the meta level of structure it is worth recording the amazing layout of this work as set out by Eric Chafe at p. 312 of "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J S Bach".

Not only do we have the oft-observed chiastic/symmetrical pattern of the "Herzestuck", essentially the disposition of the Chorales around the centrepiece E major chorale "Durch dein Gefaegnis", but also seven of the Turbae in the second section (parts 18b to 23f)- are centrally focussed on this Chorale. Add to this the symmetrical disposition of the keys in all forty movements as grouped into nine tonal blocks; the order is:

flats -Sharps-natural-flats-Sharps-flats-natural-Sharps-flats

The whole is an elaborate analysis over 30 pages with many additional points of interest as to the relation between modulations and the text. Interestingly the final Chorale "Ach Herr lass dein leib Engelein" does not fit the chiastic pattern but acts as a postlude as does the alternate ending with the setting of "O Lamm Gottes": the change could be made without violating the symmetry of the rest.

William Hoffman wrote (April 5, 2010):
Frameworks, Levels, Spheres

Five-Part Sermon, Play

Tradition has long held that Bach’s church service music, particularly the yearly cantata cycle and the annual Passions, functioned as musical sermons. Bach scholar Robin Leaver has advanced this concept in the St. John Passion (SJP), BWV 245, in “J. S. Bach as Preacher: His Passions and Music in Worship” (Church Music Pamphlet Series; Carl Schalk, Editor), St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1982. Alfred Dürr describes the SJP as a sermon division into five acts in <Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion: Genesis, Transmission and Meaning>, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 (English translation Alfred Clayton), from Bärenreiter-Verlag: Kassel, 1988.

Leaver describes the five as parts of a sermon as types of music: 1) <exordium> (introduction, dictum), No. 1 opening chorus; 2) <proposito> (key statement), Biblical text; 3) <tractatio> (treatment, investigation, exposition of Biblical text) in lyrical music; [sermon]; 4) <applicatio> (application), chorales; 5) <conclusio> (final statement, closing chorus. Leaver singles out musical examples: <tractatio>, lyrical movements such as Nos. 19 and 20, bass arioso, “Betrachte, meine Seele,” and No. 20, tenor aria, “Erwäge”; <applicatio>, chorales such as: No. 26, “Meines Hezens Grunde”; <proposito> (underlying theological purpose), the early chiastic structure, Nos. 6-10, Jesus’ arrest to Peter in the High Priest’s courtyard, as well as the central chiastic structure, from No. 18b, “Give us Barrabas,” to No. 25b, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews’;” and <conclusio>, No. 39, “Rest Well.”

Dürr names the five actus cluster designations (in the form of a hexameter) in the Passion story as: A) “Hortus” (Garden), Nos. 2-5; B) “Pontifaces” (High Priests), Nos. 6-14; C) “Pilatus” (Pilate), Nos. 15-26; D) “Crux” (Cross), Nos. 27-37; E. “Sepulchrum” (sepulcher), Nos. 38-40. Dürr precedes A with ExordiumI, No. 1. opening chorus; and C. with Exordium II, No. 15, chorale “Christus der uns selig macht.”

Fourfold Allegory (Cowling)

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 10, 2009):
BWV 244 SMP, Spheres:

William Hoffman wrote:
< The SMP "contains a trinity of groups, each belonging to its proper sphere." They are the Gospel narrative "protagonists"; "the pious individuals and choruses connected with them that accompany the action with their emotions and comments"; and "the Christian community whose chorales appear, within the animated profusion of action and sentiment, as the pillars that carry the edifice of the work." >

This is in essence an extension of the patristic allegorical hermeneutic which dominated biblical commentary until the modern scientific period of biblical studies at the end of the 18th century. Dante gave probably the most distinctive outline of this allegorical method which is a key to textual interpretation which was still operative in Luther's writings and thus in Bach's biblical aesthetic.

The fourfold allegory is:

1) Literal - The story or narrative. In the Bach Passions, this would be the chronological sequence of events recounted by the Evangelist. Bach does refine the literal story in the SJP by adding the scene of Peter's weeping and the Earthquake from Matthew's Gospel. Those scenes which do not appear in John's Gospel.

2) Allegorical - The "cloak" which hides the meaning. This element is already present in the biblical narrative. For example, the earthquake in the SMP (BWV 244) is more than a geologic event: it also carries the theological meaning of the created order's response to the death of the divine Son of the Creator. Both the chorales and the arias often carry the allegorical sense.

3) Moral - This is the teaching which the event in the literal story holds for the reader. In the Bach Passions, the chorales carry the moral allegory. A good example is the chorale after the Buffeting in the SMP (BWV 244) in which the violence against Jesus is interpreted as the modern individual's sin against God. The use of "I" and "my" usually signals the moral allegory.

4) Anagogic - This is what Dante calls the "spiritual" teaching, more specifically the relationship of the soul to God. In Lutheran teaching, this sense always focusses on the soul and death. In the Bach Passions, the anagogic sense is always expressed through the poetic movements. An example is "Ich Will Bei Meinem Jesum" in which the Tenor as the Soul sings that he will watch for Christ and it is his sins which will fall asleep. Thus, the event in the literal story is an allegory of the Last Things.

In a literary genre, the four levels exist simultaneously. In music, which has to exist in time, the aesthetic has to be sequential. Bach approaches this in two ways. Sometimes he interrupts the story: Christ's dialogue with Peter about betrayal is interrupted by the chorale "Erkenne mich" and the drama of the literal story is held up while the chorus makes its moral point. At other times, the intrusion into the narrative comes at the end of a "scene": Christ's dialogue in Gethsamane ends with antata cyclehim at prayer. At this point, the tenor comments on the whole scene with "O Schmerz".

[T. Barndt wrote (April 11, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] Eric Chafe in "Analyzing Bach Cantatas" (Oxford University Press) expounds on these fourfold allegory ("The Hermeneutic Matrix") and how they tie into Lutheran theology, including Bach's choices of keys and harmonizations and even into the theological concepts behind tempered tuning. ]



Theology, Tonality, Structure

The themes of theology, tonal planning and musical structure in Bach’s St. John Passion (SJP) are explored in depth in Erich Chafe’s 1991 book, <Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach> (Berkeley, University of California Press: Chs.10, 11). He says that the SJP and the St. Matthew Passion (SMP) (BWV 244) are “strikingly different” (p. 275f) in “fundamental theological questions” and their impact on the “characters and structures.” He cites the guilt/innocence “dualism of orthodoxy” in the SJP contrasted to the pietism in the SMP (BWV 244). One reason for the differences, he says, is that the SJP was composed before Bach completed his first church cantata cycle and immerse himself in Leipzig doctrinal interests. Then, he began composing his second (chorale) cantata cycle and the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).

Bach’s first two Leipzig Passions “represent two different theological traditions” regarding Christ’s atonement, Chafe says. The SJP emphasizes the early Greek Father’s view of Jesus as the Christus Victor model of atonement, while the later SMP (BWV 244) represents the “satisfaction” theory of redemption from Anselm in the 11th century, citing Jaroslav Pelikan’s <Bach Among the Theologians> (Philadelphia, Fortress Press: Chs. 7, 8). The “satisfaction theory was the “classic view” of the atonement during the early centuries of the church, lost during the Middle Ages, revived by Luther, and then lost again by Protestant Orthodoxy, according to Gustav Aulen, 20th century theologian.

The changes in the SJP 1725 second version, Chafe suggests (pp. 302-04), emphasize an acknowledgement of sin conforming with Leipzig church doctrine. Still, the “differing emphasesin Bach’s two Passions are not incompatible with Luther’s theology or with each other, but only the SMP (BWV 244) provides a well-rounded picture of orthodox Lutheran theology” of the times. The third historical theory -- or model -- of “atonement” (which means “at-one-ness”) is moral influence, as established by Peter Abelard, medieval French scholar.

Bach’s first Leipzig Passion reveals “John’s Theology of the Cross: The Passion as Jesus Glorification” in its general Christology of all aspects of the person of Christ, says Chafe (p. 282f). John’s emphasis on “the trial and Jesus’ speaking of the crucifixion as the ‘lifting’ that will draw all men to him” -- the fundamental idea of glorification through abasement, “which is completed in “Es ist vollbracht” (It is fulfilled) -- “is announced in the opening chorus,” says Chafe.


John’s Jesus as Christus Victor

Alfred Dürr in his Bach SJP study (pp. 33f) provides a clear, concise understanding of John’s unique, non-synoptic Gospel of the word and love, especially its Passion treatment of Jesus, and Bach’s musical treatment from this perspective. Dürr describes the Christus Victor symbolic characterization as “the majestic son of God,” triumphing over all adversity, and finally “lifted up” in “glory.” John’s Jesus is regal, omnipotent, and ever-lasting. Because John’s “interpretation is reflected in every detail of his account of the Passion,” says Dürr, John’s later version of the Passion story necessarily places the omens and the Last Supper earlier in his Gospel while omitting entirely the suffering in the garden, and Judas’ kiss of betrayal. In addition, John juxtaposes scenes such as Peter’s denials with Jesus confrontations with the High Priest and Pilate, as well as rearranging the order of events in comparison with the three synoptic (read-together) Gospels, especially in the confrontation scene.

Dürr cites nine key lyrical movements and lines of text (pp. 35-37) as reflections of John’s Christus Victor characterization (five of nine are chorales):

1. No. 1. Chorus. Herr, unser Herrscher (Lord, our ruler, whose praise [Ps. 8:1, Your praise reaches up to the heavens] is glorious in all the lands [Ps. 8:9, O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world]).

2. No. 3(7), Chorale. O große Lieb, o Lieb ohn alle Maß (O greatest love, O love never ending), at Jesus’ arrest (Jo18:8)

3. No. 9(13), Aria. Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten, [I will follow you likewise with joyful steps and (I) will not let you (go)], at Peter’s denial (John 18:11), showing John’s theme of discipleship, particularly important in Lutheran tradition.

4. No. 17(27), Chorale. Ach großer König, groß zu allen Zeiten (O great king, great in all times), “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)

5. No. 22(40), Chorale. Durch dein Gefängnis (Through your imprisonment), Pliate tries to free Jesus (John 19:12a); the chorale “highlights the contrast between Jesus and Pilate,” says Dürr.

6. No. 26(52), Chorale. In meines Herzens Grunde/dein Nahm und Kreuz allein/funkeltn all Zeit und Stunde (In the recesses of my heart/thy name and cross alone/gleam at all times and hours), Pilate says, “What I have written, I have written ) John 19:22); the “all Zeit und Stunde” relates to the opening chorus phrase “zu aller Zeit (in every age)

7. No. 30(58), Aria. Es ist vollbracht, der Held von Juda siegt mit Macht (It is accomplished. The hero from Judah with power). “Es ist vollbracht,” one of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross, is found only in John’s Gospel (19:30a) and the line “The hero from Judah with Power” is given appropriate, triumphal musical treatment in the contrasting B section of Bach’s modified da-capo aria.

8. No. 32(60), Aria. Mein teurer Heiland, lass dich fragen (My precious Savior, let me ask you), Jesus dies (John 19:30b); aria includes the line “lebest nun ohn Ende” (lives now, without end)

9. No. 40(68), Closing Chorale. Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein (Ah Lord, let thy dear angel small), the form of the address used, “Herr,” as well as the closing line, ich will dich preisen ewiglich” (I wish to praise thee eternally), which refers to the glorification in the opening movement, “so that the Passion text as a whole traces an (inverted) arch from majesty to lowliness and back to majesty,” says Dürr.


Descent/Ascent

Dürr’s observation that the Passion text is an arch – actually an inverted arch -- from “majesty to lowliness and back to majesty” is called the great parabolic movement of descent and ascent described in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:6-11). Originally a hymn sung by the Christians, it is the second reading, or Epistle, on Palm (Passion) Sunday. This text is used in 16 movements of Bach sacred cantatas (<Biblical Quotation and Allusion in the Cantata Libretti of JSB>, Ulrich Meyer; London: Scarecrow Press, 1997: 210).

The Pauline hymn describes the “secret hour” when God in Christ reversed the parabola, the upward movement humans prefer, for the downward movement. Jesus “poured out and emptied himself, becoming a servant and, being born in the image of a human being, appeared in human form” (NRSV). “It begins with the great self-emptying or kenosis, that we call the incarnation in Bethlehem, and ends with the Crucifixion in Jerusalem” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, Center for Action and Contemplation, 3/28/10, www.cacradicalgrace.org). It is the “curve of divine self-humbling from heaven to earth, reaching its lowest point in death, the death of the cross, and then sweeping heavenwards again in Christ’s exaltation to divine Lordship over all” (J. Dunn, <Christology in the Making> (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 114.

The concept of <kenosis> as humility originated before the New Testament, in Greek writings, and is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Philippians, Timothy), in the concurrent Luke Gospel sections of the initial Magnificat and the final Walk to Emmaus, the early Church Father Athanasius, and the later writer Thomas Acquinas. The idea was systematically developed by post-Reformation theologians and 20th century Christologians, like the related concepts of kerygma, proclamation (atonement model teaching) of salvation through Jesus Christ, and “escatalogy” or “the last things,” the final leap of faith (trust) as “realized” in the St. John Passion (Chafe, 277-82). First, last (escatological) and in-between (liminal-threshold) the things that have taken place from the beginning, or the first things to the end, the escatological.

Another way to describe this descent-ascent principle is catabasis/anabasis, that is, the circle of fifths key signatures which descend (modulate) in flat keys by fifths, and ascend in sharp keys by fifths, from the least accidentals to the most (Chafe, p. 15). Here is an outline Chafe’s basic SJP tonal plan: It begins in descending flat keys, shifts to sharp keys, achieves homeostasis in the natural or keys without key signatures, “o” (Section 3, Mvts. 15-18) then descends and ascends to the centerpiece (Section 5, Mvt. 22, Durch dein Gefängnis; then proceeds in reverse (or full-circle).


Tonal segments 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

SJP sections 1-10 10-14 15-18 19-21f 21g-23g
24-27a 27b-27c 27c-3 35-40

Keys b # o
b # b o # b

centerpiece

|____________________________|

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[palindrome (mirror) form; also described as chiastic (cross-like), arch or rainbow form: 123454321]


Tonal Allegory

Chafe explains his concept of tonal allegory in the section on “The Tonal Plan” (p.325f): “The principle of sharp/flat antithesis allowed Bach to allegorize the ideas of John’s theology in the structure of the passion as a whole. In general, when we examine the roles assigned to flats and sharps respectively, we find that they bear a striking association to the Johannine worlds of above and below, or the realms of the flesh (flats) and spirit (sharps).

“The scenes of Jesus capture, scourging, crucifixion and burial are all in flats, with special modulations into deep flats for the narrative of the crucifixion itself (B flat minor) [five flats], the reference to Judas (f minor) [four flats], the Ecce homo [behold the man],” etc. “Then, Peter’s repentance marks the move from flats to sharps, ending in A Major [three sharps], in Part 1. “Durch dein Gefängnis” voices the redemptive meaning of Jesus’ suffering in E Major, the triumphant D major middle section in the aria “Es ist vollbracht” – “Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht” – expresses the Johannine view of the crucifixion as a triumph . . . .”

The actual <Herzstück>, or centerpiece (Sections 4-6), begins with the bass arioso “Betrachte, meine Seele,” No. 19, in E-flat, followed by the tenor aria, Erwäge,” in C minor. Says Chafe: “Bach might even have intended the shape of the ascent followed by descent pattern to suggest a rainbow, to which the aria “Erwäge” at the beginning of the Herzstück refers. There, the patterns formed by the blood on Jesus’ back are described as resembling the rainbow [Regenbogen] of the covenant of Noah after the Flood [Wasserwogen].”

Various scholars have attempted to organize Bach’s Passions into key schemes or tonal centers. The most that can be said is that the large-scale St. John and St. Matthew (BWV 244) Passions , because they have no brass instruments, are able to range across the entire tonal pallet, especially in the connecting and modulating narrative recitatives; that certain general key areas or key schemes are apparent, such as John’s gravity between flat keys and sharp keys at the beginning, middle and end (arch/inverted arch forms), and Matthew’s progression from the opening E Minor through B Minor to the closing C Minor; and that both monumental closing choruses are in “rest-in-the-grave” flat-keys, called catabasis or descent. As for the St. Mark Passion, like its predecessor’s the “Keiser” Hamburg “St. Mark Passion” is in one dominant key, B-minor/D Major (based on its original core parody music in the “Funeral Ode,” Cantata BWV 198), like a shorter Passion cantata.

Still to come: <John Butt, Bach’s Dialogue With Modernity: Perspective on the Passions>, Wilfred Mellers, “The Second Adam,” <Bach and the Dance of God>.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 5, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< The fourfold allegory is:
1) Literal - The storyor narrative.
2) Allegorical - The "cloak" which hides the meaning.
3) Moral - The teaching which the event in the literal story holds for the reader.
4) Anagogic - The "spiritual" teaching, more specifically the relationship of the soul to God. In Lutheran teaching, this sense always focusses on the soul and death. >
If the numbers work, I would seriously consider the numerological as a fifth "autobiographical" layer. To me this would be like Michelangelo painting himself into the Last Judgement or, more apposite, Caravaggio painting himself into the "Betrayal of Christ" as a an onlooker. Through numerology, Bach could be similarly portraying himself as a an onlooker/participant in the narrative/allegory.

I'm not sure I believe it though.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 6, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< If the numbers work, I would seriously consider the numerological as a fifth "autobiographical" layer. >
One (of several) issues is that numbers are not as fungible as allegory or morals: they either add up, or they do not. All around the planet, from beginning of time to end of time, 2+2=4. The many permutations of the SJP material make it difficult to see numerology as fundamental architecture. Perhaps the idea of an autobiographical layer, as distinct from theologic architecture, is more akin to the artistic inspiration Julian suggested, and is more amenable to subsequent manipulation/reworking?

DC:
< I'm not sure I believe it though. >
EM:
Geck is both eloquent and concise on the topic of numerology, and its possible relation to theology, in the concluding two very brief chapters of J.S. Bach: Life and Work. Variations of <If you want to believe it, you will find it. If you find it, you will believe it. That makes it real for you, but not necessarily for anyone else. And not necessarily essential for appreciation of the music.>

I reiterate Gecks statement, p. 629, re Art of Fugue:
<The extant sections have a fugue that [...] is unique in its signature B-A-C-H theme, which appears here, completely undisguised, for the first and last time in all Bachs works.>

Contrary examples invited. Or discussion as to why Bach would have used it in disguised form throughout his career, only to reveal it at the very end of his life, with the original source (uncle J.N.) still alive. This seems to require a lifetime plan of unimaginable (to me) proportions. Given the unexpected bad luck (or lack of skill) of his eye surgery, this seems as easily interpreted to be a last-minute nod to the family name, as the culmination of some lifelong strategy linking name and cross, disguised until the very end.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 6, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>The extant sections have a fugue that [...] is unique in its signature B-A-C-H theme, which appears here, completely undisguised, for the first and last time in all Bachs works.>
I think Geck means that this is the only comfirmed, deliberate, not-accidental use of the 4 note theme, which, combined with an elaborate trill, forms the subject of the third part of the final (incomplete) movement of the Art of Fugue.

The OCC does note other examples, citing the beginning of the third subject of Contrapunctus XI - but here the third note is repeated three times (making BACCCH!), so this fails the test, IMO. The OCC also claims the motif occurs in the bass line of the 2nd Brandenburg without being more specific; I couldn't find it, and in any case it's likely to be an "accidental" occurence in a sequence of notes.

In one sense it's surprising that Bach never used the motif in an obvious - structural - fashion, before the Art of Fugue (I presume he was aware of his surname's "melody", early on in his life), but the likelihood of deliberately disguised use can be discounted, IMO.

I'm fascinated by the fact that it was only due to an accident of German musical history (in the middles ages, during formulation of musical nomenclature, I believe I read somewhere - B flat was mistakenly copied as B natural, requiring an H to complete the names of the seven white notes, or something along those lines) that Bach was able to spell his name in music. Were it nor for this error, we would not have the third section of the Art of Fugue, "achieving an extraordinary density of expressively dissonant counterpoint in its final sections" (OCC). Glen Gould (in a you-tube video) comments admiringly on bars 217 to 228, in this regard, considering the complex tonality displayed here to be unsurpassed until the 20th century.

---------

I have just listened to Richter's SJP (1964); how does it hold up?

Apart from the (by present standards) somewhat overblown opening chorus, the performance is very listenable indeed. Excellent soloists; and a lovely, subtley-varied. organ accompaniment in the recitatives. Richter's accuracy (and even his tendency to rigidity) shines in the turbae choruses.

Interestingly, I had been thinking several days ago about how to end the St. John in a 'blaze of glory' (after hearing an MSO performance of the Messiah!); I considered the addition of colla parte brass and timpani to the resplendent last phrase of the closing chorale (Bach has done this himself in at least one cantata).

Needless to say I was surprised and gratified to hear Richter engage the full (concert) organ in this final phrase, thereby most definitely concluding the work in a "blaze of glory".

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 6, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Needless to say I was surprised and gratified to hear Richter engage the full (concert) organ in this final phrase, thereby most definitely concluding the work in a "blaze of glory". >
This performance indeed is one of the rare opportunities to hear a solid organ "plenum" with pedal instead of the usual mini portative box of whistles which passes for a Bach organ in nearly all contemporary performances. I would love to hear a chorus like "Wir Haben ein Gestez" with a real 16 foot pedal in the organ.

Alas, lightweight continuo is part of the plot to "dechurchify" Bach's vocal works. I wish someone had the guts to perform the first two movements of Cantata 29, "Wir Danken Dir" as the organ Prelude and Fugue they are -- on the model of the great G Major Fantasia in G Major.

William Hoffman wrote (April 14, 2010):
St. John Passion: Fugitive Notes

Perspectives and Multiple Approaches

In my writings on the <St. John Passion>, as with my other efforts, my main intent is to offer interesting ideas as well as relevant information. As for issues such as numerology, here is a quote I like:

“There is a wide range of opinion about the extent to which Bach employed number symbolism. Some scholars dismiss it out of hand; others seem bent on finding it everywhere by the most arcane of methods. Of course, there can be no proof one way or the other. So, I will not engage in the argument here other than to say that, if Bach did not use number symbolism, there are a remarkable number of remarkably apt coincidences in his music, including several involving the simple number alphabet.” The source is Calvin R. Stapert, <My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach> (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000).

Stapert has written a compelling book about important Reform themes in Bach’s word-based music, especially the Christological Cycle of major works or collections: cantatas, motets, chorale preludes, Passions and oratorios, and the Mass in B Minor. Beyond a sacred perspective and what I find is a generosity of spirit, he has taken the Calvinist Heidelberg Catechism as a framework or template for exploring important sacred themes in Bach’s work. He cites for support the great Reform writers, “a certain ecumenicity,” and “What unites the various branches of the Christian Faith is far more extensive and runs far more deeply than the history of our divisions, quarrels, and animosities would indicated.”

Stapert dares to use a handy frame of reference or special perspective, like other recent Bach writers: biographers Christoph Wolf and the “learned” Bach,” Martin Geck and the long view of Bach, and Peter Williams and Bach from his 1752 obituary of achieveme. Stapert has just published a new JSB biography and I find it to be an engaging recapitulation of our rich understanding of Bach.

We have indeed been blessed with a wealth of studies and perspectives in the past half century. These include Bach’s spirituality, his world, tonal allegory in his sacred music, his compositional process, reception history, and now his dialogue with modernity (John Butt). To a great extent, I personally have to thank Friedrich Blume for daring to suggest in 1962 that Bach wasn’t the Fifth Evangelist, based on the correct scientific dating of his vocal works. From Blume’s challenge has come a true renaissance of Bach study and inquiry.

St. John Passion Themes

Stapert’s writing on the <St. John Passion> provides a basic summary of the work with some of the most important related topics and writers. It intensifies our understanding of the theology and importance the SJP plays in Bach’s great works. Regarding the primary theme of Christus Victor and models of atonement, he reveals (p. 116f) the significance of the aria “It is finished”: “There was . . . something of a consensus, at least among Calvinists and Lutherans, that ‘It is finished’ meant the completion of the perfect sacrifice of the cross, by which the justice of God was satisfied and full propitiation obtained,” quoting theologian Jaroslav Pelikan.

Stapert’s second theological theme in the SJP is Luther’s emphasis on the freedom of the Christian. It is found in the first aria, based on Brockes, No. 7, “Von den stricken,” “From the shackles of my sins to unbind me, my Savior is bound.” The ultimate expression of freedom is in the central chorale, Postel’s “Durch dein Gefängnis,” “Through your capture, Son of God, to us freedom must come.”

The third SJP theological theme is Discipleship, which is connected to obedience and faith. It begins with the second chorale, No. 5, “Dein Will gescheh,” “Thy will be done,” Luther’s versification of the Lord’s Prayer. Then, in order, Stapert cites three arias: No. 9, “Ich folge dir,” “I follow you likewise with joyful steps,” the first stage of discipleship, of simply following in joy; No. 13, “Ach my Sinn,” “O my mind, where will you finally go?” -- the second stage of uncertainty; and the answer at Golgatha, the dramatic dialogue, No. 24, “Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen,” “Hurry, you anguished souls,” and the acceptance of the cross as the “Cost of Discipleship,” as the late, distinguished Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says.

It is no coincidence that these three Discipleship arias (as well as the closing chorus) are in dance form involving collaborative movement: No. 9, a 3/8 gigue; No. 13, a ¾ chaconne-passacaglia; and No. 24, another 3/8 gigue. The closing chorus, No. 39, “Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine” (Rest well, ye holy limbs), is a grand ¾ minuet.

Bach and the Dance of God.

In 1980, as the debate about Bach’s depth and breadth of spirituality raged, Wilfrid Mellers wrote a musical-theological study, <Bach and the Dance of God> (London-Boston, Feber and Faber) with crucial elements relevant to the <St. John Passion>. In his “Prelude” (p. 6f) Mellers describes the importance of dance in Bach’s music. “The dance- songs of primitive peoples depend on the rhythms of the human body and on the ‘sensual speech’ that relates us to nature; religious chant from remotest antiquity to the present day relates consciousness of the Word to the rhythms of breathing and speaking.”

Christianity, “more than any other religion, attempted to confront mortality and guilt, associating both with an event presumed to exist in historical time – the Crucifixion of Christ. This equation between guilt and time is a peculiarly European phenomenon, which radically transformed our notions of art and communication,” says Mellers.

In his “study” of the SJP in the section, “The Second Adam,” Mellers (p. 88f) addresses the importance of the Passion to Bach: “As a Lutheran, Bach found the heart of his experience in the story of Christ’s Passion and in the symbol of the Cross.” Bach uses operatic techniques “to tell man’s ultimate story, which turns out also to be
God’s.” Bach’s Passions “present a mythology of sublime success, however painful,” of a hero both human and divine. His story of “birth, epiphany, humiliation, betrayal and martyrdom, leading to an apotheosis as bridegroom, monster-slayer and leader into a land restored” is a “scriptural epistemology (that) parallels most of the myths of classical antiquity, as well as those of primitive peoples.”

Mellers notes that the meanings of the word “passion” are multiple and are “relevant to Bach’s music.” The word’s root is “passive suffering” but its association with pathos (sorrow) relates also to pity and terror, with “overtones” of enthusiasm, anger and sexual desire. “We shall find evidence of all these in Bach’s musical incarnation of the telling of the Passion story by St. John; and that so much of the complexity of a human psyche is thus manifest testifies to Bach’s crucial position in history.”

Bach’s Dialoguer With Modernity.

I have just taken up John Butt’s new book, subtitled “Perspectives on the Passions.” Here are two ideas from the first chapter, “Bach’s Passions and the construction of early modern subjectives.”

Butt suggests that the difference between the SJP and SMP (BWV 244), given their respective historical receptions, is that the “forms of subjectivity” in Matthew are “more modern” while John “relates to different forms of subjectivity” involving its “increased prestige during the course of the twentieth century.”

Looking at a significant difference between the two Passions, Butt says that the SJP “is very much tethered to the continuous and richly disputatious texture of the Gospel text. The free, meditative elements, particularly the arias, tend to be centrifugally scattered to the outer reaches of the piece, so as not to disturb the relentless events and arguments of the narrative.” The SMP (BWV 244), with its “ordered sequence of meditative recitatives and arias” resembles “a Lutheran analogue of the Stations of the Cross.”

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Looking at a significant difference between the two Passions, Butt says that the SJP „is very much tethered to the continuous and richly disputatious texture of the Gospel text. The free, meditative elements, particularly the arias, tend to be centrifugally scattered to the outer reaches of the piece, so as not to disturb the relentless events and arguments of the narrative.‰ The SMP (BWV 244), with its „ordered sequence of meditative recitatives and arias‰ resembles „a Lutheran analogue of the Stations of the Cross >
Do you think that Bach deliberately expanded the scale of of the SMP (BWV 244) in order to -- for lack of a better word -- dissipate the comprehensive momentum of the narrative which drives the SJP with its small number of arias and change the theological purpose of his second Passion?

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< if Bach did not use number symbolism, there are a remarkable number of remarkably apt coincidences in his music, including several involving the simple number alphabet. >
I agree with the general tenor of Wills remarks. Is there a reliable source to confirm the simple number alphabet that Bach used?

Aloha, Edziu Myszkowski (aka 55-200+)

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Do you think that Bach deliberately expanded the scale of of the SMP (BWV 244) in order to -- for lack of a better word -- dissipate the comprehensive momentum of the narrative which drives the SJP with its small number of arias and change the theological purpose of his second Passion? >
Furtive thoughts:

(1) By the time Bach got to Leipzig, the general idea of two passsions, the John Gospel, and the synoptic Gospe, represented by Matthew, was already in mind, as an essential part of well regulated church music.

(2) The musical working out was ongoing over decades, although the initial SJP was virtually spontaneous, or else preconceived (or a combination).

(3) The easy (or harmonious) alternation of chorus-recit-chorale in SMP (BWV 244) contrasts with the SJP structure. This carries through the revisions/evolution of both, despite exchange of materials between the two.

(4) The distinction between John and the synoptic Gospels is inherent in the Biblical texts. It is the deepest respect for those texts to preserve that distinction musically, which Bach does, throughout all the iterations of SJP/SMP (BWV 244).

Peter Smaill wrote (April 14, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] The two works which count (!) on numerology are Ruth Tatlow: Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet and Alfred Hirsch : Die Zahl in Kantatenwerk J S Bachs. Both were available on Amazon quite recently. The origins of this area of study is "Bach bei seinem namen gerufen" by Friedrich Smend published in 1950, which is hard to find.

 

New articles uploaded

Uri Golomb wrote (September 16, 2010):
Aryeh Oron has just uploaded a paper I wrote on televised productions of Bach's passions:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Passion-Hierarchy%5BGolomb%5D.htm

I have also written a review of a recent album containing a performance of the Art of Fugue and a fascinating DVD documentary and lecture on this work - this was placed online a few months ago, but apparently I forgot to tell the lists at the time.
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NonVocal/AOF-Ritchie.htm

Hope you enjoy these!

 

BCW: 209 SJP's

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 24, 2012):
The discography pages of the Johannes-Passion BWV 245 on the BCW have been revised & updated:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV245-Rec1.htm
The discography is arranged chronologically by recording date, a page per a decade.
The discography contains 209 complete recordings, both commercial and non-commercial, including 4 sung in English and one in French.
If you have any correction, addition, etc., please inform me.

 

OT: St John Passion BWV 245- Leipzig Liturgy

Peter Smaill wrote (March 28, 2013):
Tomorrow being Good Friday it is an appropriate time to mention the ground-breaking new version of the Johannes-Passion. This new recording of Bach's John Passion has stormed to the top of the UK Specialist Classical Chart after its first week of release, and It is also at Number 10 in the UK Classical Artist Chart.

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort (plus congregational choir) have recreated the entire Liturgy for the Leipzig service of Vespers for Good Friday.(http://www.dunedin-consort.org.uk)

We can now appreciate the elemental effect of the Passion setting, for it is as if we have in the past first ripped it away from its acoustic frame, the Liturgy; then overpainted it with excessive forces in former times; restored the work by historically informed performance; and, finally, in this new presentation, reframed the piece in the likeness of its original setting. In this way the dramatic and operatic aspects of Bach's Passion composition achieve a new brilliance set against austere chorale settings ( relieved by antiphonal part-singing), and the use of preludes based on ancient chorales and the motet "Ecce Quomodo." The devotional aspect of the work shines through as never before in modern times.

The full line up is:

1 Opening liturgy

Organ chorale prelude "Da Jesus am den Kreuze stund" BWV621
Congregational chorale, "Da Jesus am den Kreuze stund" (Schein)
Organ prelude to the Passion: Buxtehude BuxWV 146

2 Johannes-Passion BWV245 part one

3 Congregational response

Organ prelude "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig", BWV 618
Congregational chorale "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig"

4 Sermon (downloads from Dunedin website)
Erdmann Neumeister, Epistolische Nachtlese 1720 (introduction)

Organ chorale prelude "Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend " BWV 632
Congregational chorale "Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend "

Sermon, Erdmann Neumeister, on 2 Timothy 1, 10 (download)
Intercession

5 Johannes Passion Part 2
Organ chorale prelude, "Christus, der uns selig macht" BWV 620

6 Closing Liturgy

Motet, "Ecce quomodo moritur iustus", Jacob Handl Gallus
Responsory, Collect, Blessing

Response to blessing "Gott sei uns gnaedig und barmherzig"

Organ Chorale prelude, "Nun danket alle Gott", BWV 657
Congregatioanl choirlae, "Nun danket alle Gott" (Vopelius)

All of this has been carefully assembled based on historic sources, by John Butt and Robin Leaver; with fine performances from all the soloists, especially the tenor Nicholas Mulroy as Evangelist. The variability of vocal forces lends variety and sonority ; the final "Nun Danket" creates a powerful vocal full stop in the punctuation of the work, otherwise missing when the Passion is performed on its own, albeit ending in a superb chorale setting of "Ach herr, lass dein lieb' Engelein". The mood changes from personal resignation to communal thanksgiving.

For those willing and able to be transported in acoustic terms to Leipzig in 1724 in every particular, then this must be the recording which approaches the most holistic setting available.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 30, 2013):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< For those willing and able to be transported in acoustic terms to Leipzig in 1724 in every particular, then this must be the recording which approaches the most holistic setting available. >
There are two important points among many about this recreation:

1) The two halves of Bach's Passion were designed and composed to be nested within in a larger 5- part structure:

Opening Liturgy
Passion Part 1
Sermon
Passion Part 2
Closing Liturgy

2) The Passion was sung from the west choir gallery but is part of a large spatiality which functions like (what one wag has called) "acoustic air-conditioning" in which the sound circulates through the building among four principal "voices":

i) The organ in the west gallery,

ii) The large body of singers (approx 1000) singing as part of the conrgregation on the floor of the nave,

iii) The choir and orchestra in the west gallery,

iv) The solo spoken voice in the elevated pulpit.

I'm looking forward to reading John Butts' always admirable commentary.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 30, 2013):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks Doug for this response; and I must correct a conceptual error in my first reading of what John Butt has aimed to achieve, as far as it is possible.

Though it is indeed the 1724 version of the SJP it is conceived of as how the Passion Liturgy would have sounded in 1739, the year in which it was actually banned; and that despite the pre-existence of the Orgelbuchlein chorales, the motet , the Buxtehude and the Neumeister sermon from many years before.

So it would appear that with Robin Leaver's assistance we are engaged in a full frontal response to the bureaucrats some 274 years on!

 

Johannes-Passion BWV 245: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Sung in English | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Systematic Discussions:
Part 1: Mvts. 1-7 | Part 2: Mvts. 6-14 | Part 3: Mvts. 15-20 | Part 4: Mvts. 21-26 | Part 5: Mvts. 27-32 | Part 6: Mvts. 36-40 | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 245 - F. Brüggen | BWV 245 - S. Cleobury | BWV 245 - P. Dombrecht | BWV 245 - D, Fasolis | BWV 245 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 245 - E.z. Guttenberg | BWV 245 - N. Harnoncourt-H. Gillesberger | BWV 245 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 245 - E. Higginbottom | BWV 245 - E. Jochum | BWV 245 - E. Kleiber | BWV 245 - P.J. Leusink | BWV 245 - H. Max | BWV 245 - P. McCreesh | BWV 245 - H. Münch | BWV 245 - P. Neumann | BWV 245 - A. Parrott | BWV 245 - P. Pickett | BWV 245 - K. Richter | BWV 245 - H. Rilling | BWV 245 - P. Schreier | BWV 245 - R. Shaw | BWV 245 - K. Slowik | BWV 245 - M. Suzuki | BWV 245 - J.v. Veldhoven
Articles:
Saint John Passion, BWV 245 [T.N. Towe] | The Passion of Saint John, BWV 245 [M. Steinberg] | St. John Passion [A. Wong & N. Proctor] | The St. John Passion on stage [U. Golomb] | Literary Origins of Bach’s St. John Passion: 1704-1717 [W. Hoffman] | Bach’s Passion Pursuit [W. Hoffman]

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: ýApril 25, 2013 ý11:52:13