Johann Sebastian Bach. St. Matthew Passion
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Johann Sebastian Bach. St. Matthew Passion.
1727, Good Friday, the St. Thomas Church, Leipzig. The silence in the church space, like a flock of birds, suddenly takes off and disperses, giving way to the first sounds of St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach – sounds coming from two orchestras and two choirs located in different zones of the Church, in effect becoming a part of the architecture of the church, filling it with spatial music.
The magnificent opening chorale «Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen» with the very first notes captures the attention of the listeners, «disconnects» it from their day-to-day situation, and directs it 1 to something of a higher order, something exceptional… «See» – proclaims the first choir… «What?» – asks the second one… «[His] patience» – responds the first choir. This dynamics of a dialogue between the choirs is one of the fascinating musical tools employed by Bach in his Passion in order to create the feeling of being present as the story of suffering and crucifixion of Christ unfolds. This dialogue takes place with a steady step-like rhythm in the background, the symbolic meaning of which becomes apparent with the words "He bears the wood of the cross himself»… Every small detail of this masterpiece is connected to the plot and its meaning: from the selection of instruments for the individual numbers to rhythmic and melodic figures, as well as the use of ornamentation to emphasize the meaning of certain words. There are also hidden symbolic elements in this work (for instance the palindromic structure in the second part of the work).
This Passion is a musical setting of the chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew. The Evangelist (tenor) tells the words of St. Matthew, while the words of Christ are conveyed by bass voice. In various sections of the work other characters also appear (Judas, Pontius Pilate and his wife, witnesses and others) and the collective characters (pupils, the crowd) are performed by choirs. The Passion is divided into two parts: the first encompasses the events from the conspiracy against Jesus by the priests to the Lord's Supper and the arrest of Jesus; the second part begins with the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus and ends with the crucifixion and internment of Jesus.
In addition to evangelical text, the Passion contains music based on two other textual planes: the chorales, which surround the biblical text with a philosophical and contemplative aura, and arias, which bring in a more lyrical and individually emotional element.
St. Matthew Passion is one of the largest works Bach composed and contains nearly three hours of music. This work is a magnificent oratorio with deep symbolism and meaning, created by a genius.