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TITLE Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion: with an annotated literal translation of the libretto by Michael Marissen
PUBL. DETAILS New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. xii + 109p. Hard back. Price: £14.99.
ISBN 0-19-511471-X
TO ORDER Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK.
DESCRIPTION A monograph discussing St. John Passion from a unique stance, not only from musical and Lutheran perspectives but also from their antisemitic feeling.
WORKS COVERED BWV 4, 12, 31, 36, 42, 44, 46, 56, 61, 62, 73, 78, 87, 101, 102, 106, 132, 136, 171, 178, 183, 184, 244, 245, 249, 1029, 1080 (bold indicating those intensely discussed)
READERSHIP Scholars as well as general readers
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Spelling out the messages of Bach’s St John Passion through the reappraisal of the work’s background, contexts, and analysis of Bach’s musical setting.

This is another monograph on Bach’s St John Passion published by Oxford University Press within two years. The other title is the monograph by Alfred Dürr (2000) reviewed here last March. One would naturally ask what are the main differences between them, and what this book offers that Dürr’s does not.

Before examining its content, it has to be said that although Dürr’s book was published in 2000, it is a straightforward translation of the work originally published in German in 1988. This monograph by Marissen was first published in 1998—ten years after Dürr’s original work—thus supposedly reflecting more recent research.

The title of Marissen’s book suggests that his aim is more specific and focused: unlike Dürr’s monograph on St. John Passion, which attempts to tackle comprehensively the problems we face when approaching from manuscript sources of the work, this book by Marissen examines specific issues that are not addressed properly by Dürr, namely how John’s Gospel was understood by Bach and his contemporaries with specific reference to the antisemitic feeling of the day. Marissen’s single most important contribution lies here: while research into Judaism, Lutheranism and Bach made giant stride forward since World War II, little attentions have been paid to the relationship between them.

Contents in brief
Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion
  • Issues of Method
  • Bach's Duties
  • Lutheranism and Theories of Atonement
  • Following Jesus, According to the St. John Passion
  • Lutheran Concepts of Jews and Judaism
  • Jew-Hatred and the St. John Passion
  • Where Now?
Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto

Appendix 1: Notes on Anti-Judaism and Bach's Other Works
Appendix 2: Musical Examples

Works Cited

Index of Movements from Bach's St. John Passion
Index of Bach's Works
Index of Biblical and Other Ancient Sources
Index of Names and Subjects

Key passages were analysed carefully and imaginatively


Marissen’s primary aim is to spell out the messages of Bach’s St John Passion through the reappraisal of the work’s background, contexts, and analysis of Bach’s musical setting. Key passages were analysed carefully and imaginatively, concerning with what John’s Gospel has been taken to mean in Bach’s music. For it he takes evidence from two bible commentaries that Bach possessed—Calov and Olearius—adding a further dimension in his discussion, as they are not properly discussed by Dürr.

He certainly covers a broad range of issues—not only Bach’s own challenge in setting both the Gospel text and free poems, but also John’s view of Jews, Luther’s view of John and our interpretation of Bach—all within 38 pages of well-spaced-out text. Marissen’s concise treatment of each topic and his clearly-labelled headings would be of great help for finding any sections when consulting it on a later occasion. For this modest length of his essay, very generous amount of supplementary information is given, which is useful for researchers. I for one is assured to read Marissen’s critical re-evaluation of Hoffmann-Axthelm’s theory of symmetrical structure in St John Passion.

There are some unusual things about Marissen’s approach to discuss his points. His music examples are the top of this list: instead of resorting to musical notation, he gives reference to the CD recording by Kuijken with track number and exact place and duration within the track (further seven recordings are also listed in Appendix 2). For many readers, Marissen's annotated literal translation of the libretto will be extremely useful, too.

Published online on 25 September 2001

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