up-to-date discussion on how Bach performed his St John and
St Matthew Passions; what are St Mark and St Luke Passions.
spite of the wealth of material brought to light through the recent debate on
how Bach performed his vocal works, there has been no up-to-date literature on
Bach’s Passions from this specific angle for the general readership in English.
With this book the
author attempts to fill the gap by addressing how the people of Leipzig in
Bach’s time would have heard his Passions through examining the liturgical
conditions and practices of the time. He takes good care to explain the
hotly-debated issues such as what concertists and repienists are, how Bach used
them in his Passions, and what we learn from the Entwurff, Bach’s famous
memorandum of 1730 in which he outlined what was necessary for the performance
of the church music he was responsible for.
List of Tables
Part 1 Performing Forces and Their Significance
Chapter 1. Vocal Forces in Bach's Passions
Chapter 2. Singers and Roles in Bach's
Part II Passions in Performance
Chapter 3. The Double Chorus in the St.
Matthew Passion BWV 244
Chapter 4. Which St. John Passion BWV
Chapter 5. A St. Mark Passion Makes
Part III Phantom Passions
Chapter 6. Parody and Reconstruction:
The St. Mark Passion BWV 247
Chapter 7. Bach/Not Bach: The Anonymous St.
Luke Passion BWV 246
Epilogue: Listening to Bach's Passions
Suggestions for Further Reading and
Hearing Bach's Passions by Daniel Melamed
Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. vii+176p.
Hard back. Price: £15,50.
writing is both revealing and assuring
writing is both revealing and assuring as he makes good inferences from the
available evidence. On p.36, for instance, he deduces from source evidence that
the principal tenor sung with ‘lightness and clarity’ which would have been
demanded by the extended period of singing. Commenting on the visual side of
performance, Melamed observes that ‘his [Bach’s] listeners were less likely to
think of the tenor--whom most could not see, in any event, given the layout of
the churches in which Bach’s passions were performed--as being the Evangelist
in an operatic sense. Rather, if he was considered at all as an individual, it
was more likely simply as a singer responsible for conveying certain words of
the story and some of the chosen commentary on it’ (p.37).
When discussing Bach’s use of chorus, Melamed raises his
tone, and his views come to the fore with an air of authority. He considers that
the double-chorus disposition in the St Matthew Passion does not play as big a
role as one might imagine, for he apparently does not see the choir as being
fundamental to the work’s conception. He asserts that ‘the St Matthew Passion is
not essentially a double-chorus composition and certainly not a symmetrical
one.’ (p.52). Turning to the St John Passion, Melamed raises an interesting
point regarding the use of ripienists, in that they are ‘indispensable to a
performance of the work, contradicting the general principle that ripienists are
optional reinforcers of concertists’ (p.53). Based on these observations,
Melamed suggests that ‘Bach first tried out this disposition of forces in “Mein
teurer Heiland” in the St John Passion, and that its success there played a role
in the decision to score the St Matthew Passion as he did.’ (p.57).
The reader may have wanted to find out more about the
musical issues concerning the reasons and ways in which Bach revised his own
works. The St John Passion is known in four versions and, while acknowledging
that we still do not know which changes Bach made for specific reasons, Melamed
only broadly summarises them. Disappointingly, the two known versions of the St
Matthew Passion (1727/29 and 1736) are not part of Melamed’s study, especially
since early version BWV 244b was published by the NBA in 2004 (and the facsimile
has been available since 1972).
But unlike other books dealing with the same subject
matter, this book discusses more than just the two main Passions. Suggesting
that the St. Mark Passion was composed by Reinhard Kaiser’s father Gottfried,
Melamed makes an interesting case of a composition attached to a famous name and
subsequently adapted by another composer to suit the practice of a particular
locale. As for the St Luke, his discussion of research methods based on source
evidence versus style analysis provides plenty of thought-provoking material for
The conception of the book is such that each chapter could
be read on its own merit. When reading it from the beginning to the end in one
sitting, one may be bothered by certain repetitions of arguments. However, the
book is very generous in its explanation of the musicological jargon as well as
the historical context, both of which can be intimidating to a lay reader.
Hearing Bach's Passions is a welcome addition to the library of any Bach
lover, especially the Passion-enthusiast.