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Bach's Major Vocal WorksMusic, Drama, Liturgy$
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Markus Rathey

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300217209

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300217209.001.0001

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The Passion and the Passions

The Passion and the Passions

The St Matthew Passion BWV 244

(p.107) Chapter Five The Passion and the Passions
Bach's Major Vocal Works

Markus Rathey

Yale University Press

This chapter examines the St Matthew Passion and its interpretation of the death of Christ as a manifestation of divine love. George Frideric Handel’s Messiah reflected the esthetics of Victorian England better than Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion. In about three hours, Handel covers the entire salvation history. In contrast, Bach recounts in the same time less than three days of Christ’s life, focusing on the ‘depressing … iteration of grief’. This chapter discusses the history and the characteristics of Bach’s passion, arguing that the piece is far less depressing than it seems. It shows that Bach and his librettist view the story of Christ’s suffering as an intimate love story. It also considers the St Matthew Passion as a piece composed for the liturgy, embedded into the context of both the Good Friday service and the liturgical year at large. Finally, it comments on the final movements of the two parts of the the St Matthew Passion.

Keywords:   divine love, St Matthew Passion, Christ, George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach, salvation, suffering, liturgy, liturgical year, Good Friday

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