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Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195114713
ISBN-10: 019511471X
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"The most important and lasting item to have emerged from this Passion season...may turn out to be a little book of great complexity by Michael Marissen....[It] provides a model of how to deal with a piece of music grown controversial: not through avoidance, not through bowdlerization, but by supplying the richest and most provocative context in which to understand and interpret the work."--James R. Oestriech, The New York Times


"An excellent interpretive essay....Marissen provides valuable historical and theological context for both the text and the music."--Choice


"A remarkable book and unusually even-handed treatment of a difficult topic."--E. Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania


From the Back Cover

Bach's St. John Passion is surely one of the monuments of Western music, yet performances have become inevitably controversial. In large part, this is the result of the combination of powerful, highly emotional music coupled with a text that includes passages from a gospel marked by vehement anti-Judaic sentiments. What did this masterpiece mean in Bach's day, and what does it mean today? Although the bibliographies on Bach and on Judaism have grown enormously since World War II, there has been very little work on the relationships between these two areas. This is hardly surprising; writers focusing on issues of anti-Semitism often lack musical training and are, in any event, interested in more pressing social and political issues. Bach scholars, on the other hand, have mostly concentrated on narrowly defined musical topics. And strangely, almost no scholarly attention has been given to the relationships between Lutheranism and Judaism as they affect the St. John Passion. Through a reappraisal of Bach's work and its contexts, Michael Marissen confronts Bach and Judaism directly, providing interpretive commentary that could serve as a basis for more informed and sensitive discussions of this troubling work. Consisting of a long interpretive essay, followed by an annotated literal translation of the libretto, a guide to recorded examples, and a detailed bibliography, this concise text provides the reader with the tools to assess the work on its own terms and in the appropriate contexts. The discussion centers first on the principal messages of the St. John Passion: Jesus' identity, his work, and how this affects the lives of his followers. Marissen goes on to suggest that fosteringhostility toward Jews is not the subject or purpose of Bach's setting. For those who would reduce Bach's powerful work to its artistry, and for those listeners who find Bach's music deeply meaningful but may not have considered its attendant religious and cultural issues, as well as for those who assume the work essentially teaches contempt for Jews, Marissen aims to show that confronting the St. John Passion is more problematic than they think. The result is an ethically intelligent, carefully reasoned discussion of one of Western music's greatest works of art. This book is designed for both general readers and scholars.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019511471X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195114713
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,244,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How does one measure a musical composer's thoughts and attitudes? When a composer does not provide the words to his own music, what are we to judge him by? And when the words are drawn from a sacred text or determined by a liturgical context? With a composer like Wagner who vehemently embraced a nationalistic gestalt, it is easy to understand the accusations of anti-Semitism. With Bach, it is less so.
Consequently the brevity of Michael Marissen's 36-page essay on the subject of anti-Judaism in Bach's St. John Passion. Marissen's methodology is to briefly examine the parts of John's Gospel that have caused scholars to deem it the most anti-Judaic of the four canonical Gospels, to review the choral responses to the biblical texts in light of Lutheran theology as it would have been understood a century after the Reformer's death (Bach owned many volumes of Luther's writings as well as the Calov and Olearius Bible Commentaries), and to compare what Bach actually did with what he could have done (as evidenced by what other musicians did and by the approaches taken in such popular culture forms as the passion plays). Only rarely does Marissen turn to an analysis of the music to make his points. He does this in his discussion of cadence in relation to Jesus' sense of his own identity (p. 12-14) and in his discussion as to whether Bach used fugue to express the obstinacy of Jesus' Jewish adversaries (p.30 ff). Musical discussion within the text is keyed to the recording of Sigiswald Kuijken (editio classica 77041-2-RG, BMG Music), though an Appendix of Musical Examples lists seven other recordings of the work as well.
The central essay is well argued and easy to follow. The footnotes are extensive and helpful, as is the list of Works Cited.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I have no training in music whatsoever, I was nonetheless, drawn into Marrisen's fascinating essay. (Calling this slim volume a book is really a misnomer. I literally finished it in one 90 minute sitting.)Brevity, notwithstanding, this is a carefully written analysis of the theological worldview that influenced one of Bach's most artistically lovely, if controversial pieces. He readily admits that a poisonous strain of Lutheran anti-Semitism infected the ecclesiatical community of which Bach was a part , while at the same time offering that some evidence exists to support the idea that Bach may not have subscribed to such thinking. In the end, I do not know if I was necessarily convinced by Marrisen's argument. Much more needs to be said about Bach's perspective in light of his entire corpus. Focusing on one work is an interesting, but finally too selective technique. Even so, Marissen does a good job of encouraging the reader to approach, even works of artistic power as beautiful as Bach's with the critical eye the historically anti-Semitic Christian West demands.
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