"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.