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St. Matthew Passion

wi th contri buti ons by
Justi n Abel
Laura Bock
Wi l l Doran
Steven Hi l debrand
Chi Nguyen
Andrew Pham
Ashl ey Porter
Evan Sarver
Rebecca Spri nger


St. Matthew Passion
a book compl eted by members of
MUS480: Advanced Semi nar i n Musi col ogi cal Topi cs
Spri ng 201 0: The Musi c of J. S. Bach
i nstructor: J. Gi bson
at James Madi son Uni versi ty

wi th contri buti ons by:
Justi n Abel
Laura Bock
Wi l l Doran
Steven Hi l debrand
Chi Nguyen
Andrew Pham
Ashl ey Porter
Evan Sarver
Rebecca Spri nger

contri buti ons are l argel y unedi ted, presented here as students submi tted them


1. Bachs Meditiation on Jesus Teachings and Sufferings in Geduld! 4
Justin Abel

2. The Sarabande as an End Focus in the Passions of J. S. Bach 16
Laura Bock

3. The Implications of Bachs Use of Tonal Allegory in 27
Wir setzen uns mit Trnen nieder
Will Doran

4. A Historical Biography of J. S. Bachs St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 37
Steven Hildebrand

5. Digging Deep into the Descent: The Musical Potential of Descending Bass Lines 46
Andrew Pham

6. J. S. Bachs Use of National Styles in the St. Matthew Passion 56
Ashley Porter

7. Violone and Double Bass in the St. Matthew Passion 70
Evan Sarver

8. Hearing the St. Matthew Passion 79
Rebecca Springer

Contribution by Chi Nguyen forthcoming

Works Cited 89

Bachs Medi tati on on Jesus Teachi ngs and Sufferi ng i n Gedul d
Justi n Abel

J. S. Bachs St. Matthew Passion portrays the Biblical narrative of Jesus sacrificing
himself for the redemption of mankind. This is one of the principle beliefs of Lutheran as well
as Christian theology. By analyzing the text, music, and instrumentation of the aria Geduld, I
hope to illustrate that (1), Bachs melodic and harmonic structure of the piece can be
representative of God trying teach patience and counsel mankind in times of tribulation and (2),
that Bachs choice to re-score the continuo line for viola da gamba was a conscientious decision
in order to put more emphasis on Jesus suffering at the hands of man.
Geduld takes place in the second part of Bachs St. Matthew Passion. At the end of the
first section, Jesus has been seized by chief priests and elders and brought back to the city for
judgment at the hands of the high priest Caiaphas. The first narrative of the second section
describes the scene of the priests trying to find a false witness against Jesus so that he may be
condemned to death. After many unsuccessful attempts, two witnesses come forward and say,
He has said: I can break down Gods temple and in three days build it again.
The high priest
then asks Jesus to defend himself against these accusations, to which Jesus replies nothing, and
the following recitative Mein Jesus schweight depicts Jesus in his silence:

Francis Browne, English Translation in Interlinear Format: St. Matthew Passion
BWV 244, Bach Cantatas Website,
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on

Certainly, this lesson from the Bible is one that is meant to teach patience to mankind, even
when we find ourselves under false persecution. The following aria Geduld gives us
Picanders poetic interpretation of this same lesson:

This text deals specifically with Jesus coming under fire from worldly actions, not judgment of
God. Mankind persecutes him.
In a discussion of this aria, Eric Chafe also notes that Bachs
aria texts often refer to patience in tribulation as the foremost quality of the theology of the cross;
nowhere else, however, does Bach present it as clearly as here.
The text is a very direct

Eric Chafe, Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach, 356. The aria makes it clearin
the words falsche Zungen (false tongues), Leid ich wider meine Schuld (If I suffer for
something other than my guilt), and meines Herzens Unshuld (innocence of my heart)that
the torment referred to it not Gods judgment, but the unjust treatment by the false world.
Mein Jesus schweigt
zu falschen Lgen stille
Um uns damit zu zeigen,
Dass sein Erbarmens voller Wille
Vo runs zum Leiden sei geneigt,
Und dass wir in dergleichen Pein
Ihm sollen hnlich sein
Und in Verfolgung stille.

My Jesus is silent
At false lies
To show us in this way
That his merciful will
Is inclined to suffering for our sake
And that we in such pain
Should be like him
And in persecution remain silent.

Wenn mich falsche Zungen stechen.
Leid ich wider meine Schuld
Schimpf und Spott,
Ei, so mag der liebe Gott
Meines Herzens Unschuld rchen.
Even if false tongues stab me.
If I should suffer contrary to my guilt
Abuse and mockery
Oh then may dear God
Avenge the innocence of my heart.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
example of this lesson demonstrating patience, and I believe that this lesson can also be heard in
the dialog between the tenor solo and the continuo line of the piece.
Geduld is in the key of A minor, and during the baroque period A minor was suited to
serious subjects and has the character of being somewhat plaintive, honorable, and calm.
the first measure (Ex. 1), we are given one of the two main rhythmic motives of the piece. The
measure of 4/4 is broken up into four pairs of legato eighth notes running smoothly through the
chords A minor to E major, A minor to E major. In the following three measures Bach gives us
the second main rhythmic motive, consisting of a steady flow of dotted 16
and 32
rhythms that venture far from the tonic of A minor.
Ex. 1 mm. 1-4

Over measures two through four, we start in A minor, then go through D minor, E minor, back to
D minor, then finally back to A minor at the end of measure four. The first motive, consisting of

Myrna Herzog, The Viol in Bachs Passions: A Performers notes, 34. Herzog quotes two
baroque musician/composers here: Jean Rousseau (1691), and Johann Mattheson (b. 1681),
taken from Steblins Key Characteristics, 35, 49.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
the legato eighth notes, represents an individual in a calm state. The second motive represents an
individual in an agitated, impatient state, with its disjunct rhythm and inability to remain in the
same key. Albert Schweitzer offers his own interpretation of these two motives in his book J. S.
Bach, which was published in 1962. He believes the first motive symbolizes the word Geduld,
while the second motive represents the sharp (false) tongues shooting forth.
Myrna Herzog also
notes that the first motive is mellow and calm, with its melodic contours softened by ties, and the
second motive is edgy, agitated and disjunct.
The continuo line has one of these two motives
throughout, and immediately after these two ideas are introduced, the tenor comes in with his
role of the counseling mentor.
I believe that both the motives could either symbolize Jesus persecution under trial, or an
individual that also may find his or herself losing patience under stressful conditions. In the
former interpretation, one could view the continuo line as Jesus battling with his own human
tendencies during his hearing in front of the high priests; he strives to remain calm while the high
priests labor to find false witnesses in order to bring him to death. Perhaps every time the
continuo line takes on the agitated motive, it is symbolic of Jesus internal struggle with his own
human patience, then the voice of God rings in head, Geduld, Geduld, and calms him back
down again. For the latter, the continuo line could represent the average person battling with his
or her own impatience. In this case, the tenor line could represent Jesus or God trying to counsel
someone and remind him or her to follow Jesus example of remaining patient, even if they find
themselves wrongly accused.
The first words of the tenor Geduld, Geduld! (Patience, patience!) enter while the
continuo is calm and speak directly to the continuo line as well as the listener, reminding them,

Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach, 226.
Myrna Herzog, The Viol in Bachs Passion: A Performers Notes, 34.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
" H
and us, to be patience (Ex. 2). As soon as the tenor stops, the continuo moves back to its
anxious motive, continuing in this agitated manner until the tenor comes back in at measure nine.
Upon his return he takes on more of a pleading role, and the continuo returns again to its calm
state, but only for one measure.
Ex. 2 mm. 5-9

This is also the last time in the aria that the continuo remains in a simple A minor to E major
chord-progression until the final measures. In measure thirteen (Ex. 3), the continuo calms
down rhythmically after the tenor has repeated his plea, Patience, patience, even if false tongues
stab me, but now even the relaxed motive is still harmonically agitated. The next four measures
remain in A minor, but a chord change occurs on almost every half-beat. And once again, as
soon as the tenor stops calming the continuo it becomes agitated again.
Ex. 3 mm. 10-17

Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
( H

For the next seven measures, the harmonies modulate frequently through the words
Schimpf und Spott (abuse and mockery) which is the peak of its agitation (Ex. 4). Chafe
makes note of this as well:

In Geduld however, the middle section of the ariaLeid ich
wider meine Schuld und Spott, ei! So mag de liebe Gott meines
Herznes Unschuld rchenmoves away from the ideal of
patient suffering. In fact, although the aria counsels patience,
it has a very restless character.
After this outburst of restlessness, the continuo finally settles down into the key of E minor in
measure twenty-five while the tenor holds the word rchen (avenge), finding comfort in the
assumption that God will assure that those who have wronged them will be punished for their

HEric Chafe, Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach, 357.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
Ex. 4 mm. 19-

The continuo finally makes its way back to A minor at measure forty-three (Ex. 5), after the
tenor repeats Geduld three times consecutively, which is also the only time this occurs. Bach
could have ended the piece right here, but he brings back the agitated motive once more, as if
making the statement that although man tries to be patient, he will surely enough return to his old
ways without being constantly reminded.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
Ex. 5 mm. 41-47

Although Bach originally scored the continuo part for cello, it is often performed and
recorded today with a viola da gamba instead. It is well known that Bachs St. Matthew Passion
went through many revisions after it was first written
. The 1720s version was the original
composition and was first performed on April 11, 1727, and April 15, 1729. In the next revision,
the viola da gamba replaced the lute part in Ja, freilich and Komm, ssses Kreuz. Bachs
final revision was completed in the 1740s, and during this revision the viol da gamba replaced
the cello parts in Mein Jesus schweight and Geduld. But one must ask why this is important,
specifically in the case of Geduld. The cello and the gamba seem to be similar instruments;
first we should note just how they differ.
The viola da gamba had a top string that was a fourth higher than the cello, endowing it
with a more extended upper register. While it lacked the volume of the cello, its tone is more
delicate, has richer chords, and due to its tuning in fourths and a thirds, has access to a larger
variety of chords. Bach also demanded the use of a seven-string gamba for the St. Matthew
Passion, making use of its extended range. Bach probably also knew that the switch from cello

Jonathan Gibson, Hearing the Viola da Gamba in Komm, ssses Kreuz, 418.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
to gamba would not be too difficult for the performer because while he did not compose a great
deal of gamba music, he did write often for it when he worked for Prince Leopold at Cthen.

Another possible explanation for its use was one of balance. When Bach revived the work in the
early 1740s, the organ had been removed from the second loft of Thomaskirche, and Bach was
forced to substitute a harpsichord for the continuo of chorus two.
Perhaps Bach thought that
the gambas timbre melded better with that of the harpsichord. This also means that those who
wish to reproduce a sonically authentic
performance of the St. Matthew Passion need to pair
the harpsichord with the gamba.
On the surface, the change from cello to gamba could seem rather insignificant, but when
one looks deeper into the gambas common associations at the time, as well as how purposefully
Bach placed it in this movement, much more can be interpreted from its use. Herzog notes that
during Bachs time:

There were well-known patterns and the use of the viol in connection
with death in German Baroque music literature seems to be one of
them. We find it in Buxtehudes funeral dirge Muss der Tod denn
nun doch trennen, in Telemanns Trauerkantata Du aber, Daniel,
gehe hin, and in Bachs cantatas Trauer Ode (BWV 198), Actus

Charles Terry, Bachs Orchestra, 132-135. Terry discusses the viol da gamba as well as
Bachs use of it and his familiarity with other Gamba players, such as Christian Ferdinand Abel
(father of the last known gamba virtuoso Christian Friedrich Abel). Terry also poses the
question of Christian Ferdinand Abel possibly being the gambist for the performances of the St.
Matthew Passion. He could have performed the 1730s version (performed in 1736) for Komm,
ssses Kreuz, but not for the 1740s version (as Christian Ferdinand Abel died in 1737). It is
possible that perhaps his son (Christian Friedrich) did, as he would have been 19 in 1742.
Teri Towe, St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, Bach Cantatas Website. She mentions this fact
in a critical discography of the St. Matthew Passion recordings in December 2001. Up to 2001,
mosts recording of the St. Matthew Passion used the 1741 version of Mein Jesus schweight
and Geduld. Only in one case was the continuo altered. Serge Koussevitzky orchestrated the
harmonies of Geduld in a fully written out, through composed setting for full string orchestra.
For a discussion on sonic vs. sensible authenticity read the Peter Kivy article, Authenticity as
Sound 47-57, 69-79.
Mryna Herzog, The Viol in Bachs Passions: A Performers Notes, 31.
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
tragicus (BWV 106, and Die Himmel erzahlen die Ehre Gottes
(BWV 76), Johann Theiles St. Matthew (1673), and Johann Meders
St. Matthew (c. 1700), and in countless works depicting painful
feelings, grief, sorrow, or lamentation.

Bach undoubtedly was aware of this association and used the viola da gamba in order to
emphasize Jesus own suffering and death, and by using the gamba in Geduld as well as
Komm, ssses Kreuz, Bach is also linking the two pieces together thematically because the
sound of the gamba is associated only with these two pieces and their preceding recitatives. Eric
Chafe discusses this relationship:

One of these musical connections is the use of the anxious dotted rhythm discussed earlier,
which is unmistakably prevalent in Komm, ssses Kreuz. The motive used here again to
communicate a state of uneasiness. Gibson also discusses the connection between the gamba
and Jesus suffering, arguing that the gamba itself can evoke an image of the wooden cross, and
instruments gut strings could be symbolic of Jesus body stretched out upon the cross.
this interpretation, one could also conclude that not only did Bach re-score Geduld and
Komm, ssses Kreuz in order to associate them acoustically to the narrative of Jesus
suffering, but could have even used the gamba in Geduld to foreshadow Christs crucifixion.

Eric Chafe, Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach, 355.
Jonathan Gibson, Hearing the Viol da Gamba in Komm, ssses Kreuz, 439.
The first is the narrative of Jesus punishment at the hands of the high
priests, the false witness, and Jesus silence before the trial, and the
second is the story of his sufferings at the hands of the Roman soldiers,
after the trial. The textual and other kinds of musical connections
between the scenes in which Geduld and Komm ssses Kreuz
appear to leave no doubt that the addition of the gamba to the earlier
scene in the 1740s was meant to emphasize an already existing
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
Both arias also share musical similarities with the chorale O Haupt voll Blut and
Wunden. Herzog argues that the beginning of Geduld is an ornamented version of the first
seven notes of the chorale. The opening melodies of Geduld and O haupt voll Blut and
Wuden both share descending stepwise motion as well as ascending leaps in larger intervals. In
Komm, ssses Kreuz, the beginning of the continuo part outlines the chorales first phrase.
Starting with the first measure of the chorale, we find descending stepwise motion in the soprano
from D5 to G4, and the continuo line in Komm, ssses Kreuz has the exact same descending
line running from D3 down to G2.
The text of the chorale also highlights Jesus own suffering
and torture at the hands of man:

As Chafe mentioned previously, both aria texts portray Jesus suffering at the hands of man, and
the chorale makes specific references to this mistreatment: zo Spott gebunden, hoch

Mryna Herzog, The Viol in Bachs Passions: A Performers Notes, 33.
Francis Browne, English Translation in Interlinear Format: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244,
Bach Cantatas Website.
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,
Voll Schmerz und voller Hohn,
O Haupt, zo Spott gebunden
Mit einer Dornenkron,
O Haupt, sonst schn gezieret
Mit hchster Her und Zier,
Jetzt aber hoch schimpfieret,
Gegret seist du mir!
Du edles Angesichte,
Dafr sonst schrickt und scheut
Das groe Weltgewichte,
Wie bist du so bespeit;
Wie bist du so erbleichet!
Wer hat dein Augenlicht,
Dem sonst kein Licht nicht gleichet,
So schndlich zugericht?
O head full of blood and wounds,
Full of sorrow and full of scorn,
O head bound in mockery
With a crown of thorns,
O head once beautifully adorned
With greatest honour and adornment,
But now most shamefully mistreated,
Let me greet you!
You noble face
Before which at other times shrinks and shies away.
The great weight of the world,
How are you spat upon,
How pale you are!
By whom has the light of your eyes
To which at other times no light can be compared,
Been so shamefully treated?
Abel , Bachs Medi tati on
schimpfieret, Wie bist du so bespeit, and So schndlich zugericht. Regardless of the
various interpretations possible, Bach replaced the cello with the viola da gamba in order to
provide more continuity to the work as a whole, as well as to highlight and connect the narrative
of Jesus suffering.
With all the study that is conducted throughout music universities across the country by
scholars and students alike, most of these question we have about Bachs music will never have a
definitely answer. The goal for us, as musicians and teachers, is to have a better understanding
of these works so that we know how they can be interpreted and to also discover the hidden
meanings that Bach may or may not have infused them with. As we delve deeper into the
compositional methods and craftsmanship of Bachs works, we can always discover something
new that can be incorporated into performance or teaching. Geduld gives an excellent example
of Bach using every compositional tool available to emphasize the Biblical lesson of keeping
patience. And through his revisions, re-scoring the instrumentation in order to draw the piece
tighter into the narrative of Jesus suffering as well as providing more continuity to the massive
work that is the St. Matthew Passion.

The Sarabande as End Focus i n the Passi ons of J.S. Bach
Laura Bock

As human beings we have the capability to encode myriad emotions, thoughts, and
sensations into our musical experiences. In many societies, dance and music are intertwined and
the bond between the two may call to mind particular moods associated with a dance genre or
even trigger physical sensations one might experience while performing that specific dance. To a
modern listener, a heavy, pulsating techno beat might evoke images of strobe lights and a dense
urban environment, while the twang of banjo and crooning singer might call to mind more rustic,
pastoral images. In the same manner, it is easy to imagine that Baroque listeners might have also
recognized and held particular associations with the well-known dance rhythms of their day. As
Kantor of the St. Thomas church in Leipzig, J.S. Bachs primary duty was to transmit the ideals
of Lutheran doctrine to his congregation through music. In order to achieve this goal, Bachs
sonic messages had to be both clear and universally recognizable- no easy task when employing
a medium as subjective and individually interpreted as music. On Good Friday, the day on which
Bachs Passions were performed, the vividness of these messages was especially critical, since
the service set the tone for Easter, the climax of the liturgical calendar. As a result, the final
chorales of the St. John and St. Matthew Passions were Bachs last opportunities to leave an
impression on his audience. Eric Chafes research on the planning of the structure of the St.
Matthew Passion suggests that Bach may have considered the final chorale movement so
important that he composed it before any other section of the Passion.
Upon observing and
examining characteristic dance rhythms in Wir Setzen Uns Mit Trnen Nieder from the St.

Eric Chafe. "J. S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion: Aspects of Planning, Structure, and
Chronology." Journal of the American Musicological Society, 35 no. 1 (Spring, 1982), 54-55
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
Matthew Passion and Ruht Wohl, from the St. John Passion, it is clear that Bach intentionally
chose to frame the conclusions of both Passions through the sarabande in order to create similar
impressions upon his audience.
Bachs choice of secular dance music for such a profoundly liturgical setting may at first
seem paradoxical, but become more logical when one considers the appeal of popular style upon
any audience, even a devoutly religious one. Based on Bachs previous appointments as court
music director at Weimar and Cthen, it is more than safe to assume that he would have felt
comfortable writing in dance styles and manipulating them for a given purpose. Not only did
Bach have the experience of professional appointments, he also would have been exposed to
these dance idioms from a young age:
In 1700, when he was fifteen years old, Bach came as a scholarship student to St.
Michaels School in Luneburg. Here he became acquainted with French court dance practices
because they were taught at the nearly Luneburg Ritterschule, a school for young
aristocratsEven though Bach did not attend the Ritterschule himself, he might have studied
dance or at least played the violin for dancing lessons and classes; thus, even if he had not been
trained in French court dancing as a child, he would have encountered it there, at least as a

Furthermore, it seems that the citizens of Leipzig had kept popular dance in high demand.
It is interesting to note that more treatises on French court dancing were published in German-
speaking lands in the early eighteenth century than in France...Dancing masters were numerous
in Leipzig, where [Bach] lived, teaching the disciplined practices and noble carriage that

Raymond Erickson. The Worlds of Johann Sebastian Bach. (New York: Amadeus
Press, 2009), 210-211.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
facilitated most human interactions.
The popularity of German Baroque dancing also extended
beyond the confines of the nobility: Far from being the purview of a small elite, French court
dancing prevailed, not only in German courts but also in the cities, by the early eighteenth
century. Its training in the noble style had intrigued and engaged the middle class, to which the
numerous dancing masters practicing in Leipzig, and their treaties attest.
In other words,
Baroque dance music would have been recognized by a significant portion of Bachs
churchgoers and even considered fashionable. Knowing this, Bach would have undoubtedly been
are aware of the advantages of putting a new twist on his religious message by encoding it within
Baroque popular culture.
Both chorales clearly depart from Bachs typically contrapuntal textures, with the
entrances in the vocal line echoing the melody of the orchestral introduction identically in each.
In the imaginative context of an actual court dance, it is easy to imagine the first several bars
would serve as the critical orchestral introduction, giving time for dancers to listen and gather
information about the tempo, style, and rhythmic patterns of the steps about to be performed. The
fact that both movements are in triple meter, confines the possibilities of their dance
classifications to three options: the sarabande, the minuet, or the courante. According to
descriptions of the minuet, although tempo markings (omitted by Bach in these cases) may vary,
the overall mood of a minuet is designated as gay and lively,
neither of which seems fitting
for the key of C minor which dominates both chorales. When considering the distinction between
the sarabande and courante, Mattheson describes the character of the sarabande as one of

Erickson, 223.
Betty Bang Mather. Dance Rhythms of the French Baroque. (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1987), 274-277.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
ambition, and one that permits no running notes.
The texture of Wir Setzen, from the St.
Matthew Passion has only the occasional sixteenth note functioning as an ornamental passing
tone, and so seems to gravitate much more toward the sarabande than the courante style in which
a multitude running notes would have been apparent. The extremely homophonic texture of
Ruht Wohl fits this description even more precisely.
Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne offer the following helpful checklist when it comes to
identifying sarabandes:
Checklist of Sarabande Characteristics:
1. Triple meter (3/4)
2. Serious affect; noble, majestic, yet passionate
3. Slow tempo
4. Balanced 4 + 4 phrase structure
5. Characteristic rhythmic patterns
6. Complex harmonies
7. Soloistic

Because a soloistic texture does not apply in this particular setting and a precise metronome
marking for determining the slow tempo of item three is omitted by Bach, evidence of the
other five elements must be used as determinants to classify each movement.

In Wir Setzen Uns Mit Trnen Nieder of the St. Matthew Passion, common sarabande
rhythms are most strongly suggested by the rhythms in viola line, which clearly delineates
regularly occurring dotted figures that litter the sarabande (occasionally written as a tied figure
instead). The melody in the flutes, oboes, and violins is frequently passed between the orchestras
through offbeat entrances which also serve to imply the same shift between duple and compound

Helen Hoekema van Wyck. "Mourning into Dancing: Dance Rhythms in J.S.
Bach St. Matthew Passion." Choral Journal 40:3 (October 1999), 9-21.
Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne. Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach: Extended
Edition. (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 2001), 236.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
meter. Furthermore, the melodic accenting of beat two, which occurs in measures four and five,
and recurs in subsequent parallel phrases, creates a temporarily feeling of hemiola, common in
the sarabande.
Bachs use of the figure seems to be two-fold in serving as an effective musical
representation of the text (rufen or crying out) and also creating dramatic contrast with the
serious mood of the sarabande. Wir Setzen uses an ABA form and symmetrical four bar
phrasing, which seems to fit the balanced style of the sarabande described in item four of the list.
In addition, the active continuo line allows for the complex harmonies of item six as well as
shifts in tonality throughout the chorale. Since all of these sarabande elements are illustrated in
the brief twelve bar orchestral introduction, the listener is able to identify the corresponding
dance style even before the entrance of the chorus.
Example 1. Bach, St. Matthew Passion, Wir Setzen Uns Mit Trnen Nieder, mm. 1-13

Little and Jenne, 97.

Bock, Sarabande as End Focus

Ruht Wohl of the St. John Passion, by contrast, is considerably more ambiguous in
terms of rhythm, since only a few rare dotted rhythms or tied hemiola effects are present
throughout the work. Despite these observations, in a comprehensive discussion of sarabande
form, Meredith Little cites that, Ruht Wohlrarely incorporates the sarabande rhythmic
module, but neither do some titled sarabandes, e.g., BWV 1002 for solo violin, and BWV 1010
and 1011 for solo cello. The piece is cast in balanced phrases throughoutThe angular,
wrenching melodies, and frequently chromatic bass lineproduce a serious affect.
In other,
Ruht Wohl still satisfies all of characteristics of the sarabande even if the rhythmic
qualifications may not be quite as obvious as in Wir Setzen.

Little and Jenne, 248-249.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
Example 2. Bach, St. John Passion, Ruht Wohl, mm. 1-8

One suggestive feature of the sarabande was that, unlike other dance classifications, it
originated as a dance accompanied by singing and instruments, in its early Spanish and New
World folk arts forms.
Therefore, the presence of the vocal lines in the two choruses would not
have been nearly as out of place as they might have been in another dance form.
These chorale movements clearly embody popular Baroque era dance styles that many of
Bachs churchgoers would likely have recognized. This conclusion calls into question the
possibilities of other implications and associations which the sarabande may have evoked.
Leonard Ratner proposes the idea that all Baroque dance styles, were associated with various
feelings and affectionsdances, by virtue of their rhythms and pace, represented feeling.
the sarabande in particular, Wilfrid Mellers points out that this dance genre is particularly fitting

Little and Jenne, 92.
Leonard G. Ratner. Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style. (New York: Schirmer Books,
1980), 11.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
considering the text at the beginning of the St. Matthew Passion depicting Christ as the
bridegroom. By Bachs time [the sarabande] was not only ceremonial, but also solemn,
sometimes even sacral, a marriage or altar dance.
Ratner identifies the sarabande as also
holding associations as being, high style, elegant and courtly.
This would have been
appropriate for a work of music centered on Christ as the King of Kings. This high style was
further described by Johann Adolf Schiebe in Der crtische Musikus in 1745. Schiebes writings
illuminate the concept that high dance forms, should only be used for heroes, kings, and other
great men and noble spirits; magnamity, majesty, love of power, magnificence, pride,
astonishment, anger, fear, madness, revenge, doubt, and other similar qualities and passions can
only expressed in the high style.
In other words, within the context of reserved Baroque
society, this classification of dance may have offered one of the few emotional outlets
appropriate for the congregation to grieve over the loss of their savior. Wilfrid Mellers points out
that dance music in general also kept a focus on earthly concerns, the metrical order of the
dance, originally derived from the dances of the court masqueliterally a symbol of human
solidarity in the here-and-now. Men and women measuring time as they beat the earth with their
feet, create concord within a clearly defined system of harmonic order and tonal relationships.

However, the sarabande in particular has a sort of dual identity in this respect: the sarabande is
both human and divine- not because it is a ceremonial dancebut because it reveals the
sacramental significance of human love.
Since the New Testament emphasizes the love of
Christ above all else, this would have been a particularly fitting association for Bach to close

Wilfrid Mellers. Bach and the Dance of God. (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1981), 23.
Ratner, 11-12.
Ratner, 7.
Mellers, 10.
Mellers, 30.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
The text of each chorale also goes a long way in suggesting the particularities of the
musical message Bach would have intended to convey. The following translations are offered
from the Bach Cantatas Website:
Ruht Wohl
Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Rest in peace, you sacred limbs,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
I shall weep for you no more,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur
rest in peace, and bring me also to rest.
Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
The grave that is allotted to you
Und ferner keine Not umschliet,
and contains no further suffering,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schliet
die Hlle zu.
opens heaven for me and shuts off hell.

Wir Setzen
Wir setzen uns mit Trnen nieder
We sit down with tears
Und rufen dir im Grabe zu:
And call to you in your term
Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!
Rest gently, gently rest!
Ruht, ihr ausgesognen Glieder!
Rest, you exhausted limbs!
Euer Grab und Leichenstein
Your grave and tombstone
Soll dem ngstlichen Gewissen
For our anguished conscience shall be
Ein bequemes Ruhekissen
A pillow that gives peace and comfort
Und der Seelen Ruhstatt sein.
And the place where our souls find rest.
Hchst vergngt schlummern da die
Augen ein.
With the greatest content there our eyes will
close in sleep.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
Both poetic texts make reference to a metaphorical link between death and sleep. The use
of dance music inherent invokes references to physical motion. Wilfrid Mellers notes that the
text of the Ruht Wohl chorale involves bodily gesture-an appeal to Jesus and to us his
redeemed servants to lie down and sleep- and metaphysical in that corporeal movement leads to
spiritual release.
In both cases, the slow tempo of the sarabande would have been the only
one suitable to call to mind the gentle, peaceful resting of the weary body of Christ.
In a sense, the sarabande was a sort of musical chameleon; while it always set a serious
and majestic mood for the dancer, the compositional palette of the composer could vary greatly,
in terms of melody, harmony, and rhythm. Perhaps the empowerment of this compositional
freedom is the very element that led Bach to write more sarabandes than any other dance style.

In addition to expressive versatility, the many possible overlapping connotations of the
sarabande would have had the ability to convey and contain both the solemn reverence of an
important church service and the passionate grieving of the congregation over the death of their
savior. By simultaneously expressing passionate and serious emotions, the sarabande paralleled
the paradox of Christs dual identity as a suffering human and a divine entity.
Having examined all of this evidence, it is clear that the sarabande was not only an ideal
setting for these concluding choral movements, but, ultimately, the only suitable choice among
the dances familiar to Bachs audience. While biographers sometimes characterize Bach as a
composer who obsessed over archaic or dying styles of music, these chorales point out that he
was just as capable of composing in the contemporary styles of his time if the context called for
it. This analysis builds support for a vision of a cognizant and versatile Johann Sebastian Bach
who discovered that, paradoxically, a less-than-divine medium was the most potent intermediary

Mellers, 148.
Little and Jenne, 102.
Bock, Sarabande as End Focus
he could employ to transmit a profoundly divine message.

The I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory i n
Wi r setzen uns mi t Trnen ni eder
Wi l l Doran

To composers of the Baroque era, word painting and allegory in music were about as
common as animals at a zoo. There have been various debates as to what degree allegory is
prevalent in the music of Bach, with scholars like Susan McClary and Eric Chafe analyzing
every aspect of form and tonality for hidden meaning and implications while others, such as
David Schulenberg, believe that these musical choices can be explained more easily.
While we
will never know the real answer to what Bachs intentions may have been, given the philosophy
of the times in which he lived (e.g. specific aspects of art and music can literally represent
emotions and objects, and it is the artists job to move our affections), it is not too much of a
stretch to assume that some extra-musical meanings end up in his music, especially in an
important work like the St Matthew Passion. In fact, by examining Bachs use of harmonic
language and tonal allegory in the final movement of the Passion, Wir setzen uns mit Trnen
nieder, we can see how Bach emphasizes Lutheran theology about the Passion story and why he
chooses to leave us in such a sad state at the end of this piece.
Tonal allegory can take on many forms and definitions. Manfred Bukofzer, in an early
article on the subject, used the term allegory to describe a coherent relationship between a
musical element and something extra-musical.
A triad can represent the trinity, for example,
because it embodies the three in one concept by having three notes in one chord. Following
this, tonal allegory is the use of any tonal elementkey, modulation, sharp sign, or the key

Baviu Schulenbeig, "'Nusic Allegoiy' Reconsiueieu: Repiesentation anu Imagination in
the Baioque," !"# %&'()*+ &, -'./0&+&12 1S, no. 2 (Spiing 199S): 2uS-2S9.
Nanfieu Bukofzei, "Allegoiy in Baioque Nusic," %&'()*+ &, 3"# 4*(5'(1 6).3/3'3# S, no. 1
(19S9-194u): 1-21.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
structure of a lengthy workto express a coherent relationship with something extra-musical.

The two passions by Bach are unique in that they both employ a wide range of keys. The St
Matthew Passion, for example, uses twenty-three of the major and minor keys; seventeen as the
keys of the movements, and the rest through modulation within the movements.
distinguishes the passions from the cantatas and his other larger works, such as the B-Minor
Mass, which only has seven different key signatures. It also begs the question of why Bach chose
to use so many different keys, especially considering how the tuning systems of the day did not
allow Baroque instruments to sound equally good in all keys.
Eric Chafe makes the argument that the opposition between sharps and flats is the main
allegorical structural principle in the two passions. He also believes that in the St Matthew
Passion, the keys follow the text. This can happen because there are various connotations
associated with flat and sharp keys in the Baroque period. According to Chafe, sharps are
generally seen as masculine, and throughout the Matthew Passion, all scenes dealing with the
crucifixion (such as the trial, the shouts of the mob for Jesus death, and his scourging) and glory
(Christs prediction of the Kingdom of God, the spread of the gospel, his resurrection, and
Peters repentance) are in sharp keys. Flats, on the other hand, are associated with the soft,
feminine affections. Scenes involving Jesus weakness, such as his difficulty accepting the cup at
first and his depressed states on the Mount of Olives and on the cross are in flat keys. Also in the
flat category are the Christian reactions to his sufferings (Wer hat dich so gechlagen, O Haupt
voll Blut und Wunden), the disciples sleep in the garden, Jesus final sleep in the grave, and

Eiic Chafe, "Key Stiuctuie anu Tonal Allegoiy in the Passions of }.S. Bach: An
Intiouuction," 7'((#)3 -'./0&+&12 S1 (1981): S9.
Eiic Chafe, "Allegoiical Nusic: the 'Symbolism' of Tonal Language in Bach Canons," !"#
%&'()*+ &, -'./0&+&12 S, no. 4 (Autumn 1984): S6u.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
His finding rest in the believers heart.

Another example of tonal allegory is the use of sharps for texts dealing with the cross, the
reason being that Kreuz means both sharp and cross in German.
An example of this occurs
right at the outset of the St Matthew Passion with the opening chorus, Kommt, ihr Tchter helft
mir klagen. This movement is set in e minor, the key of many Baroque laments, including
The movement represents Christ bearing the cross for us, and the drudging pedal bass
brings to mind Jesuss slow trek under its weight. Also of note is the one sharp in the key
signature, a possible representation of the cross Christ is bearing for us. In fact, the key of e
minor is predominant up until Andern hat er geholfen. After the crucifixion, however, flat keys
dominate the rest of the passion, ending in a lamenting c-minor.
Additional evidence linking the keys of e-minor and c-minor are the multiple instances
where Bach confronts the two keys throughout the St Matthew Passion, with c-minor always
following e-minor in a way that seems to point towards the final ending of the passion. This
confrontation between the two keys appears six times: the prediction of betrayal, Peters mention
of Jesus death, the buying of the potters field, the actual crucifixion, and so on.
Also of note
with the crucifixion is the giant e-minor cadence in Ander hat er geholfen at the end of the
movement. Every voice and instrument is playing an e at this point, and the text is ich bin
Gottes Sohn (I am Gods son). According to Chafe, the interval of an octave has the meaning of
the Son in this era, so Bach is choosing to represent the text with a reference to Baroque symbols

Chafe, "Key Stiuctuie," 46.
Belen Wyck, "Nouining into Bancing: Bance Rhythms in }.S. Bach's 'St Natthew Passion,'"
7"&(*+ %&'()*+ 4u, no. S (0ctobei 1999): 9.
Chafe, "Key Stiuctuie," Su.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
that his contemporaries would recognize.
Also, considering that this is the last occurrence of e-
minor and sharp keys in general in the Passion, it seems like Bach is trying to make a bigger deal
out of this last cadence. That he would so sharply divide the passion at this point suggests to me
that his key choice in the St Matthew Passion is no coincidence, and that Bach is conscious of his
tonal plan and how it relates to the passion story.
Why, then, does Bach choose to end the Matthew Passion with a chorus that, as Peter
Williams says, leaves behind the impression of so terrible a story and cathartic
After all, according to Luther, the Passion story is one of joy for salvation from
our sins and how much Jesus loves us. Why, then, would Bach, being a devout Lutheran, choose
to seemingly contradict Luthers theology? To answer this question, one must take into account
the context of the Matthew Passion when it was composed. Because the passion was performed
on a Good Friday service, the triumphant part of the story when Jesus is resurrected and ascends
to heaven is yet to come. Bachs passion narrative leaves us in the throes of mourning after
Jesus death, and in fact, the way that Bach tells the Passion does not instill hope for salvation:
Jesus never once speaks as a victor, the Resurrection is only briefly hinted at, and the whole
work ends with a sort of funeral dirge.

This is actually directly in keeping with Martin Luthers teachings about how believers
should experience the Passion story. In his writings, Luther aligns Jesus death with terror and
guilt and the Resurrection with the joy of Christs victory over sin. According to Luther,
Christians should suffer as they contemplate the crucifixion story: he believes that reflecting on

Chafe, "Key Stiuctuie," S1. Also, the inteival of a fifth is iepiesentative of the Boly Spiiit,
while a unison iepiesents the Fathei.
Petei Williams, %898 :*0"; < =/,# /) -'./0, (New Yoik: Cambiiuge 0niveisity Piess, 2uu7),
Baviu Bill, "The Time of the Sign: '0 Baupt voll Blut unu Wunuen' in Bach's St Natthew
Passion," !"# %&'()*+ &, -'./0&+&12 14, no. 4 (Autumn 1996): S1S-S16.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
the Passion properly requires great endurance on the part of the believer and that the horror of
the crucifixion must be sympathetically experienced. This terror must be felt as you witness the
stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners.

Another important aspect of Wir setzen is its relationship to the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew uses two passagesone near the beginning, and one near the endto show that he
believes that God is present on Earth through Jesus. The first passage comes from the scene
where an angel is appearing to Joseph in a dream to dissuade him from divorcing Mary: Behold,
a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,
which being interpreted is God with us (Matthew 1:22-23). The second passage is from the last
verse in the book: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew
28:20b). Following this notion, if God is present on Earth through Jesus Christ, then the three
days between Jesus death and his resurrection are all the more tragic because they mark the only
time in Matthews Gospel that God is not present with humanity.
Another important point
about Matthews Gospel is that the Ascension is not depicted, just alluded to. Bach reflects the
character of the Gospel of Matthew by also downplaying the resurrection in the Matthew
With all of this in mind, the mood of Wir setzen makes a bit more sense. Bach is
following the Lutheran tradition of contemplating the crucifixion with guilt and mourning by
creating a very mournful end to the Passion narrative, leaving us in the correct emotional state
for Good Friday. Because the Resurrection will not be commemorated until Sunday, Lutherans
are meant to suffer during the days leading up to it, just like Christ himself suffered. Being a
Baroque composer, Bach would not be one to pass up an opportunity to manipulate the affections

Naitin Luthei, "A Neuitation on Chiist's Passion (1S19)," qtu. in Bill, S26.
Bill, S19.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
p: H
of his congregation.
As mentioned before, Wir setzen is mostly in c-minor, but it modulates often to other
flat keys. The movement as a whole can be seen as having the character of a sarabande,
and it
has a solemn, steady stream of eighth and sixteenth notes, either in the melody or the
counterpoint (Example 1). The pedal bass is reminiscent of the opening movements quarter note
low e pedal (Example 2), once again bringing in ties between e-minor and c-minor. Overall, the
melodic contour is conjunct and downward, giving the feeling of a piece of burial music.

Example 1. J.S. Bach: St Matthew Passion, Wir setzen uns mit Trnen nieder

Example 2. J.S. Bach: St Matthew Passion, Kommt, ihr Tchter helft mir klagen.
An instrumental introduction stating the main theme in c-minor opens the movement,
however, the first phrase cadences in the relative major, e-flat, at measure twelve. The immediate

HH aHI cHR" eR( lH
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
implications of this harmonic choice are not obvious without the text. When the voices do enter,
though, we can see Bachs motivation. The first phrase, We sit down with tears, is all very
much in c minor, following the text. For the next part of the line, and call to you in your tomb,
rest gently, gently rest, the music moves into e-flat major (measures seventeen to twenty-four).
One gets the sense that the narrator is telling Jesus that now that he has completed the task that
he feared so much in the Garden of Gethsemane, he can rest. The dynamics and texture at this
point also support this theory. Half of the musicians drop out while the other half implores Jesus
to rest gently. The second group then echoes the first before the whole ensemble comes together,
repeating and emphasizing the point to rest gently.
For the second phrase, starting at measure twenty-five, the same opening motive is
repeated by the orchestra, only this time the piece is still in e-flat major. In a sort of reversal of
the first cadence, this phrase starts in e-flat major and ends on the dominant of c-minor before
quickly modulating back to e-flat for the chorus entrance. At measure thirty-seven, the chorus
enters again with the same text and echoes the instrumental interlude. Repeating the same text in
a major tonality going to a minor one gives a slightly different shade of meaning. The rest does
not seem as peaceful, and the final cadence of the phrase in measure forty-eight contains a
strikingly dissonant appoggiatura on the leading tone that is highlighted even more by the timbre
of the instruments playing it, the flute.

This dissonance seems to be at odds with the text going on at the moment, in this case
being the desire for Jesus to rest gently. However, Bach obviously did not want this rest to be
completely at peace. The meaning of this text, at this point, could be examined from two
different points of view. The first viewpoint would be that the object of the text is Jesus and the

Wyck, 19.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
mourning believers are lamenting his passing and wishing him a peaceful rest after all his
suffering. The second point of view would still be talking about Jesus resting, but in this case, he
is not resting in his grave, but metaphorically in the heart of the believer.
This is not too far of a leap of faith considering the rest of the text of this movement.
Your grave and tombstone / for our anguished conscience shall be / a pillow that gives peace
and comfort / and the place where our souls find rest / with the greatest content, there our eyes
will close in sleep. Essentially, the believer is finding rest and comfort in Jesus, or in Lutheran
terms, salvation and peace in knowing Christs love for us.
Also supporting this notion of Jesus resting metaphorically in the hearts of believers is
the reference made to this point in the last aria before this chorus, Mache dich, mein Herze,
rein. This aria expresses how the believer wants to bury Jesus within himself. For he now
within me / forever / shall have his sweet rest. / World, depart from my heart, let Jesus enter!
Considering this is the last aria in the whole passion, it makes a particularly lasting impression
upon the listener.
So, going back to the question of why there is such a harsh dissonance in the cadence of
measure forty-eight, and ultimately in the last chord of this movement and the passion as a
whole, the answer would be that Bach is trying to express more Lutheran theology. The life of a
believer is difficult, and while one can find rest in their salvation and through the love of Christ,
the path of imitating Christ is difficult:
Luther, feeling keenly his own persecution, stressed that Christs passion should not be
acted out in words or appearances but in ones own life; having acknowledged guilt and
received Christs loving redemption, all should foster their potential to imitate Christ and
be fearless in the face of persecution.

Based on these details, one can conclude that the final words of the St Matthew Passion are

}ohn Butt, "Bach's vocal Scoiing: What Can it Nean." >*(+2 -'./0 26, no. 1 (1998): 1u4.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
imploring Jesus to rest inside of the believer, but Bach and Luther are warning them of the
persecution they will face.
Is this too much of a stretch? Again, given the context of the St Matthew Passion, it was
certainly composed as a sort of sermon. Its intended audience was a congregation of Lutherans,
and, as John Butt says, as opposed to an opera, much of the poetic material in the Passions
derived as it is directly from sermon poetryspeaks directly to the individual listener.
like a sermon, the St Matthew Passion was meant to move and inspire its congregation.
Arguments have been made about other aspects of the Passion being used to reinforce Lutheran
tenets, such as the vocal scoring of the work.
It would seem just as likely that Bach would use
harmonic means to get across his points as well.
As for the B section of Wir setzen, Bach uses several more devices to emphasize the
points already made. Starting at measure forty-nine, the soprano melody immediately outlines a
diminished chord while singing the words, Rest, you exhausted limbs. This shows just how
badly the believer is yearning for Christ to rest in them, in a very pietistic sort of manner.
Measure fifty-four sequences the same four measures up a fourth, making the plea sound even
more desperate. It is also worth mentioning that measure fifty-four to fifty-five are in b-flat
minor, which is fairly difficult to play in tune on Baroque instruments. The intonation problems
would add even more to the sound of the desperate, imploring cry of a believer for Christs
presence in their life.
In conclusion, throughout the St Matthew Passion, Bach uses many tools to add shades of
meaning to the text he uses. Bachs use of tonal allegory is just one of the many ways he
espouses Lutheran theological principles through his music. In particular, however, examining

Butt, 1u6.
Ibiu., 99-1u7.
Doran, I mpl i cati ons of Bachs Use of Tonal Al l egory
Wir setzen uns mit Trnen nieder is important, as it is the last piece of music in the St Matthew
Passion, and therefore Bachs last words to us during the Good Friday service. No one will ever
truly know what Bachs intentions behind his music are, but by trying to get into Bachs head to
get an understanding of what his music may have meant to him, perhaps performers of this work
can better convey a hidden meaning behind the music that would otherwise be lost to the vestiges
of time. Overall, however, even if these theories about allegories behind the music seem far-
fetched, it is important to note that music is Bachs only way of communicating to us. Why
would he not include these sorts of allegories if he could? After all, Bach and his librettists
went out of their way to show that we are not predestined to be damned or saved, but that
contrition, faith in Christs love and the imitation of Christ are the way forward.

Butt, 1u4.
A Hi stori cal Bi ography of
J.S. Bachs St. Matthew Passi on BWV 244
Steven Hi l debrand

Before we can analyze the complex dimensions of a work as substantial as
J.S. Bachs St. Matthew Passion BWV 244, it is necessary to gain a thorough
understanding of the pieces background, history, and original context. We must be
certain that we recognize some universal understanding of how a piece came about
before we can analyze what it means. Therefore, I propose to provide an in depth
description of the origin and nature of Bachs St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 in
order to preface further conceptualization and discussion of more specific aspects of
the work.
The most fundamental understanding we can gain about this work stems
from recognizing the definition of the genre, the passion. A passion is the story of
the Crucifixion as told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are
recited during Mass on various days throughout the Holy Week, with the Gospel of
Matthew being recited on Palm Sunday
. Recitations of the passion texts have been
set to pitches since as early as the 12
century; however, it wasnt until the 15

century that we see polyphonic settings of the text. Bach expanded on the basic
polyphony, motet style of composing for the Gospels. He incorporated elements
of the oratorio by introducing instrumental sections as well passages with text that

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Hi l debrand, Hi stori cal Bi ography
was not taken from scripture, but rather, was written for the passion
Bach wrote five passions: the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the
St. Mark Passion, the St. Luke Passion, and the Weimar Passion. The St. Matthew
Passion is perhaps the most well known because of its use of two choirs and two
orchestras. These large-scale concerted passions were performed during the
Vespers, the early afternoon services, on Good Friday in the two principal churches
in Leipzig, the Nikolaikirche and the Thomaskirche, alternating between churches
each year. A typical church service structure during Good Friday Vespers
proceeded as follows: 1) a singing of the Hymn Da Jesus an den Kreuze stund, 2) a
performance of the first part of a passion, 3) a giving of the Sermon, 4) a
performance of the second part of the passion, 5) a performance of the motet Ecce
quomodo moritur, written by Jacob Handl, 6) the Collection of the Offering, 7) the
Benediction, and finally 8) the Hymn Nun danket alle Gott
Referred to by composer Felix Mendelssohn as the greatest of Christian
works, the St. Matthew Passion is a setting of the Passion story from the Gospel of
St. Matthew and was first performed on Good Friday, April 11 1727 at the
Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany
. Historically the work was not thought to have
been performed until 1729; however, after uncovering various pieces of evidence, in
1975, many scholars accepted that the passion was indeed first performed in 1727.
Although the original manuscript score and parts are no longer extant, scholars have

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found copies and manuscripts from various later sources including the libretto by
Christian Friedrich Henrici (1729), the 1748 manuscript of the score by J.C Atkinol,
one of Bachs pupils, and a incomplete copy of the score by J.F Agricola, another
pupil of Bach
. Besides these manuscripts and copies, there are numerous pieces of
evidence that suggest that the premiere date was in 1727.
Evidence suggests that Bach began preparing the St. Matthew Passion as
early as 1725. There is a connection between the fourth movement of Cantata 127
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott, first performed in February of 1725, and
the chorus Sind Blitze, sind Donner from the passion. The cantata movement
melody echoes the melody of the passion chorus, suggesting that Bach composed
the chorus before the cantata movement
. More evidence comes from a libretto
composed by Picander (actual name) that was part of a collection of cantata librettos
entitled Sammlung Erbaulicher Gedancken ber und auf die gewhnlichen Sonn-
und Fest-Tage (1724-25). Christian Friedrich Henrici, who composed the libretto
for the St. Matthew Passion, wrote text for nos. 39, 49, and 68 as parodies of
movements from his libretto found in the 1724-1725 collection
. More evidence is
found on the verso of the viola part from the Sanctus BWV 232, prepared in 1726.
Written upside down in the bottom right corner of the manuscript is a sequence of
notes that is found in the first violin part of the aria Mache dich, meine Herze, rein

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Hi l debrand, Hi stori cal Bi ography
from the passion
. Finally, the last piece of evidence confirms that the passion was
not first performed in 1729; movements of the St. Matthew Passion were parodied
for a memorial service for Prince Leopold of Cthen in March of 1729. The funeral
cantata for this service, Klagt, Kinder, Klagt es aller Welt contains parodies from
nos. 3, 5, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, and 24 of the St, Matthew Passion.
these pieces of evidence seem small and fragmented, they have persuaded scholars
to universally accept that the passion was not first performed in 1729, but rather, in
As mentioned above, most of the libretto for the St. Matthew Passion was
composed by a German poet by the name of Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700-
1764). Henricis pseudonym was Picander, and he is most often referred to as such.
Picander studied poetry at the University of Leipzig and later wrote for many of
Bachs cantatas and passions. The Passion is composed of Picanders own text, text
that he borrowed from other German poets as well as segments of biblical
As mentioned above, part of what makes St. Matthew Passion so well known
is the use of doubled ensembles. The scoring calls for two SATB choirs
accompanied by two orchestras, each containing two flutes dolce, two transverse
flutes, two oboes, two oboes damore, two oboes da caccia, two violins, one viola,
one viola da gamba, and basso continuo. These two ensembles were placed opposite

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Conseivapeuia. "St. Natthew Passion." Available fiom Biaun, Weinei. "Passion." uiove
Nusic 0nline 0xfoiu Nusic Bictionaiy.. Inteinet; accesseu 24 Naich 2u1u.
Hi l debrand, Hi stori cal Bi ography
one another to create an antiphonal effect. Bach also wrote sixteen vocal solo parts.
He assigned two sopranos, alto, tenor, and bass to one choir as soloists and then
another soprano, alto, tenor, and bass to the second choir as soloists. The remaining
seven soloists, soprano, tenor, and five basses, performed outside of either
. Twelve of the soloists are named and outline the story of the Passion.
The characters are as follows: Erste Magd (First Servant Girl), soprano; Zweite
Magd (Second Servant Girl), soprano; Pilati Weib (Pilates Wife), soprano; Zeuge
(Female Witness), alto; Evangelist (Narrator), tenor; Zeuge (Male Witness), tenor;
Jesus, bass; Petrus (Peter), bass; Judas, bass; Pilatus (Pontius Pilate), bass; Pontifex
I, bass; and Ponitfex II, bass
The Passion is divided into two sections with a total of sixty-eight
movements, or numbers, including choruses, recitatives, and arias. Bach used many
hymn tunes to compose the choruses in the Passion, which allowed his audience to
be more familiar with the work and to more easily relate to it. For example, the
Passion begins with a chorale fantasia based on the hymn O Lamm Gottes
unschuldig, composed by Nicolaus Decius. No. 3 is a chorale setting of Herzliebster
Jesu by Johann Crger; nos. 10 and 37 are settings of O Welt ich muss dich lassen
by Heinrich Isaak; no. 25 is a setting of Was mein Gott will, das gscheh Allzeit, an
anonymously composed hymn based off a secular German song; no. 29 is a setting
of Es sind cloch selig alle by Matthias Greiter; no. 32 is a setting of In dich hab ich
gehoffet by Seth Calvisius; and finally, no. 40 is a setting of Werde munter, mein

uieen, }onathan. < 7&)C'03&(F. ?'/C# 3& 3"# 7"&(*+GA(0"#.3(*+ 4&(H. &, %898 :*0". Lanham:
The Scaieciow Pies, Inc., 2uuu. Su2
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The Scaieciow Pies, Inc., 2uuu. SuS
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Gemthe by Johann Schop
. Bach also used the chorale melody O Haupt voll Blut
und Wunden, often referred to as the Passion Chorale composed by Hans Leo, five
times throughout the Passion (nos. 15, 17, 44, 54, and 62) as well in his Christmas
Oratorio and Cantatas 135, 159, and 161
The structure of the Passion follows a simple pattern that progresses the story
of the Passion as told by the Gospel. First, a biblical narrative is sung, primarily by
the Evangelist. The narrative tells of the Crucifixion and advances the Passion
story. The narrative is then followed by a comment. The comment, usually a
recitative, reflects on the narrative and relates it to the audience. Finally, the prayer
follows the comment. The prayer occurs in the form of an aria and is a
transformation of the comment. It turns the emotion and understanding of the
comment into an artistic and beautiful expression. This pattern repeats throughout
the Passion, interrupted by chorales. These chorales punctuate the narrative at
various junctures throughout the story. They give the audience time to reflect on the
story, and they often prepare for the next repetition of the pattern
. Examples of the
pattern include nos. 4, 5, and 6; nos. 11, 12, and 13; and nos. 21, 22, and 23- all
examples of a narrative, comment, and prayer
Furthermore, the Passion was also composed on a chiastic structure. The
term chiastic refers to the symmetry of the movement orders. Bach often wrote in a

uieen, }onathan. < 7&)C'03&(F. ?'/C# 3& 3"# 7"&(*+GA(0"#.3(*+ 4&(H. &, %898 :*0". Lanham:
The Scaieciow Pies, Inc., 2uuu. SuS
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Piess, 1999. S61
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Piess, 1999. 4S2
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Piess, 1999. 4S2
Hi l debrand, Hi stori cal Bi ography
pattern such as chorus, recitative, aria, recitative, and chorus. This creates an X
shape when analyzing the order of the movements. The X refers to the Greek
letter chi. The letter chi is the shape of the Greek cross (an X), which is
similar to the shape of a Christian cross. The connection between the Cross and the
structure of the Passion holds great significance, as it reinforces the meaning of the
It is important to note that Bach made a few key revisions to the Passion in
1736. One of the most important of these additions included the addition of two
organs, placed in opposite balconies to accompany the ensemble. Bach also
replaced the chorale Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht, which ended the first part of the
Passion, with a more elaborate fantasia setting of O Mensch, bewein dein Snde
gross. Interestingly, the latter was used as the opening movement of the second
version of the St. John Passion
. The earliest manuscript of the Passion dates from
1736 and includes all of these revisions. This manuscript also happens to be one of
the most beautifully perfected manuscripts from the Baroque era. Bach clearly held
this Passion in high regard above most of his other sacred works; for he was inspired
to copy the entire Passion in a blackish ink while using a bright red ink to compose
the chorale melody in the opening movement O Lamm Gottes unschuldig as well as
the text that was taken from the Gospel
. Bach would make later minor revisions to
the Passion in 1739 and 1745. The Passion was not heard out of Leipzig until 1829

Boyu, Nalcolm. AB,&(C 7&DE&.#( 7&DE*)/&).; %898 :*0". New Yoik: 0xfoiu 0niveisity
Piess, 1999. 4S2
Rifkin, }oshua. "The Passion Accoiuing to St Natthew BWv 244." Bach Cantatas. Available
fiom http:www.bach-cantatas.comAiticlesSNP%SBRifkin%SB.htm. Inteinet; accesseu
24 Nai 2u1u.
Hi l debrand, Hi stori cal Bi ography
when Felix Mendelssohn conducted a version in Berlin with many of his own
It is obvious at this point that Bach held the St. Matthew Passion with high
regard and believed it conveyed an impassioned theological message. Serving as
cantor at the Thomaskirche, Bach was essentially the musical preacher for the city of
Leipzig. He was tested on his knowledge of the Gospels before attaining this
position, and therefore was extremely well versed in the story of the Passion
. Bach
composed the Passion not as an independent oratorio; rather, he composed the work
to be heard in a specific liturgical context (i.e. the Good Friday Vespers). The
Passion was meant to include congregational hymns, preaching, and prayer. This
facilitated a clearer and more direct telling of the story of the Passion according to
the Gospel of Matthew. Bach structured his Passion to convey the story of the
Crucifixion to his audience, while allowing them to relate to it and appreciate some
universal truth by which to live their lives.
A main theme to be understood from the St. Matthew Passion is one of
repentance. Unlike other passions the St. Matthew Passion ends with the
Crucifixion and not the Resurrection. This places the Crucifixion as the moment of
humanitys redemption, and it encourages us all to seek repentance for whatever sins
we may have committed. The text of the opening chorale O Lamm Gottes
unschuldig is a paraphrase of the Agnus Dei that was to be sung at the end of the

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0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess, 1998. 7
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morning Hauptg ottesdienst on Good Friday
. This serves as a reflection on Gods
sacrifice and mans repentance. Another chorale, Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen
(no. 40) reflects on this theme; it is essentially a prayer for mercy. The idea of
repentance is shouted in more chorales such as the ending chorale of the first section
and the final chorale of the Passion, echoing the redemption from the Crucifixion.
All of the information stated above is a brief overview of some of the
important details that are necessary to acquaint oneself with in order to analyze the
work further in depth. It is important to note the liturgical context in which Bach
composed this Passion. This allows one to further appreciate why he composed
such a large-scale work and who it was intended for. It is only after this that one can
analyze how Bach achieved conveying specific messages and how it affected his
audience. With this foundation having been laid, it is now possible to explore the
deeper theological and conceptual implications of Bachs St. Matthew Passion.

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Di ggi ng Deep i nto the Descent:
The Musi cal Potenti al of Descendi ng Bass Li nes
Andrew Pham

According to Laurence Dreyfus, for Bach the function of the continuo part was not only
a practical matter, but also the basis for composition.
Given this statement, Bach had likely
thought very carefully about the continuo writing in much of his music, particularly a large scale
piece such as the St. Matthew Passion, which employs the continuo virtually throughout the
entire work. Dreyfus also adds that the function of the continuo part was more important than
the instruments that happened to play it.
He emphasizes the significance of continuo for
encompassing the harmony of a piece of music. For the purpose of this paper, the term continuo
refers to the instrumental realization of the harmony, but I venture to put aside the realization of
the figured bass to argue the importance of the single monophonic line that is the continuos bass
The bass line provides opportunities for a composer to manipulate several aspects of the
music. Monteverdi, for example, in his Lament of the Nymph, exploits the descending
tetrachord figure in the bass to derive several other interesting melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic
implications for the rest of the ensemble. By employing suspensions, syncopation, and phrase
overlapping, he creates affective dissonances of harmony, melody, rhythm, and texture. In
addition, he achieves structural dissonances by exploiting the ambiguity of phrase length, the
double function of the tonic note as the beginning or ending of a phrase, which is increased by
ostinato repetition of the pattern.
The bass line alone is a source for musical gestures that

Dreyfus, 2.
Rosand, 349.
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep
complement the meaning of the text. For instance, the descending minor tetrachord figure
conveys a sense of emotional heaviness and functions historically as a lament.

Descending contours in the bass line also appear in the first eight measures of Erbarme
Dich and Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, two emotionally contrasting arias from Bachs St.
Matthew Passion. Whereas Erbarme Dich elicits a sorrowful and lamenting tone, Mache dich,
mein Herze, rein evokes a more hopeful and uplifting mood. Although the descending minor
tetrachord functioned historically as a lament, Bach demonstrates the versatility of a conjunct
descending bass contour. Bach achieves contrasting musical effects through careful construction
and interplay of the bass line with the rest of the ensemble, highlighting many effects on melody,
harmony, rhythm, and text painting according to how it might be perceived by modern listeners.
Erbarme Dich, an alto aria, occurs in the middle of the St. Matthew Passion and
follows the recitative in which Peter denies knowing Jesus for a third time. The text poetically
reflects Peters remorse as he weeps bitterly, asking for Gods mercy. The bass line effectively
depicts his sorrow, and the opening eight bars set up the listeners for what takes place in the bass
line for the majority of the aria. Example 1.1 excerpts its first three measures, which contains the
bass lines primary material: a steady pulse of eighth notes descending stepwise. This figure
varies throughout the aria, sometimes occurring as an ascending contour and sometimes using
arpeggiated chords rather than three repeated notes, but the rhythm persists with a stream of
eighth notes, which carry a potentially hypnotic effect on the listener. This minimalistic use of
constant eighth note motion perhaps alludes to Peters dazed state as he comes to terms with his
guilty betrayal of Jesus.

Rosand, 346.
!"#$%&' )* +* ),-*
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep

Example 1.1. J.S. Bach, Erbarme Dich, from St. Matthew Passion BWV 244, mm. 1-3.
The bass line achieves this effect not only with the steady beat of eighth notes but also
with patterns of alternating descending and ascending contours. The descending stepwise motion
spans a fifth in the opening and becomes emphasized by the three repetitions of each pitch. The
downward motion then inverts upwards in measure two, only to descend again in measure three.
This descending and ascending contour in the opening measures creates an entrancing circular
motion, creating the sense that the bass notes spin around the listener. This revolving sense also
emerges on a microcosmic scale with the descending and ascending notes of the broken e minor
triad on beat 3 in measure two.
The unchanging rhythm in the bass line counters the rhythms of the solo violin, which
freely explores faster notes that weave in between the eighth notes. This bass line creates a
rhythmic constraint against which the solo violinist plays, ultimately directing attention to the
grace notes in the melody. In the first measure, the violinist plays a B on virtually every beat.
Because of the descending contour in the bass, space between the melodic B and the bass line
gradually increases, and the grace notes convey a sense that the melodic line is losing a grip on
the bass line, which seems to slip away. This essentially oblique motion between outer voices in
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep
the first measure elicits the effect of something fleeting or dissipating while also emphasizing the
static nature of the violin part. This unique interplay also suggests contrasting characters of the
violin solo and the bass line. Though highly expressive and rhythmically free, the violin solo
remains fixed around the same pitch as if portraying an insistent pleading for forgiveness. The
perpetual descending eighth note motion, however, seems to insist on Peters inevitable guilt and
increasingly lowering spirits. The pickup into the first measure shared by the violin solo and bass
line emphasize the joint relationship of these two characters, demonstrating that the remorse and
guilt go hand in hand.
The bass also moves in contrary motion with the Violin I, Violin II, and Viola. The
contrary motion becomes especially effective because the longer notes in the inner string parts
contrast with the eighth notes moving underneath. As a result of this motion, the displacement
between the low note in the bass line and the high note in the Violin I part doubles from one
octave in the downbeat of measure 1 to two octaves on the downbeat of measure 2. Moreover,
the short decay and ringing timbre of the pizzicato notes in the bass line contrast the bowed long
notes in the strings, creating yet another striking contrast. These factors draw attention to the
slower, dragging motion of the inner strings, perhaps suggesting a heavy languidness that
accompanies Peters remorse.
The structure of the bass line in the first three measures also provides much harmonic
variety and ambiguity. Bach explores different harmonies such as a dramatic Neapolitan chord
on the downbeat of the third measure before returning to the tonic in the fourth measure. While
the harmony changes on virtually every dotted quarter note beat, the grace notes and faster
moving notes of the violin solo tug at the harmonies and create a harmonic instability within the
dotted quarter division. For example, the first beat of the violin line consists of many instances of
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep
C sharp that function as passing tones that clash against the tonic harmony. Then in the second
beat, the tonic harmony established by the sustained strings becomes further embellished by the
newly descended upon A4 in the bass line and the A sharp 5 neighbor tone. This harmonic
tension implies inconsolability and bitterness, which appropriately fits the mood of the singer
who weeps before God and begs for mercy. Moreover, the ambiguous tonicization in a long
harmonic progression creates an unsettling restlessness that distorts the listeners harmonic
orientation, reinforcing the idea of Peters dazed state.
Erbarme dich,
Have mercy,
Mein Gott, um meiner Zhren willen!
My God, for the sake of my tears!
Schaue hier,
Look here,
Herz und Auge weint vor dir
My heart and eyes weep before you

The bass line serves an important purpose in alluding to the poetic text. The descending
pizzicato notes seem to depict teardrops, and the plucked articulation suggests the sound of a
drop of water or tear splashing upon a surface. This image most clearly illustrates the tearful eyes
of the text, but the pizzicato notes also seem to liken to the vibrations of a beating heart,
suggesting a dual image created by the texts description of a weeping heart. The ascending
contours in measure two suggest an increasing emotional intensity, as if graphically depicting a
raised awareness of the thumping heartbeat. On the downbeat of measure three, the ascent up to
E4 in the bass line conveys a feeling of an anguished heart lifted beneath ones chest.
The bass lines in the alto aria Erbarme Dich and the bass aria Mache dich, mein

Francis Browne, Saint Matthew Passion BWV 244 English Translation, http://www.bach- Both translations come from this source.
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep
Herze, rein share common features, but Bach manages to achieve a much more joyous and
hopeful effect in the latter aria. The aria takes place close to the end of the St. Matthew Passion,
after Joseph, one of Jesus disciples, requests Jesus dead body from Pilate. Example 1.2 contains
the first three bars of the aria, in which the bass line gradually descends. Like Erbarme Dich,
this aria employs a bass line that descends stepwise to the perfect fifth below the starting tonic
before changing directions, but the change of direction happens by the middle of the third
measure opposed to the downbeat of the second measure in the previous aria.
Interestingly, the bass lines of both arias share a 12/8 meter, but the implied tempo
difference sets the two apart. In his book, The Art of Strict Musical Composition, Johann Philipp
Kirnberger states that One meter can be used for contrasting passions, depending upon the
tempo and other factors.
Even though the bass aria typically assumes a faster tempo than the
alto aria in most modern performances, the arrival on the low note takes at least a few seconds
more in the bass aria. Furthermore, the arrival on the low note takes place in a different part of
the harmonic progression, occurring immediately before a clear outlining of the dominant chord.
This clear harmonic direction contrasts the harmonic ambiguity that surrounds the arrival of the
low E3 in Erbarme Dich. Bachs descending bass line in Mache dich, mein Herze, rein thus
achieves a more harmonically clear and fulfilling effect than the descending bass line in
Erbarme Dich.

Kirnberger, 776.
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep

Example 1.2. Bach, Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, mm. 1-3.
Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, also implies the presence of at least two voices in the
bass line of the opening three measures. The first voice occurs in the register of B flat 3 and the
second voice occupies the register of B flat 4. Although both lines descend, the eighth note
pickups into the quarter note downbeats create a light, less anchored quality that suggests more
motion in the music. The rhythm and alternation of two voices lengthen each line, enabling Bach
to stretch the descent of the bass altogether. The octave difference between the voices also
creates an opportunity for the listener to experience a refreshing break from the descending
motion of either of the two lines. This contrasts with the unyielding eighth notes of the single
implied voice in the bass line in Erbarme Dich, which offers no respite from the continuous
eighth note motion of the bass. Furthermore, the arrival on measure 4 a few notes after the
lowest note brings about a dramatic arppeggiated ascent, which contrasts both the rhythmic
material preceding it and the gradual stepwise ascent of the alto arias bass line.
Another aspect that factors into the differences between the bass lines includes the major
tonality and the difference in the harmonic potential. Whereas Erbarme Dich explores various
harmonies before returning to the tonic established by the opening, Mache dich, mein Herze,
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep
rein assumes a more conservative harmonic progression. For the entire first measure, the bass
line holds a B flat pedal tone, maintaining the major tonic harmony for the full measure. As
mentioned earlier, the presence of two voices lengthens the descent, so as a result of the octave
displacement, the bass line assumes the same fundamental pitch longer in at least two instances
in the third and fourth dotted quarter beats of measure two and the first and second of measure
three. Ultimately, this allows the music to dwell on the same harmony longer, and much of the
harmony dwelt upon is reassuringly major rather than minor.
The synergy of the bass line and the other instruments in the ensemble consist of a more
unified approach compared to the interplay in Erbarme Dich. The bass line often shares similar
motion with the two top instruments. Many of the octave leaps prepare the listener for the
ascending motion in the third dotted quarter division of measure one in the oboe da caccia and
violin parts, which differs from the contrary motion that pervades much of the opening of
Erbarme Dich. between the bass line. The bass arpeggiations in measures 4 and 5 in Example
1.3 emphasize persistence in rising upwards even when the line descends in the Oboe da caccia I.
Measures 4 and 5 also emerge as the strongest examples of homophonic similar motion,
demonstrating a strong directional emphasis on upward movement, which contrasts the subtle
descent of the opening.
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep

Example 1.3. Bach, Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, mm. 4-5.
As for the significance in text painting, the inclusion of at least two voices in the opening
bass line potentially suggests the presence of Jesus with an individual. When one voice descends,
the other descends with it, as if depicting one walking with Christ, demonstrating a reassurance
that Jesus is now with the speaker of the text as suggested by the text translation below:
Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,
Make yourself pure, my heart
Ich will Jesum selbst begraben,
I want to bury Jesus himself within me,
Denn er soll nunmehr in mir
For he now within me
Fr und fr
Seine se Ruhe haben.
Shall have his sweet rest.
Welt, geh aus, lass Jesum ein!
World, depart from my heart, let Jesus enter!

The arppeggiations in measures 4 and 5 suggest an optimistic lifting upwards to heaven,
perhaps foreshadowing Jesus resurrection on Easter Sunday. Also, in both the opening three
measures and the arpeggiated measures, the movement upward becomes accented by large
intervallic strides and leaps that overshadow much of the downward stepwise motion. This
Pham, Di ggi ng Deep
emphasis on ascent over descent creates a shifting focus from being grounded to the world to
lifting ones perspective to heaven. The rhythm of the bass in the first three measures also carries
a general sense of stateliness that convey the image of Christ the king. Additionally, many of the
aforementioned features also imply a dance-like nature to this aria. The quick tempo, 12/8 meter,
slow harmonic movement, and homophonic textures suggest features of the Italian gigue, which
provides a fitting uplifting rhythm for a rather joyous text.

Bachs descending bass lines demonstrate abundant musical potential as shown by the
analyses of the openings of these two arias, yet further analyses can extend into several other
issues. For instance, the bass line of Mache dich, mein Herze, rein in measure 2 demonstrates
an unusual digression. The bass line establishes the expectation that the top voice will descend as
the bottom voice descends, but on the fourth beat, Bach deliberately violates this expectation,
allowing the lower voice to descend while the top voice repeats the same pitch. Did Bach
perceive these two voices as portraying different characters on a theologically symbolic level,
and if so, what does this pattern of descent suggest? Do the two voices suggest Gods
relationship with man? Also, this paper omitted discussion of the bass lines interaction with the
vocal soloist in each aria. Further analysis of each aria may yield additional insight about the role
of the bass line.

Grove Music Online, Gigue (i), (accessed May 4,

J.S. Bachs Use of Nati onal Styl es i n the St Matthew Passi on
Ashl ey Porter

One of the most striking aspects of the compositional style of Johann Sebastian Bach was
his ability to move between various genres with ease while still maintaining a style very distinct
to him. Throughout his compositions, Bach employed numerous techniques and genres making
it difficult to classify his compositional style as being one particular manner. The St Matthew
Passion (BWV 244) is no different in this respect. This discussion will focus specifically on the
different national styles Bach utilizes in the St Matthew Passion and how their usage emphasizes
and furthers the meaning of the text.
The term style itself signals a wide variety of meanings. The term can refer to an
individual composers style or the style of an age, as well as genre or even form.
For this
discussion, the term style will apply exclusively to that of the eighteenth-century in the various
The Italian style of the eighteenth-century is characterized by dramaticism, virtuosity,
forward moving harmonic motion, and sustained tension and release.
In eighteenth-century
Italian music, you will often see long strings of fast notes and grand gestures often on variations
of scales and arpeggios. These gestures serve not only to show off virtuosity, but also to create
the element of drama in the music. This introduction of the idea of virtuosic playing is often
attributed to Antonio Vivaldi as he employed these techniques often, especially in his violin

Laurence Dreyfus, Bach and the Patterns of Invention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1996), 189.
Susan McClary, The blasphemy of talking politics during Bach Year, in Music and society:
the politics of composition, performance and reception, ed. Richard Leppert and Susan McClary
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 41.
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
concertos. A good example of this can be found in the solo violin part in the first movement of
Vivaldis Concerto for Violin in F Major (RV 293):

Italian music of the eighteenth-century places heavy emphasis on drama and is full of dramatic
The drama is created from the kinetic energy of the fast moving notes, as well as the
perpetual forward moving motion. The feeling of moving forward is created not only by the
direction of the notes, but also by the harmonic motion that seems to be leading the ear of the

Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
m" H
listener forward towards resolution.
Furthering the aspect of drama, eighteenth-century Italian
music also often utilizes strings of suspensions all in a row. A good example of the use of
suspensions in a row can be found in the second movement of Archangelo Corellis Concerto
No. 3 in C minor:

The suspensions created amongst the tied notes in the upper violin parts and the moving notes
draw the listener in, almost making them beg for the music to resolve at last. Generally
speaking, eighteenth-century Italian music places emphasis on drama and expression of emotion
through the energy of fast notes, harmonic and melodic forward motion, and sustained tension
and release.
The style of French music from the eighteenth-century is almost completely contrary to

" q
HIbid., 41.
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
that of the Italian.
Eighteenth-century French music is characterized by deliberate gestures and
rhythms, dance styles, quick releases of harmonic tension, and the heavy usage of ornaments,
also known as agrments. Much of the French music from this time was influenced by the court
music for Louis XIV and especially Jean-Baptiste Lully who composed for him and virtually
controlled the genre of French music from 1653 until his death in 1687.
The element of court
music, especially the dances, can be heard and easily identified in French music from this time.
The deliberate strong beats that would have been dictating how the dancers would have moved
are one very clear way to distinguish eighteenth-century French music. The instance of a short
note directly preceding a long note on the beat is another characteristic that comes from the
French court dances. Eighteenth-century French music was also notorious for its use of
flourishes and agrments. Below is a good example of the style of French music from this time
from Jean-Baptiste Lullys Ballet de lAmour Malade (LWV 8):

Ibid, 42.
0xfoiu Nusic 0nline, s.v. "Lully, }ean-Baptiste."
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es

French music from this time period also made use of quick harmonic tensions and releases
unlike the long strings of suspensions found in the Italian music of the day. Generally speaking,
the French music of the eighteenth-century, heavily influenced by Lully, sought to be the
contrast of the Italian
. The French method placed emphasis on dance styles, deliberate gestures
and rhythms, and the use of agrments.
German music of the eighteenth-century was heavily influenced by both the Italian and
the French styles.
The musicologists Arno Forchert and Bernd Sponheuer termed this,
cosmopolitan-universalist, meaning taking the best of the Italian and French styles and
creating a mixture.
Italian musical compositional styles and forms had infiltrated Germany,
while the German nobility modeled themselves after the French nobility and thus doing so

McClary, The blasphemy of talking politics during Bach Year, in Music and society, 41.
Ibid, 42-43.
Celia Applegate, Bach in Berlin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 76.
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
acquiring some of their ideas concerning the courtly dances in the French courts.
Some key
specifically German characteristics include the use of chorale melodies as the basis for their
compositions and the use of counterpoint. The use of chorale melodies represented the ties to the
Lutheran church. By using the chorale melodies as the basis for many of their compositions, it
forced the German composers to choose whether to follow the ways of the pre-tonal conventions,
to use the more tonal conventions of the day, or to combine the two ways together.
The usage
of counterpoint prevalent in German eighteenth-century music gives the music a fuller quality
than the unison lines found in Italian music, as well as giving the music a sense of direction. The
usage of counterpoint was also popular because it remained attractive to the intellectuals of the
German society.
For the German composers at that time, it became commonplace to borrow
from both the Italian and French styles. In this manner, Bach was no different. Overall, the style
of German eighteenth-century music drew upon style conventions from both Italy and France,
however the German usage of Lutheran chorale tunes and counterpoint sets the German music
In looking at the St Matthew Passion, there are many instances where Bach is clearly
taking from the various national styles as well as instances in which Bach melds the national
styles together. Perhaps one of the clearest instances in which Bach uses the French style is in
the tenor aria, Geduld, Geduld!. The most striking French feature of the aria is the use of
dotted rhythms. The dotted rhythms are seen throughout the movement in the continuo part,
only departing for a short time every few measures. In the French court music of Lully, dotted
rhythms were used more as a vehicle to push the music forward. Here, it seems as though Bach

McClary, The blasphemy of talking politics during Bach year, Music and society, 42-43.
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
B: H
has used them to portray a sense of labor as the dotted sixteenth notes move up and down by
steps and leaps, while the thirty-second notes remain on the same pitch for several repetitions
before they venture upwards. The dotted rhythms also sound even more laborious due to the
slow nature of the tempo used in most recordings and performances of the piece. There is a clear
direction as seen in the dotted sixteenth notes, however the use of the thirty-second notes
conveys a feeling of struggle as they often go back to the same pitch for several repetitions while
the dotted sixteenth notes move on:

When observing the text, the use of the dotted rhythms and the reaching nature of the dotted
sixteenth notes becomes clear. The solo tenor enters at measure five singing, Geduld, Geduld!,
meaning, Patience, Patience!.
Bach seems to be delivering the message of patience through
the music as well as the text here. The French style here is effective because especially at this
slow tempo, the dotted sixteenth notes and the toil of the thirty-second notes that are always
reaching and are patiently waiting to reach a destination are really brought out. The combination

( B
HBach Cantatas Website, St Matthew Passion BWV 244-English Translation,
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
of the tenor voice singing, Patience, Patience!
and the rhythms patiently trying to reach a
goal that they can never quite make it to, gives further meaning to the whole text of the aria than
if just observing the music or the text separately.
The influence of the Italian style on Bach may have begun due to his exposure to the
Italian opera of the day and the innovations of Italian composers especially Antonio Vivaldi
. A
clear example of Bachs use of the Italian style occurs in the soprano aria, Blute nur, du liebes
Herz. There are several eighteenth-century Italian influences in this movement. The form of
this aria comes from Italian operatic convention as it is a da capo aria. By the beginning of the
eighteenth-century in Italy, the da capo aria (ABA) was the dominant form for arias
. The
accompaniment usually consists of continuo and just a few instruments as is seen here in Blute
nur as the solo soprano is only accompanied by two flutes, two violins, and viola. Da capo
arias also had the voice in octaves or unisons with one or more of the instrumental parts. While
there is no instance of the voice being in octaves or unisons with any of the instrumental parts in
this movement, there are several instances where the voice is in thirds with an instrumental part.
For example, this can be seen in measure thirteen through twenty one where the flute is in thirds
with the solo soprano:

Bach Cantatas Website, St Matthew Passion BWV 244-English Translation.
Robert L. Marshall, The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach (New York: Schirmer Books,
1989), 7.
Oxford Music Online. Jack Westrup et al., s.v. Aria.
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
Bt H

The most obvious Italian characteristic that Bach uses here is the use of tension and release
through suspensions in succession and delayed resolutions. The first example of suspensions in
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
succession occurs in measure five of the aria. Here, flutes one and two as well as violins one and
two create suspended tension with the continuo line. The entire measure consists of suspensions
between the voices and is not resolved until the downbeat of measure six:

Another example of Italian tension and release occurs from measure seventeen to measure
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es

Here, flute one and the soprano hold an E through measure seventeen while the other voices take
the entire measure to finally resolve on beat one of measure eighteen. Then, the roles are slightly
reversed and the violins and viola sustain while the flute and soprano move through the measure
to finally resolve on beat one of measure nineteen. The rest of the movement is filled with
scenarios such as these as well as many other instances where strings of short dissonances in a
row create long term tension and release moments, such as in measures thirty-three through
thirty-five in the soprano line. These suspensions serve to create a dramatic atmosphere in the
movement. When observing the text, it seems as though Bach very carefully chose to use the
Italian style as opposed to French or German. Immediately preceding this aria, Judas had just
accepted thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus. The soprano voice sings, Bleed now, loving
heart!/Ah! A child, whom you reared,/That sucked at your breast,/Is threatening to murder its
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
guardian/For that child has become a serpent.
By using the sustained tensions and releases,
Bach is able to convey the texts message of turmoil and struggle through the music. The use of
the suspensions adds a drama to the aria that neither the French or German styles would have
been able to achieve in the same manner.
Bach utilizes his own native German style often throughout the work. As the St Matthew
Passion was written to be performed in a Lutheran service, it makes perfect sense that Bach uses
Lutheran chorales often throughout the work, all in all thirteen chorales throughout the one
hundred movements of the work. These chorales would have been pieces that the congregation
would have been familiar with. All of the twenty-two choruses Bach uses employ extensive
counterpoint a key stylistic element of the German style. Two chorus movements to note are
Lass ihn kreuzigen at its first appearance as movement sixty-one, and then movement sixty-
seven when Lass ihn kreuzigen appears a second time slightly altered. These choruses have
both of the orchestras playing with each voice only being doubled by its mirror voice in the
opposite orchestra. The spinning counterpoint that is created by the quick tempo and the ten
voice counterpoint creates a state of chaos to the ear of the listener. The text of the movements is
simply, Lass ihn kreuzigen! meaning, Let him be crucified!.
These choruses occur at the
part of the story where Jesus is awaiting his judgment. The Governor has the choice to release
either Jesus or another prisoner, Barabbas. When the Governor asks the crowd who he should
release, they all answer together,Barabbas!. When the Governor then asks the crowd what
should be done with Jesus, they all answer together that he should be crucified. Looking back at
how the music relates to the text, the spinning counterpoint makes perfect sense to represent the
frenzied crowd. The use of the Italian style to create drama or even the dotted rhythms of the

Bach Cantatas Website, St Matthew Passion BWV 244-English Translation.
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
B" H
French style would not have been able to convey the same meaning as the German counterpoint.
Finally, Bach was also a master of combining national styles. A good example of his
fusing of national styles occurs in the alto aria, Erbarme dich, mein Gott. This aria contains
both French and Italian characteristics. The constant eight notes in the continuo line give the
movement a dance feel, as well as a feeling of always moving forward, characteristics of the
French court music of the time. The solo violin begins with a melody filled with ornamentation
and dissonances that give it a sorrowful tone, characteristic to both the Italian and French
conventions of the time:

The Italian influence in this movement comes in the form of the drama that is created from the
long suspensions. The first example of this occurs in measure one beginning on beat four and
finishing on the downbeat of measure two:

The solo violin sustains a B while violin one, violin two, and viola all move to D sharp, A, and G
respectfully, finally resolving on the downbeat of measure two. Many of the other examples of
Porter, Use of Nati onal Styl es
long suspensions in this movement are created in this manner where one voice sustains and the
others slowly move to resolution. The combination of the French and Italian styles further the
meaning of the text. The text of this aria reads,Have mercy,/My God, for the sake of my
tears!/Look here,/My heart and eyes weep before you/Bitterly.
The suspensions heighten the
drama of the movement, while the sorrowful succession of ornamental notes in the solo violin
resemble weeping, and more specifically, tears being shed.
After thorough examination of the St Matthew Passion, it becomes quite clear that Bach
deliberately used different national styles to further convey the meaning of the text. The three
national styles that can be identified throughout the work, French, Italian, and German, all have
unique characteristics that lend to being able to convey certain moods. Bach was a master at
being able to swiftly move between these three national styles as well as being able to combine
them all together. While Bach was clever throughout the work in his use of the various national
styles, it cannot be forgotten that the usage of the various national methods of composition was
not unique to Bach. In fact, it was a common German compositional technique to imitate the
French and Italian styles of music. As Bach was a devout Lutheran, it could also be said that he
was adding his own commentary on the story of Christs crucifixion through the usage of text
painting and switching between Italian and French modes of composition. Bachs clever use of
different styles at specific points of the text serves to further its meaning in a manner that could
not have been accomplished otherwise. The sheer musical genius Bach displays in this work
has allowed for it to make a lasting impact and continue being one of the greatest works ever
composed even today.


Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass i n the St. Matthew Passi on
Evan Sarver

It is known that in vocal-instrumental works of the Baroque period, whether on a
massive scale such as the St. Matthew passion, first performed on Good Friday, or just a single
cantata from a year long cycle, the basso continuo was the body of instruments that acted as the
core of the rest of the ensemble. Falling in with the ripieno for boisterous choruses, or standing
alone in the accompaniment of an aria, the continuo group was a defining characteristic of
Baroque performance. However for such an indispensable piece of the Baroque sound, the
makeup of the basso continuo group was hardly ever concrete. Basso continuo groups by the
1720s typically always had cello and a keyboard instrument, be it harpsichord or organ,
however, often times the continuo group included a bass instrument which could be a variety of
instruments including viola da gamba, bassoon or violone. The violone is a bass string
instrument whose time of prominence precedes that of the modern double bass. For modern
performances of works like the St. Matthew Passion, a double bass would be used in place of the
violone. So for us modern day double bass players who want to play Baroque period music, we
must start by looking back to see how extensively the violone was implemented in the musical
forces. This paper will concentrate on the use of the violone as a commonplace participant in
Bachs continuo group for the St. Matthew Passion.
For ensembles today that are up for the challenge of performing the St. Matthew
Passion and other works with intact violone parts from the Baroque era such as cantatas 71 and
208, and each of the six Brandenburg concertos, staffing the continuo group presents a unique
challenge. Most of Bachs scores, particularly from the Leipzig phase do not give a specific
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
instrumentation for the continuo. It just reads continuo. Even if it was discovered exactly
what instruments Bach would have used, without exorbitant funding, a typical small orchestra
will have to make do with substituting the authentic baroque instruments with modern
instruments that evolved from or are closely related to Bachs instruments.
The modern string bass, or double bass, or contrabasse, or bass violin, or upright bass
makes a perfectly suitable alternative to the Baroque violone. The violone and the string bass
share many similarities. The two instruments play identical roles in the orchestra and both
transpose their part an octave down. Research on one of Anna Magdalenas scores of Cantata 62
shows the Violone part written a perfect octave above the cello.
The only sensible explanation
for this is that the two lines are intended to be in unison but violones are transposing. Although
the size of the violone was not consistent, the larger violones, usually tuned in D were of very
similar size and shape to the modern double bass. A bass and violone look similar because the
double bass is a descendent of the viol family as opposed to the violin family. Violones usually
had six strings, whereas a bass has four, but the bulk of the playing was done on the top five.
One of the characteristics that the modern double bass dropped is the use of frets. Violones and
other viol family instruments make use of strings of gut tied around the neck to serve as frets.
The strings themselves represent a major difference between a modern double bass and a
Baroque violone.
My own bass, an instrument built in the 1940s by John Juzek, is outfitted
with typical modern strings and they are flatwound steel strings with stranded steel cores. The
addition of steel wrapped strings to the double bass gives it much more response when striving
for well articulated low bass notes. Metal wrapped strings were introduced in the 1660s but the

Laurence Dreyfus. Bachs Continuo Group: Players and Practices in His Vocal Works.
(Cambiiuge, Nassachusetts: Baivaiu 0niveisity Piess, 1987). 162-164
Richard Partridge, The Brandenburg Bassist, Double Bassist issue 41 (2007): 48
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
core was gut. Even with the introduction of metal wrapped gut strings, many players still used
all gut strings in Bachs time. When gut strings break, tying another piece of gut to the broken
string can repair them. If they become unusable as strings then they can be tied around the neck
and used as frets.

Violone and string bass lie in the middle of the spectrum of bass continuo
On one end is the Viola da Gamba whose mystical appearances are somewhat
symbolic. By the time Bach moved to Leipzig in the early 1720s, the viola da gamba was
already considered an instrument of the past and a mere instance of its participation in a group
was noteworthy. For example, in the bass aria Komm, ses Kreuz, the viola da gamba is given a
solo role that rivals the singers part in terms of importance. The light, dotted figures in the
gamba part make use of French note ingale which symbolizes royalty due to its resemblance to
a French overture. However, the viola da gamba was not as well suited to play continuo bass
lines compared to the other low string instruments of Leipzig, such as violoncello and violone.
The underhand bow technique used to play the viola da gamba is not advantageous when
attempting to articulate robust bass notes in the bottom of the gambas range. Traditionally, parts
for the viola da gamba have made use of the instruments wispy alto and tenor registers.

On the other end is the cello, a work horse of the continuo. It doubles every sustained
fundamental of the keyboard in support of the singer. By the 1720s the violoncello had become
a constant in Baroque continuo groups.
In the middle are the double bass instruments whose
deep sonorities highlight the colors of a given passage and direct the impact of a performance.

Paitiiuge, 48.
Bieyfus, 166-167.
Karl Hochreither. Performance Practice of the Instrumental-Vocal Works of Johann
Sebastian Bach. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2002.
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
The performer must choose how to conceptualize the atmosphere of a piece of music by letting a
contrabasse string instrument anchor the ensemble.
In Bachs time, the word violoncello always translated to what we think of as a
Baroque period cello. However, the word violone did not refer to a standardized instrument.
Some were slightly bigger than a cello and tuned just like a cello but a whole step down, others
were twice as big as a cello and could play an octave lower than the cellos low C.
In Johann
Matthesons publication Das neu-erffnete Orchestre of 1713, he describes contrasting roles of
violoncello and violone.
The excellent violoncello is a small Bass-Fiddlewith five or also six strings upon
which one can play all types of fast pieces, variations, ornaments more easily than on the
large instrumentsThe rumbling Violone, Basse de violone in French, large Bass fiddle
in German, is fully twice as large or often larger that the aforementioned. Consequently
the thickness and length of its strings are proportionally greater. It sounds in the 16-foot
register and is an important and cohesive fundament to polyphonic pieces such as
choruses and the like and is also very necessary for arias and recitatives in the theater
because its heavy sound projects and is heard farther than the harpsichord and other bass

There were also contrabass instruments more similar to the modern double bass being played in
Italy around this time for dramatic operatic productions. However, the violone was more
prevalent in Germany. The violone that Bach made use of in Leipzig was one of the larger
violones that the church of Leipzig owned. It was considered a 16 foot instrument along with the
Italian contrabasses.

The first known instances of Bach using violone were in cantatas from Muhlhausen from
around 1707. The instrument used in Cantata 71 was probably a smaller violone tuned in G.

Bieyfus, 1S6.
Bieyfus, 1S9.
Bieyfus, 1S8. The uesignation "16 ft" iefeis to the iegistei in which the instiument
sounus. It coiiesponus to the length of the pipe on an oigan. The longest, lowest sounuing
pipe on an oigan is 16 feet which is in the contiabasse iange, theiefoie a 16 foot stiing
instiument sounus in the same iange.
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
The score for Cantata 208 contains two bass staves. One is labeled Violons e Bassons and there
is Cont. e Violono grosso. The importance is in the labeling because the fact that he
differentiates between violons and violono grosso means there are two different bass string
instruments. In this case violons indicates cellos and violono grosso can translate to a larger
instrument, probably a violone. The part for the larger instrument contains a low C, two octaves
below middle C. This evidence points strongly in favor of a large violone.

The most noteworthy surviving violone parts left from Bachs time at Cthen of the
Brandenburg concertos. There are specific violone parts in each of the six concertos. What is
particularly interesting is that the range in which Bach writes the part varies slightly in each
piece. This suggests that different sized violones were used. Subsequently, because the
ensemble was likely to change slightly over time, this supports the idea that the time in which
Bach wrote the Brandenburg concertos spanned the eight years that he resided in Cthen and not
all at once.

In Leipzig, Bach usually specified for one violone in his ensemble. However, it
was probably seldom that he had the luxury of employing a violone player. His church was
reluctant to give him enough funding to support an ensemble with a violone player. There are
even documents in which he lists both the violone and violoncello slots vacant.
Cantatas 78
and 137 have parts written out specifically for violone however they are written on the back of a
horn part and a third trumpet part. The horn player and third trumpet player were actually the
same person which means this person slid over to the continuo to play violone for a couple
movements and then went back to the brass section. This was common practice at Leipzig

Bieyfus, 1SS.
Bieyfus, 142.
Bieyfus, 1S6.
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
because the horn players had to audition on all of the brass instruments and also violone.
It is
impossible to imagine that the caliber of instrument specialists was very high in his ensemble,
judging by the amount of doubling that was being done in relation to the amount of pay. Many
of Bachs works were performed without violone even if he had requested it. However, for large
scale work such as the St. Matthew Passion a sixteen foot violone was absolutely necessary.
The score to Cantata 195 contains a specific violone part for every movement. It is clear that
Bach saw the need for the violone in his continuo. It was more of just a question of finding a
body that was free to play the instrument.

There are numerous movements in the St. Matthew Passion in which a 16 foot
bass string instrument can be heard on recordings. The recording I am referencing is by John
Eliot Gardiner with The English Baroque Soloists orchestra and The Monteverdi Choir. The
English Baroque Soloists is a Baroque period ensemble that performs on period instruments.
The liner notes list the instruments used but the violone part is listed as double bass. This refers
to a Baroque period double bass and not a violone.
The three movements that I shall focus on are the opening chorus, Kommt, ihr
Tchter, helft mir klagen, a soprano aria Blute nur, du liebes Herz, and one of the Evangelists
recitatives, Und siehe da, der Vorhang. In the Chorus, the bass pedals on a low E in the second

Bieyfus, 1S7.
Bieyfus, 16S. "Nost likely, the Leipzig violone was a welcome membei of the continuo
gioup to the extent that Bach coulu finu someone to play it." The sentiment is similai
touay. When I show up to a chuich gig to play Banuel's -#../*", the chuich choii membeis
aie often intiigueu by the foieign sounuing uouble bass anu what it auus to theii ensemble.
This paiallels Bieyfus's uesciiption of Bach's ciicumstances because even touay, the uouble
bass is not a weekly paiticipant anu chuich instiumental-vocal gioups because eithei it is
not musically appiopiiate oi moie often theie is not a bassist ieauily available ie. not one
that is a membei of the congiegation. So when chuiches hiie one out foi a majoi event in
the lituigical yeai, such as Eastei oi Chiistmas, the "local" chuich musicians aie uelighteu
to have the extia suppoit given by the uouble bass.
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
octave below middle C, the tonic of the minor key in a note ingale style for the first five twelve-
eight measures. This is a build of tension until it is released in an ascent of eighth notes up the

The low register in which this part is played allows it to add much weight and gravity to the line.
When the voices come in, the note ingale rhythm is continued but the bass line has more
harmonic motion and the ascending line of eighth notes in groups of three recurs throughout the
movement. This is one of the few movements in the passion that the violone part is heard all the
way through.

The violone makes its presence known once again in the soprano aria Blute nur,
du liebes Herz. Although according to Mattheson, the violone is very necessary for arias and
recitatives in the theater,
the St. Matthew Passion has many aspects of opera even though it is
a sacred work. The violone adds to this operatic aesthetic greatly during this movement. During
the first verse, the violone is playing almost inaudibly under the singer but the ensemble sound
smolders due to the depth given by the violone. For the second verse the violone lays out
completely but during the instrumental interludes it returns and releases a deluge down to a low
D below the bass clef staff just before the singer enters again.

The Evangelist recitative, Und siehe da, der Vorhang is toward the end of the work

Dover Miniature Scores. Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 in Full
Score. From Bach-Gesellschaft Edition, ed. Julius Rietz. Mineola, New York: Dover 1999. 1-3.
HH7HaH18cHRp( lH
HH. uH7cHpt epqlH
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
and opens with a very intense and difficult passage for the instrumentalists. The continuo group
has thirty-second note runs followed by measured tremolos at the same speed. The bass strings
have this too and while for the most part, their notes are very distinguishable, there is one
particularly tricky run that skips from a low G to a C more than an octave higher and then
descends all the way back down to the lowest C, an octave below the cellos range, in just two
beats of the 4/4

It sounds like the lowest string players could not quite get their left hands moving that fast.
However, immediately following that the tremolos are perfectly locked in time. Keeping in mind
the limited talent available to Bach at Leipzig, whoever, if anyone, was playing violone on this
movement most likely did not play at the same level as the bass players on the Gardiner

R: y
HH. uH7cH: t ( lH
Sarver, Vi ol one and Doubl e Bass
recording. There are documents that state that violone players would drop out in lieu of
sounding ragged on hard parts or would just play the first note in each grouping during a fast
passage. Johann Quantz treatise on the violoncello touches upon this issue.
If florid passages should occur in the bass so fast that the violone player would be unable to play
them distinctly, he might play of each figure (whether sixteenth- or thirty-second notes) the first,
third, or last note. But he must always seek to be guided by the principle notes, which constitute
the bass melodyExcept in florid passages like these (which some find too fast to play
comfortably), the violonist must play everything. If he were to play only the first eighth-note of
a four-note group and skip three (as some occasionally do-especially when accompanying a
piece they did not compose), then I do not know how he could escape the charge of laziness or

This was probably a fairly common occurrence in Leipzig seeing as most of the violonist was
actually a brass player of some sort. In the time period of the St. Matthew Passion no one only
played bass, or violone for that matter. It was just another instrument that multi-instrumentalists
took up to add to their skills.

It is clear that Bach enjoyed making use of the violone whether he wrote explicitly for
it or not. The fact is he was denied the choice of the violone more often than not by illness or
lack of enough funds to permit hiring a violonist. One of the choices we must make as modern
performers is whether or not to make use of an ample string bass section if Bach called for it but
was not actually able to implement it. The solution lies in the sound of the ensemble. Evidence
from scores and treatises do not have to be treated as absolute truths.

Hochreither, 12
Paitiiuge, 49

Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
Rebecca Spri nger

Johann Sebastian Bachs St. Matthew Passion will never be heard again as it was
originally intended, composed, and performed. Many scholars consider this straightforward
statement in a negative light, condemning the modern performances. Helmuth Rilling once said,
it was all very well that we have original instruments and original performance practices, but
unfortunate that we have no original listeners.
On the other hand, many scholars regard this
statement in a positive light, suggesting that we disregard worrying about the original
performance altogether and, instead, mold the music to serve our present ears. Susan McClary,
for example, proposes the age-old strategy of rewriting the tradition in such a way as to
appropriate Bach to our ownends.
The purpose of this paper, however, is not to side with
either viewpoint. The intention is to analyze Bachs original purpose for his Passion, consider
how it was received by his original audience, specifically in regards to its religious context, and
compare it to the 21
-century performance intent and audience reception.
Looking back to the 1720s when Bach composed this work, we can first observe Bachs
specific purpose for composing this passion. At this time, J.S. Bach was employed as church
cantor at St. Thomas church in Leipzig, Germany. In this position, Bach was responsible for
producing music for two large churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas, and completing minor
duties at three other churches. The required composed music included a cantata every Sunday,

Baniel R. Nelameu, "Bach's St. }ohn Passion: Can We Really Still Beai the Woikanu
Which 0ne." in !"# 4&(+C &, :*(&K'# -'./0, euiteu by ueoige B. Stauffei (Bloomington, IN:
Inuiana 0niveisity Piess, 2uu6), 2SS.
Susan NcClaiy, "The blasphemy of talking politics uuiing Bach Yeai," in -'./0 *)C
9&0/#32I euiteu by Leppeit anu NcClaiy (1987), 61.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
special music programs at Christmas and Easter, Passion music on Good Friday, funeral motets
when needed, and music for special ceremonies.
In 1727, Bach chose to compose his requisite
passion from the Gospel of Matthew.
Beyond a required undertaking, Bach's character and purpose for composing this passion
was, most importantly, his intention for his personal worship of God. As evidenced in most of
his works, the letters SDG, representing Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone the glory) are
written at the end of each piece, signifying that the utmost reason for his composition was to
bring God glory. As Stiller states: There could be no clearer documentation to show that for
Johann Sebastian Bach his entire creativity and activitywas in fact worship in the widest sense
of the word.
This aspect of glorifying God through worship was instilled in Bach through
adolescence as he received strict Lutheran orthodox education consisting of the close connection
of liturgical training and worship- the center of Christian life.
One may conclude that Bach
directed every text and musical idea to the glory of God.
Through observation of the text in the St. Matthew Passion, it becomes evident that a
strong emphasis of his composition is on the proclamation of Jesus Christ to his congregation.
Through direct quotations from the book of Matthew and poetic interpretations of Scripture
passages, Bach gives a vivid and exalting view of Jesus, bringing his audience into a reverential
state of worship.
These texts do not want to be inspected and judged in the first place, but they want to be
heard together with the music and be taken seriously in their proclamation the person of

Russell B. Niles, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" <) 6)3(&C'03/&) 3& L/. =/,# *)C 4&(H.
(Englewoou Cliffs, N}: Pientice-Ball, Inc, 1962), page 88.
uunthei Stillei, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" *)C =/3'(1/0*+ =/,# /) =#/EM/1 (St. Louis, N0:
Concoiuia Publishing Bouse, 1984), page 211.
Ibiu, 211.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
Christ realistically comes to the fore, as if one saw the Savior Himself and spoke with Him, is
basically true for all of Bachs texts that are engaged in the service of liturgical

Bach aims to captivate the listener through solid Biblical text and dramatic musical
images of Christs crucifixion.
Bach also composed the St. Matthew Passion for the purpose of teaching Bible. As the
music director in Leipzig, Bach was given the tremendous responsibility of teaching basic
theology through music, specifically teaching Luthers Small Catechism (the biblical doctrine as
interpreted by Martin Luther).
Bachs usage of theological development within his music is
comparable to the form of preaching. Being a devout Christian, Bach seemed to have enjoyed
this responsibility of teaching Bible through his music. As demonstrated by his second copy of
the St. Matthew Passion, written ten years later, after the first was damaged, Bachs main interest
seems to rest in the accuracy of the presentation of Scripture, as all biblical passages were neatly
and boldly underlined in red ink.

Bach therefore views the textual passages directly produced
from the Bible as the most important, and he intentionally uses the neatly labeled score as a
demonstration of his compositional intent for his successors. W. Herbst states:
Above all, he attached the greatest importance to making the musics text also proclaim
the Gospel as purely as possible. He would rather opt for an imperfect form, an infelicitous
rhyme, or an uneven rhythm but retain instead the spiritual content that he wished for in the text

uunthei Stillei, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" *)C =/3'(1/0*+ =/,# /) =#/EM/1 (St. Louis, N0:
Concoiuia Publishing Bouse, 1984), page 214.
Robin A. Leavei, "The matuie vocal woiks anu theii theological anu lituigical context,"
in !"# 7*D5(/C1# 7&DE*)/&) 3& :*0"I euiteu by }ohn Butt (New Yoik: Cambiiuge 0niveisity
Piess, 1997), 121.
uunthei Stillei, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" *)C =/3'(1/0*+ =/,# /) =#/EM/1 (St. Louis, N0:
Concoiuia Publishing Bouse, 1984), page 216.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
and that was not watered down by rhetorical superfluity Measured by the standard of the
aesthetics of the Enlightenment, his corrections can frequently only be rejected, but for him the
theological proclamation outweighs the aesthetic element.

The ultimate intention for the Passion was to vividly proclaim Jesus Christ to his
audience by accurately portraying the gospel through the text. To emphasize the importance of
Good Friday, Bach generated specific musical elements to create tension and to portray the
agony of Jesus in preparation for the final and glorious resolution in an Easter Sunday cantata a
few days later.

Based on the purpose and goal of Bachs composition, the personal context of his
composition is evident, and one can next observe the reaction and interpretation of Bachs
original audience. As Melamed comments, there are many factors of performance practice that
may be considered, but Bachs listeners are the most important component of the piece. The
most determinant factor of the purpose of the piece is the musics liturgical context and
significance, and the experience, knowledge, assumptions, and conventions that the listeners
brought to a performance.

Eighteenth- century Leipzig was a predominantly Lutheran town, consisting of less than
one percent practicing Catholics, Calvinists, and Jews. Records show that by the 1710s, about
9,000 of the 30,000 Leipzig citizens attended church regularly on Sunday mornings. References

uunthei Stillei, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" *)C =/3'(1/0*+ =/,# /) =#/EM/1 (St. Louis, N0:
Concoiuia Publishing Bouse, 1984), page 21S.
Chiistoph Wolff, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" !"# =#*()#C -'./0/*) (New Yoik: W.W. Noiton
& Company, 2uuu), page Su2.
Baniel R. Nelameu, "Bach's St. }ohn Passion: Can We Really Still Beai the Woikanu
Which 0ne." in !"# 4&(+C &, :*(&K'# -'./0, euiteu by ueoige B. Stauffei (Bloomington, IN:
Inuiana 0niveisity Piess, 2uu6), 2S7.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
demonstrate that the churches were often full and a demand for pews continually existed.
course, not all congregants were devout Christians as many attended church for social or family
reasons. However, even though the congregants segregated by social class and profession, they
were all able to gain the full experience of the service each week and participate through worship
A customary church service consisted of hymns, prayers, cantatas, scripture reading,
and a sermon. Records show that the church-goers of Leipzig became familiar with the order of
services and chants, as a guide for visitors was available each Sunday.
Because a Passion
presentation was performed annually, this became a familiar event to the vast majority of those
in attendance. Based on the familiarity of the service, we can assume that most of the church
attendees had a basic knowledge of the Bible, a belief in Jesus, were accustomed to hearing the
gospel, and were anticipating the conviction and emotions associated with the Passion.
In regards to Bachs aspiration to invoke worship through this passion, the listener was
invited to identify himself with the sufferings of Jesus, to share His anguish and pain, to feel the
impact of human cruelty, and to realize anew that it was for him that Jesus died upon the
Bach uses the musical elements in support of the text to draw the hearer into the story
but also to make a broad theological point, namely, the central importance of the individuals
personal relationship to the Passion story in Lutheran theology.
Thus, Bach achieved his
purpose in his audience by drawing them into emotional responses, personal reflections, and

Tanya Kevoikian, :*(&K'# E/#32; (#+/1/&)I .&0/#32I *)C D'./0 /) =#/EM/1. (Builington, vT:
Ashgate Publishing, Ltu., 2uu7), Su.
Ibiu., 2.
Ibiu., S1.
Russell B. Niles, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" <) 6)3(&C'03/&) 3& L/. =/,# *)C 4&(H.
(Englewoou Cliffs, N}: Pientice-Ball, Inc, 1962), page 1u6.
Baniel R. Nelameu, "Bach's St. }ohn Passion: Can We Really Still Beai the Woikanu
Which 0ne." in !"# 4&(+C &, :*(&K'# -'./0" euiteu by ueoige B. Stauffei (Bloomington, IN:
Inuiana 0niveisity Piess, 2uu6), 24u.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
ultimately closer communion with God.
An aspect in support of Bach's achieved purpose could be found in the context of the
Lutheran church calendar. The Lutheran church observed a "closed period" throughout Lent
during which the churches played no music from the beginning of Lent until Easter Sunday, with
the exception of a Marian feast and the Good Friday service.
Consequently, the 18
listeners entered a church service after a long musical drought, which could arguably have
increased the strong emotional response among them as the first music they heard was a vivid
description of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Another interesting feature of the original composition of the passion is Bachs
intentional division of the piece into two separate parts with the intent that a sermon could be
placed between the two.
The sermon most likely remained on the topic of the story of Jesus
and his death. Therefore, church-goers received reinforced teaching throughout the entire
service through the various cantatas, the passion, and the sermon, further leading to their worship
of God and learning of Scripture.

From these factors, a conclusion may be made that Bachs
audience was somewhat accustomed to the church service and music of this time, and so began
listening to the passion with a preconceived expectation of being led into further personal
In contrast, the audience of 2010 brings drastically different expectations, assumptions,
knowledge, conventions, and experience to the performances of the St. Matthew Passion.
Continuing with observations noted by Daniel R. Melamed, several comparisons exist. First,
many specific aspects of performing forces cause the music of today to be performed and heard
differently from the original. Some of these forces include: size of the chorus(es), difference in

Ibiu., 2S8.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
the gender and age of the performers, vocal training and production, frequency and productivity
of rehearsals, instrumentation, instrument types, instrumental techniques, pitch standards,
number of written parts, and type of performance venue including acoustics, set-up, and focus of
the audience.
However, after considering all of these elements, the main and most obvious
difference of the 21
-century listener is the lack of familiarity with Leipzig church services.
Twenty-first-century listeners are not exposed to the Passion in the same setting and
context as were the 18
-century Leipzig listeners. Today, we rarely, if ever, hear the St. Matthew
Passion performed during a Good Friday service or any church service. If one wanted to attend
a performance of the St. Matthew Passion, a simple online search may bring him to the website
of the New York Philharmonic, for example. Here, the professional performers with respective
biographies are listed, stating their years of experience and previous honorable performances,
signifying that the emphasis of performance is the high level musicianship and accuracy of the
specific musical elements. A separate link displays each available concert and the price of
tickets per seat preference, a luxury the original Leipzig audience never had. The performance
of the Passion then occurs in a recital hall, complete with comfortable seating, program notes and
translations, and an intermission for audience members to stretch and rejuvenate rather than to
continue sitting solemnly for the sermon. Todays audience members may range from Bach
scholar who has listened to every recording available of the St. Matthew Passion to one who has
simply heard of Bach, from devout Christian who can follow the Passion word-for-word from
scripture memory to atheist-- quite a contrast from that of the 1727 Leipzig experience.
Overall, Bachs ultimate goal of bringing the congregation into self-reflection and

Baniel R. Nelameu, "Bach's St. }ohn Passion: Can We Really Still Beai The Woikanu
Which 0ne." in !"# 4&(+C &, :*(&K'# -'./0; N#O J#(.E#03/@#., euiteu by ueoige B. Stauffei
(Bloomington, IN: Inuiana 0niveisity Piess, 2uu6), 2S6-2S7.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
worship is rarely achieved with the 21
century audience, as worship is rarely the goal of the
modern performances. Instead, the Passions have shifted from sacred to secular performances,
and the performance goal has shifted from personal conviction and worship of each audience
member to the personal enjoyment and entertainment of each audience member.
To further contrast the original and present audience members, most modern listeners
have not been raised with the theological ideas, based on the doctrine of Luther, which were used
throughout church services and were incorporated in Bachs Passion. Hans Blumenberg states:
We also think about the listener many years later from whose horizon the images and
analogies, the holy stories and sermons, the words and hymns of Bachs parishioners have
vanished, without being substituted by anything comparable.

Even devout church-goers of today have different theological viewpoints, much different
from the Reformation era. Therefore, 21
-century listeners may not even be able to grasp Bachs
goal for them of learning more theology and coming into closer communion with God. They
listen to the passion with much less devotion, and the approach of an audience member attending
a St. Matthew Passion performance would no longer be to learn Scripture, but to be entertained.
the later generations no longer even remotely possessed that knowledge of the Bible,
and therefore the appreciative access to the numerous references and allusions to the stories,
pictures, and wording of the Bible had to remain a closed book to them

Therefore, the modern audience differs greatly from the 18
-century audience, explaining
the differences in interpretation and purpose for attending the performance.

Naitin Zenck, "Bach ieception: some concepts anu paiameteis," in !"# 7*D5(/C1#
7&DE*)/&) 3& :*0"I euiteu by }ohn Butt (New Yoik: Cambiiuge 0niveisity Piess, 1997),
uunthei Stillei, %&"*)) 9#5*.3/*) :*0" *)C =/3'(1/0*+ =/,# /) =#/EM/1 (St. Louis, N0:
Concoiuia Publishing Bouse, 1984), page 214.
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
Because of the drastic shift in performance and religious practices, the Passion will never
be heard the same as it was in 1727 Leipzig. However, some mysterious element still draws
listeners out to hear it, and perhaps some mysterious element of Bachs composition achieves a
purpose in modern-day listeners that was not possible originally. So then, the lingering question
may be: Would Bach really have cared if his Passion was performed and heard differently? This
is an on-going debate with no definitive answer. So, we must consider this shift in performance
over time and try to discern what still draws people to the St. Mathew Passion. Many of todays
listeners may feel an association with the performance of Bachs passion because of its
significance to their faith. Others may instead relate to the emotional aspects which are
portrayed in the composition, namely, guilt, fear, peace, and joy. Perhaps the work is well-
known and audience members are curious; perhaps audience members want to just experience a
small taste of the music of Bach; perhaps the musical elements and seemingly ingenious
structure of the music captivates people; or perhaps there is something deeper than the music that
still remains and still causes audience-members to be moved.
Johann Sebastian Bach, composer and theologian, was an influence in his time and
remains one today with his music and bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel. Bach believed
the Gospel story and set it to music in his St. Matthew Passion. He had an audience of believers
as well. Today the audience has changed; the setting has changed; the purpose may have
changed. Yet, his music still transforms the listener in some manner.
This suggests, among other things, that Bachs passion music, able to engage listeners in
even radically different circumstances, is compelling at some level that transcends performance
Spri nger, Heari ng the St. Matthew Passi on
practices and contexts.

Baniel R. Nelameu, L#*(/)1 :*0"P. J*../&). (0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess, Incoipoiateu,
2uuS) page 1S1.


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