St. John Passion

A Chatham Baroque 20th Anniversary Pittsburgh Premiere and Early Music America 25th Anniversary Performance recorded live at Calvary Episcopal Church on March 27, 2011.

Chatham Baroque

Andrew Fouts, baroque violin
Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba
Scott Pauley, theorbo

Don Franklin, conductor
Director, Bach and the Baroque

Derek Chester, Evangelist
Joshua Copeland, Jesus
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano soloist, Ancilla (maid)
Ian Howell, countertenor soloist
Mischa Bouvier, bass soloist, Peter and Pilate
Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor soloist, Attendant
Elaine Goldsmith, soprano
John Goldsmith, countertenor

Meg Owens, baroque oboe
Sarah Weiner, baroque oboe
Stephen Schultz, baroque flute
Kathie Stewart, baroque flute
Johanna Novom, baroque violin
Erika Cutler, baroque violin
Elisa Wicks, baroque violin
Kristen Linfante, baroque viola
Sue Yelanjian, double bass
C. Keith Collins, baroque bassoon
Alan Lewis, portative organ

24. Aria with Chorus: “Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen”

Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen,
Geht aus euren Marterhöhlen,
Eilt — Wohin? — nach Golgatha!
Nehmet an des Glaubens Flügel,
Flieht — Wohin? — zum Kreuzes-
hügel, Eure Wohlfahrt blüht allda!
Hurry, you besieged souls,
leave your dens of torment,
hurry—where?—to Golgotha!
Embrace faith’s wings;
flee—where?—to the cross’s hilltop;
your welfare blossoms there!

32. Aria and Chorale: “Mein teurer Heiland, laß dich fragen”

Mein teurer Heiland, laß dich fragen,
Jesu, der du warest tot,
Da du nunmehr ans Kreuz 
geschlagen Und selbst gesaget:
“Es ist vollbracht,”
Lebest nun ohn Ende,
Bin ich vom Sterben frei gemacht?
In der letzten Todesnot,
Nirgend mich hinwende
Kann ich durch deine Pein und
Sterben Das Himmelreich ererben?
Ist aller Welt Erlösung da?
Als zu dir, der mich versühnt,
O du lieber Herre!
Du kannst vor Schmerzen zwar nichts sagen;
Gib mir nur, was du verdient,
Doch neigest du das Haupt
Und sprichst stillschweigend: ja.
Mehr ich nicht begehre!
My precious Savior, let me ask you:
Jesus, you who were dead,
since you were nailed to the cross
and have yourself said, 
“It is accomplished,”
[but] now lives without end;
have I been made free from death?
in the final throes of death,
[I] turn myself nowhere
Can I through your pain and death
inherit the kingdom of heaven?
Is redemption of all the world here?
but to you, who reconciled me with
the Father, O you dear Lord!
You can, in agony, it is true, say nothing;
Give me only what you have merited;
but you bow your head
and say in silence, “Yes.”
more I do not desire!

35. Aria: “Zerfließe, mein Herze”

Zerfließe, mein Herze, in Fluten der
Zähren Dem Höchsten zu Ehren!
Erzähle der Welt und dem Himmel
die Not: Dein Jesus ist tot!
Dissolve, my heart, in floods of tears
to honor the Most High!
Declare to the world and to heaven
the distress: your Jesus is dead!

39. Chorus: “Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine”

Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!
Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.
Be fully at peace, you holy bones,
which I will no longer bewail;
be fully at peace and bring me to this peace!
The grave—which is appointed to
you and from now on no distress will
enclose—opens to me the [gates of]
heaven and closes the [gates of] hell.

Program Notes

by Don Franklin

In contrast to his St. Matthew Passion, Christmas Oratorio and Mass in B minor, Bach never brought his score of the St. John Passion to a final form. Over the course of his tenure in Leipzig (1723-1750) Bach performed five different versions of the work, the first in 1724 at the end of his first year as Cantor at St. Thomas Church, and the fifth, in 1749, as the last passion performed before his death in 1750. The score of the St. John Passion heard in most concerts and recordings today is a conflation of the 1724 and 1749 versions.

Rarely performed is the second of the five versions dating from 1725. Formerly considered as an alternate or substitute to the version that preceded it, the 1725 St. John Passion has come in recent years to be seen as a work that includes some of Bach’s most dramatic text settings. It also includes several of his most elaborate chorale settings for voices and instruments, including the opening chorus, a movement that a few years later, in 1727, will play a prominent role in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

As shown in the text and translation included in the program booklet, Bach divides his libretto into a series of “acts” that correspond to the primary events of the passion as defined by Lutheran tradition: Act I: In the Garden of Gethsemane, beginning with Jesus’ entrance into the Garden with his disciples following the Last Supper; Act II: Trial before Caiaphas the High Priest; Act III: Trial before Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea; Act IV: Crucifixion; and Act V: Burial. (Regarding the Gospel of John’s references to the Jews in Act III, the Trial before Pilate, see the commentary below.)

Each act can be seen as a discrete unit that begins with a passage of narrative and ends with a four-part chorale. Included in each act are additional chorales that represent a corporate response to the events that transpire, along with arias based on poetic texts that suspend the dramatic action, providing the individual believer with a moment of reflection. Bach chose the chorale texts and melodies from the rich repertory of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century German chorales, including those of Paul Gerhardt and Martin Luther. Some of his poetic texts were newly penned by an unknown librettist, others were based on contemporary sources such as the libretto of the Hamburg poet, Barthold Brockes.

In adapting his original score of 1724 for re-performance a year later, Bach leaves Act I and Act V unaltered, but introduces new arias in Acts II, III and IV. In addition, he replaces the opening and closing movements (Nrs.1 and 40) with chorale settings. Rather than beginning the passion with a chorus whose text speaks of Jesus’ triumph and victory over death, “Lord, our ruler, whose praise is glorious in all the lands!” (Herr, unser Herrscher dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist!) Bach substitutes a chorale text that speaks of penitence and sacrifice: “O humankind, bewail your great sin.” (O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß). His musical setting takes the form of a chorale fantasia, with the figurative lines of the strings and winds decorating the chorale melody sung by the sopranos.

Hearing a “new” opening chorus, the Leipzig congregants might have thought Bach was presenting them with a completely new work––which could well have been Bach’s intent. Up to that point in the church year, he had written a series of 40 new cantatas based on chorale melodies and texts, leaving him little time to plan and compose a second passion. The more astute listeners might also have been aware that Bach began the passion, as he had the cantatas heard on the preceding Sundays, with a movement based on a chorale. Seen in compositional terms, it is clear that Bach was linking the 1725 passion with the group of cantatas known today as his “Chorale Cantata Cycle.” He brings the passion to a close in a similar fashion with a large-scale chorale setting of the Agnus Dei text, “Lamb of God, have mercy on us,” whose theme is again penitential rather than triumphant.

The new arias Bach introduces into Acts II, III and IV, heighten the dramatic events in each act, beginning with Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas and Peter’s denial of Jesus and including Pilate’s order to scourge Jesus. Each of the three arias follows a turning point in the drama. Of the three, the text of the first, (Nr. 11+) “Heaven, tear apart: world, quake” (Himmel reiße) responds to the lines in Act II (preceding the chorale Nr. 11) that describe an attendant of the High Priest striking Jesus. The most overtly dramatic of the three arias, its quasi-operatic vocal line is juxtaposed with a passion chorale sung by the sopranos.

The second aria (Act II, Nr. 13)––what might be called “Peter’s aria”–– immediately follows the disciple’s denial of Jesus. Also operatic in style, its text “Crush me, you rocks and you hills,” (Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hügel) replaces the aria interpolated at this point in the 1724 version, whose text is at best enigmatic: “Oh, my sense [of good and evil], where, in the end, do you want to go; where shall I restore myself?” (Ach, mein Sinn, wo willt du endlich hin). The third aria, inserted in Act III, in responding to the scourging of Jesus conjures up the image of fear in the soul of the sinner. “Oh, writhe not so, tormented souls” (Ach, windet euch nicht so, geplagte Seelen). Its text provides yet another dramatic, and personal, response to an action taken against Jesus.

A final supplement to the 1725 score occurs in Act IV, where Nr. 33 includes a passage of text taken from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 27: 51-52 –– presumably added to John’s Gospel account for dramatic effect. Only the first line, “And look: the veil in the Temple rent in two pieces. . . “ was included in the 1724 version. But by adding in 1725 the second line, “And the earth quaked. . . and the graves opened, and the bodies of many saints arose,” Bach further heightened the dramatic impact of the scene. His setting of the text, a rare example of word painting, could be described as “hair-raising!”

Our decision to perform the 1725 version of the St. John Passion was based not only on our attraction to the dramatic qualities of Bach’s “new movements,” but also by the fact that Bach’s original performing parts provide an explicit set of instructions, particularly with regard to his performing forces. In copying out the parts, Bach and his copyists (which included his students and members of his family) wrote out a separate part for each performer. For the singers this meant eight individual parts, two for each voice type (SATB). One was designated for a concertist, who sang the arias as well as choruses and chorales, and the second for a ripienist, who sang primarily the choruses and chorales along with occasional arias and the role of a secondary character. For the tenor concertist, for example, to sing the extended and demanding passages of the Evangelist as well as the chorales and choruses might seem remarkable to today’s audiences. It was, however, common practice in Leipzig during Bach’s tenure as Cantor.

The copyists followed the same practice with regard to the instrumentalists, writing out separate parts for each wind and string player, including two separate parts for the first violins and two for the second violins. The result is a chamber-size ensemble, with one player per part, including two first and two second violins. Although only two continuo parts are extant, one for the organ and one for a string instrument, we follow the common practice of the time by expanding the continuo to include lute, bassoon and double bass. As recent research confirms, the “core” or foundation of any baroque ensemble was its continuo group.

By performing the 1725 St. John Passion with an ensemble that replicates Bach’s original performing forces, our intent is to illustrate what “concerted music” meant to Bach and to the baroque period as a whole. Namely, to achieve in performance what is conveyed in the sources: an equal and harmonious balance between voices and instruments.

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