I was looking forward to listening to J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) because I have not heard it for a long time. I was totally unprepared for the very strong emotions which were stirred in me right from the start.
The notes in my recording describe this work as ‘a sacred music drama on an unprecedented scale, designed as an integral part of the Good Friday Vespers in the strict Lutheran stronghold of Leipzig’. They go on to describe the work as having four elements: the biblical narrative, with the central role played by the Evangelist; the ‘lyrical, contemplative arias’ reflecting on the events of the Gospel narrative; a meditative and communal element, including hymn-tunes, provided by the chorales; and the choruses ‘akin to those in ancient Greek drama’.
Bach assembled a larger group of performers for this work than for any other of his compositions: two choruses; two orchestras; an ensemble of soloists, plus additional sporano voices for parts of the opening movement. It is beautiful, complex, moving.
But this is not what caused such a reaction in me when I heard the chorus first joined the orchestra at the start of the opening movement. Until relatively recently, I used to sing with a wide range of choirs. Some very large and prestigious; some smaller. I performed this work in the wonderful St John’s Smith Square venue in London one Easter and can remember well the thrill of singing a beautiful work with talented colleagues. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. When the whole ensemble goes full throttle, there is nothing like it.
I had not realised how much I miss that feeling, and singing in general. It is not possible for me to be part of a choir at the moment because I travel too much with my current job. Still, I am pleased to have spent time with the fabulous ‘Mash Pash’ as one of my choir friends used to call it. And I would encourage everyone to think about their passions – are you in touch with them?
What a wonderful finale to my recent immersion in J S Bach’s amazing array of work. And a great foundation for the next couple of posts.