BACH, Johann Sebastian: Passio Domini Nostri J.C. Secundum Evangelistam Matthaeum (St. Matthew Passion), BWV 244 (1727/rev. 1736)
It was 1970, Wealthy Connecticut, and August when a friend knocked on the front door of semi-famous folk singer Bill Crofut, who kindly invited us into his home. I immediately recognized the glorious music coming from a pair of perfectly placed KLH Six speakers as being this piece. The analog information etched into the grooves of a pristine 33-1/3 RPM Long Playing recording made in Germany (the Archiv label, a division of Deutsche Grammophon Records) traveled from vinyl to diamond to pre-amp to amp and finally to the KLH pair, and it felt as if we were completely surrounded by the musicians and singers! Crofut then explained how he had actually sung in the Münchener Bach-Chor in 1958 on this very recording (#4 below).
Fast forward thirty years or so and I’m carefully setting my precious 336-page Eulenberg score down on the table, making sure it doesn’t get stained with my tears, which flow copiously. I had just finished score-studying another recording of this great, three-hour masterpiece (#5 below), and the tears were flowing. I definitely had an ecstatic musical epiphany on that day, and have had a -- forgive me -- passionate love-affair with this composition ever since!
Bach’s fantastic religious fervor is evident in every note of his massive output -- and never better displayed than here; evidence the care and love with which he brought this great masterpiece to life -- nearly 300 years ago. Incredibly (to us), the Matthew Passion was never heard again outside of Leipzig until Felix Mendelssohn organized a performance of a shortened version in 1829 -- two years after Beethoven had died!
Some excellent links about the Passion -- the musical setting of the various Gospel texts which tell the crucifixion story:
AN IMPORTANT POINT:
“ … [A]fter so many decades of research, certain fundamental questions about the music, and the way its composer wanted it to sound, remain tantalizingly obscure. Even now they can fuel passionate factional debate.” -- Timothy Roberts, “A Passion to Arouse Passions,” from booklet to #3, below.