Bach's St Matthew Passion

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History Essay Word Count: 1,184 Discuss the historical, cultural, and musical aspects of one of Bach’s Passions. Include musical examples when necessary, and place the works within the larger context of German sacred music of the mid–late Baroque era. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passions, based on the gospels of John and Matthew, mark the pinnacle of his vocal works. I will be focussing on the St. Matthew Passion, a work that “left behind all that had been customary or even conceivable in sacred music at the time.” I will be discussing the historical and cultural impacts this Passion had and also examine its musical aspects within the context of the era of the Baroque that Bach was active in, where he stood out as a master of his art. To understand how this Passion fits into the history and culture that it was conceived in, one must first understand what the Passion is, in this context. The Passion is the story of Christ’s crucifixion as recorded in the gospels. Each gospel was read out during Holy Week, with Matthew’s recited on Palm Sunday. As early as the fifteenth century there have been polyphonic settings for the text. Changes occurred in the seventeenth century, with Passions progressing from plainchants and introducing instruments. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion was written in 1727 and performed on 11 April of the same year in St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzig, despite claims that it wasn’t performed until 1729, although evidence such as manuscripts, copied scores and evidence of parody performances in 1729 nullified those claims. During the time Bach was in Leipzig there was a religious divide between Lutheranism and Pietism, with the former having a strong history of incorporating music as an essential part of worship. There is evidence of the divide in some of Bach’s texts, although there are some claims that argue that Bach became disillusioned about the
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