Saturday, July 04, 2020

Bach's Matthew Passion

There has been some controversy about Johann Sebastian Bach's Matthäus-Passion, claiming that it is anti-Semitic and should never be performed. 

In my time in school my teacher John Lewis was a great lover of Bach, so as I result I sang everything:  St Matthew, St John, Christmas Oratorio, Magnificat, B minor Mass, and misc. cantatas.  The "Erbarme dich" from St Matthew is my favorite Bach aria.  It is important to notice that this aria begs the Lord to forgive ME!  The loss of this work from our repertoire would for me be the most terrible tragedy. 

There are two types of texts in the Passions:  Invented poems found in the arias and choruses, and actual Biblical texts from the translation by Martin Luther.  The Roman Catholic Church used only the Latin Bible.  The Evangelist, Jesus and others speak what to Christians is the sacred word of God.  Except for Pilate and his guys, everyone in the story is a Jew including Jesus, Judas, Peter, etc.  Jesus has just processed into Jerusalem and been hailed as the Messiah.  My theory is that the priests of the temple saw Jesus as competition.  It's politics, not religion.  So the anti-Semitic parts come entirely from the New Testament.

These are the core beliefs of Christianity.  Calling them anti-Semitic just seems absurd.  Which side of the quarrel are we supposed to be on?  You can be a Christian without being a Jew, but you can't be the Messiah without being a Jew.

Calling this, the greatest of all Christian musical religious works, evil is not something I could accept.  Should we translate it into Latin?  I've been feeling flabbergasted.  America is founded on freedom of religion, and this feels to me a bit like book burning.

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