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Finally. We have begun rehearsals for Johannes-Passion, i.e., Bach's St. John Passion. It's the last of Bach's three biggest choral works that I have not yet sung, and I've been excited for months. No, I am not in the least kidding about how excited I've been. If you were in my brain, you would be terrified.

I was too sore from Monday's workout (I overdid it on the chest press) to do intervals last night, so I had time to go home and shower and eat a sandwich before rehearsal. I wore my Rammstein t-shirt - hey, they're German, just like Bach! *heh* It was freakin' cold in the choir room, though, so it was a good thing I had layers. None of that mattered once we got started. I was gone, off into Bach; since we didn't have an accompanist this week, our conductor played and occasionally waved at us from the keyboard. That's one of my favorite ways to rehearse, since it has a very communal feel. Only a very few people have sung the piece before, so we were all discovering it together, from the inside. It's a complex piece that requires a lot of attention. All the text has important meaning that we have to convey, along with the music, and of course the text and the music go together in different ways, depending, so you have to keep all that in mind while you're sightreading. And oh, some of those lines are a bitch and a half - the sopranos had some wacky shit that I am glad I do not have to sing, for instance on page 7, especially down at the bottom of the page.

We read the first chorale, then leapt into the opening chorus, which is full of stormy circulatio in the accompaniment while we're busy praising God, kind of knowing that disaster is coming but praising anyway because that doesn't matter, we are small things and our job is to praise because all the suffering to come is for us. That's what it's meant to be like, anyway. We read a couple of the tricky little turn-on-a-dime choruses, more chorales, and the final chorus, "Ruht wohl," which can make me cry if I'm listening to it, sometimes, but I was too busy singing it for that last night.

If you've never seen a Passion oratorio, generally a good deal of the story is told through solo narration, called recitative. Interspersed with those sections are solo arias, choruses, and chorales. Choruses are sometimes part of the story (the choir is the crowd chanting "Crucify him!" for example). But for the most part, the arias and chorales and choruses are commentary on the recitatives. The commentary is from various sources, many or most of which would have been familiar to the audience congregation, such as the chorale in Johannes-Passion whose text is the Martin Luther version of the Lord's Prayer. In general, the chorales tie the singers/congregation into the story as well: this thing happened to Jesus, and this is how it relates to us and our lives.

We also talked about issues that people have with the piece in performance, because the gospel of St. John blames the Jews for pretty much everything (there's evidence that the author of the gospel was Jewish, and was not happy at how he'd been treated because of his beliefs). And the reading of this gospel on Good Friday in that period would often lead to heading to the Jewish neighborhoods and starting violent riots. We're doing the piece as written, no cuts or changes. I'm thinking of reading Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto by Michael Marissen, if I can find a library copy, because it's expensive. The author is a professor at Swarthmore, and that's local, and I have a friend who teaches at Swarthmore, so I might go that route if I can't check it out nearby.

So, a lot to learn and a lot to think about. I'm still so bloody excited...it's ridiculous awesome.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
Awesome yay. Ridiculous not at all. I'd be wildly excited, if only I could sing; I love the St John.
Feb. 8th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
Yay I didn't bore someone!
Feb. 8th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
I have never heard the full piece--but parts of it are awesome.
Feb. 8th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
I am told there is an excellent performance of the whole thing, online here by Bach Collegium Japan:


Feb. 8th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
That's such a great one. Pity it doesn't get performed more. *is jealous*

Feb. 8th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
I would say that's probably because of the Judaism issues...but I suspect the difficulty of some of those passages might be the real culprit. It's definitely more difficult than St. Matthew by an order of magnitude.
Feb. 8th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
How large a chorus / orchestra will you be using?

Feb. 8th, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
30-40? Some people don't do all the concerts, and our paid singers fluctuate depending on solo needs.
Feb. 10th, 2012 04:14 am (UTC)
What an interesting post! I love hearing about arts I don't perform. Coincidentally, I was going through some old letters from my parents' house. My father's best friend from college grew up to be a petroleum engineer, but his hobby was music, and he had sung the Mass in B Minor three times. In a letter, he was describing some of their difficulties much as you did, and said their conductor remarked, "I don't know who Bach thought he was going to get to sing this for him!" My father is convinced that Bach is a saint. It's an odd notion, but oddly appealing. Nice to think that one could be canonized for writing canons!
Feb. 10th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Hah! Wimps. Little boys sang his soprano and alto parts!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


oracne - Victoria Janssen

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