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Johann Sebastian Bach s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, considered cornerstones of the western classical music canon, form a culmination of his art as a composer of sacred music. The revival of Bach s music in 19th century concert halls began with Mendelssohn s performance of the St. Matthew Passion.
For a contemporary listener it is almost inconceivable that these large oratorios were originally composed for the Lutheran liturgy, framed by other readings, hymns, and embracing in the middle an extensive sermon. But Johann Sebastian Bach s Passions are two masterpieces of gigantic dimensions that are at the same time deep expressions of faith. The biblical narrative of the suffering of Jesus is interspersed with hymns, commentaries, and intimate pious reflections.
The course will analyze Bach s Passions against the background of the 17th and 18th century musical and religious landscapes. Particular attention will be paid not only to Bach s own revisions of his two major passion settings, which he adjusted over time to shifting musical and religious needs, but also to changes in his individual musical style, and his own idea of well regulated church music.
Markus Rathey is Associate Professor of Music History at Yale University, with joint appointments at the Institute of Sacred Music, the School of Music, the Music Department, and the Divinity School. Before coming to Yale in 2003 he taught at the Universities of Mainz and Leipzig and was a research fellow at the Bach-Archiv, Leipzig. His research focuses on Johann Sebastian Bach, the Bach family, and the relationship between music, religion, and politics during the Enlightenment. Recent publications include books on 17th century vocal music, Baroque music theory, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Professor Rathey was featured in the 2009 documentary film Performing the Passion on Bach s St. John Passion and has published numerous articles on Bach s passions and other vocal works.