Arts and Sciences
The use of antisemitism in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion has been a controversial subject for centuries. Many musicologists argue that Bach was only stating the words of Matthew, directly quoting the gospel many times throughout the piece. However, some scholars have studied Bach and feel as though his background had a large impact on his style of writing. It is well known that Bach studied the texts of Martin Luther religiously. In fact, he kept many of Luther’s texts in his extensive theological library. One of these essays, On the Jews and their Lies, stated many antisemetic defamations. Some included calling the Jews, “stupid fools” and “lazy rogues”. In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn revived the St. Matthew Passion to honor Bach and his music. However, Mendelssohn made quite a few revisions. Many musicologists, like Jeffrey Sposato, believe these revisions were made because they opened up the piece to mainstream 19th-century audiences. However, being born into a Jewish family himself, it is hard to claim that Felix Mendelssohn only cut out important pieces of the Passion for purely aesthetic reasons. By analyzing both Bach’s version and Felix Mendelssohn’s cuts, it is possible to assume that Mendelssohn cut out a majority of the arias, half a dozen chorales, and many recits because of their negative depictions of Jews. My research revisits the argument and reconsiders the question why Mendelssohn, a Jew who converted to Christianity, made certain cuts for the 1829 performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Haas, Cassandra, "Revisiting an Old Argument: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Mendelssohn’s Revival in 1829" (2020). Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). 923.
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