As the musical world commemorates the 250th anniversary of the death of George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Michael Marissen of Swarthmore College will examine musical and textual aspects of the passion narratives in a three-part series illustrated with recorded examples. The final session includes a concert performance of Handel’s “Brockes” Passion (Houston premiere) by Houston’s Bach Choir and Orchestra.
March 31: Love and Rebuke Toward Christian Neighbor in the Passion Settings of Bach and Handel
This lecture will explore what a passion narrative is and how its central meanings are enhanced verbally and musically in the great oratorios of Handel (Brockes Passion, Messiah) and Bach (St. John and St. Matthew Passions). Bach’s works focus meditatively on the need for repentance, whereas Handel’s focus dramatically on the victory of good over evil. Arguably Bach views Christian humanity with a mood of disquiet, Handel with a mood of self-satisfaction.
April 2: Hostility toward Jewish Neighbor in the Passion Settings of Bach and Handel
This lecture will explore an unfortunate dark side in settings of the passion narrative. First, there is the question of how “the Jews” as story characters are depicted in the oratorios. And second, there is the question of how these biblical depictions and the commentary on them convey attitudes of hostility or contempt toward post-biblical Judaism. Bach’s oratorios project Jews as fellow sinners with Christians, who may or may not be redeemed; Handel’s, in ways that are not necessarily obvious today, may be seen as projecting Jews as radically condemned by God and exulted over by Christians.
April 5: An Introduction to Handel's Brockes Passion Pre-Concert Lecture
This lecture will explore the phenomenon of what might be called “Brockes fever” in early 18th-century Germany. Fasch, Handel, Keiser, Mattheson, AND Telemann, among others, composed settings of Brockes’s long poem on the death of Jesus. Handel’s is considered the best of the lot, but aesthetically several others are well worth hearing. Throughout these settings, especially in Handel’s, the emphasis is much more on dramatic action and religious feeling than on sound doctrine and spiritual reflection.
Michael Marissen is professor of music at Swarthmore. He is the author of The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (Princeton); Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion (Oxford); and essays on Bach and religion in the Harvard Theological Review, Lutheran Quarterly and New York Times. Oxford University Press has just published his book, Bach’s Oratorios – The parallel German-English texts, with annotations.
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