Title Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passions: Between Drama and Lyrics
Author(s) Alexander E. Makhov
Information about the author(s) Alexander E. Makhov, DSc in Philology, Leading Research Fellow, A.M.Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25 а, 121069 Moscow, Russia. E-mail: makhov636@yandex.ru
Received July 15, 2016
Published September 25, 2016
Issue Vol. 1, no 1–2
Department World Literature
Pages 108-127
DOI DOI:10.22455/ 2500-4247-2016-1-1-2-108-127
UDK 821.112.2
BBK 83.3(4Герм)
Abstract Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passions are considered to be a synthesis of dramatic and lyric principles. Traditional comparison of Passions with musical drama or ancient tragedy does not exhaustively express the nature of the genre because in the Passions, dramatic action coexists with a lyrical dimension where the action is not shown or narrated but turns out to be the trigger for compassion. Voices expressing compassion are designated by Bach in vague terms, as a certain “I” or “We” unidentifiable with any particular person. In the lyrical episodes of Bach’s Passions, a singing voice does not allow any identification in the terms of personality, in the same way as the speaker’s voice remains unidentifiable in the lyric poem. The “I” singing arias in Passions is the “lyrical I” (Margarete Susman) in the strict sense of the term. The principle of non-identity of the voice with a person is deeply rooted in the history of liturgical Passions. In the medieval Passion, a single voice (a definite intonation, or a manner of singing) could be associated with a group of characters (apostles, Jews etc.), or on the contrary, a single character could be endowed with different voices. Dramatic and lyrical dimensions of Passions form a unity which is supported by certain rhetorical devices. Antanaclasis (repetition of a word but each time with a different meaning) establishes thematic connections between adjacent dramatic and lyrical statements; apostrophe (address to the absent or fictional audience) serves as a “shifter” that switches between the dramatic and lyrical dimensions. However, there is also an undeniable emotional tension between these two dimensions. Tragic effects of dramatic action are opposed to the lyric meditation which, paradoxically, finds joy in Jesus’ sufferings. This is why in the music of Passions, serene, idyllic, and even dancelike images sometimes emerge amidst the most tragic moments of the action. Bach’s music expresses the idea of joy found in Jesus’ Passion — the same idea that Martin Luther had expressed in his “Sermon on the Meditation of Christ’s Holy Passion” (1519).
Keywords Passions; voice and character; lyrics and drama; lyrical I; antanaclasis; apostrophe
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