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Bach St. John Passion - dealing with questions of Anti-Semitism

Any thoughts on changing the text “Juden” (Jews) to “Leute” (People)?  I've been reading that Jewish composer and conductor, Lukas Foss, changed the text in a 1937 production of the work.  I know that many of the main-line churches have changed the wording in the Gospel of John for congregational use as well (such as the Episcopal Church.) 
Replies (54): Threaded | Chronological
on February 8, 2011 8:48pm
This is NOT anti-semitism.
S
on February 9, 2011 12:24am
Hi, Jennaya.  I think the decision you have to make is which is most important to you, political correctness or artistic integrity.  That's really the choice you have to make, since the text was taken directly from the Luther translation of the Bible and you will be rejecting the Biblical story and text if you change it.
 
I would not pesonally take a 1937 decision by another conductor, at a time when Naziism was growing stronger and many aware Jews were trying to leave Germany as a result, as necessarily applying to today's audiences or today's singers.  It can, in fact, provide a strong teaching moment.
 
This was brought up some time ago by David Janower, and the discussion was rather in depth.  You might want to see whether you can find it in the archives (if there ARE archives; I have no idea!).
 
All the best,
John
on February 9, 2011 2:25pm
Oh come, John.  Changing "Jews" to "people" rejects the Biblical story?  Don't yo uthink that's a bit strongly put?  As others say here, in churches there's often a context, which we do NOT supply in a performance.  Do you really think changing "Jews" to "people" rejects the Bible?  It softens it a bit, but I dont' see rejection.
on February 10, 2011 3:13pm
David:  OK; true confssions time.  When I wrote that, I was very carefully and very consciously trying to walk the difficult line between those who sincerely believe that every word in the Bible (including, presumably, every word of every translation ever made, even when translations disagree) is the inherently infallible word of God, and those who realize that every word (and every word of every tranlation) was written down by a man.  (Sorry; no women need apply!  And it's all Paul's fault.)  Both viewpoints exist, and both have to be recognized and taken into account.  If you accept that the wording was chosen by men, changing the wording beaks nothing except long-held tradition. Otherwise ...
 
But the telling of the Passion story has, since the 5th century at least, started and ended with a literal recitation of the story as it is told (differently) in each of the four accepted Gospels, no matter what other elements were eventually added to that story.  That's why John is a weak vehicle; as written it's a poor playscript.  Matthew is MUCH more dramatic.  But of course they weren't written to be playscripts in the first place, but to tell a story (as interpreted--differently--by each writer).
 
All the best,
John
on February 9, 2011 2:27pm
"... if there ARE archives"?
on February 9, 2011 10:24am
Changing the words, with all due respect to Lukas Foss, a great artist, is really the easy way out of the problem.

There have been a number of discussions on this topic in ChoralNet, the overwhelming majority of which arrived at Stephen's conclusion. That would be a good place to start.

Also Marissen's "Lutheranism, Anti-Judiasm, and Bach's St. John Passon" provides a solid, brief overview. I love his proposed working title, which gives a glimpse into the work: "John's Jews, Luther's John, Bach's Luther, Our Bach."

on February 9, 2011 11:07am
J.R.
 
I agree with S
 
EP
on February 9, 2011 11:11am
I agree with Stephen. I don't see any antisemitic beahviour in calling the Jews Jews. I lived in Israel for 2 1/2 years, and the Jews call themselves Jews, go to the Jewish synagogue and worship Judaism (see an Israeli site about the history of Israel: http://www.science.co.il/Israel-history.php).  They are called Jews because they follow Moses, just like followers of Christ are called Christians, followers of Muhammad Muslims and the followers of Baha'u'llah Baha'is.  On the other hand, if you set out to descriminate against Jews for the mere fact that they are Jewish, now that is anti-semitism. 
on February 9, 2011 2:22pm
It's not a question of calling Jews Jews, it's a question of blaming Jews.
on February 9, 2011 11:33am
Jennaya,
 
Oh my, I could write a novel, having gone through this 2 years ago in more depth than I could stand, and if you want to explore some of that, we could talk off-line.  I belive there's a long Choranel thread on this from then.
 
Let me just mention Michael Marissen's exellent book, Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion.  (BTW, I think his case for "anti-Judaism" and not "anti-Semitism" is a good one and not just a semantic distinction, but that's beside the point.)
 
In brief, I'd say, having done this piece 4 times and changed the text the last 3 times, and the translation the first time as the request of the minister at the church, that:
 
1.  The St. Gospel does feel to me like it hammers at the Jews, and this is one reason the subject comes up with the Gospel and with the Bach in churches and among musicians.  I find it uncomfortable at the least.  Even if we agree that John didn't mean "all Jews," the text still says over and over, the Jews, the Jews...
 
2.  I don't think it does ANY damage at all to Bach's St. John Passion (or to the Gospel) to make some small changes to accommodate that discomfort.  Changing "Juden" to "Leute" (and in translation or in English performances, "Jews" to "people") would hardly be noticed by anyone, does NO disserve either to Bach's music or the Gospel story.  It's such a simple solution given how volatile this whole thing is.  I'll bet even someone very familiar with the Bach would not notice a Leute going by instead of a Juden.  (And if we agree that John wasn't villifying all Jews, then Leute is actually more appropriate a word.  But perhaps that's outside this discussion.)
 
3.  For the purists, compared with the other "changes" we make - modern instruments, modern concert halls, modern audiences, for instance - a word here and there to space feelings seems like nothing at all to me.
 
It's ulimately a very small thing to Bach, changing a word here and there, and potentially a very large thing to performers and audience NOT to change.
 
David Janower
janower(a)albany.edu

 

on February 9, 2011 12:33pm
Being married to a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, USA,  I get chunks to theology discussed around the dinner table regularly.  As I understand it, one of the great issues for Christian theologians with the Gospel of John is that it has been a source of embarassment over the anti-Semitic nature of the description of the Holy Week narrative.  It has, over the centuries, spawned much anti-Semitism within the Church and in the modern understanding of the Gospel, needlessly so.  St. John was writing to other Jews in his text, and thus, has a different perspective than the other Gospel writers.  This was meant to be a sort of "in house" discussion of the Messiah amongst the Jewish community.  However, when read without understanding the nature of the circumstances under which it was written ... on the surface there are surely many seemingly anti-Jewish statements.  How one deals with this in church is to regularly remind congregations of the historical background and the intent of the writing.  In a musical performance, ideally, it would be preceeded by a sermon on this topic.  However ... that's not likely to happen and the use of the original text is certainly preferable to 'messing around' with it and completely changing the meaning.  In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the scene is generally described as a crowd, rather than giving any identification to the nature of the crowd, although it was, obviously, a Jewish crowd.  The ultimate understanding of this point however, is that no PERSON ... Jewish or Gentile ... put Jesus to death ... he died a sacrificial death of his own accord, and according to the plan of God.  None of this second-hand theology, however, is likely to make it any easier to decide what to do ... so best of luck!
on February 10, 2011 4:48am
Thomas:  Many thanks to you (and your wife) for your thoughts on the Gospel of John.  But I'm a little puzzled about why there's so much emphasis on the use of the word "Juden."
 
To explain, I did a major study of Bach's St. John in grad school.  (And anyone who studied with Juli Herford will understand what I mean by a 'major study'!)  And in all the background reading I did, the concensus seemed to be (a) that John came down VERY hard on the Romans, rather than the Jews; (b) that therefore it's likely that John was written much later than the synoptic Gospels, probably after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70; and (c) that therefore John was much more upset with Pilate and the Roman trial than with the Jewish leaders and the Jewish trial.  (And by the way, can anyone find where at least one verse was clearly moved out of place in the story of the two trials?!!)
 
So is it simply the use of the WORD that bothers people so much?  Or were the studies I read (backed up by my own wife's studies in Biblical archaeology) just flat-out wrong?  Or is it that Luther and the tradition Bach worked in was anti-Jewish?
 
Very curious.
 
John
on February 10, 2011 12:43pm
The issue is getting a bit muddled, though it's very interesting, John.  I think the issue you are speaking of is not really about the entire Gospel of John, whihc of course has many more chapters than what we hear in the Palm Sunday reading or in the Bach libretto, but in only those chapters that we hear in Bach.  If you just take the libretto and read it, it doesn't sound to me like John is more against the Romans than the Jews.    (And of course for centuries the reading of the John Gospel during Holy Week spurred reprisals against the Jews in all parts of Europe, and not, obviously, against the Romans!)
 
Marrisen did a count, BTW, the the amount of times John mentions the word "Jews" is something like triple or quadruple the amount in the other Gospels.  Of course John's purpose was different and he was much later than the others, but none of that is apparent on hearing the Bach performed.
 
Some Jews find it offensive - isn't that in itself enough reason to make some simple changes?  Peter Hopkins sums it up quite well below.
 
I certainly know hwat you mean by "major study" with Juli!
 
David
on February 10, 2011 6:11pm
The author of the Gospel of John is unknown, and most scholars agree it was written in the last decade of the first century. That the author would hold a special grievance against the Romans, who sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. (in other words, shortly before the Gospel was written) seems reasonable. Some say, by extension, the Gospel of John reflects a particular hatred for the oppressive regime of Rome in the region, and particularly of the lot of everyday Jewish life, from which Jesus sprang. So the studies you read suggesting a particular hatred of the Romans by the author sound right to me. Whether that element translated into BWV 245? Perhaps. Can you give a hint on your question of the two trials?
on February 11, 2011 1:26am
The timeline for the two trials doesn't work as printed (King James translation).  Or at least it seems to me that it does not.
 
John 18:13--"And led him away to Annas first, for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that year."  Unequivocal statement, although it doesn't say WHY they took him to Annas.
 
John 18:19--"The high priest then asked Jesus of his desciples, and of his doctrine."  Suddenly he isn't with Annas, but with Caiaphas.
 
John 18:24--"Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest."  Which strikes me that verse 24 is out of place, and should correctly have come before verse 19.
 
In Matthew 26:57 it makes more sense.  Right after his arrest, "And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled."  No mention of a side-trip to Annas there.  Mark 15:53 agrees, as does Luke 23:54 (there's that good ol' Q source, and the concordance of the synoptics).
 
A small point, granted, and nothing earth-shaking (unlike one scene in Mathew!), but one that does appear surprisingly at odds with the synoptics.
 
John
on February 9, 2011 1:55pm
Bis Du nicht einen LEUTENKOENIG?  is simply not the translation for  Bist Du nicht einen JUDENKOENIG? I would notice and perhaps raise my hand at its appearance. Meine Meinung nach? "Es it wie es ist."   I might choose, instead, to be anti-Roman for Pilates role in the story.
S
on February 9, 2011 4:05pm
Oh, Stephen, this is one spot, and perhaps the most important place in the entir libretto NOT to change the word!  You can't make an argument based on this line!  I can't imagine anyone changing "King of the Jews," or advocating for it.  That title is pretty significant, in fact, it's completely central.
 
Now how about,  And the people cried, Crucify Him! or And the crowd cried Crucify Him! vs And the Jews cried Crucity him!  This, and dozens of other places where the "people" works as well as "Jews," does not distort the story, but what you suggest is a complete perversion of the story and, BTW, a complete perversion of my argument.
on February 9, 2011 2:00pm
I would accept that change but I'm still not happy about considering this anti-semetic unless one chooses to do so.
S
on February 9, 2011 3:20pm
 Thank you, Jennaya, for giving us an opportunity to share thoughts about this issue.
 
Performing the   SJP for a contemporary audience is not an easy project.  The Passion account itself - whether in St. John's Gospel or in the synoptic gospels - is less widely known now than in Bach's day.  Likewise, the chorales are less-used in today's churches.  They are the essential interface between the story and the people.  
 
The Kearsarge Chorale will be performing the SJP on Palm Sunday.  To help prepare an audience for this experience, I am teaching a six-week course - "The Passions of Bach" -  that meets for two hours each week.  We are exploing the genre with recorded examples of plainsong and motet settings, the settings of Schuetz, and the two Bach settings.  One of our performance soloists will demonstrate an aria from each of the two Bach Passions.   We are also using DVDs of  various portions of the works:  the opening and closing choruses, and the central sections of each work.
 
We are singing the SJP in an English translation cobbled from various sources, principally Herford/Shaw and Arthur Mendel.  One of our singers felt uneasy about the word "Jewry" which the Mendel translation uses in two of the SJP choruses [old BWV 34 and 50].          We will sing "Judah" instead of "Jewry".  David was the king of Judah, and as a descendant of David, I think it legitimate to refer to Jesus in this way.  As others have mention with regard to "Juden" vs. "Leute", I don't think anyone will notice. 
 
 This is the third time I have performed SJP in English, so I had a response ready for my singers that spoke to the issue you have raised.  It is a bit hard-nosed, but I think it fits the spirit of Bach's work, especially when you view it in a Lutheran context.  I hope this is more acceptable to everyone. 
 
The thorny problem of "Who killed Jesus?" in John's Gospel continues to perplex many.  Be assured that I am not alone in believing unquestionably that we all have our hands in this crucifixion.  All human beings, who have been or will be, share the guilt for this and all the other "crucifixions" that happen every day:
 
 -- when we murder our fellow beings - human or otherwise
 -- when we blind ourselves to expressions of truth and beauty
 -- when we do see and recognize these expressions as such, and then trivialize them, bowing to the god of peer acceptance
 -- when we deride each other in cruel speech
 -- and, when we neglect to step in to stop injustice and hatred when it threatens.
 
We are united in this great guilt - only God is good!
And only God can help us bear this guilt.  The irony is this: God does help us.  The agents of God's grace are those around us who share the guilt.  And God has bound us together in cords of unbreakable love.  And so, on we go!
 
Thank you for stimulating my old noggin about this question.
 
Shalom, my Friends,
david 
David L. Almond, Artistic Director
Kearsarge Chorale
New London, New Hampshire
on February 10, 2011 5:32pm
Bach places the blame, squarely, clearly, unequivocally, but not on Jews, nor Romans, in the chorale movement #11.

vs 1. "Wer hat dich so geschlagen..."
vs 2. "ICH, ICH UND MEINE SÜNDEN..."

on February 11, 2011 12:51am
Marissen's book makes a very convincing case that Bach places the blame on ALL of us with his choice of commentaries, and this helps to ameliorate John.  But John is still tough to hear.
David
on February 9, 2011 11:25pm
Stephen,
 
I don't think the St John Gospel is inherently anti-semitic, and crtinaly the Bach work isn't.  But as I Jew I can't read the libretto out of context (who John was, when he wrote, who he wrote for) and not feel like my religion is being blamed (and I'm not very Jeiwsh at all).  So maybe we shoudl agree not to use the term anti-semitic (Marissen changes it to anti-Judaism) and just agree that the libretto is offensive to some people, and do what we can to make it less offensive without altering the work in any essential way.  Isn't that what we want, without labels getting in the way?
 
David
on February 10, 2011 12:30pm
 Absolutely. I'm not certain why this was such a stick in my eye but it seemed to me to be an attempt of seeking political correctness without the problem.
 I had a student who became absolutely incensed about performing excerpts from Showboat and Porgy and Bess because of "racist content". The choir, including me, looked at her with disbelief and shaking heads, "what's the big deal". And sometimes I question Rodgers and Hammerstein's content as racist or misogynistic asking, "is this their belief or are they holding this up as example to expose the societal attitudes?"
 It does hinge on the sensitivity of the beholder. Was the use of the Horstwessellied by a national fraternity at Ball State University anti-Semitic? The Nazis appropriated many very nice German folksongs and perverted them to the service of distorted Aryan pride. Does the mere repetition of these songs which pre-date this perverted use constitute recall of Nazi content? To some, perhaps.
 In the late '70's I was enjoying a mass of beer in a Munich's Mataeserkeller situated between the train station and Marienplatz. I could not get a table in front of the band and was seated to the side and rear of the elevated central stage. There was a long, long table arranged on the back wall where many older men sat around a central man dressed in black leather coat and hat to whom they all seemed deferential. At some point in the evening, the band played some stirring march, at the end of which, some members of this party gave the upraised arm of a Nazi salute. I could not name that tune but they reacted and my party left immediately. This, certainly seemed to be reaction to extra-musical content.
S
--
Stephen A Stomps
65 South Street Apt 309
Auburn, NY 13021
on February 10, 2011 2:12pm
indeed it was!
on February 11, 2011 1:36am
Stephen:  Rodgers & Hammerstein were writing entertainments, period.  What they pioneered was basing their stories on serious novels rather than hacknied boy-meets-girl stories.  So any "social consciousness" they displayed may have come from the novels they used, but to a large extent simply reflected societal attitudes of their time.  The lyrics in "Flower Drum Song" in particular seem kind of embarassing today, especially the song "I Enjoy Being a Girl," which used every cliched "girly" reference of the 1950s!
 
But that doesn't mean that they were unaware of social issues, just that they were generally not good entertainment.  Lt. Cable's song in "South Pacific," "You've Got To Be Taught," was soundly criticized because it went directly against the current feelings about segregation and racial "purity," but it WAS in the show for dramatic purposes and did a little bit of consciousness raising even if it wasn't intended to.  Sometimes criticism simply calls attention to whatever is being criticized!  I was just a boy when I saw the show on Broadway, but I got the message loud and clear.
 
All the best,
John
on February 10, 2011 9:54am
This thread demonstrates that this question can't be resolved in one way to everyone's satisfaction. I've conducted St. John several times in English as well as German, and sung it many, many times under Helmuth Rilling. When conducting, I've performed it with and without changing the word. Frankly, my audiences have never noticed (or at least, commented on) the difference, unless I brought it up! My singers, with their longer, deeper engagement with the text and music, always ask about this. I generally favor changing the text: It does no harm to the music, the clarity of the story, or Luther's Theology of the Cross that lies behind Bach's setting, and the act of changing the text forces the conductor to discuss the whole issue with the singers (and perhaps the audience). Anyone conducting St. John should read Marissen's book!
on February 10, 2011 2:51pm
One possible problem with substituting a non-specific like "Leute" for a specific (Jüden) is that some of the numbers in BWV 245 promote the "satisfaction" or "Latin" theory of atonement, which derives from the so-called "Hebrew Scriptures." Whether Bach intentionally composed such unusual music to these texts in order to foster contemplation by the listener is hard to prove, but that seems to be a large part of his compositional process and thinking.

In particular I am thinking of the "midrash - like" moments in #36 (Dürr), at the end. The setting, with the "adagio" marking over each O.T. quotation, and the very dissonant harmonic and melodic writing, signal important moments in Bach's way of thinking, and alert the listener to important words that are meant for contemplation.

That this could all be done (the contemplation) with "Leute" is clear, and the contemplation should be extended to us here in the 21st century, of course, lest our performance become a simple visit to a museum. But the fact remains that these quotations, and other aspects of the "satisfaction" theory rely heavily on the "Paschal Lamb" imagery that were central to the faith of the historical Jesus, (who was after all, a Jew) and to early Christians and Jews alike, and remain so today. Although Luther wrote some very bad things about Jews in his later life, for whatever reason, the connection with the "Hebrew Scriptures" is an important part of the theological legacy of Martin Luther, and faith life inheirited and pursued by Johann Sebastian Bach (these quotations from the O.T. with the Paschal Lamb imagery of the "satisfaction theory" along with the numerous similar quotations in libretti and chorales of the other oratorios and cantatas show this). Marissen talks about how this is a specific part of the passion story in the Gospel of John on p. 10 of his oft-mentioned book.

So, two questions arise. First, could this connection be lost with a substitution like "Leute?" And second, how important is such a connection to supporting our mission of bringing Bach's intentions to life, in the overall sense? The deeper one peers into this music, often the more problematic it seems. Keeping an eye on the main objective, the retelling of the passion story, for those who view the spiritual element as equally important as the tonal element, might mean making some sacrifices...after all, if your audience (including musicians) are offended by the work, what good is that?

Peter Hopkins wisely suggests that the question "can't be resolved in one way to everyone's satisfaction." Marissen suggests that performances and recordings of the work be accompanied by extensive notes (I applaud efforts by conductors David Griggs-Janower and David Almond, who have blogged and even set up lecture series to deal with the potential offense. Marissen often gives "pre-concert lectures" on BWV 245 throughout the US, and will deal with the topic there). I think this is most prudent, especially if one decides to leave the original text intact, knowing that one can avoid the extra effort by changing the words and perhaps leaving the original, with a footnote, in the program. If you lose some small (but important) symbolic content, at least the overall intent won't be derailed.

I think this extra effort might be moving closer to what Taruskin called "responsible" performances.

on February 11, 2011 10:29am
Would it be unreasonable artistic purism to say simply that if you have a problem with the text of the St. John Passion, then you do not do the St. John Passion, period?
 
--
Regards,
Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Helsinki, Finland
on February 11, 2011 6:32am
In my opinion, that is unreasonable, given that certain artistic compromises can be reached, which still allow Bach's message of pursuing spiritual discipleship to come through strongly.

Your profile says you are a translator. Do the Finnish choirs sing Bach exclusively in German, with program notes in Finnish?...what is this issue like in Finland? Have you tried translating the text of BWV 245, and if so, was this an issue for your work? It is becoming more and more important to us in the USA, in the past 30 years or so I have been singing the work...

I know in Germany there is an increased awareness of the issue, due to the national remorse about their role in the Holocaust (based on the increasing number of research articles on the topic by German authors, and three years singing and studying in Germany).

on February 11, 2011 9:46pm
What happens to the integrity of an artwork when you start tinkering with it? Where do you draw the line? I realize that the devil's advocate is on thin ice here, as in many cases there is no such thing as a definitive version (the convoluted history of Handel's "Messiah" springs to mind). But if you accept the premise that you can pick and choose, and that you can sort of bleep over anything that offends (or might potentially offend) someone, then you are on a slippery slope very quickly, and I for one would find this, well, offensive.
 
Would you paint dresses on paintings of nudes? Would you remove the 200+ instances of what is coyly referred to as the "n-word" in Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn"? On the basis that this would nevertheless still allow the artist's message to "come through strongly"?
 
In Finland, choirs these days invariably perform major choral works in the original languages, with translations in the program notes, although there was a strong tradition of performing choral works (and opera) in Finnish translations up till as recently as 30 or so years ago. This necessitated compromises ranging from the cryptic to the ludicrous, as Finnish typically uses many more syllables than Indo-European languages to say the same thing. But as regards calling a spade a spade, so to speak, I am on the same lines as Hildigunnur in that I cannot honestly say I have heard of any case in Finland of someone objecting to the text of the St. John Passion. In fact, the only objection of this nature that I have ever personally come across here was a singer who refused to perform in my setting of "Double, Double Toil and Trouble" because it contains the line "Liver of blaspheming Jew". And he was Japanese.
 
--
Regards,
Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Helsinki, Finland
on February 11, 2011 10:55pm
Of course it's a sliperry slope, but we make "editorial" decisions every day, virtually every measure, when we interpret a piece.  The integrity Jaakko speaks of must be maintained, but we each make a decision of what "tinkerings" we may accept without affecting the integrity of a work.  Does performing Bach with women instead of men destroy the integrity?  Then very few choirs would do it.  Can I conduct Byrd with female altos?  Can I use double bass instead of violone? Can we sing Bach with 60 singers instead of 4 or 8 or 12 or 16?  Can I add altos to the tenor line?  Can I change that forte to a mezzoforte?  Can we have Handel arias without castrati (let's hope so!). 
 
EVERYTHING we do in modern times is, to some extent or other, "tinkering."  But we trust we do so attempting to maintain the composer's and the music's integrity as well as we can.  We make decisions carefully, not willy-nilly.  we try not to do Bach and Berlioz with the same forces.  We sing with less  vibrato for early music.  And so on.  But ultimately every decision we make is editorial, and we shoudl accept that we do that.  The trick is to not go so far down Jaakko's slippery slope that we distort the composer.
 
The issue, then, is NOT whether we make the decision to change something, but what that decision is.  That's why I would never support changing  King of the Jews to King of the People, because that seriously distorts things, like doing Bach a la Berlioz would.  But some smaller changes might not be distorting;  I clami they are not, though I admit they are not "pure." (Neither is the way I've performed any piece in my life perfectly pure except contemporary works.)
 
The Mark Twain argument doesn't really hold, since that work is ALWAYS placed in historical context  since it's read as a historical novel, not preached from the pulpit, and since ithe text hasn't been used continuously for 2000 years and is still used today.  The Gospel of John and the Bach are, in that sense, still current, so it's not really a fair comparison.  If the Bach/John text ceased to be in use 100 years ago...
 
Let's turn it around.  Which is more of a "distortion," changing a few words here and there, or offending singers and listeners? (If it comes to that, which, here int he US, it does!)  This may sound silly, but no one in Bach's church, I'd bet, was offended by that text, and they were not distracted by these extra-musical issues.  But today we are, and we NOT be with a few word changes.  I suggest a few word changes are a better solution than either offending people or refusing to perform the piece, and that Bach would agree.  He, in fact, changed many words in the non-Gospel commentaries he took from Brockes' poetic passion.  Maybe we shoudl follow Bach's lead.
 
David
 
on February 11, 2011 11:02pm
Well, I don't think we will encounter "Liver of blaspheming Jew" in any Bach related texts! Great story!

Allowing the artist's message to come through strongly, that's the name of the game, isn't it?


on February 11, 2011 11:31pm
Hi, Jaakko, and thanks for your unique perspective.  I think that maybe we're conflating several quite different things as this discussion continues.
 
Item:  Yes, there is a constant question here in the U.S. whether to sing in original languages or in the language of the audience.  That probably reflects two separate things:  the amiguity of a culture made up of immigrants from many different cultures, and the existence of a huge nation in which it is possible to travel over 3,000 miles without having to show a passport or enter a different languag area!  My personal feeling is that if we present a work of art it should be the original work, but if we present functional music in a functional situation it should be done in translation.
 
Item:  I commend David's concern with not offending anyone unnecessarily.  It's a wonderful approach.  BUT, it's also a fact that absolutely ANYTHING will probably offend someone, so then it comes down to a question of authenticity vs. community mores.  But note, COMMUNITY mores, which are quite powerful and cannot be ignored, but not necessarily the mores of one particular segment of the community, no matter how unified their feeling of offense is, or of one particular individual, no matter how deep their offense is felt.  So do we decide by counting the number of people who might be offended vs. the number who would not be, or by the depth of offense that would be taken, or what?
 
Item:  Community mores change.  And here in the U.S. we went through a period in the 1960s of "consciousness raising" which had many different effects, some of them quite wonderful, others quite unfortunate.  We had to look our own inherited prejudices in the eyes and decide whether they were worth keeping or not, which is always a difficult thing to do, and will ALWAYS end up offending a great many people.  And the process is by no means finished, but at least it's started.  And I would guess that there has never been a culture in history that did NOT have a great many prejudices built into it, for any number of reasons and most often hallowed by history and tradition.  Ours involved our sorry history of human slavery of Black Americans of African descent.  Other countries have avoided that, but have their own prejudices.  And it also involved a long and deep history of prejudice against women that played out in many ways in many different fields, and that is one that we share with a great many different cultures around the world.  Even in the matter of religion, there are religions which fully accept women in roles at any level, religions which respect women but deny them leadership roles, religions which separate women from men in many situations, and religions that to outsiders seem to be scared to death of their women, and try to keep them subdued and hidden.
 
Forward progress is the good result of all this, and in a number of cases it has even made its way into law.  Excessive political correctness is the extreme and bad result of it, and is unfortunately rampant in all too many places.  So there's good and bad in everything.
 
Thanks again, Jaakko.
 
John
on February 11, 2011 11:57am
That would be a great loss, wouldn't it?
on February 11, 2011 7:50pm
 
Without trying to answer for Jaakko, I suppose that in Finland, as in Iceland this is a definite non-problem as the Political Correctness issues haven't gone as far as in the US. Here no one would dream of singing Bach in any language other than German and yes, the program notes are in Icelandic. Can't remember program notes addressing the issue at all, in the numerous times I've heard the piece performed up here.
 
Wouldn't quite know about Finland but here we view the work as what it was at the time and I haven't heard of a single person, Jewish or not (admittedly there are very few practicing Jews here) trying to read a modern interpretation of the text. It reflects the PC of that time, not of our time.
 
Then again, we're not a very religious society at all, nor a very literal people, that might be why. The Finns are very similar to the Icelanders in many ways. I must say that while I can understand people feeling strongly about their religion, well I agree with Jaakko, if you don't like the way Bach wrote at the time, leave off and let the rest of us do it as he wrote. And enjoy...
on February 13, 2011 7:30pm
I would like to propose for Jennaya and anyone else, one more reason NOT to change the words in BWV 245 as a response to perceived anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism. But to do so will require a bit of biblical study. Bear with me, it all relates to Bach, I assure you.

Borg and Crossan make a very convincing argument in their book The Last Week (2005, Harper San Francisco), that the earliest passion account in the Gospel of St. Mark was a great influence on the other synoptics and on the author of the Gospel of St. John. There is compelling evidence in the biblical text itself, that the anger and hatred expressed is directed not towards the Jewish people (Leute), but toward the Jewish High Priests, their families and their circle, who abused their status by colluding with the Romans in the ongoing economic, political, and spiritual oppression of occupied Israel.

In this sense the Gospel of St. John is not so much anti-Judaic, as it is anti-colluders (High Priests), and anti-oppressors (Romans). After all, "Salvation is from the Jews" is an earlier quote from Jesus in the Gospel of John (Jn 4:22). That's pro-Judaism, even in Martin Luther's translation.

Jesus of Nazareth, for his part, was very dedicated to the cause of confronting the hypocrisy and oppression of the High Priests, who were after all, supposed to uphold the life giving gift from God through the prophets, namely, the Law of Moses. He makes his displeasure with the religious establishment's collaboration with Roman oppressors known in the one violent act of his earthly ministry, the clearing of the Temple courtyard during the week leading up to Passover (Mk 11:15-19). That act may have been the turning point that allowed Kaiphas and his circle to convince Pilate to get rid of this potential troublemaker (Pilate was very concerned with keeping Jerusalem in order during the huge influx of thousands of Jewish visitors celbrating Passover).

Now to Bach, as promised. In BWV 245, Bach consistently uses diminished triads and chromatic harmony in his settings of the names of the High Priests, and in their deadly actions. Here is a sampling from the beginning of the oratorio:

Mvt #2a
m 5 "Judas aber..." diminished triad on G
m 8-9 "Da nun Judas..." diminished triad on B
mm 10-11 "...der Hohenpriester und Pharisäer Diener..." diminished triads on Eb and A

Mvt #2c
mm 23-4 "Judas aber, der ihn verriet..." diminished triad (with b.c. note) on B

Mvt #4
m 7 "Hohenpiresters..." diminished triad on C

Mvt #6
mm 2-3 "Diener der Jüden..." diminished triad on E
mm 5-6 "Kaiphas Schwäher" diminished triad on F# (with b.c. notes),
"...welcher des Jahres Hoherpriester war" diminished triad on A
NB all the unstable chromatic harmony in general throughout this movement,
particularly the last two measures (Kaiphas' words to his cronies).

This last recitative is where Kaiphas counsels "..es wäre gut, das ein Mensch würde umbracht für das Volk." Das Volk: these are the people, the Jewish nation of Israel, oppressed by the Romans, and unjustly ruled over by the privileged High Priestly families. The Gospel of John differentiates between the Jewish people, Das Volk, who have been subjected to the gross oppression known as anti-Semitism for centuries, and the High Priests, their servants (Diener), and their collaborators (especially Judas). Bach further defined that differentiation by reserving diminished triads and unstable, chromatic harmony for the very mention of their names, as well as their thoughts and deeds. These examples are from the first few numbers; the work is full of this symbolism, as you would expect from the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The problem Jennaya (and anyone else who may encounter this issue) faces, is to convince others of this possible explanation, in order to take some of the sting out of what seems to be, at first glance and at best, a somewhat venomous portrayal (totally unfair) of Jews in John's Gospel, and at worst, institutionalized hatred of Jews by the Church universal (represented by this great work of sacred music and Holy Scripture itself). Changing "Jüden" to "Leute", with all due respect to Lukas Foss, a national treasure and great American artist, and all due respect to others who have followed this tactic, simply conflates the People of God, "das Volk," with the dastardly deeds of a colluding band of High Priests, which Martin Luther translated as "die Jüden." Changing the words will damage this ingenious setting to which Bach dedicated himself, if not irreparably, then certainly significantly.


on February 14, 2011 12:25am
The problem, dear Richard, is presenting the St. John without explanation.  I've no objection to not changing a word IF the audience is first educated somehow about the context.  But without the context you so well point out, and others have pointed out, in a typical concert without an opportunity for making modern audiences aware of all this, the "venomous portrayal" is still there.  Pre-cocnert talks, excellent program notes (and time for everyone to read them, and the lights up), conversations and dialogues, these all make it possible to not change a word.  But without that...
 
Imagine reading Huckleberry Finn in a public school and NOT telling students when it was written.  These things need context.
 
DJ
on February 14, 2011 10:22am
That's why I say simply changing the words is the "easy way out of the problem." These extra efforts, required to bring us into the "responsible performance" level that Taruskin promoted, require expertise, time, and commitment.

This point of view also is based on performances that count the confessional/spiritual nature of Bach's music as equal partners to the tonal/musical aesthetic. I have been to plenty of performances in the US (many of them with "period" instruments) which have totally ignored the intention of the good, old Cantor. If one is only presenting a trip to the museum, then they can make it the responsibility of the listener to perceive the correct context. Taruskin would think that is "irresponsible," perhaps.

One correction to my long diatribe above (the most recent one). Hastily, I said that "This last recitative is where Kaiphas counsels..." In fact, Kaiphas was meeting with his cronies far earlier in Jesus' ministry when he muttered that plan; the Evangelist is simply reminding us that they had been after Jesus with "long knives" for a long time.

on February 14, 2011 5:25pm
I've been following this discussion with great interest and have feel a certain amount of sympathy to arguments from both sides of the fence. One thing that bothers me a little is that the textual alteration does not concern any text created by Bach or his contemporaries but that of John the evangelist. Should we rewrite the New Testament into a politically correct document?
on February 14, 2011 6:26pm
This is a good question that the original post by Jennaya mentions, and that one of the first respondents, John Howell mentioned. In some areas of the US at least, one would not be allowed to alter the scriptures in this way, although for a concert, probably there would be far fewer complaints than in some sort of para-liturgical Good Friday event (I don't know of any church that would do BWV 245 as an actual Good Friday liturgy, but you never know in the US). Jennaya wrote that she has encountered mainline denominations, such as the Episcopal Church (US branch of the Anglican Church of England) making such changes (somehting of which I am skeptical, although I can imagine individual pastors doing this...they would be misinformed in my judgment).

Making scripture into a politically correct document in a secular society is one thing, here in the US, where religion is (according to polls and the media) so important, that is perhaps not so easy.

But there is another aspect: sometimes scripture is simply not politically correct on the literal level (which is often the only way it is perceived in the US, sadly). Without context, this BWV 245 / Anti-Judaism issue is a good example.

Altering the text, though it might seem to be a quick and easy way around the problem, may bring its own difficulties to the matter.

on February 14, 2011 11:21pm
Kari:  Too late; it's already been done.  I was amazed to discover that there are a great many "rewrites" of the Bible, each puporting to be a better version for the modern reader, each one pushing its own particular agenda or mind set, of course.
 
When I was asked to set several Psalms, the pastors gave me copies of some of those translations to look at.  (Actually not translations at all; rather "interpretations" with no effort to make an authentic translation at all.)
 
And of course there are some congregations which insist on making PC changes Chapter by Chapter and Verse by Verse as they happen to come up in services.
 
I often wonder how many people realize that the New Testament was written largely in Aramaic, or at least the Gospels probably were.  That was the everyday language at the time, while Greek was the trade language and Latin the language of government.  I am reminded of the famous Texas State legislator, arguing against the teaching of foreign language in the schools, holding up his Bible and declaiming, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us!!!"
 
All the best,
John
 
on February 15, 2011 1:44pm
"I often wonder how many people realize that the New Testament was written largely in Aramaic, or at least the Gospels probably were."
 
Surely in Greek (even though Jesus spoke Aramaic)?  Or do you hold that they were originally written in Aramaic, and later translated into Greek?
on February 15, 2011
Hi, Sharon.  I'm afraid I'm not qualified to answer the linguistic questions in detail.  My late wife would have known the answers, or at least known the current scholarly thought regarding them.  What I learned I learned by typing all her papers!
 
But if Aramaic was indeed the language of the people in Jesus' culture, it simply makes sense to me that those closest to him would have used that language in the first place, whatever later translations their writings may have gone through.  And since we THINK we know that the synoptics shared a single lost source, there's nothing wrong with assumimg that it may have been in the common language rather than the commercial language.  Had not Hebrew become a ritual language by that time, much like Latin in the church for so many centuries?  In fact I do wonder why the various Gospels were originally written, since the Greek versions would most likely have been intened to spread the word once it was established.
 
All the best,
John
on February 15, 2011 8:07pm
Not terribly relevant, but St. John was definitely written in Greek. 
 
That said, the various versions of sacred scripture we deal with hardly constitute "rewrites"--they are translations from one language into another, and as the target language changes, so must the translations if they are to continue to say the same thing they did before. The hazard, of course, is when the translations attempt to also change the meaning of the text to something we'd be more comfortable with.
 
We've come a long way in biblical scholarship since the St. James Bible. (The Roman Catholic church is embroiled in a whole tempest over this even as we speak.)
 
 
So, though I'm weighing in late in the game, my answer to Jennaya's original question would be another question: who is your target audience? What is the context of the performance? 
--Jennifer
on February 16, 2011 5:38pm
Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman world, Jennifer's right. Most Jews could not read or write, so it was up to the elites and the educated to produce the various books of the Bible. This elitist "ownership" of the scriptures continued until Martin Luther's German translation. The King James Version accomplished a similar liberation of the scriptures for English speakers.

The early followers of Jesus and the N.T. authors used the septuagint (Greek version) of the O.T., becase most educated people did read Greek, but not Hebrew. For a brief, scholastic overview of this issue, try "The Five Gospels" by Funk, Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, pub by Macmillian.

Of course, if they find "Q" (John Howell's single lost source) and it's in Hebrew or even Aramaic, then that theory will have to be revised.

on February 14, 2011 7:28pm
No, Kari, but when we preach from John we typically put his writing into context, and that's difficult to do when we perform the St. John.  And we make changes to the Bible all the time!  How many different translations are there in English alone, let alone all the languages around the world?  How many articles have been written about early MISS-translations?  And how much of the Bible do we simply ignore in the 21st century becuase it refers to a time past?  There is MUCH we don't take literally any longer. (We don't have separate tents for men and women in Albany, NY, do you?)   If John is refering to the ruling class of Jews, to the specific Jewish priests, and not to all Jews, for instance, why is THIS language sacred but it's okay to ignore instructions about tents, or goats, or anything else we ignore?
 
Kari, you are suggesting it's okay to change Bach and his contemporaries but not the Bible?  That seems a little, hmm, biased in favor of the Bible, I guess.
 
I'll say again, it is NOT a question of political correctness.  If the POINT of John is to blame all the Jews of the world, we should damned well leave his language alone and decide to perform the piece or not as is.  But since that is NOT this point, and certainly not Bach's, some small changes HELP to get the story across withOUT misleading us or side-tracking us.
 
I feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness...
on February 14, 2011 11:39pm
Colleagues, 
This is a fascinating conversation---to put it mildly. As both a Jew and conductor of the Los Angeles Bach Festival (which has performed the work in English and in German in its 78 years, with and without the above mentioned word changes), my choice was most definitely NOT to change the text in our November 2010 performance. Teaching it as it is--discussing Bach's time, his VERY LIMITED experience with real-life Jews, and the Lutheran tracts to which he was privy, was a fascinating study into the world in which Johann Sebastian was writing.  I believe our performance was more informed because I didn't change "Juden" to "Leuten."
 
Not  changing the text  gave me an opportunity to discuss with my ensembles the kind of anti-Semitism expounded by Luther that gave seed--in no small part--to the atrocities of the 20th century.  We discussed "The Jews and Their Lies"  ( http://www.humanitas-international.org/showcase/chronography/documents/luther-jews.htm) and the fact that Bach's St. John was not written in a bubble, and that the words in Luther's tract surely found place in the master's sub-conscioius. 
 
When "the Jews Screamed" in our performance, they did so with an authenticity that I don't believe we could have mustered without vilifying them---which, I firmly believe was Bach's intention. 
 
I love Bach. I respect Luther greatly (though he was one of the worst anti-semites in history). I had singers of every imaginable religious persuasion in the choir.  To me, it makes sense to do it as Bach wrote it---and to use what could only have been heard as legitimate anti-semitism in 1724---as a teachable moment. 
 
 
 
 
 
on February 15, 2011 11:24am
Jonathan, your assertion that "Bach's St. John was not written in a bubble" comes close to calling Bach himself an anti-Semite. Perhaps that was your intention. I would oppose that notion.

On what do you base your firm belief that Bach's intention was to vilify the Jews? When Bach wrote the music for the Turba choruses, his intention was to give them as much affect as possible, not because they were sung by Jews, but because they were the words of the inspired, holy (at least for Bach) scripture. In the passion story of the Gospel of John there is a certain intrinsic drama. The High Priests and their circle are against Jesus, Jesus is against them. That's the main conflict.

Bach's intention was not anti-Judaism, but simply to bring out the intrinsic drama in the text, in as much of an affect loaded manner as possible. His skill was in the use of musical devices in order to highlight the drama, the main conflict. That you were able to inspire your singers to a high level of authenticity is wonderful, but if your method for doing so was to try to show that Bach vilified the Jews, I believe you are wrong.

There is no question that some (not all) of Luther's writings were anti-Judaic and even anti-Semitic (racist). A book in Bach's library, Johannes Müller's "Judaism," is quite anti-Judaic. It is impossible to know if Bach actually read the book; nowhere is it discussed, and further, the extent of the influence of the anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic essays that comprise only a very small part of the collected works of Martin Luther which Bach owned, the extent of that influence on Bach is difficult to pin down objectively. We know when Bach obtained these items in his library, relative to the composing of BWV 245....the Calov commentary was not obtained until 1725 (Dürr) or perhaps even 1733 (Herz); the Collected Luther works he acquired at auction in September 1742 (NBR 228); the Müller's provenance is unknown, but it is not likely he was able to read such theology while keeping up his work load during the first few years of his Leipzig cantorate.

Finally, that there was a culture of hatred towards Jews in 18th Century Europe, and in Saxony, is not in dispute. But this racism predated Martin Luther by many generations. To trace the godless sins of the Holocaust directly to Luther is a bit of a stretch (what is the evidence for this assertion?), but I will give you the notion that oppression always seems to use religion as legitimation (witness the St. John Passion). From your perspective of a Jew, I can respect your opinion that Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. But this hatred was a relatively small portion of his theological legacy. The document you cite was from the end of Luther's life, and certainly his earlier writings contained more moderate tone regarding Jews (e.g. "That Jesus Christ was born a Jew," 1523). I believe the Lutheran influence you imply on later generations of Germans, including Bach and into the 20th century, is overstated, though I am not willing to deny the existence of racism of this sort.

One should not assume that Bach (to borrow Marissen's phrasing) would have replicated any of Luther's views on any given subject. To imply Bach was a participant in such a culture of hatred to the extent that his music relied on hatred, and that his intention in his music was to vilify Jews, which would make him an anti-Semite, is hard to understand, given the lack of evidence to support such an assertion. It also is to deny the Cantor his record of Christian discipleship, which would be opposed to racism at any time, in any generation, despite what may seem to be the contrary (the sins of the Church are many, they appear as grains of sand on the shore... to this day).

I'm hopeful that your recent performance and any future performances of Bach's music will endeavor to include the spiritual pursuit intrinsic to this music as a source of inspiration to singers, players and audiences alike. However, to reduce the St John Passion to a teachable moment on anti-Semitism, even as much as we need such teachable moments in our 21st Century society, is a great loss, as the the story of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth is the story of a pursuit (at the ultimate cost) of the spiritual life, of following God, of offering an alternative reality to the oppression of Roman imperialism and the colluding high priestly social domination and religious legitimation.

I congratulate you on your efforts in Bach's music and your efforts to teach your people about anti-Semitism, but I cannot allow the implication that Bach was a biggot, a racist, or an anti-Semite to stand uncontested. Bach's St. John Passion was no more anti-Semitism in 1724 than it is today. Anti-Semitism never was and never is "legitimate."

on February 15, 2011 1:50pm
Richard, 
 
What I love about these forums is that we can disagree in a civil manner.  I certainly did not "reduce the St. John Passion to a teachable moment on anti-Semitism;" I had one teachable moment on anti-Semitism during a 9 week rehearsal period on the piece, which I believe informed our performance. I also did not call Bach an anti-semite. But, I did assert that he lived in a profoundly anti-semitic word, and that affected his artistic sensibilities. You and I (and the whole world of musical scholars and music lovers) will surely continue to assess whether Bach was anti-semetic or not. In my well-informed experience, his setting of the text belies some of his inner convictions. It is my opinion, based solely on the score and on what I imagine he knew and the books in his library, his experience in Saxony, and the prevailing anti-Semitism and bigotry of the world in which he inhabited.  I believe the music supports my thesis.
 
I know that some scholars believe, as you assert, that Bach's "Christian discipleship, which would be opposed to racism at any time" would have somehow shielded him from the racist inclination of the vast majority of European Christians of his day. I find this  thinking naive. 
 
If I felt St. John was a racist piece of music, I would never have programmed it. There's plenty of Bach to do. But, within the context of St. John's incredibly Passion story, Bach's portrayal of the Jews seems clear to me. I don't fault J.S. Bach; anti-Judiasm goes back to some of the primary documents of the Christian church.  I do find Luther's vitriol incredibly disturbing, but having studied many of his other works, I know that he has given much to both theology and to the western world. I also stand by my writing that "the kind of anti-Semitism expounded by Luther gave seed--in no small part--to the atrocities of the 20th century." But, I should have made clear that Luther was also not born in a bubble---anti-semitism, bigotry, and racism were well-established tenets of European thinking by 1483. 
 
on February 16, 2011 5:02pm
Hi Jonathan,

>>It is my opinion, based solely on the score and on what I imagine he knew and the books in his library, his experience in Saxony, and the prevailing anti-Semitism and bigotry of the world in which he inhabited. I believe the music supports my thesis.<<

Could I ask you to share "how" does the music support your thesis (which I still think is that Bach's intention was to vilify the Jews)? You can take it off-list, if you prefer. Your experience makes your opinion valuable, but without a basis in reason, one can't respond in an academic manner.

>>I know that some scholars believe, as you assert, that Bach's "Christian discipleship, which would be opposed to racism at any time" would have somehow shielded him from the racist inclination of the vast majority of European Christians of his day. I find this thinking naive. <<

I did make such an assertion. Naive would be the pre-1950 notion of Bach as "saintly," which is not something I am willing to promote. If I did so, it was unintentional.

What I think is more accurate is that Bach recognized, like Luther, that "salvation is from the Jews," that Jesus himself was a Jew, that the author(s?) of the St. John Passion was a Jew, writing for Jews, and that a through grounding in the Hebrew scriptures were an essential part of one's theological upbringing and faith life. The evidence for this is legion, but to cite two quick and broad examples: the inclusion of O.T. texts in the Cantatas and Oratorios by Bach, the manner in which he set those texts, particularly the adagio portions of recitatives, and his own handwritten marginalia in the O.T. of his Calov commentary, which shows a certain pursuit of those issues as relates to his daily life. This is all pro-Judaic, and not vilification.

Perhaps I am confused by your term "vilify the Jews." Perhaps it is possible vilify somebody without actually hating them.

on February 17, 2011 6:21pm
Hi, 
I'm glad to take the conversation off line---but it's going to have to wait until after we're out for the semester!  I think what I said was exactly what I meant; but I'll address your questions privately, when we have time to delve--- Perhaps coffee in Chicago? 
 
Best, 
 
Jonathan
on February 16, 2011 4:23pm
As a program annotator, poet, chorister, and music history enthusiast, I've been following this discusson with great interest. I see reasonable questions, perspectives, and solutions from all sides. I'm not qualified to weigh in on the Biblical issues, but as a musician, program annotator, and occasional audience member, here's my take on this:
 
1. The St J P is a work of Art. Yes, Art with a capital A. It stands on its own merits. It is what it is. It reflects the attitudes and knowledge of the time in which it was created. IMO, it does not need modification. But it may need some explanation, as I've suggested below.
2. The questionable portions of the text come from a well-known and well-established text (the Christian Bible). There's nothing new there. These issues have been discussed extensively over the years, in many disciplines in addition to music.
3. It would be a shame to leave the S tJ P on the shelf because for some people, modern sensibilities recoil from perceived anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish rhetoric. (Whether it is or not either of these is separate discusion, which has, to a large degree, already taken place here.)
4. IMHO, to make changes to the Biblical text, such as has been suggested, would be like putting a fig leaf on Michaelangelo's David (and yes, some people find that work of art offensive!). You can cover it up, but it's still there. (Not to equate fine human anatomy with some peoples' shame - that's not what I meant at all, I'm only using it as an example.) Or, to use a better example, iit might be comparable to publishing a sanitized edition of Tawin's Huckleberry Finn, such as was recently done (every instance of the N-word was replaced with "slave"). Why? What's the point? It doesn't change Jim's status, or his mistreatment at the hands of others. And the book is weakened by removing from it the ugly language that was actually part of Huck's and Jim's world. It weakens the effect of Huck's eventual transcendence above the common bigotry of his time.
4.a. It was my privilege many years ago to be one of a 16-voice choir in a Maundy Thursday performance of the St J P. It was powerful - raw, ugly at times, and ultimately transcendent (yes, that word again). I still remember, thirty-five years later, the brutality of those turba choruses . Do they not, indeed, reflect the ugliness of the crowd during Christ's humiliationm torture, and murder?
5. Those ugly words reflect the sentiments of "John" or whomever wrote down those stories. Should a performance of a revised libretto be advertised as "Passion according to St John as edited by Mr or Ms Choral Director"?
6. Consider how very much we know about Bach's extreme care in selecting and setting sacred texts, both from the Bible and from other sources, including his own pen. He chose deliberately and after extensive research, and he crafted musical settings to emphasize and interpret the words he chose. Can we not respect that?
7. We have many means for communicating with our audiences; it's easy to provide good program notes, to have a pre-concert talk, or in a case such as this, schedule a separate session, like a seminar, perhaps with local clergy from different denominations, the ensemble's director, and a music historian, to discuss these issues with those who plan to come to the concert., Or hold it after the concert to talk about what was performed, and why. What a great opportunity to work with other local orgainzations.
 
I appreciate the many comments, several of them really erudite, that have graced this discussion. Good food for thought. This morning, I just completed a major study of BWVs 40, 102, 233, and 1041 as part of preparing program notes for for an upcoming concert (www.concora.org), so I've been in a wonderful Bach immersion these past few weeks. Rehearsals begin this week for our Feb 27 concert...
 
Sarah Hager Johnston BMus, MLS
GraceNotes
I'm not a Christian but I can feel the drama of the story, and I value Bach's textual choices and the music he created that makes them come alive.
on February 18, 2011 3:47am
I think you should perform it AS IS or don't perform it at all... And I don't think calling a Jew a Jew is Anti-Semitism...It's just a word. How it is used is more important IMO...
I would laugh out loud if I heard a singer sing "King of the People" in the Passion...It's just silly..
on February 18, 2011 12:45pm
The point is PRECIESELY how it's used.  And
King of the People would be ludicrous, as we've said above many times.
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