The Passion According to St. Matthew By Johann Sebastian Bach


 Johann Sebastian Bach (Komponist)
 Robert Franz (Bearbeiter)
  • Full title: The Passion According to St. Matthew By Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Publisher: Oliver Ditson
  • Place: Boston
  • Year of publication: 1916
  • Language: Englisch
Klavierauszug. Mit einem Vorwort von John S. Dwight

Linked works

Matthäuspassion [BWV 244]


THIS is the first American edition of the Matthäus-Passion, the greatest of the
sacred compositions of J. S. Bach, a work without a rival in its kind. Hitherto
there has appeared but one edition with an English text, – that published in
London in 1862, bearing the name of Prof. William Sterndale Bennett as editor, with
"English translation and adaptation" by Miss H. F. H. Johnston. It is a very free
translation, too often ceasing to be a translation at all; and it involved more liberties with
the music itself than we have deemed allowable in an edition which seeks to be as close
as possible, both to the form and meaning of the words, and to Bach's own wonderfully
expressive way of wedding tones with syllables, his melodic phrasing and division, and
especially his quaint, peculiar accent, to alter which, according to our modern notions, is
to rob his melody of much of its essential genius.
In the present edition the English text would fain cleave as closely as may be to the
quaint old German rhymes (sometimes poor poetry, it must be confessed, but always
redeemed by their sincere, deep, tender piety), with whose whole sense and imagery and
style this music seemed so inseparably intertwined. A difficult problem at the best,
resulting here and there in lines which cannot but appear far-fetched! Doubly difficult
in the narrative recitative, where the conflicting languages require sometimes a choice of
notes. The London edition often cuts the knot by torturing Bach's phrases and divisions
into exact conformity with the received English version of the Gospel, as if the letter were
of vital consequence. It has been our endeavor, while using the familiar words wherever
they would serve, and never of course departing from their sense or style, to keep Bach's
recitative intact; and it must be borne in mind that it is a peculiar kind of recitative, much
more melodic than the dry, declamatory English pattern, which insists on one note always
to one syllable. Applying the same principle of translation to the strange old text of the
Chorales (hymns by Paul Gerhard, etc.), and of the Choruses and Arias (said to have
been made by one Christian Friedrich Henrici, who lived and wrote in the first half of
the last century under the name of Picander, — though we can hardly doubt that Bach
himself, devout believer that he was, had much to do with it), obviously the result could
not be, and does not claim to be, an English poem in any modern literary sense. The
translator will be too happy if he has found English words to which Bach's music can be
fitly sung; this involved fidelity to thought and feeling; but, in the form of expression, no
tempting literary felicities could be allowed except by sufferance of the music; that must
be the final arbiter in every choice of renderings.
The musical arrangement now presented follows in the main the well-known Peters
edition, edited by Julius Stern. But in many of the Arias, with their introductory recitative,
the masterly pianoforte accompaniment by Robert Franz has been adopted, and
his name is put at the beginning of the several pieces. It is only to be regretted that this
great interpreter of Bach to our more modern taste has not in the same spirit made an
arrangement of the entire work. His elaboration of the full orchestral score, with utmost
fidelity to Bach's intentions, has rendered some of these Arias for the first time practicable
in performance.
J. S. D.
Boston, Dec. 6, 1869.

The interesting note quoted above is from Mr. John S. Dwight's original preface to
the edition which bore his incomparable English translation of the Bach St. Matthew Passion
— a translation still unrivaled in beauty, fitness, and faithful adherence to the spirit
of the original. It was adopted for the first performance of the work in the United States
by the Handel and Haydn Society at Boston, May 8, 1874, Carl Zerrahn conducting;
and it is now presented in a new and in every respect worthy edition.
The Passion "according to St. Matthew" is one of five settings which Bach is known
to have written; of these only three have come down to us, and but two are printed and
accessible. That "according to St. John" is inferior to, and probably earlier than, the
St. Matthew Passion, which is, in many respects, the greatest work of its composer. In
its earliest form it was written in 1729, when Bach was forty-four years of age, and was
performed for the first time on the Good Friday of that year in the Thomaskirche at
Leipzig, where Bach was cantor. The altered and extended form in which we now know
it was probably not completed before 1740. This master work was not heard outside
of Leipzig until, through the efforts of Mendelssohn, it was performed at Berlin in 1829,
exactly one hundred years after its first production. Since that time it has been frequently
given in Germany and England, and more and more receives the recognition
and honor to which it is entitled. – EDITOR.
Boston, November, 1907.