Sunday, 10 January 2010

Art and Christianity Part Three - Music

This my third post on the Art and Christianity meme commenced by Jonathan Evens.

Artwork: Antony Gormley - 'Field for the British Isles'
Drama: Film 'Chariots of Fire' (1981)
Music: J S Bach - St Matthew Passion
Novel: Victoria Hislop - The Island
Poem: Wilfred Owen - The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

Music: J S Bach - St Matthew Passion. I remember filing in the Royal Festival Hall at 10:00am on a Good Friday to experience Bach's epic Passion and wondering what to expect having been told by my hosts that we would not be leaving until 3:00pm! On advice I had managed to obtain a choir score from Upminster library to help me navigate my way through Bach's interpretation of Matthew chapters 26 and 27. Now whilst I still don't read music I would say it was pretty essential to peruse the score to be able to greater appreciate the composer's genius in using motifs and phrasing to highlight activity and mood.

I was familiar with the beautiful hymn, 'O, Sacred Head! Sore wounded', (also known as the Passion Chorale) yet as soon as the double choir launched into their opening chorale I was transported heavenwards by the breathtaking and all enveloping wall of sound undergirded by the massive double orchestra and pipe organ. There appeared to be around 10 soloist parts and I came across the word Recitative for the first time... had already heard of Arias!

However, it is not an easy piece to listen to in its entirety and despite the sublime chorales the tension Bach creates musically is tangible. Nowadays we are so used to a high solo violin scraping away to semaphore impending doom in a film or tv drama but this would have been very early examples of this sort of technique. Whenever Jesus has narrative or 'speaks' there is a 'sound' Bach has scored a special full violin section sound to emphasise what we can consider to be Jesus' 'Spirit', the pre-Pentecost Holy Ghost. This musical effect, which is referred to as Jesus' 'halo', is conspicuously absent as Christ utters 'Eli, eli, lama sabachthani' and I found this deeply moving.

Here is the moment of utter desolation (and multiple Recitative performances) that narrates 'Now the Lord is brought to rest'. Then in the finale chorale, as per the youtube example above, the choirs can be heard 'answering' one another and the stereo effect of the double orchestra can clearly be heard... as the final chord resolved and faded I do not recall whether there was applause or not as I made my way out, I had been transported to another place, I do remember tactfully averting eye contact so folk around me would not spy my wet cheeks.

It took me until Sunday to recover physically. I ached from feeling the palpable tension, from concentrating on the passage, the sense of loss as the Passion unfolded (such a vital part of the Easter weekend) and I will never, ever forget...


1 comment:

Sally said...

awesome... ( in the real sense of the word).