Easter post: Bach’s Easter Oratorio, BWV 249

Happy Easter to Christian readers of the Western communion! Here is some Bach for the occasion: a cantata that’s now generally referred to as the Easter Oratorio.

Now that we’re on the subject of Bach and Easter: the librettos of the Mattheuspassion BWV 244, and especially the Johannispassion BWV 245, contain some statements blaming the death of Jesus on the Jews that were common currency in Bach’s time and place. (The libretto/text was not written by Bach but by his frequent collaborator Picander [pen name of Christian Friedrich Henrici, 1700-1764].) If anything, it seems that in the Johannispassion , Bach elided/skipped Picander’s most pungent anti-judaic statements.)

A music professor from the University of Erfurt (himself Jewish) has a few things to say (in German) that I cannot resist translating two statements from:

Interestingly, some of the initiators of this project [to ‘cleanse’ Bach’s Matthew- and John-Passions of judeophobia] are also known as anti-Israel activists. They want to abolish Israel as a Jewish state, but are bothered by Bach’s portrayal of Jews.

This is my shocked face 😉 In an exercise of utter “presentism” (judging people from the distant past according to present-day moral imperatives that would have been alien to them at their time and place), they point at the putative mote in Bach’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own.

These debates are expressions of a pseudo-resistance, a ‘retroactive civil courage’, that seeks to hide the indifference about contemporary forms of antisemitism. It is indeed much less dangerous to fight the trumped-up antisemitism of Bach, than to fight the utterly real antisemites and enemies of Israel of today.

Amen, brother.

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