FROM PICTURE TO SOUND: A CONDUCTOR'S STUDY GUIDE TO THE ST. JOHN PASSION OF JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

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Date
2018
Authors
Kim, Kieun Steve
Advisor
Maclary, Edward
Citation
Abstract
Bach’s music is filled with musical allegories. These musico-theological symbols are often concealed to modern eyes and ears. Scholars have worked diligently to help modern musicians gain a better understanding of this learned musician’s musical allegories, theological symbols, and, in the words of John Butt, his dialogue with modernity. It is the conductor’s job to help reveal the meaning of these symbols so that the performers can translate the visual representation of the score into a sonic realization for the listeners. This study guide to the St. John Passion is an attempt to help conductors understand Bach’s musical, textual, and theological intent. The St. John Passion was written for a liturgical purpose— to edify Bach’s Leipzig congregation and to help them comprehend the essential meaning of the Passion story. The work is both a musical proclamation of Scripture and a detailed dramatization of that narrative. Therefore, it is critical for conductors to examine not only the musical structures and motives, but also to study the text carefully. The Passion text of John’s gospel is unique and differs from the Synoptic Gospels. This dissertation provides musical analyses of this Passion by examining key passages of the Scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew, and using the lenses of theologians by whom Bach was influenced. This includes relevant scholarship as well as examinations of musical interpretations of recordings of the St. John Passion by acclaimed conductors through comparisons of score illustrations of each conductor’s interpretations. Deepening the surface level understanding of the text, and Bach’s depiction of it, will broaden the conductor’s choices to intensify both musical rhetoric and dramatic sound. This method of 1) analyzing musical motives and structures, 2) studying exemplary interpretations, and 3) dissecting key words of the biblical texts in the original languages will enhance the understanding of Bach’s theology and enable the conductor to encourage the musicians to perform Bach’s music more enlightened and inspired. This, in turn, will strengthen the conductor’s and the performers’ rendition of the St. John Passion and augment the power and drama of its music.
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