Thank Felix Mendelssohn for the J.S. Bach Revival

In 1829 Felix Mendelssohn began the Bach revival that never ended(Photo: Creator:James Warren Childe)
In 1829 Felix Mendelssohn began the Bach revival that never ended(Photo: Creator:James Warren Childe)

In 1829 Felix Mendelssohn began the Bach revival that never ended. It’s hard to believe now, but Johann Sebastian Bach‘s music was not well known to the general public for nearly 70 years after his death.

Toward the end of his life, Mozart had a profound admiration for his Bach’s work, and Beethoven studied the 48 preludes and fugues of the “Well-Tempered Klavier” in manuscript as a young student. Bach’s sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian were more famous during the lifetimes of Mozart and Beethoven.

On March11, 1829, Mendelssohn, who was only twenty at the time, directed the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion since Bach himself directed it at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig where he was the Kapellmeister.

The first performance directed by Bach is believed to have taken place on Good Friday, April 11 in 1727.  The revival, brought about through Mendelssohn’s efforts, took place in Berlin and began the renewed appreciation of and interest in Johann Sebastian’s works, especially the large-scale choral compositions.

“The St. Matthew Passion” is a large composition for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra, with a libretto telling of the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus drawn from the Gospel of Matthew. The story is told in such a dramatic and compelling way that even if you are not a religious believer, it is difficult not to be moved by this profound meditation on suffering and compassion.

This Friday (good Friday) on Symphony at 7, I’ll present a complete performance of Bach’s the “St. Matthew Passion,” that will run from 7 till almost 10pm.  If you’ve never heard the entire work, here is a good opportunity if you are curious about this cornerstone of the choral repertory. And if you have access to the complete libretto so you can follow the words of the text with the music, your experience will be so much richer.

Here is the opening chorus of this great work, and thank Felix Mendelssohn for bringing it to our attention.

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