The Double Chorus in the <i>St. Matthew Passion</i> BWV 244

Daniel R. Melamed

in Hearing Bach's Passions

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195169331
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199865376 | DOI:
 The Double Chorus in the St. Matthew Passion BWV 244

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Is Bach's St. Matthew Passion really for double-chorus and orchestra? The one thing everyone seems to know is that the St. Matthew Passion is a double-chorus composition. The idea that the work balances two matched ensembles against each other—a feature typically regarded as “symmetry”—has itself been a theme of almost every discussion of the St. Matthew Passion. But the view of the St. Matthew Passion as a symmetrical double-chorus work has arisen largely from the experience of modern performances that use two large choirs. Bach's original performing materials and analytical features of the work show that very little is actually scored for equal choruses, and that the two ensembles do not have the same status. Chorus 2 is subordinate to Chorus 1 and is better viewed as a ripieno ensemble that most often supports the work's concertists (Chorus 1), only occasionally gaining a measure of independence. This flexible and expanded role for a group of ripieno singers had its origins in a movement from Bach's St. John Passion and was particularly suited to the dialogue texts at the core of the St. Matthew Passion's libretto. It is also consistent with the particular performance forces Bach had at his disposal.

Keywords: modern performances; St. Matthew Passion; double-chorus composition; ripieno ensemble; concertists

Chapter.  7837 words. 

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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