Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Herr unser Herrscher" , opening chorus of Bach's St. John's passion

Someone might remember how my German class once  listened to this in the language lab.  This is to me one of the most amazing, stirring pieces ever.  When I first heard it, I was transfixed.  Even the German students behaved when they heard it.

This performance is to me the best one I found on YouTube, even though it looks dated.   This is not just Bach.  This is an unfathomable spiritual text.  It has to be sung right. You have to think about every single word.  Some of the other versions seemed rushed to me and just getting through the text.  You have to sing every single word right.  "Herr", "Herr", "Herr"! 

Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm
Lord, our ruler, whose glory
In allen Landen herrlich ist!
is magnificent in all the earth!
Zeig uns durch deine Passion,
Show us through your passion,
Dass du, der wahre Gottessohn,
that you , the true son of God,
Zu aller Zeit,
at all times
Auch in der größten Niedrigkeit,
even in the deepest humiliation
Verherrlicht worden bist!
are glorified.

From Wikipedia

  • opening chorus: Herr, unser Herrscher ... (Lord, our master, whose glory fills the whole earth, show us by your Passion that you, the true eternal Son of God, triumph even in the deepest humiliation. Listen: [1]). There is an orchestral intonation of 36 bars before the imploding entrance of the chorus. Each of these bars is a single stress of lower tones, weakening till the end of the bar. These bass beats are accompanied by the remaining instruments of higher tunes, by legato singing the prospective theme. The last six bars of the orchestral intro produce a robust crescendo, arriving to shouting forte initial three bars of the chorus, where the chorus joins to the long sequence of deep stresses by Herr, Herr, Herr. Soon, after the first portion of the theme, comes the triple Herr, Herr, Herr again, but this time, at the end of the bars, as a contra answer for the corresponding orchestral deep stesses at the beginning of the bars. Just before the composer's ideas could dry out, the full beginning is repeated. But this time our illusion is, as if we heard 36 Herrs.
“Herr, unser Herrscher” and “O Mensch bewein” are very different in character.[13] “O Mensch bewein’” is full of torment in its text. It is a serenely majestic piece of music. “Herr, unser Herrscher” sounds as if it has chains of dissonance between the two oboes and the turmoil of the roiling sixteenth notes in the strings. Especially when they invade the bass it is full of anguish and therefore it characterizes the St John Passion more so.[13]


Rev. Jeff Nilsson said...

Oh, come on now, didn't I always behave in the language lab? Nudge nudge wink wink. Since the first time we listened to it, it's become a favourite of mine.

Brigitte said...

Rev. Nielsson, thanks for reminiscing with me.

Thankfully, my memory is not what is used to be and I don't recall what all went on in the language lab, nor did I probably know it, then either, nor might I wish to remember. (Nor, likely do you remember these things, otherwise your Lenten confession might not be what it should be, here. :))

You were a nice bunch, and it was so kind of you guys to come out when Andrea was born.

The St. John's passion, one does not hear as often as the St. Matthew's passion, though I like it better musically.

My husband had bought the record set for me early in the marriage on a business trip to Chicago, where there are shops where you can just buy these things. I am not sure how many complete record sets of the passion would have been available in Edmonton, at the time.

Anonymous said...

I usually prefered the St Matheus Passion, but sine some time ago I have just loved so much the ST John, and montly this oppening, that I have heard almost everyday. And,,,for me this version is the most fantastic that could be produced...

Brigitte said...

Hi Dalba: thanks for comment. Listening to the Passions and the Cantatas is so nourishing. As a child and young person I learned some because my mother was in a good choir and practiced often at home. It was so very enriching. God bless you.