Journal Title: Studia Litterarum - Year 2016, Vol 1, Issue 1


Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passions are considered to be a synthesis of dramatic and lyric principles. Traditional comparison of Passions with musical drama or ancient tragedy does not exhaustively express the nature of the genre because in the Passions, dramatic action coexists with a lyrical dimension where the action is not shown or narrated but turns out to be the trigger for compassion. Voices expressing compassion are designated by Bach in vague terms, as a certain “I” or “We” unidentifable with any particular person. In the lyrical episodes of Bach’s Passions, a singing voice does not allow any identifcation in the terms of personality, in the same way as the speaker’s voice remains unidentifable in the lyric poem. The “I” singing arias in Passions is the “lyrical I” (Margarete Susman) in the strict sense of the term. The principle of non-identity of the voice with a person is deeply rooted in the history of liturgical Passions. In the medieval Passion, a single voice (a defnite intonation, or a manner of singing) could be associated with a group of characters (apostles, Jews etc.), or on the contrary, a single character could be endowed with different voices. Dramatic and lyrical dimensions of Passions form a unity which is supported by certain rhetorical devices. Antanaclasis (repetition of a word but each time with a different meaning) establishes thematic connections between adjacent dramatic and lyrical statements; apostrophe (address to the absent or fctional audience) serves as a “shifter” that switches between the dramatic and lyrical dimensions. However, there is also an undeniable emotional tension between these two dimensions. Tragic effects of dramatic action are opposed to the lyric meditation which, paradoxically, fnds joy in Jesus’ sufferings. This is why in the music of Passions, serene, idyllic, and even dancelike images sometimes emerge amidst the most tragic moments of the action. Bach’s music expresses the idea of joy found in Jesus’ Passion — the same idea that Martin Luther had expressed in his “Sermon on the Meditation of Christ’s Holy Passion” (1519).

Authors and Affiliations

Alexander E. Makhov


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  • EP ID EP26081
  • DOI 10.22455/ 2500-4247-2016-1-1-2-108-127
  • Views 345
  • Downloads 35

How To Cite

Alexander E. Makhov (2016). JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH’S PASSIONS: BETWEEN DRAMA AND LYRICS. Studia Litterarum, 1(1), -.